A Festival of Contemporary Political Films
Magic Lantern Foundation & India International Centre
April 17, 18 and 19, 2009
Venue: India International Centre, 40 Max Mueller Marg, Lodhi Estate,
New Delhi 110003
Filmmakers Parlour 1 : Films by Sanjay Kak
A House And A Home
55 min, 1993, INDIA
A film on people of Indian origin in post-apartheid South Africa.
This Land, My Land, Eng-land!
55 min, 1993, INDIA
Three decades after they first came over, there is a new generation of “Asians” in Britain, in a world far removed from the docile pragmatism of the early arrivals. Distanced from their parents, and dispossessed of cultural memory, they must still invoke the shards of “Our Culture”. This is a film about the construction of identity, an ambivalent search powered by a kind of desperation.
Rita Wolf, whose career as actress on stage, television and cinema (Tandoori Nights, Coronation Street, My Beautiful Launderette) is part of the struggle by Asians to find themselves.
In The Forest Hangs A Bridge
39 min, 1999, INDIA
Located deep in the forested hills of the Siang valley of Arunachal Pradesh, at the north-eastern extremity of India, Damro village gathers to build a 1000 foot long suspension bridge, the elegant structures of cane and bamboo, that are the distinctive mark of the Adi tribe. Their only tool is the dao, a blade length of tempered steel, the size of a machete.
Words On Water
85 min, 2002, INDIA
For more than 15 years, people of the Narmada Valley in central India have resisted a series of massive dams on their river, and in their struggle have exposed the deceptive heart of India s development politics. When the use of violence has become the arbiter of all political debate, ‘Words on Water’ is about a sustained non-violent resistance, an almost joyous defiance, which empowers people as they struggle for their rights, yet saves them from the ultimate humiliation of violence.
How We Celebrate Freedom
139 min, 2007, INDIA
It’s India’s Independence day, and its flag ritually goes up in the heart of Srinagar, Kashmir. But the empty streets and the sullen silence that greet India’s claim on Kashmir spark off old questions about freedom – azadi – and the denial of freedom. After 18 years of an armed struggle, with 60,000 dead and nearly 7,000 missing, Kashmir’s people begin to look within their ledger of loss. Using a mix of verité footage, rare archival material, poetry and text, a provocative look at Indian democracy, and a reflection on power, resistance and “freedom’s terrible thirst”.
Filmmakers Parlour 2: Films by Madhusree Dutta
I Live In Behrampada
49 min, 1993, INDIA
As a sequel to the demolition of Babri masjid in December 1992, majoritarianism in India turned its attention to its own citizens. The communal riots that followed reduced Bombay into two distinct communities and turned the Muslim minority into underclass citizens. Against this moment, ‘I Live in Behrampada’ traces the history of a Muslim ghetto which was first inhabited soon after the country’s independence and grew through the efforts of the slum dwellers who turned slimy marshland into solid ground. But in the face of development, yesterday’s pathfinders have become today’s interlopers. Is the dividing line language, culture and religion or class?
Listen O’ Friends
13 min, 1999, INDIA
Constructed as a folk musical, this short film journeys into rural Bengal to engage with the social phenomenon that endorses and sustains trafficking. Less educated, homely girls are married off to unknown men from distant Calcutta by parents feeling burdened by her emerging sexuality. Or adolescent girls are sent off with less known relatives to earn money for the household. Many of these girls fall into various cycles of violence, especially sex trade. The film advocates better understanding of girl children – their sexuality, productive potential and their need for constructive nurturing.
Sundari: An Actor Prepares
30 min, 1999, INDIA
Jayshankar Sundari was a popular female impersonator of the Gujarati stage in early 20th century Bombay. Basing itself on a play by Anuradha Kapur, and looking at the work of eminent painters Bhupen Khakkar and Nilima Sheikh, the film articulates the process of his journey from boy to man and simultaneously from male to female. Through his story the film explores ideas of femininity and performance, in the context of contemporary gender discourses and politics of acting.
