Re: [Reader-list] Watching “Khamosh Pani” in Indi a

Anand Vivek Taneja radiofreealtair at
Thu Dec 9 18:13:01 IST 2004

Dear Yousuf,

This is not a reply to your mail, directly, but off on a tangent. 

Khamosh Pani is not, as you write (and as the media has widely
reported) the first Pakistani film to be released in India.

There were a few Pakistani Punjabi films released in India in the mid
nineteen fifties, the most prominent of them beig 'Dulla Bhatti',
released in 1956.
I am absolutely definite about Dulla Bhatti because of
fieldwork/interviews at Imperial Cinema, PaharGanj -  where the film
was screened, and was a hit, catering to a large refugee population.

Dulla Bhatti, the character on who the film is based, is a fairly
important character in Punjabi folklore - a bandit, and RobinHood type
chivalrous rebel, who opposes the tyranny of Mughal tax collection in 
Akbar's time.

Apparently, songs sung during the annual 'Lohri' celebrations allude
to Dulla Bhatti. Dulla Bhatti has, perhaps retrospectively, been
identified as 'Musli'm, a category which might have been fariy fluid
back in sixteenth century Punjab.

Coming back to the points you have raised - 

Last year, as part of my graduation from MCRC, along with two other
people, Akshay Singh and Sakina Ali, I made a film on the twentieth
century histories of the Purana Qila, 'The Past is a Foreign
 (which you have seen being edited on FCP)

The film, among other things, focuses on the Muslim refugee camp which
came up inside the Purana Qila after the Delhi riots of September '47.
It is not a pleasant dwelling - at all. Along with this, there are
fairly obvious and un-nuanced fulminations against anti-Muslim
prejudice in the preservation of monuments and the presentation of

It is not a great film, by any standards - but in India, in Delhi, it
has gone down well with audiences - generating awareness of the
marginalised hsitories of the city, and debates about the politics of
heritage conservation. it also gets a few laughs at the digs at our

In April this year, I took the film to Lahore, and screened it for an
audience of about eighty students at the Lahore University of
Management Sciences.
It turned out that some of them had grandparents who had come to
Pakistan via the Purana Qila camps. and during the discusssion that
followed, we moved away from issues of conservation, and i somehow
ended up defending India in general, and the Indian state in
particular - 'we're not that bad' - something I never thought I'd have
to do.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that we,as film-makers,or writers,
try and make sense of the specific time and place we live in - and
present them for People Like Us - by which I don't people who
necessarily agree with one, but who inhabit the same media-scape, so
to speak, and have inherited similar recieved histories.

In that sense, of course, Paksitanis are not People Like Us, and vice
versa. we do not inhabit the same media scape, we have not
recieved/inherited the same histories. And which is why you don't need
to go out of your way to make a Gadar, to cause discomfort or raise
anger against the 'Other'.

Last week, I saw a beautifuly made film called 'The Rock Star and the
Mullahs' which has a  liberal Pakistani Muslim (Salman Ahmed of the
rock group 'Junoon') confronting fundamentalists about the ban on the
public performance of music in the North West Frontier Province. And
yet, doubts were raised as to whether the film, instead of
demonstrating that not all Muslims are jehadis, was in fact
reinforcing stereotypes about Pakistan...

As long as we make films for 'Indians' and 'Pakistanis' there is no
way we can escape creating stereotypes and 'othering' on the Other
Side, as long as we're dealing with Kashmir, or the Partition, or
communal violence, or religious fundamentalism... it possible to make a film which deals, however tangentially,
with Partition, Communal Violence,  Kashmir or religious
fundamentalism... without someone in the audience getting very bitter?

... unless, of course, it's something like 'Veer-Zaara' ;-) ?


