MY MOTHER INDIA
My Mother India tells the story of a mixed marriage set against the tumultuous backdrop of modern Indian history. With an Indian father who collects kitsch calendars, an Australian mother who hangs her knickers out to dry in front of the horrified Indian neighbours, a grandfather who was a self-styled Guru and a fiercely man-hating grandmother - it is no wonder that Safina Uberoi made a film about her family! What begins as a quirky and humorous documentary about an eccentric, multicultural upbringing unfolds into a complex commentary on the social, political and religious events of the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 that changed the destinies of the family.
Review by Louise Keller:
A very personal story about identity and belonging, My Mother India is a fascinating insight into Indian culture and what makes us who we are. Safina Uberoi shares her emotional journey of discovery in a humorous, poignant and moving documentary that is as exotic and ornate as the country itself. The documentary begins with her mother’s underwear displayed on a washing line. This unthinkable expose of what is considered in India to be private, opens our eyes to the fact that we are about to dig beneath the façade. From her childhood perceptions that it was her Australian mother who was the outsider to her emotional conclusions, Uberoi reveals the love affair with the country in which she was born and raised. In her birth land, as the product of a mixed marriage, she describes how she always felt different, standing out with her fair skin, yet her voice identified her as a local. And when she came to Australia in 1994, she still felt different but for a different reason. Uberoi blended in with the crowd until she opened her mouth, when she at once redefined herself as Indian. The conversations with her parents (always interviewed separately) are overtly frank and revealing, and while they both sound English, visually they could not be more different. Wearing western clothes, Uberoi’s mother is fair with auburn hair, while her father Jit sports a long white beard, a Sikh’s turban and sits cross-legged on the floor, occasionally patting a sleeping dog. He reflects on his parents’ ‘mixed’ marriage – but theirs was one of caste, not colour, and did not survive. The grandparents’ relationship is canvassed in some detail and opens our eyes to differing points of view. We glean the customs, the lifestyle, the discrimination and pain when her father reaffirms his commitment as a Sikh. Uberoi tells how, at a very impressionable age, the idealism of his ideas seduced her: her long, long black hair is the result of the fact that she has not cut her hair since that day in the early 80s. From the tumultuous days of India’s independence in 1947 to the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 following the assassination of Indira Gandhi, we trace the family’s separation and how the link with Australia is strengthened. Uberoi’s final conclusions trigger a multitude of emotions and the simplicity of the revelation that she regards her fair-skinned mother as Indian hits the mark. As a white girl who was also born in India, I understand the connection. My Mother India is a tribute from a loving daughter to her mother, who has transcended cultures. It is deserving of the many awards and accolades it has received and is a compelling and entertaining documentary that should not be missed.
Review by Richard Kuipers:
Safina Uberoi begins her documentary with a very funny story about the 'scandalous' way her Australian mother hung her underwear on the clothes line in middle class New Delhi - giving local gossips every reason to brand her as one of those 'licentious western women who showed their legs and divorced their husbands'. After we've met her non-licentious mother Patricia and Sikh father Jit, Uberoi comments that as a child she ‘hated the fair skin their union gave me'. Years later, her opinion is radically different; the pale skin has helped young Safina blend into Australian society and she is thankful. Her exuberant tone and the lively reminiscences of her parents easily hook us into a story that becomes much more than a quirky family chronicle. The theme of motherhood is expanded to encompass Jit Uberoi's recollections of the mass slayings of Sikhs and Hindus in his former hometown of Lahore during the 1947 partition. His memories serve as a powerful premonition of his own family's precarious existence during anti-Sikh violence following the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984. The events have a profound effect on the Uberois who, like millions of others victimised because of political beliefs, skin colour or choice of god/s, cannot live the same way ever again. This is emotionally affecting cinema from a filmmaker with the bravery and skill to make herself both author and subject. Also worth a nod are the elegantly composed images of DOP Himman Dhamija and the razor sharp editing of Reva Childs who knows that dramatic flow and story arcs are as important in documentary as they are in works of fiction. By telling us about the happy and harsh moments that helped define her identity as an Australian-Indian (and vice versa) Safina Uberoi has made a documentary that Australians from all backgrounds will find accessible, entertaining and educational in the most attractive way.
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SAFINA UBEROI INTERVIEW by Louise Keller
Patricia and Jit
MY MOTHER INDIA (PG)
PRODUCER: Penelope McDonald, Jacqui North
DIRECTOR: Safina Uberoi
SCRIPT: Safina Uberoi, Jacqui North
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Warwick Thornton
EDITOR: Reva Childs
MUSIC: Miroslav Bukovsky
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Emma Lawes
RUNNING TIME: 52 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Chili Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: AUSTRALIAN RELEASE DATE: Brisbane: August 15, 2002; Sydney, ACT: August 29, 2002; other states to follow