Teenaa Kaur Pasricha on the making of her National Award-winning film 1984 - When the Sun Didn't Rise
Mumbai-based filmmaker Teenaa Kaur Pasricha won this year’s National Film Award for Best Investigative Film for her documentary, 1984 - When the Sun Didn’t Rise. The documentary is a comprehensive account of the Sikh women in Delhi who survived the 1984 massacre, their emotions, and their continuing fight for justice. The filmmaker spoke to Firstpost about the film and her experiences of making it.
Do you have a personal connection to the 1984 massacre?
(During the time of the 1984 massacre) my uncle was travelling in Madhya Pradesh. He was pulled out of the train and his hair was cut. My mother told me this, and I realised that she was very angry with the entire state machinery. The stories that my mother told me were different from the ones I read in my textbooks. In my history books, Indira Gandhi was revered as a leader. I wondered why this gap in history existed. That is how the quest about ‘84 began.
When did you notice this gap in the historical record?
The stories about the 1984 massacre were always with me. This terminology — gap in history — came when I was struggling alone in Mumbai. I wondered that if I was leading a difficult life despite being educated, what were the women who survived the violence going through? What was their journey? How did they come to terms with it? So that was the common ground with them. I was researching the 1984 massacre when I realised that nothing has been done to document it properly. So I set about doing that in an impartial and balanced way. I feel that it was a grave injustice done by India, the biggest democracy in the world. The Sikhs are a minority and have contributed so much to the country — whether it is with the green revolution in Punjab, or the Sikh regiment in the Indian army. So I really felt that it is time for us to be shameful of what we have done in the past.
Would you say that there is still a sense of anger and despair in the massacre survivors?
I would say that there is a lot of suppressed anger. People feel very marginalised and wronged by India. On the human rights index, India is nowhere. We have no freedom of speech. These heinous acts of rape are still happening. No one is safe. While talking to the 1984 massacre survivors, I tried to explore how many of them are rape survivors. But they don’t want to talk about it, because they feel that it is about honour and survival.
You also look into the impact of the massacre on the new generation. One of the things you touch upon is the drug crisis. Is there a link between 1984 and the drug crisis now?
Yes, it is very simple. When we have to make someone forget about their past and their history, we simply introduce drugs. On drugs, a person is numb and doesn't respond to any kind of stimulus. These are fiery young Sikh men who could have revolted, raised their voices against the kind of conditions that they were living in, the kind of marginalisation that they faced. But they didn’t do any of that. They were introduced to drugs when they were really young. The drugs are available there in the nearest chemist shop. So why did the government not do anything about it?
Also among the people you interviewed for the film was Jagdish Tytler. What was that like?
I wanted to interview both Sajjan Kumar and Tytler, because they are accused of being the faces of 1984. Sajjan Kumar never responded. Jagdish Tytler took six months to agree. I decided to look at him as a human being and not bring any of my hate perspective into it, because it wouldn’t serve any purpose. That helped me stay neutral in the interview.
Did you ever face any threats or intimidation when you were shooting the film?
I got a call from the drug mafia, and they asked me what I was doing in the colony and whether I was making a film about them or about drugs. I told them I was making a documentary on 1984. There were a lot of drug addicts that I was following and they got my number from someone. Also, when I was screening the film in November in Delhi, I got a call from CBI, and they asked me what I was doing. They thought that screening the film would give rise to violence. Four of them came and saw the film.
How many people did you speak with for the film? How much time did you spend in making it?
For filming, I must have spoken to 50-60 people at least, maybe more than that. The issue was that I couldn’t really figure out how the pain of one person was different from another. Everyone had a story to share that was very intense. In the end I think it was my connection with each individual that helped me find the people to be featured in the film.
I started shooting in November 2011, and the edit was completed in January 2017. It was a considerable amount of time, but any documentary feature which is well-researched takes time. There are characters to be followed, for example.
Which film festivals have screened the film?
It has been shown in eight festivals, including Mumbai International Film Festival, People’s Film Collective, Indian Documentary and Short Film Festival, and Jagran Film Festival. I had applied for some 100 film festivals. I got selected for only eight. It was heartbreaking for me because I felt that the film had a lot of potential, but maybe because of the nature of the film, many film festivals did not screen the film. But that is okay. It worked out nicely.
Has making this film changed what you felt about the massacre?
I think there is lesser angst in me now as somewhere the pain has decreased. I feel I have done my best for an issue that troubled me for long. I was so depressed when I was making the film because it was such a difficult and lonely path for me. I was on my own because I couldn’t afford a lot of people for the project. I kept yearning to share my pain with the world, for the world to accept it, I was waiting to be heard.
I realised that instead of being a film-maker, I have to be a human being, to just listen to what they are saying. Keep listening till they relieve themselves of the pain. After two-three years I realised that after they spoke to me they became a little lighter, a bit calmer, and I became emotionally heavy. I was absorbing what they were saying. The only thing that helped me was my friends and the amazing community that I am a part of in Bombay.
There is much more compassion for people around me, and I think I have become a better human being.
What is your next project?
I have a feature film script on love, marriage and inner conflict of a couple. Then I have some short film scripts with me which I wrote when I was doing this documentary. Let us see what comes first.
Updated Date: Apr 25, 2018 14:14 PM