Friday, November 22, 2013

"Where The Heart Is" - Film on Cochin Jews premieres in Kochi

By Bala Menon

A documentary film on Cochin Jews and shot in Kerala and Israel - "Where The Heart Is - Jerusalem, Byzantium and Then...Ernakulam" - had its world premiere at the David Hall Art Galllery and Cafe in Fort Cochin on Friday, November 22.

Directed by my friend Rohan Sabharwal and co-produced with Irshad Daftari, the 50-minute film tells about the wonderful experience that the Jews had in Kerala over the past 2000 years.

As Rohan puts it: "Unlike virtually every other place in world where Jews have lived, the Jews of India have never experienced persecution, discrimination, and massacres from Indians for being Jewish. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that, despite the community being relatively microscopic in size compared to other minorities in India, it's socio-economic contribution has been very high."

This clip is Chapter 1 (The Introduction) of five that goes to make the complete film. More than a dozen interviews were conducted in Kochi, Ernakulam and in many cities of Israel with Cochini Jews who have settled in the Holy Land - and these have been incorporated into the film.

The narration begins with the time the Jews began arriving in Kerala and the grant of the famous copper plates by the Chera Emperor Bhaskara Ravi Varman in about 1000 CE, in which the Jews were granted several privileges 'for as long as the world and the moon endure."

It then goes on to interview some members of the Jew Town community from Mattancherry (Sarah Cohen, Mathew Anthony), the caretaker of the Kadavumbhagam Synagogue in Ernakulam (Babu) Elias Josephai and then to community members in Israel. Some of them include Dr. Essie Sassoon (who recently co-authored a book "Spice & Kosher - Exotic Cuisine of the Cochin Jews"), Saul Basil Koder, Avithal Elias, Eshter Hallegua-Simon, Yaniv Koder etc.

View the main trailer of "Where the Heart Is" here:

In Rohan's words:"I must confess that this is not my first rendezvous with Cochin, particularly the Fort Cochin and Mattancherry areas. Sometime ago I had the pleasure of interacting with the famed and now nearly extinct Jewish community in Jew Town, Mattancherry. I visited and spoke to the last remaining members of the community and interviewed their descendants now settled in Israel. It was a journey of great historic importance to our country and the world. It spoke about prosperity and acceptance. It spoke about conflict, struggle, preservation and equality..."

Filmkaker Rohan Sabharwal (left) and the poster for the film.
"In retrospect, one can see how the Jews thrived in Kerala. It is a state where cultures prevailed and communities thrived, a state that’s abundant in natural resources, flora and fauna. It’s an intellectual state that has the highest literacy rate in the country. There are more college and university graduates in Kerala than anywhere else in India and perhaps the world. People are civic-minded and considerate, agriculture thrives, capitalists are humane and community well being is of utmost importance."

"Where the Heart Is" (See Website here) was completed in October 2012 but release was held up because Rohan wanted to premiere the film in Kochi. One of the biggest companies in Kerala, CGH Earth Group, offered one of their major properties David Hall for the screening.

Rohan Sabharwal is an award-winning documentary filmmaker. He is well known in the short film arena both in India and the UK with his films having been screened at the Festival de Cannes, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, The Regency Fairfax Cinema, Hollywood and the Kalaghoda Arts Festival, Mumbai. His work has been picked up for distribution by Journeyman Pictures, Europe’s largest distributor for factual entertainment.