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Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Great Divide

Priyanka Chhabra looks at the Partition through the stories and memories of a group of elderly women, in her film Pichla Varka.

Written by Parul |
March 31, 2019 9:27:59 am
Priyanka Chhabra, Pichla Varka, films on india pakistan partition, partition, 1947 partition, partition films, india pakistan partition films  A still from Pichla Varka (The Previous Page).

The film reveals the structure of a moth-eaten version of history, which lies in the form of memory, to be called upon at will and to be also forgotten at will,” filmmaker Priyanka Chhabra talks about her documentary film Pichla Varka (The Previous Page), which was screened at the Panjab University this week. It is home that Chhabra chooses, to strive to tell the many unspoken and unsaid stories of the Partition of 1947, with her grandmother and her friends of decades becoming the central point of the film, as they recall their painful experiences of the Partition, the violence, coming to a new country as refugees and the loss which is everlasting.

“One has heard many stories of violence during the Partition, but not many about the life before, the moments in time, there is so much silence around it. I too had heard some of these stories, stray remarks here and there but had no sense of an identity or history beyond our west Delhi neighbourhood and the house we’ve been living in for over 50 years. This house and my grandmother’s life became the place from where I wanted to try and remember the past. A past of her own childhood spent in pre-Partition Punjab, in the company of her other friends who also like her, came to India as the Partition refugees,” says Chhabra, who studied filmmaking at National Institute of Design, and is now an independent filmmaker and editor based in Manali.

Priyanka Chhabra, Pichla Varka, films on india pakistan partition, partition, 1947 partition, partition films, india pakistan partition films  Priyanka Chhabra

For the grandchildren of the Partition survivors, says Chhabra, it’s rare to hear anything about the violent and traumatic event that changed their and perhaps our lives forever. “Our parents remember it but only the trauma, handed down stories of violence, great violence, the scale unimaginable and there are selective gaps in the narrative and the film attempts to understand the nature of memory, how you remember it. There were different strands and thoughts had to be charted out, with a lot of reading around those ideas, as so many stories emerged as my grandmother and her friends who shared the same history and had been playing cards for more than 30 years revisited the past,” adds Chhabra, whose earlier works include A Summer Flu, Shape of Trees and Shame was a place Inside.

Priyanka Chhabra, Pichla Varka, films on india pakistan partition, partition, 1947 partition, partition films, india pakistan partition films  The poster of the film.

Chhabra says Pichla Varka is her first long documentary film, which depicts another kind of history, of the domestic spaces of these women, set beside the memories of a political event that divided their world into a before and after. “The film is about their memories of the Partition, patriarchy and property. It, however, does not contain the drama of the usual telling, because daily living rarely gives us that opportunity. The film’s structure emerges from long interactions with the characters, as I responded to the stories, and worked on it for two long years,” she says.

Chhabra adds it is a struggle to work independently, but as a filmmaker, her effort is to make films that are an extension of her experiences, which resonate, are diverse and not stereotypical, the world she see around her, realities which we do not find easily in cinema. “The work is an extension of images reflected around us and the connections between experiences,” says Chhabra, who is now working on an experimental work, a short animation feature set in Manali.

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