On Thu, 9 Dec 2004 02:45:43 -0800 (PST), Yousuf <ysaeed7 at> wrote:
> Watching "Khamosh Pani" in India
> (And why I cannot use it for peace activism)
> Yousuf Saeed
> While Pakistani director Sabiha Sumer's 2003 film
> Khamosh Pani (Silent Waters) is getting rave reviews
> and highly emotional applause in many Indian theatres,
> here are some personal thoughts, if anyone's
> interested. For those who haven't seen it (and are
> being reminded by the "must-watch" reports), Khamosh
> Pani, the first Pakistani film ever released in Indian
> theatres, is about an idyllic Pakistani village called
> Charkhi which sees the rise of Islamic fundamentalism
> in 1979's Ziaul Haq regime, and how it affects the
> ordinary villagers such as Ayesha, her son Saleem, and
> many others, including the visiting Sikh pilgrims from
> India. I shouldn't reveal the full story to spoil the
> fun for those who haven't seen it – it's great cinema
> to watch. I only want to express a chilling uneasiness
> I had while watching it at PVR cinema surrounded by
> many Punjabi families, a number of them sobbing
> through the film.
> Much has already been written, produced, staged and
> sung about the subject of India's Partition (on both
> sides of the border), and would continue to, since its
> horrible memories still haunt a large number of
> affected people. But the question we must ask today:
> is this memory going to help us resolve any of the
> present day crisis, or is it only adding further fuel
> to the fire. These days, when I watch a movie (or a
> documentary or TV show) on the subject of communalism,
> India-Pakistan and so on, (especially after 9/11 and
> the Gujarat carnage), I am often looking to see if the
> product can be used as a tool for the campaign of
> peace and cultural harmony at the ordinary
> lay-person's level. Since I (and my friends) have been
> showing films for this purpose to a wide-range of
> audiences, mostly youngsters, our experience shows
> that (through these films) when you reveal the darker
> side of only one community to a lay audience (not
> intellectual/activists), it could have a very damaging
> impact. For instance when we showed Gopal Menon's 'Hey
> Ram' to primarily Hindu school children in Delhi (8
> months after the incident), even the little children
> became defensive, and started asking questions like
> "but what about Godhra? and what about Kashmir" and so
> on. We also knew that the same film could be extremely
> provocative for the Muslim audience.
> But does it mean that we should not criticize or
> 'expose' the fundamentalists of either sides through
> media. Of course we should, but in what manner and
> context? In my personal view (open to debate), we
> probably need a language that heals the already
> bruised feelings, rather than romanticize the horrible
> events. Khamosh Pani certainly does not heal. I don't
> know about the audience in other places, but watching
> it in Delhi with the sobbing Punjabis around, I could
> sense a clear message reaching the new generation:
> "see, this is how these Muslims/Pakistanis treated us
> Sikhs". When the film showed the marauding Muslim
> youth on the streets of Sarkhi, shouting Allaho-Akbar,
> and the Muslim clerics making provocative speeches, I
> felt, maybe there would be some resolve towards the
> end of the film, some kind of politically correct,
> sweet ending to the story. But, it kept going the way
> it was, and ended, quite predictably, with a
> stereotypical image of the fundamentalist Pakistan.
> There is of course nothing inaccurate in what the film
> portrayed. And one must commend Sabiha, the director,
> for daring to produce such a film in Pakistan. She
> told a newspaper recently, "In my film, I try to
> portray extremism in a bad light…if people in India
> decide to misuse it I cannot do anything." And this is
> where the problem lies. If someone in India produces a
> film exposing RSS and Bajrang Dal's nefarious
> activities, it would be considered a highly acclaimed
> worked in India and abroad, but the same film in
> Pakistan would work as hot material – used to incite
> hatred and prejudices against Hindus, even though the
> filmmaker may have never imagined it that way. Hence,
> the new generation of Indian Punjabis/Sikhs/Hindus,
> who are not fully aware of the horrors of Partition,
> would see only one side of the story in Khamosh Pani,
> and get more aggravated towards Pakistanis/Muslims.
> Worse still, the victim of fanaticism in the film has
> been portrayed by an Indian actress (Kiron Kher), whom
> the Indian audience is bound to relate to and
> sympathize with, against the rest of the
> fanatic-looking actors. Of course the film's
> sentimentality may also make the audience forget that
> there were similar harrowing Partition stories on this
> side of the border as well.
> This is probably a dilemma that the south Asian
> filmmakers and media practitioners have not even begun
> to address, even though our cultural borders have
> started cracking. One should not doubt Sabiha Sumer's
> sincerity in exposing/criticizing the fanatics of her
> country, just as one cannot doubt the intentions of
> Gopal Menon or Rakesh Sharma in India. But if it has
> been so easy for Sabiha's European funders/
> distributors to sell/release this film in India, they
> must also be aware of its far-reaching impact.
> Sentimentality on this issue can sell very well but
> may not bridge our gaps. For that we need popular
> cinema that can make people think rather than sob.
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