SIKH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2009: FEATURE
My Mother India
Director: Safina Uberoi; Producer: Penny McDonald
My Mother India is a passionate film told by the child of a mixed marriage and set against the tumultuous backdrop of modern Indian history.
With an Indian father who collects kitsch calendars, an Australian mother who hangs her knickers out to dry in front of the horrified Indian neighbors, a grandfather who was a self-styled Guru and a fiercely man-hating grandmother- it is no wonder that Safina Uberoi made a film about her family!
What begins as a quirky and humorous documentary about an eccentric, multicultural upbringing unfolds into a complex commentary on the social, political and religious events of the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 which tore this family apart.
This is a powerful tale of love and hate, exile and belonging, loss of identity and return of faith.
1984 was a watershed in India’s political and social history. It was a year in which many Indians were forced to redefine what it meant to be Indian. It was a time that was to prove particularly confronting for Patricia, an Australian woman who had chosen to live in India with her Indian husband Jit.
In many ways, the events of 1984 were presaged by the events of the Partition of India. In 1947, India won independence from the British and was divided into two countries- India and Pakistan. The greatest migration in the history of mankind began as Hindus and Sikhs left their homes in what was now the Islamic state of Pakistan and fled to India. Moving in the opposite direction were millions of Muslims, leaving their homes in India for the safety of majority status in Pakistan. The cleaving of people from their homelands generated unprecedented violence and many millions of people were killed in horrific civil riots.
Patricia’s husband Jit was only 12 years old at the time of Partition. As Sikhs, his family also had to flee their home in Lahore and make the dangerous journey to India. The experience left its scars on Jit. Disillusioned with both religion and nationalism, he left India a few years later and spent the next 16 years studying first in England and then in Australia. While studying in Canberra, Jit met Patricia and they were married after a whirlwind courtship. Then in 1966, as India and Pakistan went to war and Jit felt a deep and inexplicable yearning to return to his country.
Patricia left her own family in Australia to live in India and brought up her children there. As a white woman in India she faced many challenges as she adjusted to life in a very different culture. Although she remained cheerful, she also continued to experience the sadness of separation from her parents, particularly her mother who never visited her in India. But in twenty-five years, nothing prepared Patricia for the events of 1984.
1984 saw an escalation of political turmoil in the state of Punjab where Sikh extremists were demanding a separate Sikh country. The government of India responded to the movement with increased armed repression until finally troops were sent to ‘flush out’ suspected terrorists from the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The Golden Temple is the holiest of Sikhs shrines and the army’s action had a profound impact on Sikhs who felt that their temple had been desecrated. Even Jit reacted strongly and chose this moment to reconvert to Sikhism.
The change in Jit’s identity was to have far reaching consequences on the whole family. In 1984 Mrs Indira Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister who ordered the attack on the Golden Temple, was gunned down by her Sikh bodyguards. The next morning the city of Delhi was set aflame by mobs that avenged her death by hounding Sikhs out of their homes and burning them alive.
As a Sikh, Jit was a potential target for the mobs. The family fled their home and returned a few days later, saddened and bitter at what Jit felt was a betrayal of his long held patriotism. For Patricia it was an awful moment of realisation where she found herself living in a country that was prepared to destroy her family.
Safina Uberoi is an Indian-Australian filmmaker. Safina studied film at the Australian Film Television and Radio School in Sydney and the Mass Communication Research Centre, New Delhi. She has directed a number of award winning documentaries including most recently A Good Man for Australian Broadcasting Corporation TV which has won Best Australian Documentary at the Sydney Film Festival.
Her other films include My Mother India which won 11 major international awards including the Australian Film Critics Circle Award for Best Australian Documentary. Safina directed an episode on British Asian writer-actress Meera Syal for the high profile BBC series Who Do You Think You Are? which was nominated for a BAFTA and won an Indie Award. Safina also directed 1-800-India, a documentary for PBS in the US which won the Golden Eagle Awards for journalism.
Safina has taught theatre at the National School of Drama, New Delhi and the national Institute of Dramatic Art, Sydney. She was lecturer in Media at Macquarie University in 2005 and has taught film in a number of Australian institutions.