Return of the Native
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Arvind Daman Singh is a tall woman. And it's not just her height one looks up to, but the stature of work she has scaled. A lawyer by education and practice, as well as a theatre artist and television actor, a wife and a mother, Singh is now a socio-political documentarian based in the US. "I am a visual anthropologist, a culture broker trying to trade information between the West and the East through my documentaries," says Singh, sitting in the living room of her Mohali residence. It's been twelve years since she left the city with her family in a rush. "I was commissioned a film by a Canada-based organisation on children and women left behind due to terrorism in Punjab, and how state terrorism is capable of generating general terrorism," says Singh.
Tain Kee Dard Na Aiya (Oh God, couldn't You Have Mercy?) was the film, and it showcased the anger, bitterness and resentment simmering in the villages screaming for justice and rehabilitation. Post the film, Singh felt like she was "being watched" and decided to join her husband in the US. Once there, she decided to go back to school and chose visual anthropology over law. "Law practice is vulturistic in the US. Everyone is suing everyone. I didn't want to do that," says Singh, who found a new expression and voice in visual anthropology, a study of different cultures, people and backgrounds. With it came research, observations and an exposure to cinema verite. "These are observational films without interviews. It is a fantastic way of making a documentary, for you need to merge in with the people, and that's where my acting skills come in handy," says she.
In the last 12 years, Singh, under her AcreativePeaceProduction banner has made 18 documentaries, following and observing people on subjects ranging from war, peace, violence and abandonment, to sex, youth, women, identities, struggle and so on. What brings her back is a proposed documentary on the issue of American corporate expansion and its effect on Indian farming community, which is manifesting itself in their silent but large-scale suicides. During this visit, she will also showcase her films War, a 55-minute feature-length cinema verite documentary, shot in Washington DC, documenting the most precarious period of Bush administration during the Iraq war, and A Dream Lost in Dream, a feature- length self-reflexive documentary, portraying the dilemma of Indian diaspora in the US. "My aim is to start a transnational dialogue between countries," says the film scholar whose work is part of academics in the US.
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