Previously banned film illuminates violence, loss

By Lauren Lavelle

Pankaj Butalia presents his controversial film Textures of Loss.
Pankaj Butalia presents his controversial film Textures of Loss.

A distraught mother clutches her son’s elementary school report card. Tears form in the corners of her almond-shaped eyes as she describes her lively 9-year-old, a boy, she says, who never received less than an A on anything. Unfortunately though, as the mother puts away her son’s achievements, the audience learns her son was a victim of violence, hit on the back of the head with a rifle on his way to school. The mother wipes her tears and remains clutching her son’s final report card.

The 23rd annual Emanuel Levine Lecture took place in the Cavalla Room on Feb. 29 with a screening of Textures of Loss, a controversial documentary by award-winning Indian filmmaker Pankaj Butalia.

Shot in 2012 in the combat-ridden region of Kashmir, Butalia homes in on specific families and questions their experiences with violence while also attempting to gain knowledge on their tactics for fighting the increasing acts of terrorism in their homeland.

Textures of Loss focuses on one of the world’s most militarized areas of dispute, the contested region of Kashmir, that has witnessed the rise of armed insurgency in East India since the late 1980s,” said Shahla Hussain, an assistant professor in Rider’s Department of History. “This insurgency has led to killings, bloodshed and violence on a large scale. Textures of Loss maps them back to violence in the daily lives of Kashmiris, especially women and youth.”

After viewing the film, the Central Board of Film Certification and the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal in India encouraged Butalia to censor the documentary in order to eliminate certain aspects of brutality so the film would be appropriate for public viewing.

“This documentary was banned in India as it raised several unconventional questions that did not fit in with the status perspectives of Kashmir,” said Hussain. “Clearly, this documentary will provide us an insight into multiple perspectives about understanding world conflicts and will raise some very interesting questions.”

After much deliberation, the Delhi High Court let the film be presented without censorship, saying, “the response [to unwelcome ideas] cannot be to ban, mutilate or destroy the work of another, with whom one stridently disagrees.”

Butalia, a former Delhi University economics professor, began his film career in 1990 with When Hamlet went to Mizoram. His big break did not arrive, though, until his 1993 film Moksha, a documentary on the hardships of Bengali widows in Vrindavan.

As he introduced his latest film, Butalia expressed his feelings on the motivation of human beings and questioned why people feel the need to target one another.

“I don’t know how to express the certain fundamental sense of depression I feel when I think of human beings,” said Butalia. “I think there is something flawed in us. I think we are determined to press the self-destruct button and it doesn’t matter how much time goes by, we repeat things antiquated thousands of years ago. We have learned nothing.”

Butalia left the audience with his overall goal when making the documentary and encouraged them to take their own coping mechanisms into consideration.

“In Textures of Loss, I tried to look at the different ways in which people have dealt with loss and what it has done for them,” said Butalia. “I tried to see if it was possible to grieve alone and understand this particular loss itself.”

This lecture is hosted in honor of Dr. Emanuel Levine, a former history professor who passed away in 1980. It is also sponsored by the history and political science departments and supported by the Provost’s Student Centered Initiative.

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