”Child of Empire” is a VR experience that immerses the audience in the story of the largest forced migrations in human history: the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan. Inspired by personal histories, the 17-minute immersive animated virtual film, had its world premiere at Sundance Festival 2022.
During the experience, the scenes follow one another in a way that highlights both the historical context that led to migration and the personal stories.
And you can witness the difference in the chronology of history and people’s lives: the time of war and dissension is over as politics found a solution, but the time of personal trauma starts, and the memory of those events might live till today.
Using VR, both dimensions of time (historical and personal) are recreated. And the user can witness a friendly, sometimes humorous or sarcastic, conversation between two men from the Partition generation as they unfold their memories – both the happy and tragic moments.
Just like on a theatrical stage, a window toward the past opens to witness the story. Using the photographic collage, shadow technique, and silhouette form of puppetry art, the history of the British invasion is introduced. Politicians appear as marionettist, in the poker games of power when you don’t know who will be the wild-joker, while the narration highlights how efficiently the British Empire used the well-known tactic, ‘Divide et Impera’ that started a process of hate, fights, and divisions.
It will take years for people to sit down and talk about those events…
The audience can witness such a talk. The stories told rely on real life events by Ishar Das Arora (voiced by Adil Hussain), an Indian Hindu who migrated from Pakistan to India, and Ahmed, a Pakistani Muslim who made the opposite journey.
While playing board games, they share their happy childhood memories while the festivities were fun for all – while users can play with colors – but soon they turn into the nightmare in which history caught people.
When the partition was suddenly announced, “millions found themselves on the wrong side of the border – neighbor turned against neighbor, some for survival, some for revenge… so it began the largest forced migration in human history”.
The journey that will characterizes the drama of human destiny starts:
And those “civilized trains” become a symbol for the nightmare journey.
For Ishar, crossing the border was exactly in a train that was ambushed.
The user gets a torch that can illuminate and you choose to see or not the deaths and tragedies that surround it.
Ahmed describes his journey and the loss of his family, while they had to walk to be on the right side of the border.
Death is symbolized in a metaphorical way, the souls are transformed into letters- maybe forming words? or stories?, and maybe these stories can’t be really understood, yet, by us…?
Definitely, in the religious conflict between the two parts, “God was a little late that day” as the terror and misery emerged.
In the end, the two characters are transformed, and users are surrounded by words written in the three languages, such as ‘This is not that dawn which we awaited’, words that accompany your movement in whatever direction you choose to move in the rhythm of the music.
An impactful experience that highlights that history lasts longer than we usually imagine, with forceful visuals and poetic sensitivity, uniting drama with ironic moments, “Child of Empire” is critical especially in the current context of global migration.
The film is heavily inspired by the work of the Pakistani revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz.
The documentary "Child of the Empire" is an initiative by Project Dastaan, a non-profit organization that reconnects refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India to their ancestral communities with the help of storytelling and films.
“Child of Empire” was selected at SUNDANCE FESTVAL 2022
Sparsh Ahuja is a multimedia artist and NatGeo Explorer working between Delhi, Melbourne, and London. He is the founder of the peace-building initiative Project Dastaan, and has been featured in Time and on the BBC. ©Photo credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Erfan Saadati is an Iranian-British director, producer, and screenwriter. An active filmmaker and XR creator from 2010, Saadati has been at the forefront of immersive storytelling. He is best known for directing Home: Aamir. ©Photo credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Stephen Stephenson is an animator with years of experience in VR and new technologies.
©Photo credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute
OMI ZOLA GUPTA
Omi Zola Gupta is a writer and director living and working between the U.K. and India.
©Photo credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute
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