Borderlands is a sincere tale of how borders upend ordinary lives

Borderlands will compete at Germany’s Indian Film Festival Stuttgart in July. Border narratives often tend to hinge on melodrama – jingoism and a separated lovers’ story. “The characters and the film is an intergenerational story. Her constant, lively smile betrays a sense of resignation, an acceptance of her reality. There are smiles, even if they camouflage pain. “In talks of political violence, we ignore the violence unleashed by borders on individual lives. Surjakanta, in Imphal, is the only male protagonist. While these realities, though inform the film, exist outside its universe, it is the characters’ personal borders – “an axis of marginalisation or identity (disability, sexuality, gender, nationality, class)” – which bring in empathy, nuance and texture. 📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. The brothers’ sequence – one, an “insurgent”, and the other a Manipuri – in Surjakanta’s film, which he projects in his living room, harks back to a similar conversation from Mahajan’s documentary The Unreserved (2017), where a Kashmiri man speaks of fights with his Army brother. She waits a whole year to see her Bangladeshi family at the annual Milan Mela bazaar on poila boishakh (the Bengali New Year), and exchange gifts and life updates from this side of the fence – in between is the no man’s land, “permeable and accommodating”, a paradoxical space that denies the possibility of a border with such continuities. There’s neither any anger nor lament. “Kavita has a leg disability, Rekha brings in the gender perspective, Surjakanta combats censorship. The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards. Though she, studying to become a doctor, feels freer in India (Jodhpur) but says ‘kuchh bhi change nahin hua (not much has changed)’, except that women can move about by themselves here. She’d lived through a terrorist attack in 2015; is excited to visit the Wagah border, will dance there, but her patriotism isn’t “right-wing or left-wing”, it’s pragmatic – she finds no reason for a daily spectacle of the Beating Retreat. Her border is personal, of not having a life outside of her home, her family. And, yet, people like Dhauli, living at a BSF camp village in Nargaon, bordering Islampur, stand to be the first ones to be thrown out if the NRC-CAA comes into effect,” says Mahajan. Noor is patriotic, too. Manipur fills in for Kashmir. Border violence isn’t just military combat where the “masculine image of a border” is challenged, there exist other kinds of violence and inner conflicts. We wanted to focus on that and see how the characters cope and find hope. Borderlands, too, segues from thinking to feeling, shows what separates also connects us, if only we care to listen. But the pandemic postponed MAMI to this October. Rekha, the director’s mother, and a housewife in Dinanagar in Punjab, 10 miles from the Pakistan border, had to quell her teaching aspirations to be a housewife and a mother. This time, last year, at Cannes Film Festival’s Marche du Film, Mahajan was pitching his then work-in-progress film, Borderlands, which would have had its India premiere at MAMI last year. She says she had to “unlearn Sindhi/Urdu, the Arab script, and learn Hindi”. To show how human resilience can overcome any tyranny,” he says. In cinema, as in life, the ordinary lives along these dividers are invisibilised and rendered inconsequential. Yet, her eagerness is childlike. After a world premiere recently at Munich’s DOK.fest München and screening at the New York Indian Film Festival, it will compete at Germany’s Indian Film Festival Stuttgart in July. Borderlands has been produced by All Things Small and Camera and Shorts. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
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The border is also a demarcation between the legally acknowledged citizen and the officially non-existent subject. There’s no country prettier than hers (Bangladesh), she says in the film. The patriarchy that Deepa battles, Rekha couldn’t. Dhauli, like the film, has no bitterness. Her story exists in the in-between, and in its in-betweenness, it attempts to find its identity. There is no pretension to intellectualise the film with sociologists, historians or anthropologists – there are people whose lives have been upended by the border, literally and metaphorically.×1.png
Deepa, a Pakistani Hindu refugee, whose identity is used often to make the case against Pakistan, shows that migrations are for economic reasons, too.  Borderlands is a 65-minute documentary, featuring five languages. Written by Tanushree Ghosh

Updated: June 25, 2021 10:11:19 pm

Borderlands has been directed by Samarth Mahajan. Her marriage made her cross the border. The girls are aware of the dangers ahead, which complicates Kavita’s work. At once observational and participatory, Borderlands tells a living story of our time, in an indelibly soulful manner. After being rescued she’s survived the border/ordeal before the film and waits to go home. Kavita, an interceptor, in Birgunj, stops Nepali girls – based on “suspicion” – from crossing over and being trafficked. Samarth Mahajan, however, in his latest documentary, Borderlands, presents a mosaic of six stories couched in layers of separation, displacement, remembrance, longing, and hopes of repatriation/homecoming, making the border subjects heard. Perhaps, that’s why the film’s gender imbalance. We keep talking about Kashmir and Pakistan as a diversion tactic, but we wanted to go beyond that, and breakdown the binaries and the notion of the ‘other’,” he says, “Surjakanta, the filmmaker, is trying to not forget Manipur’s ‘complicated’ history (forced to become a part of India) and relationship (sandwiched between an internal/state border with the Indian union and international border with Myanmar), and yet, he’s purely coming from the place of an artist. Noor, trafficked from Bangladesh into India, has been confined for three years at a shelter house. Bookended by earthy melancholic notes of the dotara (a track by Bangladeshi musician Kamruzzaman Rabbi) and a peppy Bengali song Ami Tomake Bhalobashi by Survivor Girl Ukulele Band – an unlikely band of young survivors of trafficking – Mahajan’s stories are laced with location-specific sounds, one that won him the National Award for The Unreserved. He places himself close to the subject but at no point does the film get polemical, it just listens in. Borders compel brothers to choose between regionalism and nationalism. To show why art/artists are important.” Surjakanta, like Mahajan, is preserving stories. It was easy to give up but they didn’t,” he adds. Produced by All Things Small and Camera and Shorts, the 65-minute documentary, featuring five languages, has been culled out of 120 hours of footage.