Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Story

First, a word about the historical context in which this film is set:
The partition of India into was the last act of the crumbling British Raj, when an independent Islamic state, Pakistan, was split off from India. This geographical division along with years of "Divide-and-conquer" British policies, poor official foresight and a host of other factors resulted in the largest ever human migration as Hindus fled to India and Muslims to Pakistan. Fifteen million people were displaced from their homes, and innumerable families and communities were fractured. In addition, between 500,000 and 1 million people were killed, primarily in communal violence/ethnic cleansing at the borders of India and Pakistan. A lot has been written about the event, but most people I encounter in the States don't know about this aspect of the history of India and Pakistan. Here's a link that goes into more detail about the event:
This time period has always fascinated me because both my sets of grandparents had to leave behind their homes and belongings and flee from what is now Pakistan.

Partition may have fractured an entire generation of people, but amongst the horrific carnage that occured, there are innumerable stories of escape and kindness that transcended communal boundaries. My inspiration for this film came from a partition story I heard from my father. My great-uncle - Bir Bhalla - would have been attacked by Muslim refugees at a train station if not for the intervention of a Muslim man. The man placed his Muslim prayer cap on my great-uncle’s head, who was a Hindu. Something about that gesture has always intrigued me - it's simple, yet complex and symbolic, and so powerful given the context in which it occurred. As result, I've decided to turn that idea into a film.

In the current version of my story (which is slightly fictionalized), Bir and his mother arrive at a train station in Lyallpur (now Faisalabad), Pakistan, to take the train to Amritsar, India, since they are Hindus. At the same time, a Muslim refugee from India - Maqbool - arrives at the station. Bir is separated from his mother when a fight breaks out between the Hindus and Muslims at the station. Bir gets lost in a section of the crowd that is comprised mainly of Muslim refugees and his life is in danger when Maqbool rescues him by placing his own prayer cap on Bir's head.

At this point, I'm still trying iron out the story so that it conveys the premise that compassion overcomes religious differences. This task is challenging because my goal is to depict the events such that the film does not come off as anti-Muslim. Moreover, since so much has been written about partition, I've also been thinking about how to bring something new to the topic. That's why my protagonist (i.e. Bir) is a child who is 10-12 years old. This will allow me to explore the events from a child's perspective and use animation to (hopefully) create some compelling psychological imagery.

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