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Kiwi-Punjabis Get A Film On Their Life In South Auckland

The first Punjabi language film to be submitted as doctoral research in New Zealand is shining a light on South Auckland’s migrant community.

Director Asim Mukhtar’s ‘Sanjha Punjab’, which deals with migrant Punjabis from India and Pakistan, had its public screening on February 3.

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It took Mukhtar, a Punjabi filmmaker from Pakistan, four years to finish his doctoral film. The documentary tells eight stories about the Punjabi community from India and Pakistan living in harmony in South Auckland.

"This (film) is about the community, and without the Punjabi community's support…making Sanjha Punjab would be impossible," Mukhtar says.

The stories delve into how migrant Punjabis from the subcontinent are mending their relationships after almost 80 years of being separated by a militarised border in their home countries.

In 1947, when India gained freedom from British rule, the subcontinent was divided into two independent nations: a Hindu-majority India and a Muslim-majority Pakistan.

This partition triggered one of the largest migrations in human history, with millions of Muslims moving to West and East Pakistan (present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh) and millions of Hindus and Sikhs migrating in the opposite direction. This event became known as the "Partition of India".

The partition remains one of the darkest chapters in the history of India and Pakistan, resulting in the separation and displacement of numerous families, including communities in the Punjab region.

The film showcases typical Punjabi cultural activities, such as sharing poetry, attending places of worship, enjoying tea over the conversation at Punjabi restaurants, singing folk and Sufi songs, performing traditional dances like ‘jhoomar’, and migrants making return visits to Punjab.

The doctoral film is also the first to show the Indian Punjabi and Pakistani Punjabi communities in New Zealand living alongside each other, portraying everyday scenes of their shared culture, language and heritage being restored through friendly social interactions.

"This is a fascinating film and an amazing achievement," says AUT senior lecturer Teena Brown Pulu.

"It's the first Punjabi PhD to be produced in the mother tongue in the world and it came out from South Auckland," she says.

Before submitting his film and exegesis for examination, Mukhtar hosted a community screening for the cast and crew at Nathan Homestead in Manurewa.

"Stories like this are important because often they're not showcased," says professor Pare Keiha, a pro vice-chancellor and dean at the Auckland University of Technology.

"[The story of the Punjabi community is] often untold or told by others and I suspect that, in telling stories, they're all stronger as a consequence," he says.

The film's cast includes more than 30 Punjabis, as well as members from the Tongan and Samoan communities, along with students from Government Islamia College in Chiniot, Punjab, Pakistan.

Mukhtar believes his film tells the world that Punjabis can live together without conflict or a militarised border.

"[Kiwi-Punjabis] are the ambassadors, and we will tell the rest of the world that we are living together peacefully," he says.

Mukhtar now intends to take his film to various film festivals around the world.

"We have already been selected for two film festivals and we are planning for a New Zealand launch too," he says.

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