SEN: Our interview really is about this question of identity: what it means to be an Indian and yet have relations across the border; and what it means to be a Muslim or Hindu in this country, and elsewhere. I would like to begin with your film Mammo which is an endearing study of an old woman who comes back from Pakistan to visit her sister in India. Is it based on a true story?

BENEGAL: Yes, it is based on a true story, although fictionalized in its treatment. Khalid Mohammad had written up a little piece about his grand aunt in the Sunday edition of The Times of India, under a section called “The Personal Eye.” I was very moved by the piece and asked him whether he would like to do a screenplay—because I was keen to make a film based on it. 

SEN: Khalid Mohammad is renowned as one of our eminent film critics—I didn’t realize he was a script writer!

BENEGAL: The original screenplay was by him. Later, Shama Zaidi and Javed Siddique made further inputs. The film was set in Bombay, where the incidents took place.

His grand aunt, who used to live in Pakistan, came to live with her sister in India, after her husband’s death. Her sister was her only next of kin. She had a temporary visa, and had to go back. The only way she could continue to live in India was to lose her passport—to become stateless, and melt into the multitudes of India.

SEN:  I recall that very vivid scene of a whole trainload of people being shunted back to Pakistan. The pivotal point of this story seems to be that the old aunt comes back, she wants to stay in India and tries by various means such as a doctor’s certificate. But finally nothing works, and she goes back. Was that the main issue you were addressing—the need for improvement of human relations between the two countries?

BENEGAL: That is one of the issues I was addressing; but another emerged since the story hadn’t really ended there! The piece that was written by Khalid ended there; but in reality she did return once again, and some means had to be found to make her stay there. And they resolved it in in a fashion—-the way it was solved in the film was by getting her a death certificate. And getting that death certificate meant that she became invisible—a non-person. This way she could stay because there was no record of her anywhere. Now, this is really a big problem because it happens to a lot of people—-whether in India or Pakistan or Bangladesh: you have people who suddenly become non-persons. To me the irony is that she is accepted only when she becomes invisible.  

Issues and Censorship in Indian Cinema: Shyam Benegal in Dialogue with Geeti Sen

(via fuckyeahsouthasia)