Documentary channel

‘I could hear a deep roaring in the sky’: A film relives Japan’s failed WWII invasion of India

Utpal Borpujari’s documentary ‘Memories of a Forgotten War’ is a rich account of the decisive battles in the North East in 1944.

Utpal Borpujari’s new documentary is part-oral history and part-archival tour of Japan’s failed offensive into India during World War II. Memories of a Forgotten War turns the clock back to 1944, when Japanese troops advanced on British India from Burma, but were pushed back by Allied forces in the Battle of Kohima and the Battle of Imphal. An estimated 168,000 people died during the violence, with disease felling more Japanese troops than warfare. The defeat was a turning point for the Axis powers in World War II.

Shot over nearly two-and-a-half years since 2014 in Delhi, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Japan and the United Kingdom, Borpujari’s sprawling and rich account packs in interviews with the men in the trenches and the people who experienced the conflict. The documentary has been produced by Subimal Bhattacharjee.

Play
‘Memories of a Forgotten War’.

The 48-year-old filmmaker found remnants of Japan's failed campaign still strewn across the towns and hills of Manipur and Nagaland. Memories and objects from the time have survived and been preserved, in their own fashion. Families display live shells unearthed during amateur excavations, while gunpowder from unexploded ammunition is used to make small bombs to stun fish. The villagers kept helmets, water bottles and cutlery. One of them lost his arms trying to dismantle a live bomb. A shell was successfully carved into two and made into temple bells.

The region seems to be an open-air war museum. Towns bear they-were-here signposts, down to the precise time of the entry of Japanese troops. Locals excitedly talk about the detritus of war – aircraft buried under water, shrapnel, skulls and bones – and discuss the conflict as if it were a recent event.

Meanwhile, war tourism thrives in Manipur and to a smaller extent in Nagaland. Veterans of the battles of several nationalities (including Indian, British and American) and curious Indian visitors brush up on their history at the cemeteries and memorials. “There have been films made on these battles, but they are mostly about military strategy,” Borpujari said. “But nobody has tried to capture these stories in a film format. The idea was to record the memories and preserve them. The youngest veteran was 91 and the oldest was 96. Since the time I made the film, a few of them have passed away, so it was important to record these memories.”

The documentary contains vivid accounts of what was a terrifying time. “Twelve o’clock, I could hear a deep roaring in the sky, deep roaring of sounds,” says a resident of Chingambam Mandap in Imphal, which was one of the places bombed by the Japanese. An elderly villager remembers that the Japanese did not harm the villagers or animals in any way when they arrived, but the local dogs kept barking at them.

Borpujari interviews several soldiers from both sides of the battle. He travels to Japan, where he meets Japanese and British veterans at a joint commemoration ceremony of the Battle of Kohima. The Japanese soldiers navigate the difficult task of talking about a phase of history that remains a deeply embarrassing subject in the country.

The grizzled men speak eloquently and movingly of the horrors of war. A British veteran picking off the remains of Gurkha victims killed in an explosion from his bedding. He also recalls sucking on a piece of rock salt, which was in severe shortage at the time. The differences in race and colour between the soldiers, who were drawn from the British, American and Indian ranks, disappeared in that one surreal moment when they stood in a circle and chewed on the much-needed piece of salt that was being passed around. “When it came to the crunch, we were all human, we lacked salt,” the former soldier says.

A lighter, and hilarious, sequence is of two local war veterans who break into giggles as they recall the Burmese women they met during the war.

Borpujari collected 35 hours of interviews that were culled into an early 330-minute version and then whittled down to 109 minutes. Films of this nature, which combine location shooting with multiple interviews and historical perspective, can get unwieldy. Borpujari tried to guard against this tendency by ensuring that the interviews were more in the nature of informal conversations. “The format was not sit-down – most of the people interviewed are sharing their memories like they would with a family member,” the filmmaker said. “I wanted the film to have the feel of an oral history project. I wanted the interviews to have the feel of somebody telling the story to somebody else.”

The challenges went beyond making travel plans for so many locations and finding the right characters to interview. “So many languages and dialects had to be translated – in the North East, dialects can differ even within the same tribe,” Borpujari said.

The conversations include discussions on the role of the Indian National Army, which was fighting on the Japanese side. At Moirang town in Manipur, a thatched hut that served as a local INA headquarters has been preserved, along with the holes in the roof from firing. The film then cuts to Tokyo, where the ashes of the INA’s founder, Subhash Chandra Bose, are worshipped at the Renkoji Buddhist temple. Borpujari also unearths a local manga, Storm of India, dedicated to Bose’s exploits.

“On the one hand, you have the Japanese worshipping Netaji in a temple and there is the other point of view of the British soldier who says that it is sad that the INA was fighting Indian soldiers,” Borpujari said. “We never get to hear this here, since we hero-worship the INA.”

At the commemoration ceremony in Tokyo, soldiers from Japan and Great Britain hug and weep – one of many emotional moments in the documentary. Memories of a Forgotten War is immensely fair-minded, treating the Japanese with the same respect that is accorded to the Allied soldiers. “The way I look at it, both the armies were fighting in a land that didn’t belong to any of them,” Borpujari said. “Armies fight for their motherland, but these men didn’t belong here. Plus, 90% of the Japanese soldiers died because of diseases and lack of food. It’s a very sad story. For me, as an Indian filmmaker, both sides are equal, which is why I decided to give them equal weightage.”

The film concludes with footage of the wreckage of an American WWII plane being extracted from a hillside in Arunachal Pradesh as late as 2015. The Battle of Kohima and the Battle of Imphal might have taken place over 70 years ago, but at least in some corners of India and in the hearts of their survivors, they have not been forgotten.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

What’s the difference between ‘a’ washing machine and a ‘great’ washing machine?

The right machine can save water, power consumption, time, energy and your clothes from damage.

In 2010, Hans Rosling, a Swedish statistician, convinced a room full of people that the washing machine was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution. In the TED talk delivered by him, he illuminates how the washing machine freed women from doing hours of labour intensive laundry, giving them the time to read books and eventually join the labour force. Rosling’s argument rings true even today as it is difficult to deny the significance of the washing machine in our everyday lives.

For many households, buying a washing machine is a sizable investment. Oddly, buyers underestimate the importance of the decision-making process while buying one and don’t research the purchase as much as they would for a television or refrigerator. Most buyers limit their buying criteria to type, size and price of the washing machine.

Visible technological advancements can be seen all around us, making it fair to expect a lot more from household appliances, especially washing machines. Here are a few features to expect and look out for before investing in a washing machine:

Cover your basics

Do you wash your towels every day? How frequently do you do your laundry? Are you okay with a bit of manual intervention during the wash cycle? These questions will help filter the basic type of washing machine you need. The semi-automatics require manual intervention to move clothes from the washing tub to the drying tub and are priced lower than a fully-automatic. A fully-automatic comes in two types: front load and top load. Front loading machines use less water by rotating the inner drum and using gravity to move the clothes through water.

Size matters

The size or the capacity of the machine is directly proportional to the consumption of electricity. The right machine capacity depends on the daily requirement of the household. For instance, for couples or individuals, a 6kg capacity would be adequate whereas a family of four might need an 8 kg or bigger capacity for their laundry needs. This is an important factor to consider since the wrong decision can consume an unnecessary amount of electricity.

Machine intelligence that helps save time

In situations when time works against you and your laundry, features of a well-designed washing machine can come to rescue. There are programmes for urgent laundry needs that provide clean laundry in a super quick 15 to 30 minutes’ cycle; a time delay feature that can assist you to start the laundry at a desired time etc. Many of these features dispel the notion that longer wash cycles mean cleaner clothes. In fact, some washing machines come with pre-activated wash cycles that offer shortest wash cycles across all programmes without compromising on cleanliness.

The green quotient

Despite the conveniences washing machines offer, many of them also consume a substantial amount of electricity and water. By paying close attention to performance features, it’s possible to find washing machines that use less water and energy. For example, there are machines which can adjust the levels of water used based on the size of the load. The reduced water usage, in turn, helps reduce the usage of electricity. Further, machines that promise a silent, no-vibration wash don’t just reduce noise – they are also more efficient as they are designed to work with less friction, thus reducing the energy consumed.

Customisable washing modes

Crushed dresses, out-of-shape shirts and shrunken sweaters are stuff of laundry nightmares. Most of us would rather take out the time to hand wash our expensive items of clothing rather than trusting the washing machine. To get the dirt out of clothes, washing machines use speed to first agitate the clothes and spin the water out of them, a process that takes a toll on the fabric. Fortunately, advanced machines come equipped with washing modes that control speed and water temperature depending on the fabric. While jeans and towels can endure a high-speed tumble and spin action, delicate fabrics like silk need a gentler wash at low speeds. Some machines also have a monsoon mode. This is an India specific mode that gives clothes a hot rinse and spin to reduce drying time during monsoons. A super clean mode will use hot water to clean the clothes deeply.

Washing machines have come a long way, from a wooden drum powered by motor to high-tech machines that come equipped with automatic washing modes. Bosch washing machines include all the above-mentioned features and provide damage free laundry in an energy efficient way. With 32 different washing modes, Bosch washing machines can create custom wash cycles for different types of laundry, be it lightly soiled linens, or stained woollens. The ActiveWater feature in Bosch washing machines senses the laundry load and optimises the usage of water and electricity. Its EcoSilentDrive motor draws energy from a permanent magnet, thereby saving energy and giving a silent wash. The fear of expensive clothes being wringed to shapelessness in a washing machine is a common one. The video below explains how Bosch’s unique VarioDrumTM technology achieves damage free laundry.

Play

To start your search for the perfect washing machine, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Bosch and not by the Scroll editorial team.