We have been indoctrinated into believing that borders are real and important for the preservation of our respective nations. We have been conditioned to believe in them by our history and geography books, the atlases and miniature globes we bought. Borders are accepted at face value and we tend to forget that they are outcomes of historical processes. They are imaginary lines dictating that there is an “other” living beyond those lines, even though they belong to the same species. The purpose is not to debate whether a borderless society is a utopian dream or not but to inject fluidity and humanity into the idea of borders and challenge its rigid conception in society.
This brings me to the astutely conceived political documentary titled Borderlands (2022), directed by Samarth Mahajan. Mahajan’s intention from the beginning of the project was to narrate the stories of borders through people. The personal is the political and this documentary embodies that. It traces the day-to-day lives of six characters living adjacent to borders around the Indian subcontinent and how their geographical location brings forth a universality in their personal struggles.
What I found most interesting about the film is its choice of protagonists. Five of them are women and although Samarth Mahajan, in an interview with the Abstract Room, says that it was not a conscious choice, the narrative structure challenges the masculine notions associated with borders. Whenever we think of borders, masculine figures and symbols like the army, terrorists, and guns crop into our mind — we have mainstream Bollywood to thank a lot for that. This documentary subverts that image.
The film is a powerful engine of emotions primarily because it documents real people with their real struggles that remain invisible to the mainstream. History, politics and violence are real and so are the people affected by it. That is what this documentary brings to light. Here's an excerpt from a wonderful piece of writing that renowned entrepreneur, Balram Vishwakarma penned after watching Borderlands.
Balram’s writing brings to attention an important factor — we, the millennial and Gen-Z generations have not experienced the Partition first-hand. We may have been on the receiving end of generational trauma passed down from the Partition but are not first-hand witnesses. That does not mean we cannot empathize or even, relate to it. Ask your parents or your grandparents about their lives before Partition and I’m sure most of you will end up encountering a treasure trove of stories. A border is not a monolith and Borderlands exemplifies that core idea through a humanizing light.
The National Award-winning documentary has just released on YouTube. Watch it below.