Incredible story of Polish children rescued by India’s Maharaja in WWII is turned into beautifully illustrated interactive documentary
An interactive, illustrated documentary telling the remarkable story of nearly 1,000 children rescued by an Indian Maharaja during World War II is to receive its world premiere at the Kraków Film Festival from today.
Entitled ‘Fajna Ferajna w Indiach’ (Brave Bunch in India) and based on a true story, the film is told from a child’s perspective through the eyes of nine-year old Wiesław Stypuła and follows him and the losses of the Polish children who were deported to Siberia in 1940 from Poland’s Eastern Borderland’s (Kresy Wschodnie), the name for Eastern regions formerly part of Poland before WWII.
Directed by Tomasz Stankiewicz and produced by Warsaw-based charity Nil Desperandum Foundation, the multimedia webdoc which was four years in the making, will be screened at the festival in both Polish and English via an interactive online platform which allows viewers to immerse themselves in the story at their own pace through maps, animations and live action films.
The film follows the children’s gruelling two year journey through Siberia, Kazahstan, Uzbekistan, and their eventual evacuation from Soviet camps in the USSR in 1942 after an intervention from India allowed them to find shelter in a children’s refugee camp built by Maharaja Jam Saheb Digvijaysinhji of Nawanagar in the village of Balachadi near his summer residence on the Arabian Sea.
The children stayed at the camp until 1945 after which they were transferred to a Polish settlement at Valivade, the largest settlement of Polish citizens in India during World War II.
While at the Maharaja’s summer residence, the upmost care was taken over the children’s welfare. The camp was commanded by Polish priest Father Franciszek Pluta and the children received schooling and had many social activities organised for them. One notable activity was receiving physical education from a pre-war Polish football, Antoni Maniak, a player for Pogonia Lwów who came to work with the children and transformed a group of skinny children who hadn’t done any exercise in two years, into a competitive sports team, who registered wins against local schools.
The children also observed important Polish traditions and even set up a dance group to practice Polish folk dances, like the Kujawiak, Krakowiak, Polonaise and Highland Robber’s Dance.
The circumstances of the children first came to the Maharaja’s attention through the intervention of Kira Banasińska, wife of the Polish Consul General to Bombay, a representative of the Polish Red Cross in India, who convinced him to shelter the children at his vacation residence.
Banasińska had been helping accommodate Polish citizens fleeing Russia and led awareness campaigns and fundraisers in India to help them. She also worked with government officials to build dedicated settlements for Polish refugees in Maharashtra and Gujarat and after the children’s arrival, she worked with the Majaradja on the construction of a family camp on a stretch of land at Valivade, where the children were later moved alongside over 5000 other Poles.
In 1991, Banasińska was awarded the Order of Polonia Restituta for her work on behalf of the welfare of the children.
Though the film’s main character Wiesław Stypuła returned to Poland after the war, not all children were able to as many were orphans and had no one to be reunited with in their homeland.
Often nicknamed ‘the Good Maharaja’ for his actions in taking in the Polish children, Maharaja Jam Saheb Digvijaysinhji had a school named after him in Warsaw, a graduate of which, Zofia Pregowska, came up with the idea behind ‘Brave Bunch in India’ and was the film’s Creative Producer.
The Maharaja was also honoured by the Polish parliament in a special resolution in 2016, 50 years after his death and a documentary about the story called ‘Little Poland in India’ was also produced by the Polish and Indian governments in 2013.
The producers of ‘Brave Bunch in India, which is aimed primarily at children and young people, hope the film will succeed in bringing to life the story of the deportations of Poles from the Eastern Borderlands in a visual and easily understandable way.
Speaking at the film’s premiere, director Tomasz Stankiewicz said: “This is not an event that happened many years ago and is a curiosity from the past. It is just as important now as it was then…The world is still cruel and that's why this project is important, because it can make a difference in a world that hasn't really changed much since then, unfortunately.
“But hope is still in me, which is why I made this project.”
Monika Kowaleczko-Szumowska, one of the film’s producers and co-author of the script told TFN: “The film is beautifully illustrated by Urmas Viik based on reconstructions of the memories of Wiesław Stypuła.
“All of us who worked on it, the whole team, put so much of our hearts into it. We want it to reach children and communicate the story of the deportations.”
Following its premiere, the team behind the film plans to enter the film for screening at international film festivals to bring the story to a wider audience.
The film can be accessed until the end of the Krakow Film Festival on the 4th of June via the following link Brave Bunch in India