Once upon a time in Punjab- Khoon Aali Chithi

“Attwadi maa di garabh ton ni aunde– Pucchin kissi attwadi nu, ohdi ki narazgi hai?” (Terrorists don’t come from their mothers’ wombs– Try asking a terrorist why he is so angry?)

— My Grandmother

The corpse of a young boy lies in the unruly, wild grass. His once neat turban is lying at his killer’s feet. His hair is in a state of disarray. It would be easy to imagine that he was a feared militant slain by the police in an encounter, but his young, tear-stained face looks even younger in death. It is easy to tell that he was just a child.

Just like millions of other young boys that were killed by the Punjab Police throughout the 1980s in a bid to crush the Khilastan secessionist movement, a separatist lobby that was demanding an independent nation state for the Sikhs. Government statistics say that 539 combatants and approximately 12,000 civilians were killed. The unofficial estimates are much higher. And till date, the exact number of missing persons is unknown.

Khoon Aali Chithi (Written in Blood) is a vignette of what life was like for the people of Punjab in the 1980s and the early 1990s. Every young man in every Sikh household was a suspected terrorist. Daily activities like schoolwork, farm chores, and even romantic teenage shenanigans were subject to the looming fear of the counter-insurgency operation that was ruthlessly “cleansing” Punjab of its so-called anti-national, angry, directionless, and militant youth.

However, there was never any answer or apology given for why a schoolboy was murdered for being someone he was clearly not.

This 14-minute long film will make you laugh at the silliness of youth and it will make you cry at the needless sacrifices that were made at the altar of lies throughout the period of the Punjab insurgency. The film has a rustic, authentic feel and delivers a power-packed punch in its heartbreaking climax.  The performances are delivered with minimal drama and the storytelling is honest at every step. Director Rupinder Inderjit does not need to use gore and blood to make his point. The things he leaves unsaid, are the things that fill the empty spaces of our collective memory with a deafening silence

The background score is brilliant in its contrasting tone. There is none of the sentimentality that Bollywood employs to inject emotion into a scene. The compositions are a part of the vignette. They convey a sense of place, of time, and most importantly, of the cruelty of the everyday, which does not stop to grieve for the loss of individuals in a routine tragedy of millions.

Richa Chadha, one of the most bankable method actors in Bollywood, is the producer of this little gem. The bold and talented actress has taken on gritty and complex roles in her film career, and her first venture as a producer is no different.

Khoon Aali Chithi is especially relevant at this point in time, because perhaps unknowingly, it tells the story of present-day Kashmir by using the story of Punjab as a metaphor– a juxtaposition of mirrors in a room where, unfortunately, light shines only at one angle.

Watch the film here:

 

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