Thursday, August 2, 2012

Jai Bhim Comrade

" An event has happened, upon which it is difficult to speak, and impossible to be silent" -- Edmund Burke

In 1998, 10 dalits were killed by open police firing in RamaBai colony near Mumbai as they were protesting against desecration of a local Ambedkar's statue. Three days later, a Dalit poet, singer Vilas Ghogre committed suicide. Anand Patwardhan, friend of Vilas, was present at his funeral with his camera and thus began a decade plus journey of  "Jai Bhim Comrade". 

We are gathered in a small auditorium at TERI, Bangalore for a matinee (afternoon) screening. At the tea before the screening begins, i see a drop of rain fall from one leaf to another in a small green landscape in the middle of this dense city. As i sip my coffee, i see Dr. Girish Karnad standing next to me waiting like everybody else for the movie to begin. Inside the auditorium, Anand is setting up his Mac to pick correct subtitles for the movie. Once he is done, as we wait together, Anand plays songs writted by Sahir Ludhianvi, sung by Mukesh. I have not seen any Anand Patwardhan movie, have never seen the man before, but looking at this silver haired man with such calm face, i can not picture him to be a political documentary filmmaker.  As he stands silently enjoying the music, there is a face of a man satisfied with his work.

 "Jai Bhim Comrade"(JBC)  is a tour de force; it is massive in its reach and scale.  Anand uses the poetry of Vilas Ghogre, Bhai Sangrala and various other Dalit artists to give us a world view from their perspective. "A tradition of reason" reads the cover of its DVD and we see it through the words of these brilliant poets. 

"Budham sharnam gachami" (I will go to Budha' for refuge), JBC chronicles how on Ambedkar's calling Dalits started to convert to Buddhism. He has a lot many candid conversations with people on how do they feel about it. No wonder, many of them are pleased to give up the discriminatory Hindu religion, few regret not doing it and there is a minority who feel that there is some identity is lost as they adopt this new religion. One of my favourite segments is when Anand questions two school going girls on what has been the reaction of their fellow classmates in school upon their religious views.  One girls shyly expresses that she feels different while her young sister has not told anything to her classmates. 

In the second part, JBC adds another layer by focusing on Pune based artist group - Kabir Kala Manch.  We see that how these simple ordinary people realize the importance of woman empowerment, education and above all futility of religion.  JBC never tries to be preachy, it does not have force any social message, it only offers several view points. There is a brilliant sequence where Anand questions the localites, mostly belonging to upper caste,  of a ground where Dr. Ambedkar's birthday is celebrated by tens of thousands of Dalits annualy. One gentleman complain that these people dirty the entire community and make an appeal that they should stop, quickly his wife draws the parallel between the this event and annual Ganesh puja celebrations where similar behavior is seen.  

 Politics always lingers in the background; from the black commando movement, the early Shiv Sena support here to the present where support has been divided between Congress and BJP. In a very shocking scene, JBC reveals how people of Ramabai colony have forgotten who was in power when the killings happened a decade ago. Indeed, we really have a short term memory.  JBC goes beyond Ramabai and covers atrocities on Dalits in other parts of India as well.  Even though it is around three hrs, it does not feel a drag at any point because there are stories and raw emotions of actual humans; these are the poems of few of India's finest poets, and above all these are voices of rationality. \
 The QnA session that followed the movie was equally informative. The movie ends when the Kabir Kala manch folks are declared naxalites and are forced to go underground. Anand explains that he chose to end the movie so that he can get public attention to this issue. Ramabai killings issue continues to fight battles in higher courts.  Reservation comes the word whenever you utter the word caste to an upper caste Indian, explains Anand.  First, lets acknowledge that there is a problem, tells Anand to one of the most elite audience in India; everybody nods aye.  There is a lot of thought process behind every scene in this movie, there are lot many layers and there are references to topics  each of them could be made into a movie of its own.

In between the two parts, Anand asks if people want a small break, "NO" comes the immediate response which brings about a half smile to his face. Behind his calm face, there is a lot of anger, a boling rage against the system but Anand has brilliantly learnt the art to channel it in his films. My strategy is very simple says Anand, "First get a national award for my film" and then fight court cases to get it screened. 

In a very interesting argument, a gentleman in audience says that Anand has chosen "morally settled arguments" in his movie. According to him, these are easy topics while nobody is talking about "morally unsettled topics". This draws ire from several audience members including Dr. Karnad who remarks that it is incredibly irritating to a film maker when people complain that why have you not made your film about that other topic.  Anand explains that comparing KKM to a naxalite organization may be morally settled in your world but in reality, it is far from it. 

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