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Films: Crossing Borders and Hearts


Growing up in New Delhi in the 1960s, Bani Singh knew his father had lived many lives in his lifetime. (Grahanandan) Nandy Singh, was born in Lyallpur (now Faisalabad, Pakistan) in 1926. He was a member of the Indian hockey team which won the gold medal at the 1948 Olympics (London) and 1952 (Helsinki). He eventually retired as Commander of the Indian Navy and was decorated with the Param Vashisht Sewa Medal.

But for Bani, he was her father, someone who had the deepest respect for all women, never differentiated between her and her brother, and always encouraged her to find her own voice and stand up. “I know the biggest compliment he gave me was the day he said, ‘You would have made a damn good naval officer!’ “, she recalls.

First Thoughts

Today, 74 years after India’s Olympic hockey team won gold in London, just one year after independence and partition, Bani chronicled his father’s journey in a film titled Taang (Desire).

“My first thought of doing Taang came when i saw Lagaan with my father,” she reveals. “I kept saying, ‘Your gold medal was the real Lagaan. Why doesn’t someone make a movie about it? But at the time, I was not even close to thinking that I could make a film.

It wasn’t until years later, after Nandy Singh suffered a stroke, and they watched Bhaag Milka Bhaag, that Bani realized what she had to do.

“At the end of the film, I was very impressed and very surprised at how unimpressed he was,” she says. “When I wanted to know more, he pointed to himself and the picture of the hockey team. In one instance, I was amazed at the depth of their achievement. Milkha Singh’s story was so inspiring, and here is my dad who had played in the Olympics less than a year after witnessing the horrors of the score, and he and his team had won gold despite all odds.

She continues, “I think that’s when I knew this movie had to be made.”

Go get the gold

So Bani set out to tell the story of India’s golden boys, who, less than a year after independence, defeated the empire and brought back the gold for their country. “At that time, I didn’t realize this story had a lot more layers,” she says.

Gradually, as they began filming, Nandy Singh allowed her daughter to access her inner thoughts. She remembers asking him what it felt like when they stood on the victory stand, and how, through gestures, he shared how when they stood on the victory stand and saw the flag Indian over the Union Jack, the whole team had tears in their eyes as they sang along with the national anthem.

Unfortunately for Bani, she reveals: “The time I took the camera was the last year of my father’s life. Most of the filming was done that year. After he died, I couldn’t work on it for the next two years. In fact, eventually his older brother, Mano, stepped in to fund the travel and studio costs.

A desire

Taang documents the journey and memories of four Olympians, all now in the twilight years of their lives. Bani and her crew also traveled to Lahore, of which she says: “It made me realize how similar we are. I was received with respect at my father’s college, and they made me feel welcome again. I came back wistful as to why we couldn’t be friends. We have so much to share despite all our differences.

As a first-time filmmaker, she felt validated when Taang was selected for the Kerala International Documentary and Short Film Festival, in the Focus Long Documentary category. Although delayed due to the pandemic, she hopes to hold screenings soon. We can’t wait.

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From HT Brunch, January 16, 2022

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