What is Freedom?
Is it freedom when there is compulsory attendance for flag hoisting? Is it freedom when we cannot ask the questions we want to? Is it freedom when the so-called bastion for free speech—the media—is bought and sold? Is it freedom when citizens of the country are suddenly, citizens no longer?
Frames of Freedom film festival held on 15 August 2018 started with a few words from Subhashish who introduced the idea behind the festival.
The first film of the day was Court, directed by Chaitanya Tamhane. This multi-lingual, award-winning film was released in 2014 at the Venice Film Festival. Court is a fascinating study of the judicial system in India—indeed applicable all over the world—the fallacies, the inadequacies and the injustices rooted within the very structure of ‘justice’. The protagonist is Narayan Kamble, an elderly educationist, activist and protest singer. Kamble is arrested on the charges of abetting the alleged suicide of a sewage worker, thorugh one of his rousing protest songs! The resultant journey through the legal system is replete with dark humour, with situations that can make one numb and shake ones head at the plight of the common man, with neither money nor any backing.
The second film screened was Achal (The Stagnant), directed by Bikramjit Gupta. This Bengali film examines the lives of the people who are, in the larger scheme of things, marginalised. Bypassed. Krishna is an artiste, posing as the statues of Indian nationalist icons, Bengal renaissance icons and even internationalist icons (Mahatma Gandhi, Karl Marx and so on) at street corners, the maidan and the riverside ghats. His life is taken up by the characters he plays, his only ‘friend’, a mask seller and drug addict and his uncle, who dressed in a pristine white kurta-pyjama, sticks posters of low budget adult films on walls. Moving between documentary style and fiction style of filmmaking, the camera follows Krishna around the busy and unforgiving streets of Kolkata, his love for a mannequin and the losses he faces.
Harud (Autumn) directed by Aamir Bashir, was the third film screened, after a short break for lunch. It takes us to Kashmir, showing us through striking visuals the lives of people impacted by the conflict in the valley. Rafiq’s brother is a disappeared person. His father, a traffic policeman begins hallucinating, the strain of being just too much to take. His mother goes to meetings held by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, refusing to mourn for her lost elder son. Rafiq carries his brother’s camera everywhere he goes, sees his brother’s image when he tries to take a photograph, and toys with militancy himself.
The next film was Fandry (Pig), a Marathi film directed by Nagraj Manjule. Jabya and his family are Dalits, living in a village in Maharashtra. Discrimination plays out in different levels in the film. Jabya, in love with a girl from an upper caste fights against his family’s occupation and the fact that they are assigned the ‘unclean’ and risky task of catching the pigs in the village. He faces taunts from his classmates; his father faces humiliation on a daily basis and his sister, comments from the men in the village. It is hard being a teenager in love and unspeakably that much harder when circumstances are such. The climax of the film drew cheers from the audience and many had tears in their eyes.
The last film, Anhey Ghorey Da Daan (Alms for a Blind Horse), a Punjabi film directed by Gurvinder Singh was a change of pace—in terms of landscape and visuals—but also dealt with discrimination faced by people—poor agricultural labourers—in a village in Punjab. The undercurrent of anger is evident, the feeling of utter loneliness, when one’s house is suddenly demolished is encapsulated beautifully. The slower pace of the film, as compared to the previous films, somehow show the desperation of the characters, who are caught between a rock and a hard place.
Each film screened at the festival forces one to look at where we stand as a nation, as a people. What exactly is a nation, one questions. Is it one where families are forced to live as outcasts, homes destroyed; children are mercilessly bullied and even, killed?
Can one compartmentalise freedom? No. Can one examine freedom through a single lens? No. Can one define freedom? No.
But we can change our ways of looking at what freedom is. Be more inclusive, non-restrictive. Question what has been delineated. Bring down and rebuild.
Redefine the existing frames of freedom.
Photographs: Kunal Chakraborty