Day 4 – 20 January 2019

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The Fight Must Go On

The start of Day 4 kept us with one of the recurring theme of this year’s festival – the migration of people on a global scale and the associated violence. Nuruzzaman Khan’s Men With No Name is about two Bangladeshi men’s journey as migrants. A combination of compulsions, hopes and aspirations had taken them all the way to Portugal. How their dreams could be fulfilled in a situation where they were rapidly reduced to the status of a “migrant” – a generic name that strips people of their individualities and leaves them at the mercy of the system they encounter? Khan’s film poses this question with sharpness and passion.
Harsh Virag’s The Exile told us a story closer home – how an Afghani refugee family is surviving in India for thirty two years. Even though they are recognised by the UN as refugee, the UNHCR has not given them the support required for resettlement as proper citizens of a different country. A story of how they have been managing their lives, it is an interesting reminder of the fact that we as a society need to think of how we treat migrants living among us even when it is not our state that is necessarily responsible for their condition. The film is a call for collective empathy.
The next segment on documentaries from India started with Biswaranjan Pradhan’s The Tribal Scoop. The film hinges on the small town of Sundergarh in Odisha which has been caught up in the devastation caused by project development, even though it has never otherwise enjoyed the perks of modernity. Taking a very different turn, the film focuses on how the game of hockey interconnects the lives of these people caught in the drudgery of every-day fights to save their jal-jangal-jameen.
Next on the line was Sanu Kummil’s Mind Matter of Tea Vendor which is a poignant tale on the recent issue of demonetisation, the havoc it caused in the lives of people, and the incredible protagonist’s – a tea vendor’s – mode of protest.
Our next film today, The Raft by Pavan Konala, tells us a tale of a fisherman from Gujarat who saves people from committing suicide by drowning. The final film of the segment, Welcome Valentine 2017 by Dhruv Satija, is also set in Gujarat. It follows the lives of eloping couples and people from the LGBTIQ community, who find their refuge in a temple-priest who arranges for their marriages. Hirabhai Juguji, the priest weaves a narrative hinging around love, politics and religion not with the critical discourse that we usually get to experience, but from a much simpler approach. The poignant organicity of his opinions counters the conservative Hindu approach towards these issues as well as our jargonised understanding.
The afternoon session began with the captivating Bloody Phanek by Sonia Nepram. Phanek is an exclusive cloth similar to a sarong, which is worn by Manipuri women. The film starts with the filmmaker’s personal impressions of the phanek in her growing up years and goes on to reveal how Manipuri women use it as a medium of protest. Ever mindful of the grey areas between oppression and rebellion, the film does not shy away from pointing out that the phanek is also associated with gendered notions of impurity. “Yet I love the Phanek”, Sonia’s narratorial voice asserted at the end of the film, reminding us that the relationship between tradition and modernist politics can indeed be complex. The phanek, in its own way, has been used by women to challenge oppression both by their own men as well as by the distant but ever-threatening entity called the Indian state. The film took us back and forth between the autobiographical and the societal, merging the two in the way that they really are inseparable.
The next two films tackled the urgent issue of agrarian distress. Both the directors emphasised the fact that we as a society need to know what is happening to the people who are producing our food. Their living conditions are pathetic, often forcing them to kill themselves. Akshay Gouri’s Scorched told us the stories of Raj Singh, the marginal peasant, who gave his all to raise a crop, but eventually didn’t harvest it because it was much better to abandon the crop than to spend more time and money on its harvest, storage and sale; and of the farmer who consumed poison, but eventually didn’t die. Scorched deals with farmers’ aspirations in the midst of the ongoing agrarian crisis and calls for a serious societal inquest for solving the agrarian question.
Randeep Singh’s Landless narrates issues arising in the daily lives of Dalit agricultural labourers in Punjab, caste-based discrimination in numerous ways being one them. The film follows the story of the victims of such atrocities like social boycott, communal attacks by Jats (upper caste) in Punjab with a particular focus on one movement – that of the Zamin Prapti Sangharsh Samiti in the Sangrur district of Punjab. This was a movement of landless Dalits for taking possession of government allotted agricultural land that is rightfully theirs. The film is also a useful reminder of the fact that caste does not exist only in village homes and streets – it exists powerfully in the institutions – police, judiciary, and media – in ways that prevents a struggle such as this from gaining national attention. Even as Dalits continue to perform the dance of rebellion, the national eye only gets to view the Bhangra as the authentic dance of the Punjab.
The next film today was Deepa Dhanraj’s We Have Not Come Here To Die – which has had screenings all over university campuses in India. Rohith Vemula’s shahadat marked the start of nation-wide protests which was met with extreme forms of malicious and violent oppression. The film brings back memories we had being within the movement, as Deepa interviews our activist friends, shows moments from our movement, captures the violent repercussions. The film narrates the many strands of the anti-caste discourse which emerged out of the movements marked by Rohith’s shahadat. The conversations which followed between the audience and the director brought out many memories from both ends.
Anirban Datta’s Kalikshetra, the last film of the day, brought us back to our surroundings – to the dilapidated houses being demolished not far from our venue, to a cremation that masks a quiet disappearance of a part of the city’s cultural memory. The city of Kalikata/Calcutta/Kolkata was born with goddess Kali coded in its name. Between its rise and decline, lay the fundamental shifts from the pre-colonial, through the colonial, to the post-colonial age. The film brings a personalised and subjective historical take on this transition, exploring creative ways to connect different times with the present, weaving in many told/untold facts, anecdotes and relics, spread over two millennia, of a city whose history is known only from the colonial period.
The hope, as the festival teaches us every time, is to carry on our fight with any and all the means we have – for the dream is to make a world where everyone is allowed to be ‘a glorious thing made up of stardust.’
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