National award-winning filmmaker Samart Mahajan on the making of Borderlands, which explores the daily lives of people living on the geographic outskirts of India.
In Nargaon, a city in West Bengal bordering Bangladesh, a stick plays Santa Claus. Like the legendary messenger of good humor, the stick delivers gifts from families and friends as it travels over the barbed wire fence that divides countries. At the often held “Milan” bazaar, just 10 meters from the border, an impromptu shandi appears with people selling goods, clothes and toys. They are bought, wrapped in black plastic bags, strung on sturdy long sticks, and then pulled over a fence, bypassing no man’s land, into the eager hands of families on either side.
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So Dhauli, a Rajbanshi who has lived in Nargaon 15 years since she came to the wedding, welcomes her family to Bangladesh. An uncle looks at her children, her sisters from behind the waves, and she exchanges notes, despite the fact that the crowd grows, and vigilant border guards on both sides are closely watching what is happening.
Dhauli is one of the six main characters Borderlands, a documentary about life along the borders of the Indian subcontinent, filmed by 30-year-old Samart Mahajan. The 67-minute feature film, produced by All Things Small and Camera and Shorts, had an Indian premiere at the Dharamshala International Film Festival following screening worldwide at events such as DOK.fest (Germany) and New York Indian Film Festival (USA) ). ).
“At the Milan bazaar, we were warned by a border officer when we asked for permission to shoot,” Samart says, adding that “it was unrealistic to watch this conversation; a border that separates not only lands, but also families and hearts. “
The documentary is dedicated to just such stories about those who fell on cultural rifts.
“We wanted to deliberately move away from the historical and military symbolism of international borders and explore how ordinary people deal with the consequences of borders. We tried to find the political in the personal, ”Samart says by telephone from Dinanagar in the Gurdaspur region of Punjab, 15 km from the border between India and Pakistan, where he grew up.
The film begins with a still from the Thar Express, which runs between Karachi and Jodhpur at the Zero Point border station. He travels through scrub and talus to a Pakistani migrant settlement near Jodhpur. Here lives Deepa, a migrant from Pakistan and an aspiring nurse who struggles to speak Hindi but is fluent in Sindhi and Urdu.
Among those who share their stories without paying attention to the camera are Surajkanta of Imphala, a filmmaker who looks at both the militant struggle and the place of Manipur in India; Noor, who was trafficked into a sex business, was rescued, learned to play the ukulele, found love and now lives in a shelter in Calcutta; Kavita, a Nepalese girl from Birgunj who works with a non-governmental organization that seeks to stop the trafficking of women in India; and Rekha, Samart’s mother, who quit her job to raise her family in Dinanagar, survived cross-border terrorism and yet was never at the border until she accompanied Samart to shoot Wagah.
Work on the documentary began in October 2018 and ended in March 2021 with a core team consisting of Samart, Deputy Director Nupur Agrawal and Cinematographer Omkar Divekar. “We had local filmmakers to help us communicate in Bengali, Nepali and Manipuri,” Samart says. “The project was partially crowdfunded from one of the largest Indian film campaigns.
Borderlands – Samart’s second full-length documentary, his first, Unreservedreceived a national award for passengers traveling in a shared compartment of Indian Railways. Samart’s path to filmmaking has been similarly difficult: through IIT-Kharagpur portals, corporate work, and graduate studies in the humanities. “I made a promotional film when I was in college and ended up becoming addicted to filmmaking. I like to leave the mainstream and tell non-fiction, invisible stories. “
This is why the protagonists were chosen from a torn jumble of tin and thatched houses, from a world littered with contentious and shifting boundaries: “We focused on hyperlocal, unusual stories, not macho images of boundaries, identities, or nostalgia for a shared story. We focused on hope. “
The film can be viewed at https://online.diff.co.in/film/ borderlands / through the festival pass.