Scribbles On Akka
57 min, 2000, INDIA
In this short film on the life and work of the 12th century saint-poet, Mahadevi Akka, her radical poems, written with the female body as a metaphor, have been composed and picturised in contemporary musical language. Mahadevi, framed as Akka – elder sister, while leaving the domestic arena in search of God also abondoned modesty and clothing. The film explores the meaning of this denial through the work of contemporary artists and writers and testimonies of ordinary folk who nurtured her image through centuries in their folklore and oral literature. A celebration of rebellion, feminity and legacy down nine hundred years.
Made In India
37 min, 2002, INDIA
A rural artist paints her autobiography, Bollywood movie icons’ images get erased after the weekly run of the film, the national flag flutters on 150 kites, an installation artist paints pop icons on the rolling shutters of shops, religious icons jostle for attention with plastic flowers on the vendor’s cart, metaphors of life cycle adorn the mud wall of a home, neighbourhood boys craft the tale of WTC and the sale of toy planes goes up.
Symbols of nationalism become a fashionable commodity.
7 Islands And A Metro
100 min, 2006, INDIA
To the seven goddesses who reign over Bom Bahia / Bombay / Mumbai.
The multilingual Bombay, the Bombay of closed mills, of popular culture, sprawling slums and real estate onslaughts, the metropolis of numerous ghettos, the El Dorado. A tale of the city woven into a tapestry of fiction, cinéma vérité, art objects, found footage, sound installation and literary texts.
The narrative is structured around imaginary epistolatory debates between Ismat Chugtai and Sadat Hasan Manto over the art of chronicling these multi-layered overlapping cities. Shot mainly during the monsoon the film portrays some extremely beautiful yet ruthlessly violent features of Bombay which, generally, are not part of the popular narratives.
Filmmakers Parlour 3: Films by Paromita Vohra
Goddess Of Food
25 min, 1995, INDIA
Set in the lanes and by lanes of central Bombay’s mill area, the film is a portrait of a women’s co-operative named Annapurna.Started in 1975 by 14 khanawalis – women who prepared meals for migrant workers, thus earning the name food-lady – the organisation has today swelled to a membership of 150,000 and has it’s own credit co-operative bank, short-stay home and catering centre.The film observes the everyday life of these women and intertwines it with the story of how the organisation grew. An exploration of the politics and economics of women’s work, the film is a tribute to the fearless women who started Annapurna, and the feisty women who carry it on.
A Woman’s Place
60 min, 1999, INDIA, SOUTH AFRICA & USA
‘A Woman’s Place’ tells the intimate story of women from three countries who are fighting to balance the scales of power so that a man_s world is also a woman_s place. Advocates for women have frequently turned to LAW in their efforts to accord women equality. But are new laws enough to change old ways? ‘A Woman’s Place’ explores this question through the issues of inheritance in a South African village, domestic abuse in an American town and divorce in an Indian city; and profiles the ingenious strategies of women who use law in the age old conflict between tradition and change.
A Fearless Tale Of Feminism
94 min, , INDIA
‘Unlimited Girls’ is an exploration of engagements with feminism in contemporary urban India. A narrator called Fearless who starts accidentally in a chatroom and embarks on a journey where she encounters diverse characters – feminists who remember the songs and actions of the Indian women’s movement, yuppies who discuss their modern marriage, a policeman writing films for “women’s upliftment”, women shopping at a bra sale, college kids practicing a dance, teachers who feel girls must not take injustice – or break a home; a woman cab driver, a priest, academics, activists, and unseen but much-heard women like Atilla_the_Nun, ChamkiGirl and Devi_is_a_Diva, in a feminist chatroom – all talking of their engagements with feminism and its place in their lives today.
Two Tales Of A City
13 min, 2004, INDIA
In two discrete but associated shorts, this film looks at divisions of language, class, memory and food and queries the myths of Bombay as a great cosmopolitan city.
Tale 1: THE FORGOTTEN CITY (1 min.17 sec)
A poem called Mumbai, about a city built by workers. A skyline where mill chimneys are replaced by glinting, cylindrical highrises, that mimic their shape, but do not hold their memory. A singer who recites the names of train stations, a map in song. In the eye of change,a forgotten city. The eye of change, a forgotten city.
