A land full of memories

Nostalgic connection

A land full of memories
Filmmaker Saumyananda Sahi, who grew up in the village of Siluvepura, 35 km from the city, was in town recently for screening of his documentary ‘Remembering Kurdi’ at the iconic Everest theatre.

The film, shot in 2015 in a town in the district of South Goa that’s underwater for most of the year since the Salaulim Dam was built about three decades ago, traces the annual pilgrimage former Kurdi residents make to the land when it emerges, come summer.

“I read about it in a dissertation by Venisha Fernandes, a student of Goa University (who also figures in the film); her professor told me about it,” he says. A couple of years later, he took a trip to Kurdi, and saw the road vanish into the waters. “That image has stayed with me,” he offers. And it’s a recurring image in the film.

People of different faiths — Gaonkars, Hindus, Muslims and Christians — gather around their places of worship, or to picnic or cook amid the ruins that surface. “It’s hilly terrain, so for about two weeks in May, it’s accessible by road (and the rest of the summer by boat),” explains Saumyananda.

The film has been shot from the point of view of the people who return year after year in search of their past, rather than the big landowners. “There was a Mahadev shrine, an archeological site, that was marked and transported to dry land before Kurdi was flooded. They (the government) did the same thing with the people.”

But there’s another aspect to the past as well, the crew found while filming. “Many who didn’t own property were given land after they were displaced; people of lower castes got access to the TVs and cars they didn’t have while living in Kurdi. But this hasn’t lessened their feeling of loss, nor does nostalgia override the struggles they faced in the now submerged town,” he says. This conflict, he adds, is the crux of the narrative.

For him, the sense of belonging a place inspires goes beyond the physical or economical, which he believes is stronger among rural folk than the urban population. “There are certain memories associated with them,” says the philosophy graduate who went back to Sita School, where he studied, to shoot the documentary ‘Chikka Putta’ or ‘Big Things, Small Things’ when it was under threat of being closed down a few years ago. While he grew up in the school — and his memory merely goes back a few decades — the issue is more complex for the natives of Kurdi, whose forefathers lived their entire lives in that town, he holds.

“Even it’s history is fascinating,” he says. “But we only touched upon that and the problems of displacement itself. They can be made into separate films.” Going back to his own roots, he says, he tends to introduce himself as being from Siluvepura and as having studied in a Kannada-meduim school, often leaving people befuddled, “probably because of the colour of my skin”. “So when I tell them my mother’s from England (and my father’s from Punjab), they say, ‘Ah, so you’re from England,’” he says, laughing.

So what is the co-founder of the Mumbai-based Skreen Films working on now? “Next week onwards, I’m to start shooting ‘Thithi’ writer Ere Gowda’s film.” His earlier works as a cinematographer include Sunanda Bhat’s ‘Have You Seen the Arana?’.

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