Project Dastaan and Anzu Film

Child of Empire is an animated VR documentary that puts the audience inside the shoes of a child during the largest forced migration in human history, the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan.

Child of Empire is an interactive animated journey of the gruelling Partition of India. Immersed in the world of 1947 British India, the audience will actively participate at key moments of migration, recounted by first hand witnesses. It navigates sectarianism, colonialism and identity at a time of deep political crisis.

The viewer, as the Child of the Empire, witnesses key moments in the migration journey. Hiding from a violent mob in the backroom of a shop with Ishar Das Arora, a Punjabi farmer boy from Attock; accidentally glimpsing a truck piled with dead bodies when arriving in Pakistan with Zarina Akram, a Mohajir girl who fled her home in Delhi on the day of Eid, and rejoicing at the eventual independence of the subcontinent with Tarapada De in a refugee camp in Bengal. At certain points in the narrative, the real-life survivors will even break the fourth wall to speak directly to the viewer, adding a hyper realism to the experience and grounding it in reality.

Walkthrough video – 2020

Intended audience

Child of Empire is first and foremost a homage to the legacy of the 14 million refugees in the subcontinent who had their lives changed overnight. This immersive experience would be best suited to students, museum-goers, and as a public-facing thought piece for the UK in 2022, as Britain confronts the 75th anniversary of the Partition.

Creator’s statement

Sparsh’s grandfather’s story inspired Child of Empire. It is a reminder that it is the ordinary people who suffer the most when nationalities are created and torn apart.

As children of diaspora, we have come to understand that the important stories of migration are not those of the politics that dictate it, but the people it uproots. The Partition is a harrowing tale of migration, human loss, and the devastating effects of colonial occupation. In Child of Empire, we want our viewers to take a jump towards empathy, inviting them to walk through the history of the empire.

Technical summary

The production is intended for the Oculus Rift and Quest, allowing viewers to walk through the narrative in a 25m2 6DoF space. The level of interactivity is going to be cutting edge, merging various elements to push the boundaries of the technology.

VR will serve first and foremost to ground the viewer into the historical reality of this experience. Interactive elements are simple enough to bring in audiences who are both new to the format, or completely familiar with it.

Project team details

  • Erfan Saadati – Director
  • Sparsh Ahuja – Producer and Writer
  • Stephen Stephenson – Lead Artist

Team profile

Erfan Saadati is an award winning storyteller, filmmaker and an immersive producer. He started his career as a VR creator, and has been at the forefront of this medium ever since. Erfan has worked on productions for the United Nations, Royal Opera House and The Guardian.

Sparsh Ahuja is a UK-based digital artist, a 2020 National Geographic Explorer and the founder of Project Dastaan. Sparsh graduated as a FitzRandolph Scholar in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Oxford. He is the youngest ever recipient of the CatchLight Fellowship in 2019, awarded to four visionaries in the visual storytelling field

Past work

Erfan Saadati

  • 2018 – Haka
  • 2018 – Incredible India
  • 2016 – Growing A World Wonder
  • 2016 – Home: Aamir