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15 December, 2019 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 15 December, 2019 03:59:36 PM
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1971: HOPE DIES LAST IN WAR

A tale of wait by families of Indian prisoners of war

FAISAL MAHMUD, Dhaka
A tale of wait by families of 
Indian prisoners of war

During the War of Liberation of this country, more than 200 Indian prisoners of war (PoW) in the Western front were repatriated from Pakistan. But the last train expected to bring the remaining Indian PoWs never arrived.

Pakistan at that time claimed that there were no more PoWs left in Pakistani jails. But the family members of 54 missing Indian PoWs are yet to accept Pakistan's claim.

A lot of things have changed in the households of these missing brave-hearts. Some of their parents died, some of their wives remarried, and some of their children lost hope and committed suicide. But there are some who have not yet given up the return of their near and dear ones. ‘’As long as there is love, there is hope. And hope dies last in war!’’ said one of them.

A film, “Hope Dies Last in War”, by Indian Filmmaker Supriyo Sen brings to the viewers the story of their daily ordeal, struggle, and hope. When this correspondent met Sen on the third floor of Aziz Super Market in Dhaka, the sun has just set and the Shahbag Road was abuzz with the evening traffic. His film was screening inside the auditorium of the Bangladesh Short Film Forum. He was approached at the door of the auditorium. Before being asked anything, he shot a question himself: “Aren’t you watching the film?”

This correspondent was caught off guard with this direct approach. “I watched the first 15 minutes. It was amazing, but I have a deadline,” was the feeble but truthful answer.

“Journalists! Always in a rush,” Sen said, surprisingly with a smile, “I used to be one. Do you know that?”

This correspondent did not know that, but gave an impromptu reply: “Your films surely show the elements of journalism.”

Documenting uncharted territories

“Hope Dies Last in War” indeed has elements of journalism as well as a strong human interest.

It was about 54 Indian soldiers who were taken as PoW during the Liberation War of 1971, which was also known as Indo-Pak war of 1971. “It was your Liberation War. Indian soldiers fought valiantly together with their Bangladesh counterparts and freedom fighters. But that was in the Eastern Front,” said Sen.

“In the Western front, however, we had a full-fledged war going on with Pakistan since December 3, 1971, when we declared war against Pakistan”, Sen explained, adding that it was another side of the 1971 Liberation War that many Bangladeshi people are not aware of.

He, himself, did not know about this side of the war story before 2004, the year when when he read a newspaper article about the long wait of the wife of an Indian soldier who was taken as POW during the 1971 war.

On December 5, 2004, Sen was accompanying that women, Mrs Damayanti Tambay, wife of Flt Lt VV Tambay, to the Ambala cantonment from where her husband had taken off for the last time the same day 33 years ago. ‘’I asked her how could she wait alone for such a long time? Even Winnie Mandela did not have to wait so long for Nelson Mandela!” said the filmmaker.

She replied: ‘’It’s unconditional, unwavering love for the person that has driven me to set on such an endless journey”.

Her answer struck a chord inside his mind and moved him so much that he decided to portray this love story on celluloid.

The reason behind the title

Sen told this correspondent that his film was primarily about hope. It’s the hope cherished by the relatives of the missing Indian soldiers that one day their near and dear ones will return home.

“I wanted to portray their stories—their endless wait at the border, signing of petitions, refusal to give up—through my film,” he said.

The portrayal of hope in the film

In this film, Sen has masterfully balanced fiction and documentary style with long and close shots. Each of the family members waiting for their near and dear ones has become the protagonists of the film with their heartfelt statements.

“Most of us have heard the names of the missing soldiers announced in the Pakistani radio as ‘captured alive’. We are convinced that they are alive because stories of their being alive keep pouring in from different sources,” says the brother of a missing soldier in the film.

“One soldier, who managed to smuggle a letter to his family, reported that 20 of his compatriots were languishing in the same cell. The Time Magazine published photographs of two other soldiers,” says a daughter who has not seen his father for years.

But Damayanti Tambay is the scene stealer. She symbolises the struggle of the families to uncover the truth behind their missing members.

Damayanti, a former national badminton champion in India, spent one year with husband. “We drove together towards the Ambala cantonment on December 5, 1971. He took off for the last time. I never saw or heard of him after that,” she said in the film.

Her eyes brightened with memories of a love she cherishes till this day. She has chosen the life of a single woman.

“She told me as long as love is there, hope is there. Hope dies last in the war,” said Sen.

Accolades for the film

“Hope Dies Last in War” has won the Best Documentary Film Award at the 55th National Film Awards for 2007. The film was chosen “for its sensitive albeit searching exploration of those in prisons in alien countries; a complex polyphony of variegated voices, the film is an endeavor to find hope in the midst of a struggle against despair,” said the National Academy.

Saikat Ray, the editor of the film, won the national award for best editing in the documentary and short-film section. The citation commends his work “for its creative blending of various elements of the past and present, as also for its seamless flow of images that evoke genuine emotions.”

The film was first publicly screened in 2007. Ranjan Palit bagged the IDPA (Indian Documentary Producer’s Association) gold award for his cinematography.

“It is a tragic story of human rights violation based on the testimony of parents, wives, siblings, children, and grandchildren. The film is about their pain, helplessness, dejection, reconciliation, hope, and dreams in the war-hungry Indian sub-continent,” Sen summed up.

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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