Day 3 – 19 January 2019

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What if Godse had lived to repent?

A day of “what ifs” at the Film Festival began with stories of LGBTIQ people in Anindya Shankar Das’s Zara Nazar Utha ke Dekho. Smita in Counterfeit Kunkoo had earlier set the stage for bringing up the “what ifs” of sexual exploration beyond the realm of the heterosexual male. Das’s film told us tales of cruising from different parts of India. It beautifully juxtaposed personal narratives from the LGBTIQ community of cruising for partners in cities against visuals of Indian public spaces. In the process, the film touched upon multiple facets and complexities of urban cruising – one of the most important ways of finding sexual/romantic partners for the LGBTIQ community in India.
Mon Pal’s Rain Song took us a yard away from the topic of sexual exploration as such but kept us with the lives, dreams and disappointments of LGBTIQ people. It touched our hearts with the poignant story of Aniruddha ‘Andy’ Chakraborty. We came to know Andy as a passionate music maker who’s been left to fight his own battles against sexual discrimination after the untimely loss of his loving and understanding elder sister – the only one in his life to ever own him with a sense of pride. Rain Song is a tribute to Andy; to the intense intertwining of his music and homosexuality.
The day moved along, and we soon found ourselves dealing with a different set of dreams and imaginations – that of annihilation of caste. Nachi’s Hora brought to us the life of Rupali Jadhav, an activist singer of the persecuted Kabir Kala Manch. It focussed on her work with Hora – a Marathi folk theatre form used as a fortune-telling device. Vilas Ghoghre, whom the non-Marathi world had come to know through Anand Patwardhan’s Jai Bhim Comrade, had experimented widely with it. We learnt how Rupali and her Manch have been carrying the tradition forward, using it to talk about possible political fortunes of both the caste oppressors and those struggling against them.
The film itself had emerged in a rather turbulent political milieu within Nachi’s institute, the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). Students had been up against the present BJP government’s institution-tampering. It was one of the first acts of a student movement that soon engulfed educational spaces across the country and threw a powerful challenge to the BJP government. Beneath the glory though were murmurings of dissent within the movements – strivings for a more inclusive culture and effective political strategies. Kshama Padalkar’s, The Strike and I, a personal take on the FTII movement, is emblematic of such a dissenting spirit. The film presented to us different aspects of the site of struggle – possibilities of new love, friendships and solidarities in the midst of exclusion in myriad forms and the consequent disappointments.
The afternoon session began with Vani Subramaniam’s The Death of Us, a film that looked to build a conversation around the violence of the death penalty. According to Vani, the fact that it is often meted out to people whose convictions have been questionable – largely to people belonging to SC, ST, minorities and other backward classes without the financial and political clout to buy justice – implies that the its use as a weapon of justice needs to be questioned. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s granddaughter Ela Gandhi eloquently asks at the end, what if Godse had lived to repent and preach non-violence to society? Could our moral frameworks have been different then?
By challenging the legitimacy of state violence as a form of justice The Death of Us set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. The following film, Agar Woh Desh Banati, by Maheen Mirza and Rinchin, or rather by the fighting women of Raigarh, reminded us of the violence inflicted on the Adivasi people of Chhattisgarh by the state-corporate nexus in the name of progress and development. The film is however less about the oppression and more about the fight put up against it despite the looming danger of imprisonment for being “Maoists”.
A collaborative process of film-making revealed itself as the Chhatisgarhi women shared with us their stories of struggle on camera within a minimum voiceover. And so did a collective dream of building a different country. We were left to wonder what if these women had the chance to define what development and progress should mean. Ritesh Sharma’s Laal Maati kept us in Raigarh and with the loss of Adivasi land to the mining mafia. It used, rather unusually, the fictional rather than the documentary from to tell the story of displacement and its associated violence through the protagonist Dharam.
Sunil Kumar’s Ammi brought us to a mother and her hope of having her son back. Najeeb Ahmed was a young man from Badayun who had gone to study in Jawaharlal Nehru University. On 15 October 2016, following an altercation with members of the ABVP, Najeeb disappeared from the campus. Despite the ABVP members responsible for the altercation being available for interrogation, they were allowed to go scot free. The University refused to file an FIR despite massive pressure from common students of the university, and the CBI kept making false statements and promises. Ammi, Fatima Nafis, herself was present to talk us through her predicament and told us with confidence over a cup of tea, “I know Najeeb isn’t dead. We share a close connection. If he was dead, something would surely have happened to me too.”
Once we regained our composure after the conversation with Ammi, we were treated to a wonderful film by Jainendra Dost and Shilpi Gulati. Naach Bhikari Naach was a film on Naach – a form of traditional folk theatre from Bihar. The most legendary name in this tradition is Bhikhari Thakur’s – who was an actor, playwright and a social reformer popularly known as the “Shakespeare of Bihar”. The film took us through the lives of last four Naach performers to have worked with Bhikhari Thakur and treated us to a visual archive of their performance tradition.
The day left us with a thought. What if we had a country in which the protagonists of all the films had what they wanted? Our country could then have been a land of sexual liberation, a country free of caste and communal hatred and of state violence, a place where the lives of common people formed the building blocks of its culture.
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