A handful of filmmakers are revisiting a disturbingly dark period in Indian history — the year 1984 — hoping to impact change, create a dialogue and show their solidarity to the victims and families of the riots.
“Their eyes well up, their throats choke, and their hearts sink the moment you mention ’84,” says Shivaji Patil, National Award-winning filmmaker, over the phone from Ghungrana near Ludhiana. Patil has been shooting for October 31, a Magical Dreams Productions film.
Produced by Harry Sachdeva, it’s the story of one night, October 31, 1984, starring Vir Das and Soha Ali Khan.
“My father DPS Sachdeva was there. He spoke of how Sikhs came under attack, how a Hindu family helped them to safety across Delhi, and how he stayed in an underground room,” says Sachdeva, who is making this film for his father. This Delhi-based businessman chose Patil, a non-Punjabi director, and Das and Khan, to be a part of it “because it is still a sensitive and emotional subject for Punjabis”.
“This is a story close to my heart. People have died, become drug addicts, and we have a widows’ colony. The impact of ’84 has been disastrous and permanent. By making this film, I am not inviting controversy or stirring a debate, but I want people to realise that such acts should not be repeated, be it Sikh riots, Godhra carnage, Mumbai terror attacks or Muzaffarnagar violence,” says Sachdeva.
While politicians may skirt the issue, filmmakers strongly feel this is a part of history that needs to be told visually. And although the films on ’84 are far and few, they have left an indelible imprint on the audience’s mind — be it Gulzar’s Maachis (1996), Babbu Maan’s Hawayein (2003), Kuljinder Sidhu’s controversial Sadda Haq (2013), Konkana Sen’s Amu (2005) or last year’s surprise Oscar selection, short film Kush by Shubhashish Bhutiani.
“Generations have been wiped off, left in waiting without any answer or justice. It is time to talk, discuss, show them we care and we support their cause,” says Rajeev Sharma, whose film, 47to84– Hun Main Kisnu Watan Kahunga released last Friday. The story that is loosely inspired by the lives of Sandeep Kaur and Jagdish Kaur, survivors of the riots.
While riots and genocide are often seen as male-centric conflicts, filmmakers are zooming in their cameras to show a woman’s perspective. Filmmaker Anurag Singh’s 1984 Punjab is seen through the eyes of a mother (Kirron Kher), in search of her son (Diljit Dosanjh) gone missing in this period.
“Operation Bluestar and all the bloodshed was traumatic. Time had stopped for those who lived it,” says Singh, director of Jatt & Juliet (2013). “This film is a take on the human angle of it, not political,” he says of the film that is scheduled to release this month.