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Inspired to shed light on a politically relevant but often overlooked area of the world, Sarah Singh's documentary The Sky Below explores the relationship between Indian and Pakistan, during and after the 1947 partition.
Scrutinizing different "sides" of the argument but wisely claiming none, Sarah Singh's The Sky Below explores the 1947 partition of India and lets those affected speak for themselves and their countries. Born and raised in Punjab and an American citizen, Singh captures a variety of perspectives through a widened scope, having both a biracial and bicultural background.
APA chatted with Sarah Singh about her experiences with The Sky Below after its showing at the 2008 Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles.
Asia Pacific Arts: How did you get interviews with the influential figures in the film, and were there any challenges with them?
Sarah Singh: My relatives knew some, and I got a lot of recommendations. I was also given a list of people to contact. And I felt the stories of a few on that list was something I was interested in portraying on camera -- for instance, the women who were abducted. But I didn't feel it was appropriate or ethical to try and ask them to tell their story on film. So there was a little bit of self-editing there, as well.
APA: The scene where the dog crawls under the fence that marks the Pakistan-India border was interesting. A dog can cross but an Indian/Pakistani can't.
SS: That's one of the sad ironies that's happened. Those on both sides of the border had fought together to get the British out and now one of the legacies of that is that is this divide. People in Pakistan cannot easily come to India and Indians cannot easily come to Pakistan, while foreigners have free reign.
APA: Do you have a certain view on the partition and/or what should be done?
SS: I don't know. As far as a sort of broader philosophical view, I mean, the subcontinent has shared approximately 5000 years of mutual civilization and is just now in its most weaponized time. I take the approach of exploring the questions of the partition as a political tool. It might very well be used in Iraq, so will it actually work or will it make things more destabilized?
As for an outlook for the future, one would like to have that. But I don't actually feel that it's realistic because of all the vested interest and because of how long its been going on. As one gentlemen says, there's money to be made in conflict and people survive off of that. You always have that open, even if the problems are resolved in Kashmir, and they say that this is the de facto line and there's no more struggle over it, if that is the resolution, there's will still be problems there. There will be people who have, after all these decades, memories of the bitterness and psychological damage that has happened. There will always be elements that want to continue to create problems. And it doesn't help when the US is in there playing both sides.
APA: Who is your intended audience for the documentary?
SS: I thought it'd be good to create a work that would help people in America have better awareness about the India Subcontinent. We in America are directly affected by that part of the world today, much more acutely than we have been in the past. We're affected by the rise of India as an economic superpower, by the continued instability and issues that are happening in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, and Northern India. Add to that the fact that the U.S. is giving and has given billions of dollars of support to Pakistan, at same time strengthening their military. Strengthening their military, of course, causes friction with India, but at same time, the U.S. government is reaching out to India and wanting to be partners with them. They're playing a very dubious role, and that's causing more problems.
APA: What encouraged you to make this film?
SS: Several reasons that gelled all at once in February of 2006. I started to hear a few stories about the partition and thought "My God, I don't know anything." And when I began researching to find out what was there and what wasn't , there were really very little straight-out-documentaries that were recording these stories. So that was one thing, and I thought "This is a momentous event, probably the most defining moment or event in the Subcontinent and there's little to nothing done on it." I felt compelled. I wanted to help record and present some of this history. The other reason was that many people in the US know very little yet are very affected by that part of world.
Also, I had not been there in 9 years and was dying to go back and work aesthetically. For 10-12 years I'd been wanting to go to Pakistan because of some unexplainable deep desire to know it and go there. But when I initially wanted to go, I was completely discouraged because people reminded me of the Taliban's presence there and that women weren't treated very nicely. So I didn't go, but I still maintained that desire. And this was the project that enabled me to explore that region. I could utilize the framework of the partition to explore that region and also to see Pakistan. Pakistan is a place not many people will go to as a tourist. They'll go to India but they will have a hard time thinking of Pakistan as a tourist area although some of the most incredible sights in the subcontinent are in Pakistan.
APA: What does the title, The Sky Below, mean?
SS: That under-layer or under-story happening with these people. It's about having a different perspective on something -- that something is not the way one would expect it to be. Or the fact that with this event, many people felt their lives were turned upside down. Which is a massive change in perspective, a forced change for many people. There are multiple meanings to it. I wanted something that was very visual.
APA: Can you tell us about your next project?
SS: Some people suggest a counterpart in Bangladesh. I was focused on the northwest region, and my intention was to focus on that border vis-à-vis Afghanistan and Kashmir -- which is already grand and epic enough. I think it's its own story. You've got to devote an entire film to that area. Because what happened to the Bengalis is different than what happened in the northwest region and the things that are happening today in Bangladesh are different than the things that are happening there. While there are some threads that they share, the stories and the things that are happening and have happened are different and would require a separate film. Having said that, right now it is not something that I want to do. But it definitely needs to be done. Somebody out there needs to do this.
Date Posted: 5/30/2008