Sharing South Asian angst
Film South Asia, (FSA) 2003 provided a melting pot of images from that region, tackling diverse issues like loss of livelihood and growth of fundamentalism, writes NUPUR BASU.
A close-up of the plight of Afghan child refugees in "Terror's Children".
THE timing was perfect. Till that week the Maoists were on the offensive. But suddenly they declared a 10-day ceasefire during Dussera. And so a cool blue September sky opened up to welcome delegates to the fourth edition of Film South Asia, (FSA) 2003, a bi-annual documentary festival of South Asian documentaries organised by Himal Association in Kathmandu from September 25-28.
With 43 films short listed from over 200 submissions... it was a rich fare of reality images from a region mired in poverty, illiteracy, hunger, gender imbalances, growing fundamentalism and ethnic strife, nuclear mongering and the politics of hate.
The background note from the organisers set the tone: "The films being exhibited in FSA describe the tumultuous times we live in. The films selected for screening at FSA reflect the concerns of the times and mood of the people of South Asia. In the hands of masters of non-fiction, the films help look at ourselves."
And the mirror revealed the cracks. Whether it be the plight of our children in the sub-continent in films like "A Kind of Childhood" directed by Tareque and Catherine Masud from Bangladesh which makes us journey with young Iris, a working child on the streets of Dhaka as his childhood is stripped from him or "Terror's Children" directed by a young Pakistani woman, Sharmeen Obaid whose lens goes close-up to the plight of Afghan child refugees in Pakistan or the Sri Lankan film directed by Yasir Khan "Looking for Kannan" which follows a former Tamil Tiger child soldier, society's failure to give these children their childhood is acutely exposed.
Many films looked at the question of loss of livelihood due to migration, displacement due to large dams, mines, and deforestation. Sanjay Kak's 85- minute powerful documentary on the Narmada Andolan "Words on Water" begins with tribals taking the filmmaker on a boat ride through submerged areas where their houses had once stood. In "Buru Sengal" ("The Fire Within") director Shriprakash takes you to the land of Tana Bhagats, a tribal community and examines the effects of 150 years of coal mining on this tribal belt. Biju Toppo and Meghnath's "Vikas Bandook Ki Naal Se ("Development Flows From The Barrel of the Gun") looks at the plight of people hit by so-called development projects in Orissa, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. Bangladeshi Director Shahheen Dill Riaz's 105-minute film: "Sand and Water" is a lyrical journey of the angst of living along the Jamuna.
Journey with a working child in "A Kind Of Childhood".
One of the most consistent and powerful themes explored in the festival was the growing fundamentalism in India. The Gujarat riots appear to have clearly been a major catalyst for a large number of documentary films. Leading the pack at FSA was journalist Shubradeep Chakravorty's "Godhra Tak: The Terror Trail", a 60-minute clinical investigation of who possibly set fire to the train in Godhra. The film has some chilling moments as Chakravorty retraces the route of the first batch of kar sevaks from Gujarat to Ayodhya and back and carefully reconstructs the terror they unleashed en route leading to the Godhra fire and the riots that followed.
Lalit Vachani's 98-minute film, "The Men in the Tree", holds a mirror to the extreme Hindutva ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Vachani returns eight years after making his first film on the RSS "The Boy in the Branch", to make this very sophisticated and well-argued political documentary on the rise of the RSS and the men behind it. Anand Patwardhan's much talked about "Jung Aur Aman" (War and Peace) takes the lens close to nuclear nationalism and Patwardhan-style peels the layers that drive this kind of politics of hate in the sub-continent. In "Naata" ("The Bond") directors K.P. Jayashankar and Anjali Monteiro provide a moving personalised tale of communal harmony in the Mumbai's biggest slum, Dharavi. In "Tell Them The Tree They Planted Has Now Grown", director Ajay Raina returns to Kashmir to see the house from where his Kashimiri pandit parents had to flee.
The films from Bangladesh showed once again that the freedom struggle of the 1970s still forms a major driving force for the documentary filmmakers. "Shei Rater Kotha Bolte Eshechi (Tale of the Darkest Night) by Kawsar Chowdhury recreates the horror of the massacre by the Pakistani army in Dhaka University. Similarly Indian filmmaker Supriyo Sen portrays the angst of the partition of Bengal in "Aaabar Ashibo Phire" ("Way Back Home") in which the filmmaker journeys with his old parents to their lost homeland in Bangladesh.
There were a host of other themes explored by filmmakers at the festival. Afilm by Greg Stitt takes a close look at globalisation and its impact in a very deftly made documentary on call centres "Diverted to Delhi".
Kiran Shrestha's "Bhedako Ooon Jasto" (In Search of a Song")... Following a tune to the mountains.
A powerful film on the plight of elephants both in the wild and domesticated directed by P. Balan "The 18th Elephant: Three Monologues" picked up the Ram Bahadur trophy for the best film at the festival.
