Editor's note: This profile is part of a series where we examine the work of artists who're engaging with questions of identity, and how it persists in the face of historical or cultural barriers.
Thirteen days. That's how long the confrontation between our two countries lasted, during the India-Pakistan War of 1971. It ended when Pakistan signed the Instrument of Surrender on 16 December 1971.
Soon, Major Chewang Rinchen of the Ladakh Guards reached the then-Pakistani village of Turtuk, which was caught in the crossfire. He comforted the villagers and told them to go back to sleep. However, the people of Turtuk, Tyakshi, Dhothang and Chalunkha didn’t know that when they woke up the next morning, they’d wake up Indian. Although the 1971 war was one of the shortest in history, there were nonetheless people who were separated from loved ones, others who were left behind — all within the space of a night. And then there were people who were trying to make sense of their newfound Indian-ness.
Ansh Ranvir Vohra, filmmaker and founder of The Pind Collective, visited Turtuk as part of a short residency programme organised by the Farside Collective in June 2017. Along with Bengaluru-based journalist Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed, Ansh started looking for people who were willing to recount their experiences of the 1971 War. This is how Across (English for Uss Paar) — a documentary edited, shot and directed by Vohra — was born.
The documentary brings forth stories of “separation, tribulation and sometimes, a reluctant reconciliation” straight from the Ladakhi villages, which now lie between two hostile neighbours. The subjects of the documentary are now old, their wrinkles a testament to the years that have gone by since that fateful night. What must it have been like for someone like Vohra — a visitor — to see them, as they tried to remember what their parents (now on the other side of the border) looked like when they last saw them. A "potent mix of awe, incredible sadness and inspiration" is how Vohra describes it, but what really struck the young artist was how none of the people he met tried to romanticise their pain. "That their experiences were rooted in an undeniable reality — one that we conveniently choose to ignore while we clamour for war from our comfortable armchairs — is what made this an important story to tell," he says.
If you look at Vohra's body of work, you'll find it replete with stories of Partition, from both sides of the border. His art collective, too, is a platform for artists of the two nations to come together, and not just find common cultural ground, but also embrace the differences. Of his fascination with the Partition and presenting stories from the other side, Vohra says, "We've been brought up reading about the event as experienced by the Gandhis and the Jinnahs but not nearly enough about my grandmother's neighbour or, in this case, a farmer in Turtuk who experienced these wars first hand and not from inside a government office in the capital." Therefore, this fundamental idea of familiarising yourself with the neighbour and vice versa through "stories you choose to tell" reflects not just in the documentary, but also The Pind Collective.
Although one is expected to have an even-handed approach when shooting a doc, it cannot be as easy as following the four Ws and one H. How does one then put behind the edifying tales they have grown up listening to, when dealing with a subject as delicate as the Partition? Interestingly, Vohra, who has been making films for four years now, doesn't think objectivity is possible in storytelling at all. "While documentaries are, often, burdened with 'telling the absolute truth', I think all we end up doing is telling our versions of it. So I try to embrace my subjectivity rather than deny its existence." Across, too, combines his penchant for personal history and the musings of the villagers of the land between two nations — hostile, perhaps only on the surface?
Watch Across here.
Updated Date: Feb 25, 2018 15:44 PM