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1984, When The Sun Didn’t Rise review: Stirring documentary gives voice to the widows of anti-Sikh riots

Release Date: 31 Jan 2018 / 57min

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Sonal Pandya

The impassioned documentary highlights the director’s quest to uncover the forgotten, broken lives of the widows of 1984.

1984, When The Sun Didn’t Rise (1984, Jin Din Suraj Ugya Nahi) is documentary filmmaker Teenaa Kaur Pasrischa’s worthy and significant attempt to record the voice of the real victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots – the families of those left behind.

After giving a background on the events that led up to the riots, mainly Operation Blue Star and the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi by her bodyguards, the film comes back to the present to find out what happened to the wives of the men killed by mobs. Pasricha travels to Widow Colony, Delhi to speak to some of the survivors, namely Kuldeep Kaur, Harbans Kaur and Meera Kaur.

Kuldeep’s husband was dragged from his home and burnt alive by a mob, a few of them were neighbours. She is one of the few widows who has testified in the courts and consistently spoken out against the perpetrators, many of them politicians.

1984, When The Sun Didn’t Rise also reminds us another appalling saga of the story, the ongoing fight for justice. Many of the accused were eventually acquitted or never formally charged. Pasricha also speaks to advocate HS Phoolka who adds context to the issue. The political involvement of those accused from the start meant that the victims have been denied their chance of a fair trial.

Former politician, Jagdish Tytler, one of the main accused, is interviewed for the documentary. He denies any involvement, and reads out an official report that, in fact, clearly indicates his involvement in the riots.

Harbans Kaur relays the events from 1984 and the impact it had on her young life. Suddenly widowed with a young five-year-old girl, she never saw the body of her late husband. For years, she explained, she kept a lookout thinking he could be the stranger she walked by on the road or a homeless man on the street.

Widow Colony

Meera Kaur’s son, Mohan, who has been in and out of rehab for drugs, mostly stays home. He is estranged from his wife and young son. This portion of the documentary is particularly eye-opening. As a whole generation of fathers were brutally murdered, a second generation of sons have grown up without guidance and direction.

By highlighting these stories, Pasricha gives viewers a small portion of the harrowing accounts the families have endured since 1984.

The 57-minute documentary is a personal journey for the filmmaker (her uncle was attacked during the riots), she speaks of the growing anger inside her, waiting for answers. While that it is not entirely possible, Pasricha feels by telling these women’s stories, the process can begin. As she uncovers their buried pain, so do we.

1984, When The Sun Didn’t Rise, which premiered at the Indian Documentary and Short Film Festival in Kerala (IDSFFK) in 2017, is an impassioned telling of an important part of our country’s dark history, one that is little spoken of in the history books, but is brought alive by Pasricha’s persistence to make these victims visible again.

1984, When The Sun Didn’t Rise (1984, Jin Din Suraj Ugya Nahi) was screened in the National Competition category at the Mumbai International Film Festival on 31 January 2018.


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Mumbai International Film Festival