Broken over time

mohini chaudhuri | Updated on September 12, 2014 Published on January 31, 2014

Street truths A still from Kya Hua Is Shehar Ko

Made three decades ago, a movie about the 1984 riots continues to be relevant

It’s been nearly three decades since activist-filmmaker Deepa Dhanraj made Kya Hua Is Shehar Ko?, a documentary on the 1984 communal riots in Hyderabad, but the buzz around it doesn’t seem to be fading away. A digitally remastered version of the film was screened at the Berlin Film Festival last year and will now make its debut in Mumbai at the Sheharnama festival. Reminiscing about the experience of filming the powerful documentary, Dhanraj says, “I had been noticing for a few years prior to 1984 that the BJP was mobilising Hindus around the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations. I remember lakhs of young men moving around the city (of Hyderabad) on trucks. There would be rioting and people would die. I wanted to know what was attracting these youngsters towards such acts.”

The 1984 riots broke out while Dhanraj was shooting the film with three other crewmembers. But they continued filming for the next 22 hours. Most of the film, she says, took shape only when they went through all their footage on the editing table. “Once we got into it, there was no looking back. I guess you have to be young and foolhardy to pull off something like that,” she says with a laugh. Despite shooting in such a tense climate, she says people like daily-wage labourers, who were the worst hit by the curfew in the city, shared their troubles with her, without reservation. “The curfew was such terrible punishment for people like them. They were keen to meet someone they could talk to. Today, when people are so media savvy, it’s much more difficult to attempt a film like this.”

The 60-year-old filmmaker is an active voice in India’s women’s movements since the ’80s. Her other films like The Legacy of War, The Advocate and Invoking Justice touch upon contentious issues like communalism, poverty and justice. Of all her works, she believes that Kya Hua is Shehar ko? remains the most relevant because of its universal theme. “When I show my films at foreign festivals, the audience needs to be given some background. But at the end of the day, things like ethnic cleansing and manipulation of events by political parties happens everywhere,” she says.

(Watch Kya Hua Is Shehar Ko on 1 February, 2:15pm, at Mayor’s Hall, All India Institute of Local Self Governance, Juhu Galli, Andheri (W), Mumbai.)

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Published on January 31, 2014
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