Director: Rupinder Inderjit
Cast: Manpreet Gill, Jaskamal Gill, Anmol Gill
When viewed from the future, history wears a human face – lost intimate expressions, sans the politics and side-taking and violent complications. The larger picture is embraced, and the damage is assessed on a more personal scale; tragic stories emerge to highlight the sheer futility of war.
Recent Indian films examining the two-decade long unrest of the Sikh Separatist movement seem to have concentrated their theatrics into one single truth: amidst the infamous operations and assassinations and struggle for independence, dominance and ego, it’s the common man that lost. The civilian died. Ordinary faces caught in extraordinary situations, where even their innocence is given a ‘religion’ – like Vir Das’ frightened family during Delhi’s anti-Sikh riots in 31st October, or the lone little Sikh boy in a school bus on the same fateful day in Shubhashish Bhutiani’s award-winning short film Kush.
Rupinder Inderjit’s Punjabi-language short, Khoon Aali Chithi (produced by actress Richa Chadha), however, is based more within the long-term realms of Gurvinder Singh’s Chauthi Koot universe – not cinematically, but thematically. While Singh’s bleak film revolved around a rural family and their noisy dog torn between the threats of Khalistani militants at night and apathetic cops in the day, this short is a little more upbeat and unassuming in its tone. As a result, it isn’t as moody, sacrificing nuance for accessibility, and relies on its atmospheric inconsistency to catch us off-guard.
It’s about a lovelorn Sikh teenager named Binder (Manpreet Gill), whose excitable personal life is crept upon by a similar communal tension of his environment. The trouble remains invisible, until it isn’t. The film starts off mainstream, with a typically expository background score and some buddy banter easing us into the flaky world of this boy. The (unseen) girl he fancies demands that he writes love letters to her in his own blood. Apparently, she does the same. The morbid filmy-ness of his adolescent life is obvious – a motif that more or less extends to the story he occupies.
The film starts off mainstream, with a typically expository background score and some buddy banter easing us into the flaky world of this boy. The (unseen) girl he fancies demands that he writes love letters to her in his own blood
It’s apparent early on that her odd request exists solely as a climactic device to evoke a familiar kind of visual symbolism, especially given the inherent hostility of his early-1990s surroundings. The blood-on-paper metaphor is a time-tested one – cinematically dated, but overused for its poetic relevance. It is also established through a few throwaway lines that Binder would rather kill someone for her instead of bleeding himself. A harmless declaration, one would think. Except that these words define the disturbing essence of cultural extremism.
They sound far more loaded coming from a kid seemingly oblivious to the simmering turbulence of his land. It’s only because he chooses to be; one imagines that his mother (“kids these days are so angry”) would rather he be distracted by reckless infatuations than get caught up in the region’s nefarious undercurrents. What she doesn’t know, and what we barely should, is that for him even love finds its roots in bloodied violence.
Consequentially, we don’t look beyond the surface, until we’re forced to. There is only a sense of unrest about the loud normalcy of his scenes – with his little brother, best friend and nagging parents. More on the lines of “What a silly boy” than “Uh oh, doom is around the corner”. The trick is to anticipate the film’s shift from a Raanjhana to a Chauthi Koot – and still be shaken by it. And perhaps overlook the probability of it being equally dark, albeit as a literary folktale, if Binder had decided to slit his wrists and harvest his own arteries onto a piece of paper. Either way, there is no winner. And either way, you want to slap the girl for watching too many movies.
Eventually, Khoon Aali Chithi serves as a jittery bridge connecting not only two distinct modes of storytelling, but also contemporary Punjabi cinema’s mutually exclusive pillars: history and populism.
Watch the film here: