Chinese documentary ‘Borof’ focuses on children of refugees in India

By Huang Tingting Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/31 19:08:39

Liu Juan (left) talks with Dano on the bank of Ganges River in Varanasi, India, in 2015. Photo: Courtesy of Liu Juan

In late July, Chinese director Liu Juan prescreened a rough-cut version of her India-focused documentary Borof in Beijing. With the event also live-streamed on websites including and, more than 300,000 people tuned in to watch.

The word borof means "eyes" in Bengali. An independent documentary two years in the making, it focuses on the young descendants of refugees who relocated to India after partition, a majority of whom are still living as second-class citizens in India today.

"Many of them are having trouble just staying alive," the 34-year-old director told the Global Times on Sunday. "Their poverty has historical roots and the Indo-Pakistan wars just aggravated the situation,"

Traveling all the way from India's northeastern border cities to the western city of Mumbai, generally considered a haven by many refugees and their descendants, Liu and her two assistants spent a month in 2015 following the route refugees once walked to better record their experiences.

Focus on children

A veteran director who won the New Asian Talent Competition for her film Singing When We Are Young at the 16th Shanghai Film Festival in 2013, Liu said that a photo of the dead body of Aylan Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian refugee boy whose corpse was found on a Turkish beach in 2015, pushed her to film Borof

"I once met a homeless mother who was traveling with her kids to Mumbai," Liu recalled. "One of her babies was seriously ill. After praying over the child, she left him by the roadside and continued on her journey. She told me that God would take care of him."

Watching the boy's family march on while he lay there left Liu feeling shocked and numb.

The photo of Kurdi brought this memory back into clear focus, leading Liu to decide that she had to do something helpful.

"I simply want to use what I am good at, filming in this case, to help them. I hope more people will learn about them and want to give them aid after the film gets its wide release," Liu told the Global Times.

Liu decided to present a children's perspective when delving into this group's stories. The documentary focuses on four children whose grandparents were once forced to flee their homes in Pakistan and Bangladesh to head to India: 7-year-old Dano lives in Varanasi, 8-year-old Paump is from a village near Jaisalmer, 12-year-old Wine calls Mumbai home, while 18-year-old Chris resides in Barasat.

Liu and her team stayed with the children's families during the shoot, recording their relationships with their siblings and parents, who are generally considered second-generation immigrants into India.

But why the focus on children? Similar concerns arose during their stay in India, Liu said, when some locals accused them of taking advantage of the children - which Liu said is not true.

"We chose them, because children are sensitive to social impacts. The influences of even the smallest moves of the people around them, good or bad, are rapidly reflected in them - as such you can actually learn some very rich lessons from these children," Liu said.

Changing and growing

Paump was one of the children from whom Liu learned a great deal.

Liu met the now 10-year-old Paump on a tourist trip to India in 2013 when she and her companions got lost in a desert near the village where the girl lived. The girl, who was then playing nearby, showed them the way back to civilization.

"She was so different," Liu recalled. Unlike other kids that Liu met in India, who wouldn't let tourists go until they handed over some money, Paump asked for nothing after she helped them.

However, when Liu met the girl again in 2015, Paump was no different than other kids begging for money.

"Her experience kind of reinforced my resolution to carry on this project," Liu said.

Borof reveals that Chris, like his grandfather who moved to India from Bangladesh during the war, wants to go to Mumbai. What sets the young man apart from his grandfather is that he dreams of working in Bollywood.

"This is another reason I want to continue to document their lives," Liu said. "I want to see for myself how these kids change and grow."

An ongoing project

Liu told the Global Times that she is currently working to expand the 60-minute rough-cut version that was screened in July, with the goal of adding more scenes to help make these children's stories more complete. She noted that before she left India, she gave Dano, Chris and Wine GoPro cameras and told them to film whatever they wanted.

The director said that she currently plans to turn this into a long-term project by going back every year to film the kids and collect the footage they shot that year to use in making new documentaries.
Newspaper headline: The next generation

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