Life at LoC
Samarth Mahajan, an IIT graduate, has begun documenting unheard stories of real people living in border towns across India. He tells us more about his film The Borderlands for which he has started crowdfunding.
Mention ‘border’ and our mind conjures up different images. Sunny Deol delivering his inspirational dialogues in the film Border, media reports of missing jawans, soldiers breaching the Line of Control (LoC). But for the ones living at LoC, life is regular. The Borderlands, a self-funded travel documentary campaign, directed by Samarth Mahajan, captures the real stories of real people at LoC.
Mahajan grew up in a small border town in Punjab which was just 10 miles away from the India-Pakistan border, but he says that he did not grow up finding anything unusual about his time there. “I had a normal childhood like any other person growing up in India, it was only when I moved out to larger cities that people were intrigued by the fact that I lived near the border and spoke about the dangers of it, which often left me clueless because I knew that was not true,” says Mahajan.
Borders are nothing but physical boundaries, but Mahajan always believed that the people who live there have a lot of interesting stories to share. “I made up my mind and decided to share their stories with others by documenting them. People who don’t live at the border will get a glimpse into the lives of those who do,” he says.
Best known for his award-winning documentary Unreserved, Mahajan and his team Camera and Shorts have set out to document tales of people living across border towns across the country — from Kutch to the Himalayas and the North East to the coastal towns of Rameswaram and Dhanushkodi.
“My major inspiration for the project came while shooting for Unreserved, a documentary that I made on the general compartment journeys on Indian trains. So I started reading a lot on borders and visited a lot of them because they struck a chord,” he says.
“People know one thing about the border towns — that they always get attacked and through the documentary I want to focus on the human side of life on borderlands,” he adds.
On his journeys, there were a lot of instances that intrigued Mahajan. One such instance was his visit to Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur, Punjab. “This is a place from where you could see the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, the place where Guru Nanak died. It is just 4 km away from the border and the BSF has built a raised platform where people can see it through binoculars,” he says. Even the Pakistani soldiers know it’s important, so they cut the grass around it and make sure that the view of the gurdwara is not obstructed. “My idea was to capture the phenomenon and to understand the longing of wanting to go there. It is very close to you, but you need a passport and visa to reach there. Also, you get there only through Wagah, which is a 220-km-long journey,” adds the filmmaker.
Mahajan’s next stop was the famous Attari station in Punjab. What he saw and heard from the people there was heartbreaking. He says that he still gets goosebumps every time he talks about it. “I met a father there, whose daughter was married off to a Pakistani man. He hadn’t met her in 20 years,” he narrates. The father, a commoner, was unaware of the complexity of obtaining a Pakistan visa and his application got rejected many times. Meanwhile, his daughter was widowed. “He was carried away by the emotions so much that he started crying five minutes after he started talking,” Mahajan recalls.
The Sri Lankan marine border issue must have been a humorous reference in Chennai Express but that compelled Mahajan to read and research about it because of which he will be visiting Rameswaram soon to get interesting stories.
Since not many people actually watch documentaries the way commercial cinema is viewed, the documentary market in India is not that popular and funds too are hard to get. Which is why Mahajan decided to start a crowdfunding campaign and since people will invest they might even watch the documentary.
Ask Mahajan the most challenging aspect of crowdfunding and he says that nothing is more challenging than creating an honest page. He explains, “When it comes to crowdfunding, people are ready to give you money even though they don’t know you but because they like and believe in what you are doing, it gets extremely important for you to be as honest as possible.”
The Borderlands, however, will not only show the Indian perspective. Mahajan will be collaborating with filmmakers on the other side of the border and get stories from there as well.
“We won’t be touching the topic of terrorism because we want to show that there are humans out there with emotions and feelings and stories that are worth sharing, be it a soldier, a farmer, a father or a child,” he says.
The Borderlands is set to release in April 2020 and the team, along with Mahajan, who is making it possible include Anadi Athaley (editor), Nupur Agrawal (assistant director), Omkar Divekar (cinematographer) and Ashay Gangwar (producer).