Documentary films rejected at the MIFF found a parallel forum to draw an audience. GOWRI RAMNARAYAN writes on Vikalp.
"WE are too goddamn reasonable. I am all for being inflammatory," announced Arundhati Roy at an open forum in "Vikalp: Films for Freedom", Mumbai, a parallel festival of documentaries rejected by the Mumbai International Film Festival of Documentary, Short and Animation 2004 (MIFF), or withdrawn in protest against its selection procedures. MIFF is organised by the Films Division of India under the aegis of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Vikalp found its hall strategically opposite the MIFF venue, to offer intimate viewing of the kind many have forgotten in more plush urban ambiences. "This was put together quickly with a tiny budget made up of modest contributions from the 275 film makers who had come together last year in a Campaign Against Censorship when MIFF threatened to censor the Indian entries. The condition was withdrawn, but MIFF's rejections showed backdoor censorship. Why else would Rakesh Sharma's `Final Solution' and Amar Kanwar's `Night of Prophecy' be rejected," ask Anjali Monteiro and K.P.Jayashankar, who are among the film makers spearheading Vikalp, as a positive, constructive means of protest. Nor could they find any reason for MIFF's dropping Arun Khopkar's "Narayan Surve", a national award winner. (Since then "Final Solution" has won two awards at the Berlin International Film Festival the Wolfgang Staudte and the Netpac Jury awards.)
Says Sunil Shanbag who withdrew his "Aamakar" from MIFF, "Selectors didn't watch the films together, but in straggling groups. There could be no discussion or debate." Chennai-based filmmaker R.V. Ramani had earlier resigned from MIFF's organising committee convinced that "the selection committee had no empowerment, never knew the final selection, the then director had interfered with the selection process, manipulated the results." Filmmaker Aditya Sethi finds the process erratic, leaving room for tampering. The accountability and responsibility of the selectors became so debatable that, at a MIFF press meet, the selectors had to admit that they had the authority only to recommend, not select. They did not know which films they had selected. They did not protest when the then festival director D. Mukhopadhyay dropped Sanjay Kak's "Words on Water" from the final list, an action described by MIFF authorities as fine tuning'.
It was no use for Australian filmmaker Peter Wintonyck to explain that every festival in the world made some autocratic or arbitrary decisions. Many Indian and foreign filmmakers saw "fine-tuning" as a euphemism for censorship. The present director Raghu Krishna, hoisted to the post a few days before the festival, was in no position to answer questions about his predecessor's actions, but offered the defence that only "subversive" films had been deleted.
To watch Sanjay Kak's "Words on Water" and Rakesh Sharma's "Final Solution" at Vikalp was to know just what "subversive" meant. With sincerity and deep feeling, both document the horrors unleashed upon the mute and the destitute in a nation that boasts of making shining progress. Kak's film is a direct indictment of the State and the industrialists whose greed cannot be disguised by the avowed goal of "economic progress". The commentary is shrill and caustic, and you see why when the camera confronts you with the displacement of whole villages, of tribals on the Narmada shores stripped of their land, culture, and means of survival. We follow the Narmada Bachao Andolan in its non-violent resistance the poorest and the weakest find the moral strength to defy the juggernaut.
Its subdued style and quiet narrative make the issue explode in "Final Solution". We relive the Gujarat carnage in the words of the men and women who have lost their families, property, and all hope of justice. You cannot forget the woman who says "What does justice matter when I have lost my child?" Macabre stories of torture, humiliation, rape and massacre parallel party rallies and ministerial bombast that either justify the carnage or pretend it never happened. The criminals roam free. The shocks are too much to bear a woman describes watching her daughters gang raped, a man speaks of his wife flinging a child to him from the balcony of the house where she was burnt with the rest of the family. The nearly four hours documentary is not a minute too long. You are grateful that someone has compiled such an incontrovertible record for seekers of truth. Vikalp was flagged off with an excerpt from Motley's theatre production of "Kali Shalwar, Safed Jhoot" by Sadat Hasan Manto. This work not only defends freedom of expression but is also the author's response to a public outcry demanding a ban on all his works as they were "obscene" and corrupted minds. Manto's writings have survived to take their place among the classics.
The protest festival drew a full hall for all screenings through the day, and sparked vigorous debate. "We did not ask anyone to boycott MIFF, nor are we against the government festival. We just wanted people to see the rejected films and come to their own conclusions." Plans are afoot to take the festival to 20 towns in India. Monteiro continues, "MIFF is accountable to the public. It's our money that runs it. If they clean up the act and make the procedures transparent, we will certainly go back and support a festival that had once been a platform for innovative work and free interaction."
"Filmmakers are solitary people. We should thank MIFF, it has made us come together as a fraternity," say the Vikalp participants. "We shouldn't stop with this festival, or even with screenings of this package in other towns. We should develop a movement for freedom, for the right to criticise and protest through our films." In essence do what a young prizewinner at MIFF 2004 declared as she grasped her award, "Use the documentary to fight."
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