In the timely, award-winning documentary The Sky Below, filmmaker Sarah Singh delves into the fraught history of the 1947 partition of South Asia, which resulted in the separate states of India and Pakistan. A look at the cultural and social ramifications of partition-historically and into the present day-on a diverse cast of characters, The Sky Below comes during a time of great political unrest in Pakistan, with parliamentary elections scheduled to take place later this month. An Indian-American artist, Singh divides her time between New York and Mumbai. The Sky Below, which is nominated for the film festival’s Social Justice award, will screen at 11:15 a.m. today at Metro 4 and again at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Center Stage Theater.
How did this documentary come about?
I wanted to do some kind of visual work in India, and knowing that the U.S. has a very direct involvement in the region right now, I thought, Why not try to explore it, and try to present something a little more in depth than what one gets from CNN. What is going on in the region has a very direct effect on Americans, whether it’s the rise of India as a superpower or the continued fallout between India and Pakistan.
For Ghandi, a Hindu, Partition was a tragedy, but the other independence leader, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was instrumental in its creation. What’s your view? Should it have happened?
I really don’t have an answer for that, but I will say that I think Partition deserves much more international attention than it gets, both because it was such a significant historical event, and because it continues to have very serious ramifications for people within the region, but also for the rest of the world.
What do consider one of the general lessons we might take from Partition, and what it has entailed for South Asia?
One of the philosophical issues I raise in the film is whether humans have the ability to learn from the past. I ask whether Partition is a viable political tool, because we may be facing that in Iraq. In Pakistan, religion was used to create a country. We have to look at whether these divisions based on religion, in the long term, make things better or worse. For some people there may be an obvious answer to that, but for others it may be much more layered and complicated.
What do think the prospects for reconciliation between India and Pakistan, both with respect to the disputed region of Kashmir and more generally?
I leave that open. There’s no clarity right now:the recent events culminating in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto demonstrate that it’s a very fragile situation, much more fragile than one would like to hope. Kashmir, which has been an issue for six decades, is one of those sad realities of contemporary politics:even if the two countries find a resolution, whatever it might be, the psyches of the people involved have been damaged irreversibly.