Film based on story by Canadian Punjabi author enters Cannes festival

  • Gurpreet Singh, Hindustan Times, Vancouver
  • Updated: May 21, 2015 11:59 IST

Chauthi Koot, a Punjabi film based on the story by a Canadian author Waryam Singh Sandhu is competing at the Cannes Film Festival.

It is for the first time, two Indian films – Chauthi Koot and Masaan will be competing in the festival’s “Un Certain Regard” category.

Sandhu- a Toronto based prominent progressive author wrote Chauthi Koot years ago. The story is based on political crisis in Punjab during 1980s when Sikh separatists were engaged in an armed conflict with the Indian state. It is an interesting tale that represents the social bonding of Hindus and Sikhs and depicts how the Hindu minority in Punjab lived under fear from Sikh extremists, while the Sikh community lived under fear from the Indian police. The central theme of the story is how the two communities survived the bloody conflict by supporting each other.

Sandhu, who hails from Amritsar region of Punjab that was worst hit during the violence told HT that he wanted to emphasize on the unity of the two communities. “Punjabi Hindus and Sikhs share common heritage and their bonding remained intact even during worst political times. They both were caught into turmoil because of ugly political events which were beyond their control.”

Sandhu has written a few more stories on that period and has always been critical of both the state violence and religious extremism. There was a failed attempt on his life by the Sikh militants for his outspokenness against religious sectarianism. “I will never condone state violence against Sikhs, but those who claimed to be the defenders of the Sikh faith also went against the principles of universal brotherhood preached by Sikh gurus.”

As a staunch secularist, he has been in the forefront of the campaign to challenge the Sikh separatists, who according to him are trying to appropriate the Ghadar Party history. The Ghadar Party was formed by the South Asian activists in North America in 1913 to launch an armed rebellion against the British occupation of India. Although the members of the Ghadar Party were predominantly Punjabi Sikhs, it had a clear mandate to form a democratic secular republic in post British India. Sandhu has written several books to counter the attempts to distort this fact by the religious chauvinists.

Although he has not been able to see the film, he feels that its entry to Cannes film festival is a big honour for not just himself, but also the entire Punjabi community.

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