Rubaru Roshni: A Balm for these Fractious Times

Rubaru Roshni An Aamir Khan Production

Forgiveness is seen as a passive quality at a time when revenge is glorified.  But it requires courage too, says Rubaru Roshni, a feature-length documentary, directed by Svati Chakravarty Bhatkal and produced by Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao, for telecast on Republic Day.

It tells three stories of perpetrators of a killing and how that one thoughtless act impacted their own life and the lives of the loved ones of their victims. The director has managed to get honest interviews and unrehearsed reactions from all her subjects, which makes for a moving film.

The first, The Orphan And The Convict, is about the fates of Ranjit Singh Gill and Avantika Maken, whose parents he shot dead. Congress politician Lalit Maken was one of the many named in the genocide of Sikhs, following the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984.

Avantika was a child when her parents were killed and her whole life was blighted by grief and anger. Gill escaped to the US and spent over ten years in prison before being extradited to India and incarcerated in Delhi’s Tihar Jail. If the 1984 pogrom had not taken place, Gill would have gone to the US to pursue higher studies. While facing the camera for the film, he comes across as sober and dignified, while Avantika holds on to her anguish  Then, the miracle happens– Gill’s sister arranges a meeting between him and Avantika and she agrees to the procedure to get him pardoned and released. It is as if this act liberates both of them from years of suffering.  He has been punished enough, she says, and there is a heartening scene of the two families meeting over a meal. After losing the best years of his life to a cause he considered righteous, Gill is not repentant, but admits with hindsight, that he might have done things differently.

The second story, The Farmer And The Nun, is about Samunder Singh, a poor farmer in Madhya Pradesh, who is instigated by the village landlords, into brutally stabbing a nun, Rani Maria, to death. Her sister, Selmi, also a nun, finds it in herself to get him pardoned and adopt him into their family by tying a rather on his wrist. Samunder Singh is deeply contrite and with a wisdom that comes from living out a nightmare, the simple, unlettered farmer understands that he was made a scapegoat of somebody else’s hate. He is truly transformed by the compassion that is offered to him by Rani Maria’s family, and grateful for a second chance.

The third story, The Terror And The Mom captures the unbearable sorrow of Kia Scherr, who lost her husband and daughter in the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. There is no scope for any repentance here,  only a  bereaved woman’s wish to channelise her mourning into a continuing campaign for peace. Footage of Ajmal Kasab’s  (the only terrorist captured alive) shows a weak man who was driven by extreme poverty to join a terrorist organisation. It would be difficult to pardon such a man, even if it were possible, and perhaps one of the local survivor’s point of view would have been more effective than that of a foreigner.

Any film that speaks up strongly for forgiveness, peace, kindness and dignity deserves to be seen and supported—Rubaru Roshni is like a balm for these fractious times.


Rubaru Roshni

Directed by Svati Chakravarty Bhatkal

Rating: 3.5 stars

By Deepa Gahlot

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