As many Sikhs occupied themselves by signing petitions this week, news of a rather astonishing achievement has been overlooked. Kush, a short ﬁlm about the 1984 Sikh genocide had made the short-list for an Oscar nomination – a feat which doesn’t require you to be an avid ﬁlm-goer to understand. Despite not making the ﬁnal nominations which were announced yesterday (16 January), ‘Kush’ will take the story of 1984 and share it with the world.
The ﬁlm is based on a true story about a class of children on an annual school trip, when during the same day Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is assassinated. As violence erupts against Sikhs, the school teacher’s priority is to protect the lives of her students – one of whom is Kush, a young Sikh boy. The story follows the class as they try to make their way back home while protecting Kush in the process. Director Shubhashish Bhutiani who studied in New York explains that the ﬁlm is based on a story told to him by his own teacher. “Years later, this story has continued to resonate with me. The moment I heard it, I knew this was a ﬁlm that had to be made”
The Oscars, or to use the more formal title of ‘The Academy Awards’ is arguably the most prestigious merit of achievement in the ﬁlm industry. Kush was short-listed for a nomination in the ‘Live-Action Short Film’ category, a ﬁrst for any ﬁlm that involves one of the darkest periods in Sikh history. To even be considered for a nomination is reason enough that Sikhs should have been shouting from the rooftops about this ﬁlm. Not only does it have the potential to make many people aware of what happened in 1984 on a global scale, but it is clearly a respectable and well-made production.
In my recollection, only a handful of ﬁlms have ever been made centring around the events of 1984 and even fewer have gained attention outside the Sikh Diaspora. Kush therefore is doing pretty well to say the least having triumphed at the Venice Film Festival and at Hamptons International Film Festival. But why is this important for Sikhs? This year marks the 30th anniversary of 1984, a milestone if you will. Just this week documents released from the National Archives in London revealed communication between the UK and Indian Governments during 1984. There are many ways in which people have chosen to respond to this news, but it is important to remember that our feelings and voices should be heard outside of our circles in order to make any kind of real difference. A well made ﬁlm can achieve this and spark debate wider than the Sikh community, as Kush has shown. “The message behind the ﬁlm is ultimately one of compassion“, says Bhutiani who likened Kush to the story of Oscar Schindler which was told infamously in the multi-Award winning ‘Schindler’s List’.
This medium has the power of taking facts and emotions and translating them into a journey for viewers to experience, who otherwise might have a different perception of Sikhs. To be short-listed for an Oscar nomination is a great accomplishment for the cast and crew of Kush and as a Sikh ﬁlm maker myself I too feel proud knowing that our story is being told and has gained credible recognition around the world. It gives me great hope to continue to work with film and be part of future progress made by Sikhs who can use the Arts as a medium to tell our story.