Persistence Resistance @ MIFF 2010

Date: 7 February 2010
Time : 11.45 am to 5.45 pm

Venue: Experimental Theatre,
National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai

As part of the Retrospectives and Special packages at the on-going Mumbai International Film Festival 2010, Magic Lantern Foundation is screening 5 films from the Persistence Resistance film festival package, which primarily showcases films distributed by Under Construction, Magic Lantern’s distribution initiative.

Curator’s note

According to the historian Romila Thapar, when a theme changes in accordance with its location at a historical moment, the change can illuminate the moment, and the moment in turn may account for the change. Somewhere between late 80s and early 90s such a moment appears in the Indian documentary where the documentary form changes, to perhaps resonate the complex, muti-hued and simultaneous realities of India.

The documentary in India has a long history and has been used for different purposes at different times. But in the late 80s the language and form of the documentary begins to change. Shifting from the closed text with inscribed meanings the films now begin to become fluid and ambiguous. They provided a space for the viewer to enter and make meaning for themselves. And instead of presenting the truth, these documentaries are a search for the truth, albeit a very personalised search. So the audience no longer had take sides for or against, but can participate in creating the meaning. And multiple texts with diverse positions and aesthetics began to emerge.

Primarily led by filmmakers searching for new language, aesthetics and form the shift takes place because of the attempt by the filmmakers to negotiate between reality, image, interpretation and bias through very subjective and personalized searches. Different filmmakers handled this shift in their own personal manners. But to a large extent there was an acknowledged discomfort with ‘going out there’ to shoot ‘those people’ so unproblematically. There was also an acknowledgement of the privileged class of the filmmaker/ artist and a need to question the self as much as the reality outside. And in this search and shift, and sift and search, a new aesthetics begins to emerge in the Indian documentary, one that looks at the complex and often contradictory realities with multiple approaches, where the self is inserted in the narrative and where the filmmaker and the subject distance is fluid, and one where proximity is not a problem but a necessity.

We present five films to illuminate one such moment in the history of Indian documentary. The five films are made between 1991 and 1993 and together present a picture of the time: a picture that is fluid, ephemeral, ambiguous and present multiple, plural and often contradictory realities. So we see a first film of a woman director that charts the dividing line between religions and communities and locates the faultlines that turns the Muslim minority into underclass citizens, in another first film of a woman director we engage with Kamlabai, an ageing actress as she banters with the director and performs herself in front of the camera; we confront the widows of Vrindaban abandoned by their families for property or propriety where the film introduces contesting voices; in yet another first film we see moving people and rhythms of life where the train becomes a motif for connections and continuity between urban and rural life, and finally we engage with very ordinary women as they talk and describe at length their personal anxieties and dreams of the future, their material and sexual desires, the crushing weight of their circumstances and the myriad ways they celebrate life in the face of the attempt by the state to control the population through what is euphemistically called ‘family planning.’

The five filmmakers, separated geographically, historically and perhaps even ideologically almost accidentally create a collective picture of the period when the films were made. Deeply political and profoundly personal, these documentaries were the precursor to a whole new range of documentaries that emerged in India over the next 15 years.

And together they also do tell an interesting tale of the time they were made.

Screening Schedule

7 February 2010, Experimental Theatre, NCPA Mumbai

TimeFilm & ProgrammeDirectorCountryDuration
11:45 am to 1:30 pmI Live in BehrampadaMadhusree DuttaIndia49A Muslim ghetto, settled just after Indian independence, is unsettled in myriad ways during the Bombay riots of 1992-93.
KamlabaiReena MohanIndia47A gentle, gleaming portrait of Kamlabai Ð the first woman to act on the Indian screen.
2:30 pm to 4:30 pmMokshaPankaj ButaliaIndia84A film about the widows of Vrindavan.
SaaR. V. RamaniIndia25An exploratory journey seeking oneÕs own rhythm, through the magnetic flux of rural and urban rhythms.
4:45 pm to 5:45 pmSomething Like a WarDeepa DhanrajIndia52A historical overview of IndiaÕs coercive Family Planning program and its effect on women.

