LAHORE: Taangh (Longing) is a documentary film that traces the partition 67 years after 1947 from the point of view of three hockey players who were part of the team of united Punjab before the partition.

They were also the players of the Government College team in 1942 who became professional hockey players after leaving the college and joined the Punjab team, based in Lahore, that won the national championship in 1946 and 1947. These players were Grahanandan Nandy Singh, Keshav Dutt (Keshu) and Shehzada Muhammad Shah (Shahrukh). All of them were from Lahore.

The film has been made by Bani Singh, a designer from Kolkata, who is the daughter of Nandy Singh.

Shahrukh held the unique record of being an Olympian as a hockey player as well as a cyclist. Bani also found out how Kesho, who was the captain of the united Punjab team, was saved by his friend Shahrukh during the riots of 1947.

The film

The documentary starts with Bani Singh’s passing. He had had a stroke that left his right side paralysed and he lost his speech. It’s a kinda family video and Bani who is also the narrator of the film is heard saying, “I guess my parents’ memories are important to me because in a way they underpin mine”.

Grahanandan Singh, known as Nandy Singh, had started his hockey from the Govt College Lahore (now GCU). He was a part of the college team that also had Keshav Dutt, Balbir Singh, Shahrukh and his brother Khurram. As luck would have it, the hockey team was also partitioned between Punjabs in India and Pakistan just like the province. Nandy, Kesho and Balbir later represented post-partition India in the first Olympics in London while Shahrukh and Khurram represented Pakistan.

Taangh traces the team’s separation and end of the friendship that nurtured in Lahore on the hockey field. Bani revisits the story of her father from his college days in Lahore and during this journey she herself became the film maker.

Bani’s film moves at three levels, her own relationship with her father and revisiting his memories, the history of hockey team of GC Lahore and her travel to Lahore in search of friend of his father and Kesho, pitting the former friends against each other in the Olympics just a year later after the division of the hockey team also just like the rest of Punjab.

During her filming, she leaves no stone unturned to look for Shahrukh in Lahore.

Designer turned filmmaker

“I was studying the colonial angle in hockey because the British had introduced the game to India and taught Indians who started playing it so well that the British refused to play it with them. The British first faced the subcontinent teams in the Olympics of 1948 when India played against England in the final and defeated it by 4-0 to win the gold,” says Bani, a designer-turned filmmaker, while speaking to Dawn in a corner of Alhamra Art Centre where the film was screened during the Faiz Festival.

She says she was motivated to know what had happened to the game of hockey. Only four players of that team (1948) were alive in India by then, her father (Nandy Sindh), Keshav Dutt, Balbir Sindh and Jaswant Singh Rajput. Out of these four players, three players were from the Punjab team. “I delved into details of the story of the Punjab hockey team. Within the bigger story of colonialism of India, there is another story of Punjab and how that impacted the subcontinent’s team and what happened to the Punjab team.”

Bani says she was impressed by the story told by Kesho when he talked about Shahrukh and how he saved his life in riots. Keshav had gone for national championship in Bombay against the wishes of his family. The Punjab team had won the national championship of united India in 1946 and 1947.

“Keshav had got a message from his family who were leaving Lahore, not to come to Lahore, and stay there as the riots had started. But Keshav, being the captain, could not leave his team midway and reached Lahore. Shahrukh had saved his life. When I came to know about this story my whole focus was on it and I decided to trace Shahrukh if he was still alive.”

Bani says that the horrible stories about Punjab and Bengal riots during the partition were all around but despite that there were inspiring stories like Shahrukh and Keshav’s. She says she wanted to explore what happened to the boys who were playing hockey together before their team fell apart in the partition mayhem. “During the Olympics they were playing against each other. Pakistan had lost to England in the semi-final because the ground was not good and India’s final was fixed with England.”

The documentary film also traces how Pakistan got defeated by England and India won. The film shows how Indians had keenly observed the ground in the semi-final between England and Pakistan, it was not a proper hockey ground and it was a football ground used for a hockey match while there was a rain factor too. The Indian team played barefoot as their shoes were not made for running in wet weather and Nandy Singh told his team to keep the ball off the ground as much as possible. The tactics worked and India won the gold medal.

“In 2014, when the film started, only one player from the preparation team was left in Pakistan : Shahrukh. My father passed away a few months after recording of the film while Shahrukh passed away six months later.”

Documentary for authenticity

Bani first thought of writing a book on this story but it was so strange that perhaps nobody would have believed it that’s why she decided to make a documentary on it.

“The film is a historical document and I included archival footage in it to make the viewers relate to the conditions of 1947 when Shahrukh takes his friend to the Lahore Railway Station.”

In the documentary, Shahrukh tells the story how he took Kesho to the station, saying that being a Hindu he could be disguised well unlike the Sikhs who were easily recognisable. He says he put Kesho in the car and told the people that he was a Muslim who was going to rescue his family from India.

About the recording of the film, Bani says at the start she was recording alone when she came to Lahore with just a digicam and tripod. “They all passed away and I was the one with the only footage left of them. I took that footage to a professional editor and asked him to see if it was good enough, he approved it saying the story was powerful.”

Bani says that she also wanted to explore conflicting emotions regarding Pakistan as her father later joined the army and participated in the war against Pakistan and the place he loved.

“I did not want the film about the past but the present talking to the past as it had become a search for my parents’ watan,” she says.

The film has been screened in the New York Indian Film Festival and South Asian Film Festival in Kathmandu, Nepal and it won the best film awards in both film festivals.

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2024

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