Day 2 – 19 January 2018


The audience was abuzz with excitement on the morning of the second day of KPFF 2018 for the premiere of the documentary The Running Hawker directed by Abhijnan Sarkar and Chandan Biswas. The film, shot over a period of three years, follows the lives of running hawkers on the trains of South Bengal in India. These hawkers belong to that overwhelming majority of India’s working population who are frequently described as ‘informal’. After a brief introduction by Subhashish Goon, Theatre of the Earth directed by Oinam Doren was screened. The first thing that captivates the audience is the rhythm and poise of the performance that encapsulates every dramatic moment of the play. In the context of the battered political reality of the Northeast in general and of Manipur in particular it becomes not only as one of the most significant and powerful critiques but also an extended metaphor of the internecine political violence. The audience got a sense of many aspects of Kanhailal’s work through this brilliant documentary.

After a short discussion led Dwaipayan Banerjee we moved onto the second session for the day with the premiere of La Mana (Not Allowed) directed by Tarun Bhartiya. The phrase is used as the title to start discussions on the much-debated topic, the existential crisis of the hill tribe. The film starts with a common man’s observation, ‘Our people are just a pinch of the population of the entire nation. So within no time we’ll disappear. Like the birds and animals.’
Will Khasis, like many other tribes in India, become extinct? The documentary show dimly lit lanes in Khasi colonies, working class youths, delves into facts and history and takes a peek at personal life in order to find answers to his questions. The discussion after the screening was led by Trina Banerjee. This was followed by Timeline Bhangar directed by the collective People’s Media. The documentary covers all the sequence of events that led to the peasant uprising. It stands out in bringing forth the voice of the common people residing in Bhangar whose lives still peddle between the fallacious government promises and the daily atrocities perpetrated by the political class. Continuing with this narrative, was the screening of Hei Samalo directed by Mitali Biswas which showed the heart of the ongoing struggle at Bhangar. The title is derived from a beautiful Bengali song. It poignantly started with a child’s narrative about how their daily life has come to a brutal halt because of the violence. It echoed the growing collective sentiment of justice delayed is justice denied and how the peasant movement is being kept alive through comrades, students and activists from all walks. It was truly a documentary dedicated to the democratic right of people and their undying spirit raising the inevitable question, wherein lies man’s true development?

The third session featuring the new documentary A Song for Everyone directed by Rongili Biswas was then screened. It shed light on Hemango Biswas, Bhupen Hazarika, Assam IPTA and the 1960 Peace Mission against linguistic riots in Assam. Could culture make things better? Acclaimed artistes Hemango Biswas and Bhupen Hazarika led a team of artistes that travelled across Assam, advocating peace in their performances. It was the first, and perhaps only, instance of a cultural intervention putting an end to widespread unrest. Rongili Biswas believes her project assumes special importance in today’s politically fraught time and it is high time we reexamine how powerful culture can be as a form of resistance. The documentary was marked by great adventure, artistic discoveries, and humane revelations.

‘Living in Hindu Rashtra’, the keynote delivered by Professor Tanika Sarkar set the tone for the evening. What is it like living in a time where one news item is more horrific than the other? When our senses have become inured to the violence and atrocities largely perpetrated by one group, the majority, against the minority? Who is responsible for the creation of the new normal? Prejudice against the ‘other’ is no new phenomenon and Prof. Sarkar took the audience back to the past and the beginnings of the Hindutva ideology, quoting Veer Savarkar in many cases. Savarkar had equated being Indian with being Hindu and had defined the ‘Hindu identity’, taking away any scope for a moderate way of thinking. It is this rabid ideology that gave form to the RSS and other right wing groups and it is this way of thinking that is leading to cases like that of Hadiya, a young woman from Kerala who was forcibly taken away from her husband, a Muslim. Or that of Afrazul, a migrant Muslim worker who was hacked to death, simply on account of his religion. Where does this stop? What is it we are teaching our children? How has popular memory taken such an important place in our lives? Once popular memory begins to take the place of actual history, replacing facts with a certain ‘mob’ memory, that is when we are in grave danger of actually rewriting history—to suit the purposes of a very dangerous right wing ideology.


The final session for the day—Looking Back—was the screening of The Men in the Tree directed by Lalit Vachani. It is the sequel to The Boy in the Branch. Eight years after The Boy in the Branch Vachani returned to Nagpur to meet the characters, foot soldiers of the RSS, from his earlier film. At one level, this is a film about memory. It is a documentary in the form of a personal revisit where a filmmaker returns to the issues, the locations and the subjects of an earlier film. It also covers individuals, the stories and the myths, the buildings and the branches that enable the growth of the RSS and its Hindutva ideology. The crucial question obviously is how much of this indoctrination survives in the boys as they grow older. The film ended with huge applause from the audience.


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