The Films

BehrampadaI Live in Behrampada

by Madhusree Dutta
49 minutes, 1993

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?


by Reena Mohan
47 minutes, 1991

Kamlabai Gokhale was one of the first actors of India, and the first lady of Indian film. When the film was shot, she was ninety-two years old and living by herself in a flat. Family members come to visit her now and then. She is an invalid, confined to her bed. But her personality is unwavering and she beams forth power when she recalls her former parts in pieces by Shakespeare or in Indian epics, or when she talks of the desperate poverty she struggled against. Far from a nostalgic foray, the film weaves an impression of history and change – particularly the history of Indian film and theatre as it was experienced by a woman who struggled against the social structures of her times.


by Pankaj Butalia
80 minutes, 1993

Abandoned by their families to lives of penury, marked by white veils which they wear, Bengali widows find solace and food in the ashrams of Vrindavan where they gather every morning and evening to sing religious songs. In this profoundly moving documentary on widowhood portrayed both as social institution and personal tradition, moments of astonishing sensuous beauty alternate with rhythms of anguish. In the best of the new ethnographic tradition, ‘Moksha’ de-centres the voices of authority and allows a plurality of voices to introduce contesting positions. Haunting in it’s evocation of grief and anger, the film transcends documentary and assumes it’s place in the great tradition of lamentation, the expression of the dark night of the human soul.


by R. V. Ramani
25 minutes, 1991

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.

SomethingWar2Something Like a War

by Deepa Dhanraj
52 minutes, 1991

‘Something Like a War’ is a chilling examination of India’s family planning program from the point of view of the women who are its primary targets. It traces the history of the family planning program and exposes the cynicism, corruption and brutality which characterizes its implementation. As the women themselves discuss their status, sexuality, fertility control and health, it is clear that their perceptions are in conflict with those of the programme.

The Filmmakers

madhusree-duttaMadhusree Dutta

Madhusree Dutta is a filmmaker; also a curator, pedagogue, researcher, producer and activist. Though visual culture is the key to her works, multi-disciplinary initiatives and multi-layered representations frame her myriad engagements. An alumni of Jadavpur University, Kolkata and National School of Drama, New Delhi, she currently lives in Mumbai.

Madhusree is the founder and Executive Director of Majlis, a centre for rights discourse and multicultural art initiatives in Mumbai, India. A winner of several national and international awards for her films, she has also received citizens’ honours, such as the Salaam Mumbai award, Bharat Nirman award and Stree Shakti Sanman.

ReenanewReena Mohan

Reena Mohan is a graduate of the Film and Television Institute of India and is the editor of a number of acclaimed non-fiction films. Her first directorial work was Kamlabai, based on the life of the first actress of Indian cinema. This film won the National Award and the Best Film by a Debutante Director Award in MIFF.

Ramani2R. V. Ramani

R. V. Ramani was born in 1957 and is based in Chennai. He graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, in 1985, specializing in motion picture photography. He started making independent documentaries and short films from 1990.

With more than fifteen independent films to his credit, Ramani has established a unique style acclaimed in India and abroad. He considers all his works to be explorations into various facets of expression. Although Ramani strictly works on the plane of documentary, but his films offer an experience of fiction.

Ramani’s works have been shown in numerous international film festivals. His Retrospectives were presented at the Mumbai International Film Festival 2002, the Third Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, and DokumentART. Ramani has also worked on many films as a cinematographer. He also serves as faculty member with many institutions and regularly conducts documentary film workshops.

PankajButaliaPankaj Butalia

Pankaj Butalia was a national level table tennis player who then taught Economics at Delhi University before he took to making films. He has made eight documentaries and one fiction film. Most of his documentaries have been screened extensively throughout the world and, “Moksha”, won four major international awards in 1993-94.

His first feature film, “Karvaan” won a special award at Amiens in 1999 has been screened in film festivals in Venice, Toronto, Rotterdam, Belgium, Hong Kong, Turkey, New Delhi and Calcutta among other places.

deepa1Deepa Dhanraj

Deepa Dhanraj is an award winning filmmaker and lives in Bangalore. Since 1980 Deepa has been actively involved with the women’s movement. Over the years, she has participated in workshops, seminars and discussion groups on various issues related to women’s status – political participation, health and education.

Deepa has an extensive filmography spanning nearly three decades that include many series of films on education and health as well as award wining documentaries. ‘Enough of this Silence’ (2008) , The Advocate’ (2007), ‘Nari Adalat’ (2000), ‘Itta Hejje Mundakka Thegiya Bediri Hindakka’, a series of 12 films for elected women in Gram Panchayats (1995), ‘The Legacy of Malthus’ (1994), ‘Something like a War’ (1991), ‘Kya Hua Iss Shehar Ko’ (1986) and ‘Sudesha’(1983), are a few of her films. Her films have travelled to numerous film festivals world wide.

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