Thursday, November 26, 2015
Jammu Kashmir
`The Last Day’: Portraying frayed life of KP family in exile
By Ankit Saproo
“I can protect you in this village but cannot guarantee your safety in other places. It is better you leave.” These are the lines said by a militant to one of the members of a Kashmiri Pandit family, whom I had spoken to as he reminisces the ordeal his family went through in early 1990s at the time of the exodus of Pandit community from Kashmir.

“We gathered, hastily, whatever little we could and left our home for Jammu where the authorities had constructed migrant camps which consisted of canvas tents,” says one Kashmiri Pandit. It was a nightmare for the entire Pandit community to leave everything behind and flee their homeland to an unknown destination facing violent threats from extremist elements in the wake of militant uprising in Kashmir.

Set against this backdrop of `exodus’ of Kashmiri Pandit community from their homeland as armed insurgency erupted in the Kashmir valley, `The Last Day’, a short film made by Siddhartha Gigoo, whose family also suffered the pain of leaving their home and seeking refuge elsewhere, illuminates the darker yet unexplored side of this harrowing tale.

The film is based on the lives of four members of a family and their sense of loss - loss of memory of the patriarch of the family, who is on his deathbed and battling dementia, loss of privacy and physical intimacy, which many newly wed couples faced as they had to live in cramped canvas tents and loss of identity of an entire community.

As one Kashmiri Pandit migrant tells me- It was horrible for the entire family to live in a single room where there was no privacy and because of unhygienic conditions there was a spurt in diseases and deaths. Many lives were lost in those camps. Many had to leave their education. This was a tragedy of enormous proportions that befell a community - the scars of which are still visible even after more than two decades. In one single stroke of fate the lives of many were shredded and it is this trauma which this short film tries to capture.

As the patriarch of the family fights the loss of memory on his deathbed he yearns to return to his homeland. This is true for all those who suddenly found themselves away from their homes trying to put up with circumstances that they were forced into. They had to battle the odds of living in refugee camps. As they tried to resurrect their lives amidst chaos, memories of a glorious past haunted them.

“The Last Day” depicts the excruciating pain and suffering of an entire community through the lives of four people living in the hope of a better tomorrow.

The director of the film Siddhartha Gigoo spoke to KTNS at length about his creation.

Following are the excerpts from the conversation:

Q: What is this film about?

A: This is a short film based on the lives of four members of a family who live in a refugee camps which were erected after insurgency broke out in Kashmir and the Pandit community fled their homes to settle in Jammu province. The head of the family is suffering from dementia and he's on his deathbed dreaming of Kashmir, his homeland. His son and daughter-in-law are trying to find a space for themselves in a canvas tent where the entire family is huddled. The daughter-in-law can't even express her feelings as she has to live with this reality.

Q: What was the inspiration for this film?

A: The film is based on short stories written by me. I always wanted to make a film and since this subject is closer to my heart, there was an inner urge to make a film on this subject. It's a deeply personal film.

Q: What does the title of the film "The Last Day" convey?

A: As each day in the life of the Kashmiri Pandit refugees was no different from the other, the first day was also the last day. There were difficulties which they had to face, there was deprivation and I have tried my best to portray it. There was nothing different in their lives and all days were the same bringing a sense of loss and a hope that tomorrow will be better.

Q: Do you feel there's been a change in their lives after all these years?

A: The change is there in terms of dismantling of all the refugee camps and some improvement in the way they live now but the psychological wounds are still there. The wounds of a troubled past are still there. The present generation is better off vis-à-vis their elders but those wounds haven't healed.

Q: Will the present generation want to go back to their roots?

A: People have been visiting Kashmir as tourists and exploring their roots. As you know many homes have been vandalized and remnants of their identity destroyed. The present generation, in my view, won’t settle there as they have constructed their lives elsewhere but the future generations will definitely like to explore their identity and their roots and I hope they will revisit the land which once was their home.

Q: Is the film being screened selectively?

A: The film has been screened in many film festivals including 6th International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK) 2013, ‘Kashmir Before My Eyes’ Film Festival- Films Division Zone being organized in different cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Kerala, Hyderabad, Pune, and New Delhi. The film has also been selected to be screened at The London International Film Festival.

Q: How do you see the exodus of Kashmiri Pandit community?

A: There’s an element of betrayal and suspicion. The Kashmiri Pandits and the Muslims shared a harmonious relationship but there’s a division in ideology and a clash of nationalism. At an individual level there is harmony but at the collective level the divide will be there.

News Updated at : Sunday, September 8, 2013
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