Gurvinder Singh, who trained at the Film and Television Institute of India, is best known for his two feature films. Anhe Ghore Da Daan (Alms for the Blind Horse, 2011) and Chauthi Koot (The Fourth Direction, 2015). Anhe Ghore Da Daan premiered at the Venice International Film Festival and won the special jury award at Abu Dhabi. It also received the National Awards for best direction, cinematography, and best Punjabi film. Singh’s second film has won awards at festivals in Belgrade, Singapore and Mumbai, as well as the National Award for best Punjabi film. A powerfully atmospheric portrait of Punjab in 1984, Chauthi Koot is an adaptation of the short stories ‘Chauthi Koot’ and ‘Main Hun Thik Thak Haan’ by Punjabi writer Waryam Singh Sandhu from his short story collection Chauthi Koot. The film released in cinemas across India last Friday, with English subtitles.
On 5 August 2016, the writer and critic Trisha Gupta met Singh at his parents’ home in Noida. During the conversation, they discussed his interest in Punjab, adapting literature into film, and learning from the late avant garde filmmaker Mani Kaul, the face of parallel cinema in India.
Trisha Gupta: Did you always want to make films set in Punjab? Is that where you grew up?
Gurvinder Singh: When I went to FTII, Punjab was nowhere in the picture for me, though I knew the [spoken] language well. The Punjab I had heard about was the Punjab of Partition. My [paternal] grandfather used to be the manager of a rice mill near Rawalpindi, but he had moved his family to Amritsar. They happened to live in a largely Muslim neighbourhood, and when the riots broke out in 1947, my grandmother escaped with my father—he was two, and took shelter in the Golden Temple. My grandfather returned from Rawalpindi and found the house burnt. Finally he went to the Golden Temple and found his family. There was nothing left, so they kept moving. His brother was in Shimla, so they went there. Then Gwalior, Ganganagar, Assam—wherever, for a job. For five years or so after Partition, they were very unsettled. Finally they came to Delhi and managed to set up a business here.
My maternal grandmother was from Kasur, she used to go to Bulla Shah’s mazaar every day. And my maternal grandfather was from Patti. Kasur and Patti are like Lahore and Amritsar, across the border. Luckily he got a job in Delhi before the Partition, and moved here.