Sheffield Doc Fest
Programme makers screen exclusive clips and reveal distinct approach, and well-known presenter fronts programme with powerful family revelation…
TELEVISION personality Anita Rani has been able to travel to Pakistan to learn what happened to her grandfather as part of a special season of films for the BBC marking Partition.
She is one of four family stories uncovered in the forthcoming TV documentary, ‘My Family, Partition and me: India 1947’.
Speaking at the Sheffield Doc Festival (June 9-14) yesterday as part of a special panel discussing the forthcoming BBC season, Rani revealed that the story picks up where the edition of the popular BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ (‘WDYTYA’) on her left off.
“It caused a huge reaction,” she disclosed. “A lot of British Asians whose history it was had no clue about it (Partition). That’s why we had to make this programme.”
BBC commissioning editor Fatima Salaria added: “It is our story and we told it the way we wanted.”
After the talk, which also saw programme maker Leo Burley from production company Wall to Wall (which also makes ‘WDYTYA)‘ talk about the practical difficulties of making the programme, Salaria told www.asianculturevulture.com she was delighted a series of programmes will be screened on different aspects of Partition in August – the month which sees both India and Pakistan mark 70 years of Independence from the British Raj. The series includes a film by director Gurinder Chadha, who covers the politics of Partition – and can be seen as a companion piece to her fictional and popular, ‘Viceroy’s House’ film released earlier this year.
Delegates were treated to several clips from the new programme, ‘Me, My Family and Partition: India 1947’ – each in fact covered the four individual stories.
Among them and on the panel too was Sameer Butt, whose Muslim grandfather was a prominent doctor in Ambala in Punjab before deciding to move to Pakistan.
British-reared Sameer returns with his father Asad, to modern day Ambala, now in Indian Punjab, and they return to the house where Asad remembers growing up. It is very emotional and the family’s pain and suffering is clear for all to see and tells its own powerful story about the impact of Partition on individuals and their families. Asad, now a Sheffield radio presenter, was among the audience and movingly touched on the personal horrors.
He made a heartfelt appeal for people to talk about issues and political problems, especially Kashmir, which has again erupted in turmoil and continues to pose the threat of triggering a major conflict between India and Pakistan.
Rani said too few British Asians especially from Punjab knew about their shared heritage.
“Our pre-wedding customs are the same, we share the same language, the same food, only the religion is different,” pointed out Rani.
She said when her family first arrived in Bradford in the 1950s, they were close to about 10 other families from a Muslim background.
“We still know each other,” she declared, stressing that the division and strife of Partition were left behind when communities emigrated to Britain. A point echoed by Salaria, who said that friendships and contact between communities remained strong in the early days of immigration, despite the bitterness and violence of Partition.
They both appeared to hint that a post 9/11 world had sown divisions that had not existed previously among immigrant communities that came to settle in the West.
Rani said she felt very at home in Lahore – despite the fact that it is in Pakistan today and very few non-Muslim families stayed behind. It was of course the capital of undivided Punjab and remains a city of refinement and culture. She said many immigrant families put behind the horrors of Partition when they came to Britain – and made a new life for themselves, and a shared immigrant culture.
Both Rani and Salaria said the series does not shy away from looking at the role of the British Raj.
Burley was emphatic.
“Britain should have stayed longer, a lot of bloodshed could have been avoided,” he felt.
Starkly, he pointed out that while 18 million people were displaced and some one million murdered during the troubles, the number of British casualties amounted to a number under 20.
In the programme, one of the four individual’s stories is that of a white Briton whose grandfather was a prominent Raj figure in Kolkata and had the trust and ear of Mahatma Gandhi.
“Mandy had never been to India before,” revealed Burley. “She’d only been to Spain for a week and she didn’t like it, so you can imagine how it was in India.”
The programme also looks at a Hindu Bengali family who had to flee rural East Bengal, when it was declared East Pakistan.
The granddaughter of the man who fled for his life tracks down the descendant of one man who helped, but there is even more surprising and startling testimony – after screening the clip Burley confirmed that it had not been planned and that the woman whose story it was had no dea of what was going to happen.
Also on the panel was Paula Nightingale, BBC Producer.
‘My Family, Partition and Me: India 1947 will screen in August (2×60) on BBC1.
Also in the series (BBC2): ‘World’s Most Dangerous Border’ (3×60); One Week in Summer (1×60).
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