Celluloid spotlight on 1984 anti-Sikh riots

Celluloid spotlight on 1984 anti-Sikh riots

l Upcoming film

Arrey yahan koi Sardar hai?” asks a voice from outside the door accompanied by loud thumping. The repeated knocking sends a chill down Tajinder Kaur (Soha Ali Khan) and Devender Singh’s (Vir Das) spine, who are huddled together with their son inside.

Oblivious to what lies beyond the closed door, their eyes reflect hope and fear in equal measures. This scene from writer-producer Harry Sachdeva’s upcoming film 31st October is enough to induce goosebumps and evoke disturbing memories of the anti-Sikh riots which followed then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 – on which it is based.

A Sikh himself, Sachdeva grew up listening to the stories of the aftermath of the incident from his parents and relatives. Inquisitive, he always wanted to know more and probed his elders to tell him as much as they could. “I have grown up hearing that there was a time when an entire colony used to be one’s home. All good times were celebrated together, and all sorrows were faced together,” he says.

These stories never left him, and Sachdeva, a self-confessed movie buff, says he was very clear that if he ever got a chance to make a film, it would be on this subject. “And here I am with my film 31st October,” he says.

“It is a film for families, youth, and cinema lovers. It is, in fact, a film for a global audience. The film centres around a family and its journey on that dreadful day. It attempts to answer why thousands of families left their country and migrated to a foreign land; it will showcase how friendships passed the test of tough times, and most significantly it will portray courage and unity,” he adds.

Scheduled to release on October 7, the film has been directed by National Award-winning filmmaker, Shivaji Lotan Patil, and co-produced by Anand Prakash. It is based on a true story of a Sikh family and depicts the travails of the community in the aftermath of the assassination.

“The agenda of making this film was to bring this subject on the big screen, and also to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in 1984, and salute many others who came out to rescue Sikhs. The film shows all the sides of 1984 anti-Sikh riots,” he tells Metrolife.

The film has been majorly shot in Punjab — where the team recreated a set resembling the look of the year 1984 in a village near Ludhiana, along with some parts in Delhi and Mumbai.

Sachdeva says it took him around two years of rigorous research and writing before the script took final shape. During this period, he met various journalists who had covered the riots, lawyers, aggrieved Sikh families, and even widows, apart from some prominent people and those who risked their lives to save Sikhs during that time. He even travelled to Canada where many families migrated to after the riots.

“There is a colony in Delhi where the widows of 1984 anti-Sikh riots live. So many families were wrecked back then and it led to the formation of the widow colony, which is known as Vidhwa Colony. When I started researching for my film, I read many news articles, saw videos and met several families who had experienced the ruthlessness of the insurgence,” says Sachdeva.

He says that the family, whose story he narrates in the film had written the account of that night in an old diary, which he got to read. “And while reading, each line used to give me frights, as I used to imagine what they must have gone through. I collected more information and finally you would see their story on the big screen,” he says.

While Sachdeva is ecstatic that the fruits of his labour have finally reaped, his journey was not without its share of challenges. The movie raked up controversy for being “anti-Congress” and was embroiled in a long deadlock with the censor board, which finally passed it with nine cuts. But the writer says that the film has “nothing to do with any political party”.

“As the subject is quite sensitive, I was somewhere anticipating some eyebrow-raising. While I was shooting in Punjab, my set was once broken down — something I was not prepared for. The entire team was left shocked, but somehow we managed to recover the damage. However, the biggest setback was when we faced the censor. As a filmmaker I strongly feel that cinema is a big platform, and what I have shown in my film is a subject that is debated every year on a global level from past 32 years,” he says.

“Such brutalities on the name of religion and caste should not take place in any part of the world,” he adds.

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