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'After Indira Gandhi's assassination, it wasn't riots, it was a massacre'

By Patcy N
October 20, 2016 16:04 IST
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'People who were killed didn't even know why they were being killed.'
'Because a couple of Sikhs assassinated Indira Gandhi, the whole community had to pay for it.'

 

IMAGE: Soha Ali Khan in 31st October.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination on October 31, 1984 and its horrific aftermath has inspired several films over the years.

National Award-winning director Shivaji Lotan Patil's 31st October tells the story of a Sikh family which went through hell after the assassination.

Starring Soha Ali Khan and Vir Das, the film releases on October 21.

Lotan Patil tells Rediff.com's Patcy N why he made a film on the riots that followed the assassination.

What made you take up a film like 31st October?

After winning a National Award for Dhag, Harry (Sachdeva, the producer) felt I should make a worthwhile film.

I was aware of the subject so I thought of making it. Plus, it was the story of a family; the subject was powerful.

I thought this would be a good chance to make an entry in Hindi films.

Do you remember the day Indira Gandhi was assassinated?

I come from a small village, Mandurne in Jalgaon, Maharashtra. I must have been 14 or 15 then.

In my village, we just came to know that Indira Gandhi was shot dead, nothing more. In villages, you don't know much.

I came to know more about it when I came to Mumbai.

 

IMAGE: Soha Ali Khan and Vir Das in 31st October.

What kind of research did you do for the film?

Everything is available on Google.

I knew if I had to make a film on Indira Gandhi's assassination, I would have to do research because otherwise people would raise questions.

Harry wrote the story and my assistant got the footage.

After seeing the footage, I realised it was a dangerous incident.

I also read a lot. We are aware of Hindu-Muslim problems but when you read about it, you realise the real issue was different.

I had no knowledge of Sikhs when I was in my village.

The only thing I knew about them was from a book written on Shivaji Maharaj. In that, I read about an incident where the Sikhs helped Shivaji fight a battle in Nanded.

When I read about the Sikhs in detail, I learnt that this sect was formed to protect Hindus.

When I read about the riots that followed Indira Gandhi's assassination, I learnt that it wasn't riots, it was a massacre.

People who were killed, didn't even know why they were being killed.

Because a couple of Sikhs (her bodyguards Beant Singh and Satwant Singh) assassinated Indira Gandhi, the whole community had to pay for it.

People did not kill Maharashtrians after Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated (by Nathuram Godse, a Maharashtrian).

Is your film based on a true incident?

There is no fiction in this film; everything that I have shown is true.

The story of Vir Das and Soha Ali Khan's family is a true incident that happened to Harry Sachdeva's family. That's why he wrote the story.

The rest of the incidents in the film are also true. I have not added anything that has not happened, or anything filmi.

  

IMAGE: Director Shivaji Lotan Patil, Soha Ali Khan and producer Harry Sachdeva at the trailer launch of 31st October.

In the film, do you explain why the Sikhs were attacked?

No, we are not going that much in detail.

If we did, the film will not release at all.

Even the little political reference that we show, the Censor Board chopped it off.

We are showing the human story only.

The film is releasing very close to the day Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Are you worried that there will be protests?

Nothing like that will happen. (If it does) My request to the demonstrators is to go to the theatre and watch the film.

If you find it offensive, we will remove it.

The Hindus who carried out the Sikh massacre should be ashamed.

But there were also Hindus who helped and sacrificed their lives for the Sikhs.

I want to say again that the attack on the Sikhs was a massacre.

If it was a riot, fewer people would have died and people from both communities would have been dead.

But here, only Sikhs were killed.

 

IMAGE: Soha Ali Khan in a scene from 31st October.

Have you ever witnessed riots?

No. I came to Mumbai in 1993 during the riots. But I was staying in Dombivili (a township near Mumbai), which was not affected by the riots.

31st October has been ready for a year. Why did it get delayed?

We did not get the censor certificate.

They were giving us an 'A' certificate and they asked us to chop some scenes.

We said if you give an 'A' certificate, we will not cut any scene.

They asked for 40 cuts and finally settled on nine.

We have got an 'A' certificate, how long can we keep the film in the can?

Tell us about your next Marathi film, Halala.

Halala is about the divorce system among the Muslims.

Under Halala, if a husband divorces his wife, he can remarry her only after she marries someone else, consummates the marriage and then divorces that man.

Most Muslim women are not even aware of it.

My film has been ready for a year now and has been going to film festivals.

The Censor Board rejected my film because it is a controversial topic. The film went to the revising committee and 11 Muslims saw it.

It got passed with seven votes. We just had to cut some bad words. It should release by November.

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Patcy N / Rediff.com in Mumbai