‘A Thin Wall’ Puts People’s Stories at Forefront of History

(Photo: Derek Scarlino/Love and Rage)

by Derek Scarlino/Love and Rage

Mara Ahmed, a Rochester-based filmmaker, has a small but notably socially conscious list of works. Her latest film, A Thin Wall, debuted at The Little Theatre in Rochester on April 10th.

A Thin Wall is a documentary about the partition of the British Indian Empire in 1947 which created the Hindu state of India and the Muslim state of Pakistan. The film is told through the dual perspectives of Indian and Pakistani people who lived through partition and current citizens of both countries who are affected by it today.

A self-proclaimed “hybrid”, Ahmed’s family was caught up with millions of other Muslims fleeing India to what would become Pakistan, a situation paralleled by Hindus trying to get to India, all to reach the relative safety of “the right side” of the new border before the drawing of more invisible lines on the earth would create two separate nations.

It is at once a reflective work of historical significance which provides insight into a tenuous part of South Asian history in the 20th century. Among the driving stories of the film, co-producer Surbhi Dewan also adds to its depth from an Indian perspective by adding parts of her own family’s personal history into this collaborative effort.

In a part of the world where many Americans might only think about among references to the war on terrorism, drone strikes and the death of Osama bin Laden, Ahmed’s film captures the coexistence of Indian Muslims and Hindus before the Subcontinent gained independence from the British as well as the pains of growing suspicions among neighbors as tensions led to the tipping point of partition.

Echoes of days passed, when people respected each other before their differences were bared stark by nationalist movements, populate the film with reminders of a once shared identity, culture and past. It is a reminder, too, for those in the world fortunate enough to not have had to live through civil wars, occupations, secessions or other forms of societal unrest, that our neighbors cannot always say the same.

The film stands as testament to that trying sentiment of social critics that the past should not be forgot, lest we repeat its tragedies. Opting for a more authentic take on the event as opposed to a historical retelling, its acutely personal approach delves well below the major names of well-known political figures and religious divisions into what continues to be a scarring, more intimate reminder in the daily life of both Pakistanis and Indians, many of whom themselves own the memories of partition.

Through its personal stories, artwork and animation, Mara Ahmed’s A Thin Wall is a moving, thoughtful addition to the stories of refugees and immigrant communities throughout the melting pot of the United States. It provides a refreshing, organic look at history how it was lived by its actual witnesses as opposed to being told in a more traditional fashion by third parties focusing exclusively on notable social movements and leaders.

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