Love & Life

Hockey, friendship and the cost of Partition: Bani Singh’s award-winning documentary ‘Taangh’

Bani Singh's award-winning debut film 'Taangh' about her father, a champion hockey player, is as much a chronicle of Partition in 1947 as India winning the Olympics gold in 1948

After Bani Singh’s father Grahnandan ‘Nandy’ Singh had a debilitating stroke at the age of 84 that left him semi-paralyzed and unable to speak, Bani felt driven by an urge to create a record of his memories as an Olympian hockey player and 1947 Partition survivor.

A Bengaluru-based space designer and alumnus of National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, Bani decided to use film as a medium to trace Nandy’s life from the time of pre-Independence India. In the process of interviewing her father, who was born in Lahore and had to start over as a refugee in independent India, she uncovered untold stories of Partition trauma, friends torn apart, and hearts broken.

But she also discovered the power of love, the resilience of the human spirit, and the enduring legacy of sport.

The starting point of her research was a photograph of a group of hockey players. Nandy’s team got split after 1947 into India and Pakistan. Bani’s journey to meet her father’s closest buddies and hockey-mates from that time took her to Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and finally Lahore in 2014.

Nandy Singh and Bani Singh in a still from Taangh

“I suppose I was searching for my own roots, too,” says Bani, who turned her candid videos into a 90-minute documentary film Taangh, which means ‘longing’. “The documentary is as much about Partition as about India winning the hockey gold, which happened a year later. The players did everything in their power to keep one memory down while holding on to the other, but the two are entwined,” Bani says.

To the viewer, the film seems not only an ode to Nandy — who passed away during the course of film production — but also the city of Lahore, which Bani says felt like ‘home’. “It was an intense experience. There was always a silence around Partition for my generation. Hockey became a metaphor for me to understand colonialism, and what had been the price of freedom for them,” the 59-year-old filmmaker tells eShe.

Released earlier this year, Taangh has already won awards for the best documentary at the 2022 New York Indian Film Festival and best film at Film South Asia 2022, Kathmandu.

A still from Taangh documentary

Nandy not only played as part of India’s most celebrated hockey team, he also later served in the Indian Navy against Pakistan. “After making this film, I was able to understand my parents much better — what they had to give up and the conflict they must have felt in having to fight what they once called their own vatan (land), though they never spoke about it. There was all this negotiatation with their own memory,” she says.

Bani has collaborated with peace collective Southasian Peace Action Network (Sapan) to offer an exclusive screening of Taangh online as part of the newly launched Sapan Film Club, followed by a Zoom interaction with Bani for viewers.

“This movie would not have been possible if I didn’t get the visa to visit Lahore for six days,” she explains of her motivation to work towards regional peace in South Asia through Sapan and for the easing of visa restrictions between neighbouring states.

“We have so much in common, I don’t know why we are fighting,” she says of India and Pakistan. “We need dialogue for peace. But the border being what it is, we haven’t been able to have conversations or pick up the threads again after 1947. The community wants to heal, but unless people are allowed to meet each other, we won’t be able to move on. The longing, taangh, will not go.”

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