I remember Sapna Bhavnani from party circles in Mumbai in the mid 2000s. Her salon Mad- O-Wat was quite the rage among my pink-haired, mohawked girlfriends who made heads turn! When I saw her on a common internet group wanting to make a film on Sindhis I was fascinated. Turned out not only did she start the process of interviews and filming, but true to her character she stuck to it, and made it see the light of day. Her documentary Sindhusthan has now made history. It is the winner of the Griffith Film School Award in Doedge Kolkata, Best Feature Documentary( NYIIF), Excellence in Cinema Award( AIFF), Honorable Mention Documentary (IFF Stutgart), and Best Documentary( MISAFF) and she has many international screenings scheduled as well.
So how did a westernized Indian, educated in America become interested in Sindh?
Sindhusthan documents the stories of the Sindhis and their exodus from Sindh. It shares stories of her family (which was the starting point of the film), herself and many amazing people that she started to connect with. “I tweeted to Dada Vaswani and was surprised to get a ‘yes’ right away. He is surely my favourite interview.”
What makes Sindhusthan so interesting and timely is that the narrative of Partition stories has been heavily represented by Punjabi stories. Popular media – books like the famous Train to Pakistan, films like Garam Hawa and the Tamas series – have depicted the violent stories from Punjab. The Sindhi story was less violent and less resistant. Sapna points out that this is because they left silently, influenced by the Sufi philosophical outlook, which in itself is a lesser known fact about Sindh. Afterwards Sindhis spent their lives focused on assimilating into India relying on their strong work ethic.
“So now it’s up to the younger generation to give their stories a voice, in a language that the world can understand.That’s what I am doing with my film. My film is my Sindh, but it will encourage the younger generation to find their Sindh. I am also refraining from giving history lessons that can be found on google,” she chuckles.
With loaded subjects like history, the Partition, and displacement of a community, what was the best feedback that she received? “The fact that the film tackles so many issues so gently is the best feedback I have received. It is very subliminal in its approach and there is no hammer to hit on any issue. It is not so much for people who want a history lesson but for those who want to understand the Sindhis because SIndh is not a piece of land , it is its people.”
As Sapna looks toward more screenings and awards, she continues to dream about going to Sindh one day. In spite of political tensions between the nations, she hopes that telling real stories through art will win in the end.
Preeti Hay is the Managing Editor of India Currents.