Tale 2: DEFEAT OF A MINOR GODDESS (12 min)
This is a film about food and faith. Anapurna, the goddess of food, a gorgeous meal of fish. Pleased, she blesses the city with gastronomic abundance and even reigns as its (very popular) patron deity. However, very soon she faces competition with the arrival her sister, Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. The rivalry between the goddesses manages to divide the city with all the classical intrigue, insecurity and jealousy that make up a good old fashioned battle. The city spirals into an escalating war over food and property, livelihood and living. Vegetarians don’t want to live with non-vegetarians, Saraswat Brahmins don’t want Jain neighbours and fishmongers don’t want people of other communities to sell fish. Interweaving the fictional war between the goddesses with a documentary exploration of Bombay’s food politics, the film interrogates the divisive politics that characterizes contemporary Bombay under its cosmopolitan costume.
Work In Progress
At The WSF 2004
59 min, 2004, INDIA
“We came into this world to understand certain things: Very few, but exceedingly important ones.” – Andrei Sinyavsky
This film has made its journey from being a document of an event to becoming an impression of a worldwide movement for economic, political and cultural justice and a travelogue of ideas for change.
The World Social Forum began in Brazil in the year 2000 as a space for defining alternatives to globalisation, economic imperialism, war and discrimination. In 2004, it’s fourth year, it came to Bombay and widened its horizons to include issues of gender, indigenous people’s rights, alternative sexuality, women and war, caste and racism. For 5 days people protested and analysed existing economic, political and social injustice; celebrated alternatives and resistance through speeches, processions, music, debate, performance, conversation; and sharpened their imagination of a better world with diversity and justice at its heart, under a common slogan – Another World Is Possible.
This film has been created from video material gathered by student crews to document this 5-day event.
18 min, 2005, INDIA
Who’s Sandra? If you saw her would you know her? Is she naughty or nice? And where is she, anyway? The film is a playful look at the figure of “Sandra from Bandra” – part covetous fantasy of the racy Christian girl from Bombay who works as a secretary, wears a dress and likes to dance; part condescending stereotype of a dowdy, religious girl from a minority community. The film searches for Sandra in Bollywood films, in the words of writers and poets and the stones in church graveyards. We encounter various claimants to the title – some who aren’t called Sandra and some who aren’t even from Bandra – until finally finding 5 women really called Sandra who are all as different from each other as can be, even if they are a little bit the same.
55 min, 2006, INDIA
‘Q2P’ is a film about toilets and the city. It peers through the dream of Mumbai as a future Shanghai and searches for public toilets in Bombay with a small detour in Delhi, watching who has to queue to pee.
As the film observes who has access to toilets and who doesn’t, we begin to also see the imagination of gender that underlies the city’s shape, the constantly shifting boundaries between public and private space; we learn of small acts of survival that people in the city’s bottom half cobble together and quixotic ideas of social change that thrive with mixed results; we hear the silence that surrounds toilets and sense how similar it is to the silence that surrounds inequality.
The toilet becomes a riddle with many answers and some of those answers are questions – about gender, about class, about caste and most of all about space, urban development and the twisted myth of the global metropolis.
Filmmakers Parlour 4: Films by R. V. Ramani
25 min, 1991, INDIA
A man sings in the local train, in Bombay. Men and women dance celebrating the Holi festival in the village Salona, in Maharashtra. Ganesh festival celebrations reach its peak on the streets of Bombay. The film is an exploratory journey seeking one’s own rhythm, through the magnetic flux of rural and urban rhythms.
Face Like A Man
30 min, 1993, INDIA
Nine painters in an Artists camp in Madras – Tina Juretzek, Vasudha Thozur, Gieve Patel, Manu Parekh, V. Ramesh, Vasudev, Gargi Raina, Rekha Rodwittiya and Gerhard Scharnhorst – try and express their preoccupations, in their canvas… The filmmaker with his own preoccupation strikes a relation.