Then there was Rahul Roy's "Majma" (performance on wrestling gyms and male sexuality), Pankaj Rishi Kumar's "Mat" (The Vote), Rakesh Sharma's "Aftershocks: the Rough Guide to Democracy" and Amar Kanwar's "A night of Prophesy" and Gopal Menon's "Resilient Rhythmns" on oppression of Dalits in Indian society.
Nepal's tranche of documentary films at FSA were well crafted. Both the opening film "Itihaas Jitneharuka Laagi" ("History of Winners") by Pranay Limbu and Kiran Shrestha's "Bhedako Ooon Jasto" (In Search of a Song") which closed the festival showed the Nepali filmmaker's ability to bring simple human stories come to life on celluloid. Humour, a tool that enhances documentary narrative, was there in plenty in several films. "Words and Water" illustrates the commercialisation of water with posters like: "Buy a washing machine or a music system or a television set and take home 500 litres of water FREE !!" In "Terror's Children", a film about the plight of Afghan refugee children in Pakistan, a small Afghan child comes out with his brand of solution for world peace in a war ravaged world: " If all American people would embrace Islam, maybe there would not be any more wars !!"
As always FSA provided the melting pot of images from South Asia for south Asian filmmakers and audiences. . A film by Samar Minallah from Peshawar, "Swara: A Bridge Over Troubled Water" is a hard-hitting comment on the Pakhtun practice of giving minor girls in marriage to an "enemy family" in reparation for serious crimes like murder committed by male members of the little girl's family. The issue is now before the country's Supreme Court and Minallah is hoping that legislation is brought soon to ban the practice of "Swara". Documentary as advocacy and for change, what can be finer examples than these?
While the climate is still not ripe for documentary filmmakers in Pakistan and Sri Lanka to make films that question the status quo and those in Bangladesh and Nepal do not find the going too easy either, Indian documentary filmmakers too are encountering increasing hostility from the establishment. This summer they faced a litmus test when the government suddenly made it mandatory for documentary filmmakers to get Censor certificates for their films being submitted to the bi-annual Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF).The censorship clause spawned a huge protest in the documentary film community.170 Indian documentary filmmakers threatened to boycott the festival. Some foreign filmmakers joined issue with them in support.
A hard-hitting comment on the practice of swara in Pakistan's North West Frontier Provinces.
An embarrassed and miffed government finally withdraw the censorship clause and is now pleading with filmmakers to send in their entries.
" The state clearly perceives a threat from documentary filmmakers who are critical of the state... there is a growing paranoia in the establishment about the visual medium" says Lalit Vachani, director of " The Men on the tree".
I came away from the FSA with a haunting lyric from one of the films: " A boy was born in the railway station., now his mother is crying, as he is dead."
Documentary filmmakers from South Asia had once again told the stories of their societies and people with passion.
AS always, 15 of the best films of the FSA will now be part of a travelling festival across the world. The TFSA can be hosted by any institution anywhere and free of cost. For details contact website: www.himalassociation.org/fsa or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The films chosen from FSA 2003 are given below: The following is the list of films selected as part of the Travelling Film South Asia 2004 being launched in Kathmandu from October 31 to November 2, 2003 before it is taken around the world
"Bheda Ko Oon Jasto" (In Search Of A Song), (55 min), Nepal, 2003, director Kiran Krishna Shrestha
"Buru Sengal" ("The Fire Within"), (57 min), Jharkhand/India, 2002, director Shriprakash
"The 18th Elephant: 3 Monologues", (62 min), Kerala/India, 2003, director P. Balan
"Godhra Tak: The Terror Trail", (60 min), Gujarat/India, 2003, director Shubradeep Chakravorty
"Hunting Down Water", (32 min), India, 2003, director Sanjaya Barnela and Vasant Saberwal
"Itihass Jitneharru Ko Laagi" ("History for Winners"), (55 min), Nepal, 2003, director Pranay Limbu
"Made in India", (39 min), India, 2002, director Madhusree Dutta
"Naata" ("The Bond"), (45 min), Mumbai/India, 2003, director K.P. Jayasankar and A. Monteiro
"A Night of Prophecy", (77 min), India, 2002, director Amar Kanwar
"Resilient Rhythms", (64 min), India, 2002, director Gopal Menon
"Sand and Water", (105 min), Bangladesh, 2002, director Shaheen Dill-Riaz
"Shei Rater Kotha Bolte Eshechi" ("Tale of the Darkest Night"), (43 min), Bangladesh, 2001, director Kawsar Chowdhury
"Swara: A Bridge Over Troubled Water", (40 min), Pakistan, 2003, director Samar Minallah
"The Unconscious" (19 min), Maharastra/India, 2003, director Manisha Dwivedi
"Vikas Bandook Ki Naal Se" ("Development Flows from The Barrel Of The Gun"), (54 min), India, 2003, director Biju Toppo and Meghnath
The writer is a Special Correspondent with New Delhi Television (NDTV) and also a documentary filmmaker.
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