Controversial film on 1984 Delhi riots set for US release
May 21, 2007 - 11:57:49 AM

Washington, May 21 - Writer-director Shonali Bose says her award-winning Indian film 'Amu' brings to light what she calls the 'suppressed history of genocide' after the 1984 assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Set for its US theatrical debut in New York City May 25 following its controversial release in India, 'Amu' is not about the past but about the present too, Bose told IANS over phone from Los Angeles where the film opens June 15.

It presents the contemporary and politically volatile tale of a young Indian-American woman's search for the truth about her past, she says about the first feature film about the events of 1984.

She was a 19-year-old student in New Delhi when Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards, Bose recalled. 'In the days and nights that followed, thousands of people of the Sikh faith were massacred in 'retribution' in a carnage organised by those in political power.'

'The story of the riots and relief camps of 1984 insisted on being told. I knew that was the film I had to make. No matter how hard it was going to be, this was the story I had to write and the film I had to make - to bring to light the suppressed history of that genocide. And so Amu was born,' she said.

It was not a Hindu-Sikh riot as projected by powers that be, but state sponsored genocide or carnage in which police, administration and every other organ of state connived, Bose alleged wondering, 'how is it possible that 5,000 people were killed in cold blood' with impunity.

What was more shocking was that some of the worst propaganda followed dividing the communities and branding the Sikhs as terrorists, she said, but insisted that her film did not reopen old wounds about an event best forgotten.

On the other hand, it had an enormous 'healing and unifying' effect on Sikh youth as it became very clear to them that no ordinary Indian had turned against their community in 1984, Bose said, recalling the reception given to her film in India 'exceeding my wildest expectations'.

'I had no idea how unknown this history was until I faced questions from audiences all over India. Since young people were barred from seeing the film in theatres, I went to schools and colleges and their responses were the most moving and powerful.'

'My biggest fear was how the Sikh community would receive the film. Would they turn around and say that this was too painful - let bygones be bygones, why was I putting salt in the wound?'

'I had met with the survivors in Delhi when I was writing the script and received their blessing. But I had no idea how the community abroad would react. I needn't have worried. They have shown their support in myriad ways, including raising money for the release of the film,' Bose said.

Recalling her brush with the Indian censor board which took three months to clear the film, she said, 'If I ever had any doubts that a cover-up of history had taken place, they were set to rest when the Censor Board informed me that I would have to change five crucial lines of dialogue into something 'acceptable'.'

'Far more pernicious than these cuts was the Censor Board's verdict that the film would have an 'A' certificate -. I asked them why, as there was no sex and violence in the film. They replied, 'Why should young people know a history that is better buried and forgotten?'' Bose said.

She was asked to remove three key scenes if she wanted it to be broadcast on television, rendering the storyline meaningless. So to reach wider audiences, Bose plans to release it on DVD in India.

She is deeply against this kind of censorship, said Bose suggesting that a rating system like that in America should be introduced in India. There should be no censorship, not by the government at the very least, Bose said recalling the kind of 'garbage' cleared by Indian censors.

It is absurd to suggest that Indian society is not ready for the kind of self-regulation suggested by her. On the contrary, going by the reaction to her film she would respond with an emphatic 'absolutely' that it is very much ready.

People cannot be shielded from the truth and such history cannot be buried and forgotten. Young people cannot make their future or understand their present without knowing the past, she said.

'Today, 22 years after an elected government massacred its own people in full view of the world, no one has been punished. And as a result, the cycle of violence has continued against other communities.'

With a passion to tell more such stories, she now plans to make another political film 'Chittagong: Strike One -, said Bose suggesting every film is a political film with an implicit message, either more overt or less at times.

It is the true story of a schoolmaster in Bengal who organized 68 teenagers to stand up to the mighty British Empire in 1932. Inspired by the Irish Easter Rebellion, their motto was to 'do and die.'


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