Day 2 – 18 January 2019

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Tamasha Khud Na Ban Jana Tamasha Dekhne Walon

Today was the second day at the 6th Kolkata People’s Film Festival. We started with our ‘New Indian Fiction’ section sharp at 10 with Reema Sengupta’s Counterfeit Kunkoo. It’s a tale of Smita Nikam, a single woman who leaves her husband post the marital rapes and assaults. Only in fifteen minutes, the film tells us not only the story of one woman, but a common story that we would find in our neighbourhoods, only if we don’t turn a blind eye. It is the story which unveils the reality of marital rape in the narratives which deliberately overlook. The film also narrates the story of every single woman as Smita seeks her own refuge – to find a place for herself. It is an everyday story of surveillance and restriction that awaits a single woman in our times.
The next film in this segment was Apurva Bhilare’s Witaal, or The Period of Impurity. This is a tale of the twelve-year-old Sarita who starts menstruating and is barred from entering the shrine of the deity Ganesha due to the menstrual taboos that plague our society – Ganesha, by the way, is only a friend, Gania, to her. The twist in the tale happens when Sarita is able to subvert the shackles of patriarchy, and in a poignant turn of events, reaches her friend Gania. The film made the audience connect to the recent Sabarimala temple-entry movement by the women in Kerala, leading to the historic ‘women’s chain’, a movement which also found prominent representation in the festival decorations at the Jogesh Mime Academy.
The next segment today showcased four short and long documentaries from India. Pramati Anand’s Akashvani is the story of the nomadic and de-notified tribe – the Meer community of India. The story follows the story of Mithulala Meer to depict the critical juncture of Hinduism and Islam that the community belongs to. Akashvani (often using on soundtrack the Prime Minister’s much-hyped ‘Mann ki Baat’ broadcasts over the All India Radio) is the only connect to our supposed civil world that Mithulala has, and his nomadic lifestyle mocks the statist sanctions, and our daily ways of living which we believe to be the ideal way.
Finding Prayers by Nilay Samiran Nandi is an amalgamation of documentary and fiction, as the narrative tries to seek peace in our contemporary times of violence. An artist’s eyes seek the solace in prayers and silence, as the lynched migrant labour Afrajul’s last prayer for mercy rips through the auditorium and our conscience; the audience resonates this emotion.
The next film Memoirs of Saira and Salim by Eshwarya Grover tries to capture the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat genocide. After sixteen years of the genocide, the film traces a family who return to the home they left, and their emotional upheavals. The film raises a concern against the state-sanctioned efforts to erase these histories from the public memory and tries to capture the emotive states of the forced immigrant.
Hemant Gaba’s An Engineered Dream, the last film of this slot, speaks of today’s reality in the engineering colleges as it focuses on the massive coaching industry in Rajasthan’s Kota. How these young students are victims of the expectations which are constructed in the society and how they are depressed from such an early phase in their lives. The film does not shy away from exposing the right-wing and capitalist forces and the administrative-statist nexus working in tandem with the spiritual industry gurus, behind the education industry in Kota. The audience gathers a vivid picture of the youngsters who lost their teenage and early adulthood to the juggernaut, how they lost their own dreams.
The third segment today included two films, both documentaries hinging on the concerns of ecology, environment and the issues of development that we see around us every day. The first film was Mithun Chandran’s Pilandi – the story of an elephant who killed seven tribal people in Kerala. Pilandi was also the person who played a flute (called ‘Pee Pee’) in the death rituals in the tribe and therefore was named Pilandi after the instrument. He was the seventh victim, and the tribals named the elephant after him. As the mainstream news only contains stories of animosity and vilifies the elephant, we see how the elephant is also a part of their celebrations and everyday life. Very calmly the tribal people put to words how the 1990s policies that put the forests under the forestry department engendered a deforestation, and it is very natural for the elephant to attack the people who are encroaching on their spaces. Without having a narrative voice, the film tries to show incidents and interviews to tease out the complex emotions that mark this conflict.
The second film in this slot was Uprooted, by Ketan Krishna, Prthvir Solanki, Sukrita Baruah, Archana Kaware and Nikhil Ambekar. The film narrates the story of the drives to preserve the mangrove forests which was initiated post the 2005 floods in Mumbai. The film depicts how uneven these policies and their implementation are, depending on the lives they affect – while in the slum of Ambedkarnagar homes of the poor were destroyed forcibly in the name of ‘mangrove encroachment’, the private lands seized and purchased by the corporate houses of Essel World were untouched even though they were destroying mangroves on a far higher scale. The discussion with Archana unveils and critiques our popular concerns of ecology and environment that we see being posited against the rhetoric of development in our public conscience today. She spoke of the selective nature of this farcical rhetoric of environmentalism that further marginalises the marginalised. The discussion with Sumit and Vignesh, the makers of Pilandi, dealt with the complexities on the ground, the film-making process and the language barriers that characterised this documentary.
The films which followed in the ensuing section called ‘Assam Tales’, were ‘New Indian Fiction’, Jyoti and Joymoti by Mehdi Jahan and the documentary Lorali’r Sadhukatha (Tales from our Childhood) by Mukul Haloi – both based on Assam. The first film is a silent poetry on screen which takes the audience into a different realm of experience in connecting with decades of Assamese history. The latter is a gripping tale concerning the nationalist conflict in Assam, of their people and the ULFA rebels who wanted liberation of Assam. The discussions that followed captured the audience with varied emotions, and the directors engaging with those.
The next segment was a roundtable discussion, Documentary in the time of Fascism, between Deepa Dhanraj, Pradeep KP, Randeep Singh, moderated by Trina Nileena Banerjee on behalf of People’s Film Collective. The roundtable culled out different personal stories from the director’s lives, their film making processes and the challenges they’ve faced over time, and the fascist currents they’ve seen plaguing different parts of India. They further spoke about the tasks of documentary film makers in our contemporary times of an overload of images and videos, the task to change the terms of these debates in and beyond the concerns of mass media. Pradeep reminisced on this occasion on the murder of his dear friend, the activist writer journalist Gauri Lankesh, as the discussion hinged to the threats and challenges encountered all over India.
The final and last segment included the exquisite fiction-film, Anamika Haksar’s Ghode ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon. The film curates a magic-real canvas where the use of various film-making methods offer us a tale of our dreams, which is at the same time deeply rooted in our reality. We see the red flag spread across the streets of old Delhi or Shahjehanabad as numbers of tiny figures join the dream, the red flag pokes and upturns the goddess of wealth as the Internationale plays on. Through the humorous caricature of the heritage walks that take place in the city, an other life seeps in to the audience – a life that is outside our visibility, yet so visible, a life that we see and ignore every day, a life that we do not want to see. The following discussion with Anamika initiated a fruitful conversation about the challenges and promises that she envisages through her film and politics.
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