Kolkata, 09 Jun 2021 16:18 IST
The beautiful and moving documentary sheds light on the Kashmiri Pandit community's strong attachment to its roots, among other things.
Madhulika Jalali's documentary Ghar Ka Pata chronicles the maker's search for identity and return to her childhood days in Kashmir. The Jalali family had to leave their beloved abode during the armed insurgency of 1989-90 as was the case with thousands of Kashmiri Pandits.
The film begins with a trip that the Jalali family made in 2014 — 24 years after the fated night when they bid farewell to their homeland. During the outing, Madhulika witnesses her father having an uncharacteristic emotional outburst while speaking to a stranger about his past. However, when she attempts to locate her house, of which she has no memories, her father apparently shows little interest. Madhulika was a child when they left the Rainawari locality, and hence, she lives with the borrowed memories of her family members, especially her sisters Sonu and Neetu.
Ever since their departure, the filmmaker, who had lived in many cities, was constantly craving the feeling of security and belongingness that home stands for. And it is this sense of loss that goads her into searching for her erstwhile home or at least an image of it
Madhulika has delved deeply into the context of the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. It seems she knew in her heart of hearts that the viewers were already aware of the political and historical significance of that dreaded event. Her account, rather, works as a soothing salve for the wounded soul, carrying the burden of traumatic memories.
Neetu mentions that their Muslim neighbour advised them to leave Rainawari for their own security. Later, when she revisits Kashmir in her repeated attempts to go to Rainawari, the locals, irrespective of their religion, welcome her and help her in her search.
As each of her family members tells their stories of having been denied the right to return to their home, Madhulika tries to piece together fragments of memories. She tries to reconstruct her childhood when Sonu recounts how after every session of watching Ramayan on television, both Hindu and Muslim children from the neighbourhood would brandish handmade bows and arrows, chanting "Jai Shree Ram". In one moving scene, Sonu admits that they only realised why Kashmir is called Paradise on Earth after they were compelled to leave.
Madhulika also introduces certain customs and food habits that are part of the Kashmiri lifestyle. The spontaneity of the conversations and recollections of her family members shed light on the community's strong attachment to its roots.
Madhulika's journey is deeply personal yet universal because any individual who has been forcefully displaced from their birthplace and the ancestral house will be able to relate to her account. The documentary also depicts her inner transformation during the journey of making the film. While she makes three visits to Kashmir since 2014, she never takes a break from the search that eventually changes her perspective. In the end, in 2019, the historical decision of the Indian government to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir makes her question the idea of identity and belonging that she was in pursuit of for so long.
Madhulika’s poignant narration, which features pauses at the right moments, allows the viewers to get engrossed in each crucial moment of the film. The objectivity of her commentary sharply contrasts the emotional utterances of most of her family members.
Amit Surendran and Prakhar Jain capture the beauty of Kashmir with a sentimental eye. However, towards the end, as Madhulika sounds heavy-hearted while commenting on the current status of the state, she presents the viewers with a collage of brilliant visuals.
Khushboo Raj’s editing is so apt that no sequence seems jarring. Anurag Shankar’s soothing background score also indicates the flow of time and the transformative power of loss that Madhulika talks about in the film.
Ghar Ka Pata is a well-made documentary that keeps the audience engaged in the idea of a home only set them free in the end.
Ghar Ka Pata is being screened at the 21st New York Indian Film Festival, being held virtually from 4–13 June.
Related topicsNew York Indian Film Festival
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