Connecting Roma gypsies to their Indian roots, via screen
New Delhi: Barring alternative sexuality and love, cross-cultural Indian cinema rarely explores taboos in international politics like the rampant persecution and denial of rights to the gypsy communities across the world.
The itinerant Roma gypsies in Europe trace their genetic roots to the north and northwestern Indian subcontinent from where they migrated to Europe nearly 1,000 years ago.
A new Indo-European production, ‘Prague’ which will premiere at the coming Osian`s Cinefan Film Festival beginning July 27 in the national capital has built its narrative - a cross-cultural love story - in the backdrop of the history of the atrocities on the Roma gypsies in what was Czechoslovakia during World War II.
The movie will feature in the Indian competition section.
The movie, directed by young filmmaker Ashish Shukla is set in Prague, the capital of the modern day Czech Republic where the minority ethnic Roma community - the few of the surviving bastions - still clash with the local people.
At the centre of the unusual story is a young Indian architect Chandan, who comes to Prague to work on a project with friend Gulshan.
Chandan meets a gypsy girl Elena, who wants to build a memorial for the gypsies who died in World War II. Chandan cannot trust Elena, because of her gypsy blood...He suspects her motives. The protagonists` insecurities are fanned by friend Gulshan`s hostility and needling.
The only person the architect can seek solace from is a man who does not exist. Director Ashish Shukla describes his movie as a psychological thriller with a powerful message.
The persecution of Roma gypsies in pre-war and war-time Europe is a prickly reality of racial and political hate crimes.
An estimate by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum says of the slightly less than one million gypsies living in Europe before the war, the German Nazis and their Axis partners killed up to 220,000.
"It is not an unusual story and it does have cross-cultural elements as backdrop of the films. `Prague` in a brief section does deal with the gypsies (Roma) history where we explain the atrocities that happened against the gypsies during World War II, when a concentration camp was established for gypsies as they were discriminated against and called habitual criminals," Shukla said.
Shukla said "this concentration camp in Lety was run in the name of Nazis, but it was a Czech concentration camp". "The place still has a mass grave on which there is a pig farm now. The contemporary gypsies are still fighting for the memorial of their loved ones," Shukla said.
The director says the "gypsies were Indian nomads from the northern borders of Afghanistan, Kashmir, Pakistan, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan who migrated to Europe around the 13th century via Egypt".
"They were first called Egypties. After further relocation, they spread across northern Europe and Russia. In fact, in 1983 Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, while inaugurating the second International Romani Festival in Chandigarh, said she had felt kinship towards the Roma gypsies - their sense of adventure and fortitude," Shukla said about India`s stand on the gypsies.
But now, due to their habitual nomadic nature, they kept losing their racial identity, the filmmaker said.
"They were called refugees or minorities. They were no schools or jobs for them. So most of them are still illiterate which makes them uncivilised for the Europeans. The only option for them was performing arts such as music, dance or petty crimes," the filmmaker, who has researched on the ethnic nomads, said.
A few countries are trying to rehabilitate the gypsies but "they are facing protests from the neo-Nazis".
The filmmaker said his team "has tried to keep `Prague` as a deep rooted story with a cultural mix".
"It may be seen as a new take on foreign locations and cross-cultural stories coming out of India. The movie will also have some Czech songs," he said.
‘Prague’ has been produced by Rohit Khaitan.