It is a view that has considerable currency that, at a people-to-people level, the hostility surrounding Indo-Pak political and strategic ties fizzles out. Indeed, on both sides of the border, there is an urge to connect, reach out and share in the cultures of the two nations. 'My Brother, My Enemy', a short film by two young filmmakers from the subcontinent both springs from that urge and adds fire to it.
This experimental film - by British Pakistani Masood Khan, 28, and Delhi-based cinematographer Kamaljeet Negi, 34 - is set in the backdrop of the Samsung India-Pakistan Cricket Series in 2004. The result of the spontaneous friendship Khan and Negi struck up while attending film school in London two years ago, the film leaves us with a richly-textured and complex view of human interaction. It helps us understand that history, politics and propaganda are hard to separate from human response.
Both Khan and Negi were keen to extend their friendship into their creative occupations, and the cricket series became an occasion and a dramatic background to make a film. A project riddled with uncertainties from the very beginning, Khan and Negi had no script for the piece, only a general idea of possible scenes. Both knew, though, that no matter what they filmed, the film would be historically significant.
The first segment of the film catches Khan's first trip to India, where he meets with Negi's family, participates in the cricket frenzy and travels to the village his own grandparents hailed from before Partition. Khan's trip is complex and smattered with endearing roadside conversations. There are evocative locations, such as the areas around Jama Masjid and the lanes of Chandni Chowk in old Delhi, travelling through which Khan begins to question who the 'enemy' is that he has been brought up to be antagonistic towards. His trip concludes with an emotional tracing of family history in a Punjabi village, peppered with some loveable moments of familial interaction.
The two friends then travel to Pakistan, where India lifts the cricket series. Negi's trip is dotted with a series of touching stories - very different from Khan's visit in tone and tenor. His meeting with Khan's family is the most poignant.
Khan tells us he had not informed his family that he would be accompanied by Negi on his return. In a very lucidly edited segment of the film, we see Khan introducing Negi to his grandparents. His grandfather is unwelcoming and evasive, while his grandmother slips into disturbing memories of her family's migration during Partition. A cathartic scene, with honest, raw emotion. This is the moment when the film confronts us with the complexity of the situation the two young filmmakers are capturing on camera.
Meanwhile, we follow Negi through the streets of Lahore and Rawalpindi, receiving that warm hospitality Pakistan is known for. His roadside conversations give us an indication of how India is constructed in the Pakistani imagination. Sometimes he is cornered on the familiar subject of Kashmir; on other occasions, Bollywood breaks the ice.
The drama really peaks as Negi arrives at Khan's home. He is welcomed into the family fold. We see this in subtle gestures and the demeanor of the characters in the scene. This is perhaps the most moving moment of the film. Khan in his voiceover shares that something "had changed" at that moment. With these words, the camera recedes from the scene, as if acknowledging the emotional intensity of the moment and according a dignity to the scenario that the camera's presence and literal visualization would shatter.
The film is held together with poetic and carefully designed cinematography, wherein the camera is no longer simply observational, but a presence that is on occasion emotional, on others humorous.
Khan and Negi shared the camerawork, each filming the other during travel. There is a visible distinction in how each frames the other that is both spontaneous, in keeping with the documentary circumstance of the piece, and subjective, as if through the camera vocabulary the two friends were addressing one another. Kamal is mostly seen from a low angle, a position of viewing that complements his calm and contained persona. Masood comes across as an extrovert, informal and conversational. We see him through very mobile images, such that he melds as a face amidst the crowds he interacts with.
Though the film is very private - made explicitly from the view of the filmmakers - it situates and contextualizes its content within a wider historical and political context. "Confronting my family with a camera was quite difficult for me. This was the first time that I was ever doing something like this. But once I got started, I saw that the images were revealing very deep meanings. The most lasting impression, though, is of my time in Pakistan. On the occasions when I was confronted with questions about Kashmir, Hindu-Muslim ties, I felt very frustrated. I had no answers to these questions. But, in hindsight, that is the beauty of our film. It does not seek to give solutions," says Negi.
Besides references in the conversations between Khan and Negi, the sequence depicting the daily ceremony at the Wagah border, is key in this respect. Khan, in his voiceover, unambiguously calls it "jingoistic". The film transcends its structure as a purely personal account, and situates itself almost as an intervention, a second-generation attempt that acknowledges the traumas that their grandparents' and parents' generations encountered, yet looks beyond that historical moment - to approach the enemy, the brother on more positive terms.
`My Brother, My Enemy' has won numerous awards, such as the best debut at the South Asian Film Festival and a commendation at the Royal Anthropological Institute's Ethnographic Film Festival hosted by the Oxford University. It is a timely film and an effort that shall go a long way in, if not healing the wounds of Partition, dealing with the borders it created on more humane terms. Perhaps this is the much-needed antidote needed to deal with the collective memory of a historical encounter the two nations still grapple with emotionally.