Through The Window
30 min, 1993, INDIA
Bhagwan Chavan is a non-figurative artist, who hails from Maharashtra and living in Chennai. He does an abstract painting on a large canvas for 3 days, in Kala Mela, an art festival at the Museum complex in Chennai. The filmmaker tries to enter into a dialogue of non figuration and abstraction with the painter vis a vis filmmaking. He completes the painting at the festival, but after a gap of 8 months, the artist suddenly decides to rework on the same painting at his studio and totally changes it. This activity coincides with a major earthquake near his hometown in Maharashtra and he titles the canvas, “Earthquake at Khillari’. The film too changes, along with the canvas.
Blue Black Yellow
6 min, 1995, INDIA
The painter, Achyuthan Kudallur, inaugurates his exhibition of abstract paintings, in Chennai. The filmmaker goes on a quizzical journey, through colours, forms, space, movements and gestures at the exhibition.
26 min, 1995, INDIA
Nine Experimental theatre groups from different parts of the country meet in Chennai. Egos clash, fuse and melt. A film as theatre.
One Two Three Four
28 min, 1995, INDIA
How to write stories for children? Do the stories need a positive end or a negative end. The filmmaker inspired by an Illustrator’s Workshop for children’s story books in Chennai, goes on an exploration into the world of children and their school life. Neela dreams, snake drank water, rabbit woke up, monkey jumped.
If I Die
58 min, 1996, INDIA
Shihan Hussaini, a Karate exponent and an aspiring actor, performs ‘sensational’ events, to draw attention to issues that he considers important. The filmmaker portrays Hussaini as a performer of bizarre proportions, struggling for an expression and identity in the social, glamour and the political arena of Tamil Nadu.
Language Of War
51 min, 1996, INDIA
The film is based on the rehearsals of a bilingual play, ‘Gita – An Imagery’, directed by H. Kanhaialal. The play, based on the Mahabharatha war, in Tamil and Manipuri, portrays Arjuna, the protagonist in a dilemma – morality or duty. The filmmaker compares the struggle of Arjuna in the war, with that of the actors and the Director of the play, struggling to seek an expression in regional language theatre. The rehearsals become performance.
70 min, 1996, INDIA
This film is based on the by-election held at the Mylapore constituency, Chennai in 1994, when the AIADMK party has been in power, with J. Jayalalitha as the Chief Minister. The film portrays the character and culture of Tamil Nadu politics, people’s need for leaders, gods and celebrations.
Brahma Vishnu Shiva
19 min, 1999, INDIA
The filmmaker persuades his Japanese sculptor friend, Toshikazu Kanai, to work with sand as the medium, near the waterfront on a beach. The waves lash. Children jump around. Fish gets caught. A balloon girl passes. A film happens, revealing the process of creation, sustenance and destruction, all happening at the same time.
Lines Of Mahatma
20 min, 1999, INDIA
A painting exhibition displays, old drawings of Mahatma Gandhi, done in 1960′s by the eminent Chennai based artist K. M. Adimoolam. At the suggestion of the filmmaker, after a gap of almost 3 decades, K. M. Adimoolam once again attempts to do a sketch of Gandhi. The film reflects upon the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi through the drawings of Adimoolam.
29 min, 2000, INDIA
The air is potent, during The Other Festival, Chennai, 1999. The artists are involved in their last minute preparations. The filmmaker enters this space.
Heaven On Earth
60 min, 2001, INDIA
The German Nature artist Ulrike Arnold, chooses to work in South India. In Tiruvannamalai, Ulrike creates a unique painting, collecting soil from 4 directions of the holy mountain Arunachala. In Badami, she paints on the rock surface, near the prehistoric Siddlapadi cave, using colours found in the terrain. This film is a unique collaboration, between the artist and the filmmaker, bordering on mystic experiences.
Where Are You?
