Kids Corner


Gurvinder Singh Takes 1984 India Genocide To Cannes:
Chauthi Koot -
The Fourth Direction

MANOHLA DARGIS, The New York Times




Cannes, France

This year’s cinematic menagerie at the 68th Cannes Film Festival includes a monstrously large flea in “Tale of Tales,” bloody bunnies in “The Lobster” and flocks of sheep in “Rams.”

No animal, though, has held the screen as proudly as the Himalayan sheepdog Tommy in “The Fourth Direction” (“Chauthi Koot”), a movie about ordinary people whose lives are shaped by the Indian State’s human rights violations, and the resistance movement spawned by it in Punjab, the predominantly Sikh state in northern India.

Directed by Gurvinder Singh, the movie takes place in 1984, the year Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two members of her elite security entail -- who belonged to the Sikh faith -- for her crimes against humanity for which she had managed to evade all accountability.

The Fourth Direction” doesn’t directly address the political crises surrounding that assassination, including, before the errant politician’s death, the earlier Indian military’s assault at her behest on The Golden Temple of Amritsar (Sikhism’s holiest shrine), ostensibly in pursuit of Sikh resistance fighters who had sought refuge there, or the state-orchestrated anti-Sikh genocide after her death that led to the slaughter of thousands of innocent men, women and children across the country.

Instead, Gurvinder Singh tells a fictional tale that opens with two Hindu men running and closes with them walking together with several newfound Sikh confederates in a quietly moving assertion of unity. In between, the country’s political and religious agonies largely shudder right below the surface, creating intense, palpable unease.

This, Gurvinder suggests, is what it feels like to live in fear.

“I remember the day that Indira Gandhi was assassinated,” Gurvinder said in an interview here on Saturday (May 16, 2015) afternoon. “I was in school, I was 10 years old, and it was announced at 10 in the morning that Indira Gandhi had been killed and school has to shut down and we all have to be sent back home.”

Seated on a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean, Gurvinder told his story quickly in a soft, insistent voice: “We were packed into our school bus and I’m sitting there, a Sikh boy, you know, and being told that she had been killed by Sikhs. And then a schoolteacher sitting right next to me said, ‘These Sikhs, they should be taught a lesson.’”

Gurvinder laughed a little. “I can’t forget that.”

That memory seems to shape “The Fourth Direction,” informing the movie’s deep sense of unease. Shortly after the story opens, the two running Hindus board a train to Amritsar, settling down in a small compartment with several Sikh travelers. The story then shifts, somewhat obliquely, to a flashback of one of the running men wandering a dark country road with his wife and child. Soon after, the story shifts a third time to a Sikh family tragically caught between a group of armed Sikh resistance-fighters and the military that’s trying to oust the rebels.

And then there’s Tommy, the Sikh family’s beloved and regrettably barky dog, a heartrending emblem of innocence.

This is Gurvinder’s second feature and his first at Cannes, and is the kind of work that helps make this festival excitingly varied. It’s part of this year’s ‘Un Certain Regard‘, a section of the official selection that’s generally reserved for younger filmmakers or somewhat more formally adventurous work than appears in the main competition.

Gurvinder Singh’s directorial feature debut, “Alms for a Blind Horse,” had its premiere at the 2011 Venice Film Festival, a high-profile starting point for a successful festival tour. (It opened in New York for a short run.) His new movie was partly paid for by the National Film Development Corporation in India as well as sources like the Hubert Bals Fund of the International Film Festival Rotterdam and the Cinema du Monde in France, which are vital for international work that goes against the grain.

Gurvinder has been pushing against the mainstream for a while, including at film school, a place he found frustrating.

“I never read any book on filmmaking, never. All I read was what filmmakers wrote,” he said, rattling off the titles of two cineaste bibles – Robert Bresson’s “Notes on the Cinematographer” and Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Sculpting in Time” – and namedropping the likes of Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman. “I would never touch a book about how to make a film or how to write a script,” he added.

But while he clearly isn’t interested in being cinematically pigeonholed – during our conversation, he also mentioned Robert Frank, Vincent van Gogh, Luis Buñuel and John Cage – Gurvinder’s work in “The Fourth Direction” is very much within a distinct art-film idiom. His mentor was the filmmaker Mani Kaul, whose films are, in the United States, unfortunately, best known in the academic, festival and museum worlds.

It was through Kaul, Gurvinder said, “that I kind of discovered Bresson.”

You can see Bresson’s influence in the restrained performances that Gurvinder draws from his actors, both the professionals and nonprofessionals, as well as in how bodies move in space.

And then there’s Tommy, who has a precursor of a kind in the title character of one of Bresson’s masterpieces, “Au Hasard Balthazar,” his 1966 tale of a blessed donkey who achieves a state of grace after a great deal of suffering.

So, is Tommy Mr. Singh’s Balthazar?

Gurvinder laughed. “I never thought of it, actually, but in a way, yes.”

[Courtesy: The New York Times. Edited for]
May 19, 2015

Conversation about this article

1: Kaala Singh (Punjab), May 19, 2015, 3:41 PM.

The whole world must be told about the atrocities committed by the Indian State just because a bunch of criminal politicians wanted to manufacture an issue to stay in power and they chose the smallest minority as their target. They could not have done this to anybody but a vastly outnumbered minority.

2: Kaala Singh (Punjab), May 20, 2015, 2:30 AM.

In these times of high technology and an inter-connected world, information is a weapon which is mightier than the sword and whoever wins the info-war will ultimately win. The Sikhs as of now do not have military power but they have info-power and must make effective use of this and learn to influence world opinion. India should be shamed in every country and in every forum for its crimes against humanity. Like Germany can't get rid of the stigma of the Jewish genocide and Turkey can't get rid of the stigma of the Armenian genocide, India should not be allowed to get rid of the baggage of 1984. And this is working, you can see them red-faced whenever someone mentions 1984. Wherever in the world they may go beating the high pitched tune -- "Hey listen, we are the biggest secular democracy", Sikhs should spoil their party with the truth about 1984. The ghosts of 1984 will haunt them forever.

3: Kaala Singh (Punjab), May 21, 2015, 12:48 PM.

Further to my post above: We can see the power of information - India has blocked the Facebook page of 'Sikhs for Justice' and have also blocked another website -- '' What makes them so uneasy that they have started blocking websites with facts of the 1984 Sikh genocide? It punctures their tall claims of being "secular, tolerant and democratic". They are also desperate to get a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council; however, states that have committed crimes of this magnitude are considered ineligible to be considered for the UN Security Council. Unless they are able to buy their way in, there is no way they can get in, but it won't be easy for them to bribe everyone.

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Chauthi Koot -
The Fourth Direction"

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