Memories of a home

Print edition : March 12, 2004

From Way Back Home. -

Supriyo Sen's Way Back Home (India) bagged the Golden Conch, the Special Jury and Best Film awards at MIFF 2004. The tender, poignant film looks into serious issues with the human interest intact as the filmmaker takes his parents back to their `homeland', now in Bangladesh, 50 years after Partition forced them to flee their home. On the trip they recall how the cry `Allaho Akbar' signalled the launch of massacre and rape. They also remember with tears how their Muslim neighbours hid them through the months of trauma and took them across the border safely. Returning to the old haunts is a bitter-sweet experience. The couple realise that their home exists only in memory. But the son finds he is not bereft of dreams. Supriyo Sen spoke to Gowri Ramnarayan on the making of this film. Excerpts from the interview.

What made you choose this theme?

I grew up with all these stories of violence, hair's-breadth escapes, the migration of thousands. Though this remains a major catastrophe of the subcontinent, the issue has not been seriously addressed like the way Europe has dealt with the holocaust. Morevoer, with the spotlight on Punjab, few know the damage in East Pakistan.

The most moving part in the film was your finding your lost aunt's family. Your newfound cousin tells you how she treasured her Hindu heritage though married to a Muslim, and how her in-laws respected her wishes. Did it happen by chance?

Absolutely. How could we hope to find a family member after 50 years of silence? My aunt didn't leave her homeland, she faced the atrocities, and brought up her children to respect people of another faith. Amazing! Now my cousin is fighting there for the rights of minorities.

Your father is thrilled to be able to talk in his own dialect to the boatman in Bangladesh. "No one understands these words in Kolkata," he says ruefully. That is when we see what a sense of belonging actually means. But what made you take your parents to the land of their birth after half a century in Kolkata?

They had a mental block, thought they could never go back. In a way it was true, but the physical journey across the borders and being welcomed by the people `over there' became a catharsis for them. All those years nobody except fellow refugees listened to their story, or understood their pain. Now they could share their experiences with listeners, viewers. They came back sad and happy.

Gandhi is a compelling presence in your film. But why have you used so little footage on Partition?

I don't have a mania for using footage and changing images. I knew that my parents' faces would register the universal tragedy of displacement, not just the words, but their expressions. I focussed on them. Gandhi! As my father says in the film, as long as he was alive, there was hope for people on both sides. When I was young I was with naxalite groups, but now I feel that non-violence is the only way we can co-exist with others.

What were the sad-happy discoveries for you on `the way back home'?

So depressing to learn from history that so much evil had been done in the name of religion. I took a small camera - no sound system either - and tried to shoot as if I was a tourist. So many Bangladeshis helped me to shoot secretly. All this proved that we can co-exist happily. Religions may differ, but our Bengali culture is the same. Actually, human culture everywhere is essentially the same.

At the end, neither you nor your parents find the homeland. Yet you are not dejected?

There is hope as long as people don't give up protesting against violence, whether in India, or Vietnam or Iraq.

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