154 min, 2003, INDIA
Before the advent of cinema, Shadow Puppet Theatre, has been prevalent and most popular, for many centuries in India. The Shadow Puppeteers are the ‘original filmmakers’, who by manipulating leather puppets in front of a light source, created moving images on the screen. They led a nomadic life style, travelling, camping, setting up screens, and performing the story of Ramayana, adapting local languages and flavours. Today, there are only a few shadow puppeteers still practising this art form. Stories and life styles have changed. This film, with the Shadow Puppeteers, living in South India, is a celebration and dedication to the art of moving images and to its original practitioners and community. An impressionistic ethnography, reflecting on shadow puppet theatre, history, mythology, cinema and our lives.
Filmmakers Parlour 5: Films by Tanvir Mokammel
The River Named Madhumati
120 min, 1995, BANGLADESH
The film is a deconstruction of the Hamlet-theme enacted on the marshy lands in riverine Bangladesh.
The story line narrates, in a micro level, the causality and the ideologies working behind the different forces during the 1971 war between Pakistan and Bangladesh, a theme, which due to the recent emergence of Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh, has become a politically sensitive issue.
Quiet Flows The River Chitra
114 min, 1998, BANGLADESH
Shashikanta, a Hindu lawyer, lives with his family in ‘Panthanir’, his ancestral home on the banks of Chitra in East Bengal. His daughter Minoti is a good friend of Badal, from a neighbouring Muslim family. Minoti’s aunt Anuprava Devi, a widow, lives with Shashikanta.
During the partition in 1947, when many Hindus are migrating to India leaving their homes behind, some Muslim neighbours vie for ‘Panthanir’. But Shashikanta refuses to leave.
As they grow up, Minoti and Badal develop a tender relationship. During the 1960’s, when the atmosphere is charged with nationalism and progressive ideas, Badal becomes a political activist. One day, while participating in a demonstration against the military junta, he is killed in police firing.
Many successive tragedies take their toll on Shashikanta’s health and one evening he dies of a heart attack. Leaving ‘Panthanir’, Minoti and Anuprava proceed to Calcutta. But Chitra, a silent witness of the human tragedy, flows on unperturbed.
A Tree Without Roots
110 min, 2001, BANGLADESH
This fiction film revolves around a Mullah called Majid and how he cons the people of his village by establishing a false shrine. As Majid oversteps the boundaries of humanity, his make-believe creation is destroyed by the powerful forces of nature, as a great flood sweeps it all away.
Written by Syed Waliullah in 1948, ‘Lalasu’ or ‘A Tree Without Roots’, is the most remarkable novel written about the rural Muslim community of East Bengal (now Bangladesh). In present day Bangladesh, Syed Waliullah is widely regarded as a writer of profound insight.
140 min, 2004, BANGLADESH
The ‘Bauls’ of Bengal, with their mystic songs and inimitable lifestyle, are a very bodily sect. In their humanist tradition of meditation, the human body is placed at the core. Buddhist Tantra, Hindu Vaisnavism and Islamic Sufism all have their shares of influence in the formation of this sub-culture. Through the centuries ‘Baul’ songs, depicting asceticism and the transience of life, have expressed the pathos and pangs of the caste-ridden subaltern rural populace of Bengal.
Lalon Fakir (? – 1890), a doyen among the Baul – Fakirs of Bengal, composed over a thousand songs with profound depth and a keen sense of music. Lalon’s secular ideas and enchanting lyrics have deeply influenced subsequent generations of the different trends of Bauls-Fakirs of Bangladesh and India. Though Lalon died only a hundred years ago, not much is known of his life, and many details remain shrouded in mystery. The film traces Lalon’s life, persona and ideas through the lyrics of his songs. Some prominent cultural figures of Bengali society of the time who came in touch with Lalon, such as Jyotirrindranath Tagore, Kangal Harinath and Mir Mosharraf Hossain, also figure in the film. By portraying the milieu of Lalon, a kind of a Guru during his lifetime, the film aims to capture the social ethos of his period.
