Paul Harris whose documentary portrays the fading Anglo-Indian community of McCluskieganj
History does not appeal to most when they are young. It is only when people are older that they begin to take an interest in it as Paul Harris did. An independent documentary filmmaker living in Melbourne, he left India in the early 1990s. “After having worked in the IT industry for several years in India, I landed in Australia and found that I couldn’t get a job that suited my profile. So I decided to indulge in my passion for photography and did a course in documentary filmmaking. Investing a considerable part of my savings in the latest hardware, I set about exploring a new facet of my life, that of documentary filmmaking,” says Paul who did an experimental 52-minute film called Nine Nights of Devotion. “Although I was raised a Roman Catholic I am an atheist. But, the art, culture and music related to Catholicism interested me and I made this film on how a group of people brought a statue of Mother Mary from Velankanni to Melbourne, maintaining nine nights of novena. I am yet to release this on DVD as I am negotiating with some international television channels for worldwide release.”
Meanwhile, Paul embarked on another assignment which he has tentatively titled, End of the Raaj. “This is a three-part series which will document the evolution of the Anglo-Indian community in India. For this, I visited and did extensive research in nine countries including India, met scores of people both within and outside the community and have filmed close to 60 hours of raw footage. During the course of this, I was directed to visit McCluskieganj, which is interestingly just 100 miles from Gomoh in Jharkhand, where I was born and brought up,” says Paul.
Paul’s moving documentary, Dreams of Homeland explores the vast settlement of McCluskieganj dotted with five- and 10-acre farmlands, each with a bungalow, some dilapidated, some in good condition, thanks to new ownership. While commerce never picked up in McCluskieganj, the recent progress seems to be in the education sector. One of its older settlers established a school, which is now the Don Bosco School. Many of the students from distant places stay at small hostels run by the residents of McCluskieganj, thereby providing them employment. “I spent two weeks at McCluskieganj, meeting and talking to residents and filming the life around this place. I found the families who have opted to stay back resilient despite the hardships of life. Many of the youngsters work in nearby towns or in the coal fields in Khalari but they always come back to McCluskieganj,” notes Paul.
Paul’s documentary will soon release as a DVD accompanied by a coffee table book of his photographs of the town.