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Posted at: Feb 11, 2018, 12:54 AM; last updated: Feb 11, 2018, 12:54 AM (IST)

Faithfully yours

An ardent fan of Punjabis, award-winning filmmaker Meera Dewan is capturing their ethos and spirit in her films

Nonika Singh

It’s literally ‘walk the talk’… she enjoys a stroll in a garden in Lajpat Nagar and we are all ears as filmmaker Meera Dewan goes back and forth in time to tell us how she is a “Sikh in heart and soul.” As proof stand her two films, Dhun Mein Dhyan, chronicling the history of Guru Granth Sahib in a poetic, painterly fashion and equally profound, GurPrasad, an ode to the tradition of langar.

Though a Punjabi, interestingly her first understanding of what Punjabis are all about came in Canada where she was asked by the National Film Board of Canada to make a film on Punjabi diaspora, women in particular. From the unenviable plight of Punjabi women to obsessive desire of men to get to alien lands to the Khalistan movement through the eyes of Ujjal Dosanjh, she has made several films on Punjab.

Today she can’t stop gushing over Punjab and Punjabis. Punjabi hospitality, we all know, is legendary. But when it comes her way, she laughs with delight, “Whenever I make a film in Punjab, my costs get cut by 30 per cent.” Besides generous Punjabis offering her free food, there is always a car to ferry her about. She is equally touched by their response to her Muslim cameraman, Vilayat Ali, who is made more than comfortable here. 

“Sorry to bring in his religious identity and put it so crudely. But when in other places like Delhi, his introduction is followed by a painful silence, in Punjab people respond to him so positively, even make arrangements for his namaz.”

As she has just put finishing touches to her latest film on Baba Farid, she finds herself drawn towards Islam and the tenets of Sufism. She adds: “I can be anything, Marxist too, if need be.” 

Since hunger is one of her pet peeves, she was automatically drawn to the tradition of langar and made Gur Prasad. Enamoured by the ethos of ‘wand chakko’, the tradition of food sharing is, in fact, in sync with her world view. Between the spiritual galaxy of Guru Granth Sahib and the mortal ailing world, she says, “The beauty is I see no difference. All scriptures stand for equality, sharing and an egalitarian classless world.”

While the utopian dream might be far off, the process of filmmaking is becoming democratised. She asserts that back in time, it was easier to make documentary films. “In the 1980s, the number of filmmakers was very less. I would even get a call from the secretary of Government of India to make a film on say child hunger. Today, the whole process has been demystified. These days even 15-year-olds are making films, and that too on mobile cameras and putting these on internet.”

In times when salacious goes viral in a fraction of seconds, is it difficult to find a platform for good content? She says, “Once I am done with a film, I move on, let it be and breathe. I believe a film has a life of its own.” 

Her film Dhun Mein Dhyan was part of the spiritual film festival in Bhopal and the one on Kuldip Nayar, the veteran indomitable journalist, shall be screened again at the India Habitat Centre in April.

Why a film on a journalist? “I admire his courage of conviction that made him stand up against Emergency and go to jail and his indefatigable spirit that makes him deliver his column week after week.” 

She shares his interesting side — his love for Noorjehan’s songs, for Punjabi poetry and how, even at 94, he plonks himself on a rickshaw to have his share of kebabs. If Nayar lives life pulsating and alive, clearly she lives up to, “I have to be in love with my subject.” 

Always choose what you believe in… is her motto and credo. Be it mere mortals or the unfathomable depths of spirituality, she captures the essence — both intrinsically and extrinsically. No wonder, it’s not the subject that decides the treatment but her inner voice.

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