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Gondry in Gorakhpur? Best of world cinema in small towns
NIDHI GUPTA  4th Dec 2011

Films like Benegal’s Bhoomika now see a houseful screenings in small towns like Ballia, UP

n December, Allahabad is all set to have its first world cinema festival, a three-day event showcasing 19 films from all over the country and the world. Cinema of Resistance, spearheaded by filmmaker and author Sanjay Joshi, is a movement that was launched in 2006, under the ambit of the Jan Sanskriti Manch (an artistic collective formed in 1985 by poet and writer Gorakh Pandey).

World cinema, it seems, is no longer an exclusive privilege of the elite. Cinema of Resistance is all about offering some intellectual stimulation for culturally-starved souls in India's northern belt. In 2006, he launched his vision in the remote border town of Gorakhpur, which is otherwise dominated by "right-wing politics and yogis".

It started in a small auditorium at Gorakhpur University, with about 60 people in their committee who had Rs 95,000 in their kitty and a deep faith in the power of cinema. The movement has come a long way, with branches in Indore, Lucknow, Nainital, Bhillai, among others. "With films from Turkey, Iran, Europe, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the movement is all about protecting the beautiful and protesting against anything undesirable, from capitalism to controversial laws," says Joshi.

World cinema becomes our window to knowing the world and its problems, for people who may never get to step out of their small cities

"We began this resistance by never seeking sponsorships from the corporates or government. Our funds are entirely based on donations by supporters. It ensures us our freedom in curation and viewership," Joshi says. In the past, he had the likes of Arundhati Roy and M.S. Sathyu attending the screening of controversial movies like Sathyu's Garam Hawa and Rakesh Sharma's Final Solution. They also hosted unofficial premiers of Bollywood-shunned movies like Bela Negi's comedy Daayen ya Baayen.

Allahabad and Patna has now joined a growing fray of cities and towns in their quest for novel recreation. Ankur Kumar, a cinematography student, and the convener of their forthcoming Allahabad gig, says, "Cinema was not a prevalent culture in our youth, except for the dreamland that Bollywood manages to create for us every time. The idea is to initiate discussion, to open our eyes to what is really happening around the world," he explains. Girish Kasaravalli, the acclaimed Kannada director will be opening the festival, with the screening of his movie Kanasemba Kudureyaneri (Sapnon ke Ghode Par).

In September this year, Sankalp, an organisation that works for cultural awakening in Ballia, hosted full-house screenings of films like Shyam Benegal's Bhoomika and Mani Kaul's Duvidha at the town hall. These films are not exactly the staple of mainstream entertainment.

For Ashish Trivedi, a post-graduate in Hindi philosophy and active member of Sankalp, it was the lack of any cultural activity and a dwindling sentiment of resistance that triggered his initiative. "We also had special screenings for children. There are 40 crore children in this country and hardly any films are made for them. Those that are around do not reach them. We screened Majid Majidi's Children of Heaven and Albert Lamorisse's Red Balloon, both of which got brilliant responses from a small audience," he says.

So, what inspires the Bollywood-fed audience to flock to these screenings of films in unknown languages and by people unheard of? "Mainstream cinema is narrative-oriented and is not experimental. There's not much to ruminate on once you're done watching. World cinema becomes our window to knowing the world and its problems, for people who may never get to step out of their small cities," points out Joshi.

Both Kumar and Trivedi are enthusiastic about repeating the experiment annually. Joshi reckons that by the end of 2012, the movement would reach 25 cities in north India. "Technology is a great facilitator," he adds, "It doesn't take too much to set up a screen, projector and use your laptop/DVD to screen movies."

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