Director:Debalina Majumder, India
An armed revolutionary freedom fighter, an ambidextrous gunslinger, a refugee, a teacher, a protector of the neighbourhood. This film will be a journey to find the enigma of Parul Mukherjee under the shade of the tamarind tree, that sheltered both Parul Mukherjee and the filmmaker.
Trying to trace the origins of the giant tamarind tree in her neighbourhood, a former refugee colony in Kolkata, India—the filmmaker stumbles upon a heap of stories – all centring a woman she had known as her neighbour, Parul pishi (‘Parul’, n. a flower and ‘Pishi’, n, a Bengali word indicating paternal aunt). Parul Mukherjee, jailed for being part of the Titagarh Conspiracy Case in colonial India, was famous for her bravery. She had single handedly destroyed a host of incriminating evidence even while the house she was hiding in was surrounded. The judges in the conspiracy case, remarked on the number of aliases she used, and the long years she evaded arrest was the stuff of legend. Some remember her stories of hoodwinking the police by passing off as a white memsahib, and others tell of her expertise with a gun in each hand. But there is scanty mention of this revolutionary freedom fighter in the annals of history. Existing historiography of the time mentions her as having retired from public life after the partition. But in the neighbourhood, Parul pishi continues to be remembered as one of the first settlers to the colony, standing on lone vigil at night with a torch and stick. A guardian of the humans and animals of the neighbourhood alike, setting up schools and sheltering strays. A single woman in a predominantly male world, Parul pishi held on to her fighting spirit, creating a new world in a new city—a pioneer woman. The stories of Parul pishi flicker with every remembering and forgetting, as notebooks bearing her signature start to disintegrate. They burn like embers, shining on our present history. Some say the tamarind tree was planted by Parul pishi. It is in these pockets, that Parul pishi resides, with her narratives of revolutionary aspirations, of struggle for a different world, accounts of a different time, stories as precarious as the existence of the tamarind tree. This film is an exploration of public memory, of the stories that become a person, narratives of a colony, city, of partition…stories that have been passed on through generations, as family inheritance, stories that will perhaps die a natural death with the tree. How does a film capture the life and adventures of this enigma, this common ancestor of ours?
Both my parents had had to leave their homes and come to Kolkata as refugees. Our new‘home’, also carried in it the identity of a colony—something I was reminded of repeatedly as a child. The history of the colony, of the changing socio-economic and cultural dynamics of the city since partition has been a story that I always wanted to tell. My relationship with the tamarind tree outside my window finally led me to Parul pishi, to the reservoir of stories about this area, this city. I have always felt that had she been a man, everyone would have known her story. The history of India’s freedom struggle, has been mostly about men daring to stand up to the colonizers and fighting resolutely for freedom. Photographs of the nationalist struggle too hardly feature women, especially those who had participated in armed rebellion. Even when one hears of a Kalpana Dutta or Pritilata Waddedar, it is usually in relation to men, to their mentors, or as martyrs, as ‘examples’. This project is therefore also critical to me as an act of rewriting history, rehabilitating Parul pishi to the pages she deserved to be in. It is through her feminist herstory that we get a sense of the women who defied traditions, stereotypes, and societal glares to assert their right to fight, to fight for their country. Furthermore, the world of trees and animals built by Parul pishi has over the years been a refuge to many, to me – who has been documenting the tamarind tree for years, finding in it comfort in an otherwise distraught world, to the birds who come to find shelter in its branches in this city of concrete, to a little girl for whom this world of birds and bees and cats and greens has come to be a space of amazement and friendships, in the middle of this cramped urban set up. Even in her absence, Parul pishi stays on through the tree, through stories about her, through her ideology. At a time when the world is reeling with hatred and xenophobia, with being blood in every border, every barbed wire, with humanity as a whole struggling to deal with the refugee crises, listening to these stories, finding Parul pishi and her stories, itself becomes, for me, an act of resistance, an act of healing.
Debalina Majumder’s (independent filmmaker based in Kolkata, (https://www.imdb.com/name/nm5165983/) film “Joy Run” was selected to ‘Shoot Goals! Shoot Movies!’ short film competition, Berlinale Talent Campus 2005, 55th Berlin International Film Festival, FIFA 2006 World Cup Compilation. “A Stranger in a Bioscope” was shot in Berlin as ‘Movie of the Week’ for the same festival, Directed “…and the unclaimed” (on lesbian suicides in Bengal); “If You Dare Desire…” (fictional sequel, Diversity Award at Barcelona International LGTIB Film Festival); “Gay India Matrimony” (on the debate of same-sex marriage in India). “Citizen Nagar” on the survivors of 2002 Gujarat genocide is in progress.
Samata Biswas, a University faculty based in Kolkata, teaching literatures of migration and film theory, this is her first foray in film production.
So far, every part of the project including filming and research has been funded personally and concentrated in Kolkata. If we receive funding, we shall immediately set into the necessary research and filming in Bangladesh, including travel to Parul Mukherjee’s birthplace, the schools she studied and worked in, interviews with historians and experts, as well as relevant archival research in government archives and newspaper offices. This will of course be scheduled after considering the necessary travel restrictions and completed by May 2021. The Calcutta based research and filming will continue simultaneously. In both cases, physical distancing measures will be strictly maintained. The film will be ready for release by
Total : 75,150 USD
The filmmaker has been photographing and documenting the tamarind tree around which the film is centred. Apart from such footage, we have already started interviewing Parul Mukherjee’s family members, former students, and neighbours. We have accessed some parts of her family archive. Conversation and consultation with historians expert in the workings of the Anushilan Samiti and India’s revolutionary freedom struggle is underway. Simultaneously, documenting the origins of the colony in Kolkata and Parul Mukherjee’s active involvement in it are also being researched.