Parition is an experience that is branded on our collective minds, whether we have personal links to the time or not. While Bollywood and Canadian cinema have both tried to tell the Partition story through martyred love stories, Ajay Bhardwaj's stunning documentary, Rabba Hun Kee Kariye, is an honest attempt to recapture some of the lost stories of the India-Pakistan Partition.

Weaving together interviews with people who witnessed the atrocities first hand, the film follows a stream-of-consciousness style that brings together stories of horror, faith, poetry and redemption.  

Curiously, the film begins with segments from the popular Punjabi love ballad, Heer Ranjha. Although the explicit references to this poem become less as the film progresses, the thematic connections remain. In particular, the separation of Heer and Ranjha is linked to the forced separation of people and communities by Partition. This works wonderfully to allow themes to resonate across genres and adds a degree of heartfelt musicality to the film.

However, the emphasis of the film is on documenting the lived realities of everyday individuals. Stories emerge of greed, genocide and people pushed to desperation points. It’s difficult to watch but it’s because of these moments that the movie must be seen: to witness the small acts of heroism, to be aware of selfless acts of sacrifice. While some viewers may find the view of karmic justice presented in the film as problematic, it raises open-ended questions about how people make sense of violent events.

Rabba Hun Kee Kariye is not a systematic attempt to catalogue all the horrors of Partition. By engaging with vivid testimonials, the documentary works towards giving a voice to marginalized histories and remembrances of the past. Illuminating these everyday realities provides a cathartic window into how people come to terms with traumatic moments in their lives.

The Virani Lectures are taking place at UBC in Vancouver until October 21, 2010. Although the Sufi musical part of the series has passed, you can still catch screenings of films by Ajay Bhardwaj and lectures on compelling topics like qawaali, South Asia & Islam and madness in Bollywood film. For info, visit UBC Asian Studies.