Dharamshala:- The second day of the Dharamshala International film festival featured two documentaries with very different themes – one on the issue of conformity to tradition versus the pursuit of individual happiness, the other on the pain of exile.
Nirnay was a meditation on the thwarted ambitions of a group of young women from Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, which opened to a packed auditorium at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA). Among the audience were a mix of locals and expats, along with Tibetan Children’s Village students and Indian students invited by Jagori - a local NGO that provides field trips for underprivileged young people. Also in attendance were tourists - domestic and international - who had travelled from as far afield as Mumbai and Switzerland.
Masta Ram, a Gaddi employee of Jagori - and himself an aspiring filmmaker - said he was moved by the dedication of Nirnay’s director, Pushpa Rawat, who is reaching wide audiences at film festivals with her first feature, at the age of only 27. He emphasised the importance of students watching such films, which showcase the economic and social pressures put on young adults when they pursue love marriages against their family’s wishes. Although the movie primarily highlighted the pressure put on Indian women, during a Q&A Pushpa clarified that marriage regulations restrict both sons and daughters.
After the screening, audience members ate and drank in the sunshine, bought jerseys at the Tibetan National Sports Association kiosk, and made donations to Rogpa Charitable Trust, Dolls 4 Tibet and other local NGOs.
Back in the auditorium, To Singapore, With Love explored the cases of Singaporean political refugees who had been accused of being socialists and fled into exile around the world, including a doctor who escaped to London and devoted her life to working with Palestinian refugees, a member of the Malayan Communist Party who fought in the jungles of Malaysia and Thailand, and Wah Piao, a graduate of Oxford University who became a human rights lawyer.
Tibetans in the audience surely related to a moving scene when Wah Piao – now in his late 60s - pulls down two empty suitcases from his cluttered storage shed, saying that when he fled Singapore, he had only those two pieces of luggage and that, when he returns, he intends to get rid of all his accumulated rubbish and take only what fits into the cases.
To Singapore, With Love evoked the experience of alienation from one’s homeland – a feeling widely shared by not only Tibetans but also other inhabitants of the Dharamshala area. Local Gaddis often recite a folk saying that they fled Lahore for the Dhauladhar mountains to maintain their religious traditions in the face of forced conversion, whilst Sindh Punjabis are described as refugees by other locals because they fled the newly created Pakistan during Partition.