Tajuddin Ahmad: An Unsung Hero
104 min, 2007, BANGLADESH
Tajuddin Ahmad was an important architect of the state of Bangladesh. In 1971 he successfully led the liberation war despite the absence of the charismatic Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Post independence Tajuddin was the first Prime Minister of Bangladesh and instrumental in developing the Awami League as a democratic political party. Because of growing differences between him and Mujibur Rehman, he resigned in 1974. Ten months later, during a military coup, Mujibur Rahman was assassinated and Tajuddin arrested. On November 3, 1975 he was brutally assassinated inside Dhaka central jail.
This biopic is a tribute to Tajuddin Ahmad: the man, his vision and work. It is a documentary about a rare kind of politician whose legacy stands as an inspiration for generations.
Filmmakers Parlour 6: Films by Kesang Tseten
We Homes Chaps
59 min, 2003, NEPAL & INDIA
A unique Scottish Presbyterian home was founded by a missionary at the turn of the century in British India. It takes in orphans, mainly destitute Anglo-Indian children, and subsequently, children of Tibetan refugees and other Himalayan people in strife. Providing an all-round education with old-fashioned and colonial Christian values, it is a home for many that would not have had one. But it is also a universe unto itself, a ‘total institution’. For a ‘Homes chap’, the institution is a surrogate parent, and an anchor and source of life-long attachment. It is a love with an edge, a difficult love. Why that is so is what Tibetan filmmaker and Homes alumnus Kesang Tseten attempts to answer when he and his classmates of 29 years ago, return to the ‘Village for Children’ in the lap of Kanchenjunga, for the institution’s centennial celebrations. A searing and yet lyrical reflection on displacement, marginality, nostalgia, the powerful hold of early experience, and the nature of love.
Machhendranath: On The Road With The Red God
52 min, 2005, NEPAL
Every 12 years, impassioned devotees pull a 65-feet tall, unwieldy chariot in the Kathmandu Valley; its rider an enigmatic God worshipped by Hindus and Buddhists. The one month long journey is circumscribed by endless rituals and animal sacrifice.
The enterprise calls for extreme cooperation and rigorous observance of ritual in the building, sanctification and pulling of the chariot. But the journey is an arena of gritty reality, where conflict or solidarity can prevail. So every 12 years, the same question is asked: will the journey succeed?
We Corner People
50 min, 2006, NEPAL
They call themselves ‘corner people’. No settlement lies beyond their high hills. The poorest among them are sub-subsistence; there is no electricity, and not a single shop. Children attend a 3-room school that goes only up to class 3; after that they must walk 4 hours daily. Villagers walk that distance just to buy chili or salt and to sell their bamboo wares, their only means of a cash income. Now a bridge comes to this remote village in Rasuwa District. The bridge will make life easier for villagers; and it will placate fear. One of the rivers straddling the village swept away a young bride when it inexplicably swelled. The event haunts the village.
Listen To The Winds
31 min, NEPAL
The setting is the Sherpa village of Khumjung, at 3, 600 m above sea level, in the lap of Mt. Everest. Dawa is a quiet, gentle boy whose best friend is an old nomad, from whom he learns about nature and life. Dawa is apprehensive about going to a new school. He will have less time for his nomad friend who is losing his eyesight and has expressed his desire to see a metok Kalma, the rare white rhododendron of the higher pastures. The boy pledges to make it happen. It is difficult to find the flower, and a gang of boys pick on Dawa; his parents pressure him to do better at his studies to secure a scholarship; a girl who befriends him turns against him, thanks to the boys’ machinations. Then they play a cruel prank on the nomad. In the face of such tribulations, will Dawa rise above himself?
Frames Of War
40 min, 2008, NEPAL
‘Frames of War’ (Yudha Chitra) is a stark reminder that peace has not yet come for those directly affected by Nepal’s 11-year conflict. The film brings us the voices of those whose relatives were killed or disappeared or who were disabled during the conflict. Suffering and pain reside in individuals and individual bodies, which we often forget under the collective ‘people’. The film excavates individual stories while accompanying a traveling exhibition of A People War that in 2007-2008 traversed the country for more than three months and was seen by more than 300,000 people. The film also reminds us that public acknowledgement of what happened is a precondition for healing.