Prime Edition

A stifled song that will be sung; a tale that will be told
NIDHI GUPTA  15th Apr 2012

A still from Anand Patwardhan’s Jai Bhim Comrade

n 1997, Mumbai police opened fire on a peaceful rally protesting the desecration of an Ambedkar statue with a garland of rubber chappals in Ramabai Colony, Mumbai. They killed 10 Dalits, young and old, leaving in their wake an entire community grieving. Manohar Kadam, an upper-caste, middle class police officer, who was charged with directing the unprovoked shooting, was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2011. The authorities took him, not to jail, but to a hospital, under the pretext of stress and mental fatigue.

Anand Patwardhan's latest magnum opus Jai Bhim Comrade documents this never-ending tragedy of caste-discrimination in India, starting from this incident in 1997, which in turn caused Vilas Ghogre, a Dalit musician, to hang himself as the pain and grief of his people got too much to bear. Over the next 14 years, Patwardhan meanders through the lanes of Ramabai colony and through the villages of Maharashtra, rehashing – brick-by-brick – a world of hatred and ignominy that an entire community has been living under for so long.

"I had recorded a lot of Vilas Ghogre's powerful music of protest in the 80's and had filmed one song for my documentary Bombay Our City," said the country's leading independent filmmaker, introducing the movie to a small eclectic audience at the India Habitat Centre last week. "Yet I was not in touch with him on a daily basis in his last years and his suicide came as a terrible shock," he added.

Inter-laced with this gory history (that goes unacknowledged and unrecorded for the most part) is a focus on Dalit protest music. Ghogre's tunes incorporated a lot of political satire that sought to 'awaken' his people out of their fear-laden stupor. After his death, he became a symbol of martyrdom and inspired many others to take up singing as a form of activism. Another 'hero' in the film is the young activist group, Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), whose forceful voice and inspiring songs become popular throughout the community.

The film points to a long intellectual tradition of reason inspired by people like Charavaka, Buddha, Kabir, Jotiba Phule and Dr. Ambedkar that the weakest sections of our society have retained through time, despite the superstitions perpetrated by the elite. — Anand Patwardhan

For Patwardhan, whose long filmmaking career has been mired with controversy, essentially for baring all through his lens, the response to his latest work has been heartening. "Of all my films so far, Jai Bhim Comrade has been getting the maximum viewership from mass audiences in India. People in huge numbers are sitting, even standing through its 3 hour plus duration," said Patwardhan. Previously, his anti-nuclear statement in War and Peace survived a long battle against censors, only to go ahead and win the National Award (2004) in the Best Non-Feature Film category. "Censorship has to disappear or at least has to become much more liberal," he said, adding, "You have to let the viewer decide rather than have a small body sit in judgement on everything."

The civil society has come out in huge numbers in support of the movie. "I've been holding basti-level screenings all over Maharashtra. The stories seem to ring a bell – people are fed up with even their own leaders. After the film was over, they would come up on stage and passionately narrate their personal experiences," said Patwardhan. "The elite response has been mixed, and those who have negative thoughts rarely talk to me directly," he shrugs. The screening at IHC, organised by the publishing house Navayana, saw a large gathering of Delhi's activist cadres, turning out in support of the cause.

Yet, the movie provides no answers, no categorical statements – one doesn't find out the truth behind RPI leader Bhai Sangare's death in 1999; the KKM is underground today because their 'inciteful' songs have got them the label of Naxalites; the RPI joins hands with the BJP in the latest municipal elections; a 1997 victim's mother cries about the futility of it all after Kadam's farcical conviction, weeping at the injustice. As a behind-the-scenes interrogator and narrator, Patwardhan can only apologise to her for events he has not caused. "The purpose is to record history as it unfolds," he states. "The film points to a long intellectual tradition of reason inspired by people like Charavaka, Buddha, Kabir, Jotiba Phule and Dr. Ambedkar that the weakest sections of our society have retained through time, despite the superstitions perpetrated by the elite."

 
iTv Network : newsX India News Media Academy aaj Samaaj  
  Powered by : Star Infranet