Personal Approach

Hostile is a film that is deeply personal to me.

My parents migrated to the UK in the 1950s, almost a decade after their lives had changed dramatically due to the partition of India and Pakistan.

My mother made a perilous journey, walking for 16 consecutive days, over 180 kilometres, from Lahore to the Punjab on the Indian side of the border, witnessing the loss of life and livelihoods for reasons that would never fully make sense.

Their story of migration, and of eventually making a home in England, became the seed of an idea to make a film about the experiences of migrant communities.

When lockdown began, I started to see the rising number of people who were unable to get their basic needs of food and shelter met.

This made me think of my childhood growing up in the Midlands with Sikh parents, and the support network we had amongst our mixed community in Wolverhampton. My father’s cornershop was the hub of this community. No matter how hard things got, we felt someone would have our back.

When I began filming, my focus turned to the very communities I grew up with: Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Black and White working-class communities.

The more I filmed, the more I learned about the Hostile Environment, a term used by the government in 2012 to illustrate an atmosphere the government wanted to create for migrants in the country, to make life here as inhospitable as possible, so they would choose to leave on their own accord – or be deported.

Meeting my participants and filming their unraveling narrative led me on a personal journey of discovery, one which linked my family’s history to the larger story of British identity, and the extent to which migrant communities, such as the one I grew up in, were essential to the fabric of this country.

As a filmmaker, the compelling personal nature of the story, combined with the fact that there were so many inconsistencies in our society and contradictions in our current political system, made me want to embark on my directing debut. I wanted to make a film that highlights the inequalities of a system that affects migrant communities. In making and completing  Hostile, I want to raise awareness of the issues migrants face in our country, and what it feels like to live day-by-day in such circumstances.

My goal is to start a dialogue between individuals who are unaware of these issues and to bring together grassroots organisations, law firms, policy-makers and politicians in order to enact positive change.

I had originally filmed an interview five years ago with my mother Sovetra, which was to capture her story and her relationship to partition and the British Empire. I hadn’t realised that I would be using this interview in my debut film, years down the line. Her story is still so poignant, over 50 years later.

It’s clear to me that if my parents came to the UK today, they would have found it very difficult to integrate, to start careers, to buy a house, to contribute, and to raise a family. My mother passed away during the post-production of Hostile. The feeling of loss, and the loss of connection to my blood line to India hit me hard. The strength of her journey and her life has given me the strength to tell this story.

Things have moved so fast since making this film. With the tragic conflict in Ukraine, we’ve seen millions of people urgently seeking refuge. And yet these bills, which compromise the rights of refugees, are unbelievably still being processed in parliament. These decisions are having a huge effect on people’s lives.

Biography

Sonita is an independent producer and director based in North London. Sonita’s heritage is central to her storytelling. As a daughter of migrant parents, elevating the stories of migrants and marginalised communities has been at the forefront of her work. 

Hostile is her directorial debut. Through the impact campaign for the film, Sonita hopes to influence change in immigration policies. Hostile premiered at Raindance Film Festival in October 2021, and was selected for the Cambridge Film Festival, the London Migration Film Festival and the 2021 South London Film Festival where it won the award for Best Documentary Feature.

Hostile was longlisted for three BIFA awards for Best Documentary, Best Debut Director, and the Raindance Discovery Award. 

Prior to Hostile, Sonita has collaborated with 2020 Golden Globe-winner Brian Cox. Her first project as lead Producer with Galeforce Films – Andrew Carnegie: Rags to Riches, Power to Peace – premiered at the 2015 Edinburgh International Film festival. She is developing the Andrew Carnegie story into a limited series, with Brian Cox in the lead role and serving as EP.

She has also teamed up with John Legend’s company Get Lifted Film Co. to co-produce a music documentary centred on the female artists who inspired a music icon, directed by the Emmy Award-winning Geeta Gandbhir. Alongside this, 

Sonita is developing a hip hop documentary set in India, with the Oscar-nominated Smriti Mundhra and Jerry Henry as directors, and co-produced by the award-winning Shelby Stone and Derek Dudley of ID8 Multimedia. 

In 2020, Sonita produced a short film, International Health Service, directed by the Emmy and BAFTA-nominated Ursula Macfarlane, as well as the lockdown comedy web-series Happy Epidemic created by Jonathan Jude. Both have been selected for multiple festivals and won awards.