4 May 2012


Work Space Mumbai - Where a Documentary Film Maker Screens His Film.

On Ambedkar Jayanti, I ended  up in far away Kalyan at a screening of Anand Patwardhan's "Jai Bhim Comrade". This was the second screening of the wonderful documentary that I attended. I had seen and reviewed it when it was screened for the first time at Love Lane in Byculla to a jam packed audience.

I think it was the 3rd or 4th major screening of the documentary in the Mumbai region. A couple of days later, the documentary was screened again in Chembur.

It takes an inspired soul to make a powerful documentary like Jai Bhim Comrade which takes years to shoot, a lot of time, effort, money and thought to be crafted into a compelling story and then comes the most important task of screening it to an audience.

Kalyan Screening

I shared the rickshaw to the society that was screening the documentary with an elderly Dalit leader who helps Anand Patwardhan to reach the documentary to different Dalit pockets. Kalyan wore a festive look. Drums, loudspeakers playing political music similar to the ones that are featured in the Documentary and then we got caught in a little traffic jam. A lorry was being decorated, loudspeakers and the Mumbai Dhol drummers were warming up, rolls of crackers were being readied and the man sitting next to me said, "This is what we should discourage. Blocking streets and the noise. It sends out a wrong message to the others about us."

They were just warming up in the evening. After a few hours, the streets of Kalyan were filled with several padayatras and dancing youngsters playing drums and loud music for Dr Ambedkar. Well, the leader may not want celebrations of this kind to happen but this is how Mumbai celebrates everything. Ganesh, Tazia, Palkhi, Weddings, and sometimes even funerals. The drums, casio music, crackers and noise are here to stay. Things were still quiet at the screening venue. A typical Greater Mumbai society. It clearly looked like the organizers had no idea about what the film was about. They had put up an colourful pandal and covered it from all sides. Since all the loudest amplification systems and speakers were on the streets, a rickety old system was in place.


The director spent a long time tuning the rickety sound system. Jai Bhim Comrade is actually a documentary driven by some very powerful music and poetry. Once the documentary started, it was the music that drew in the crowd. And once people start listening, it takes them through a journey of the dalit movement in Maharashtra over the last couple of decades. Some minutes into the screening, the place was jam packed.

The many stories that are woven together come together seems to surprise every single viewer who have never experienced something like this before. It's a story that everyone present have some form of understanding but hadn't seen it put together in such a compelling fashion.

We Indians are a people with a very good story telling foundation. The trend has also been to imitate western styles of narration but when singers and story tellers with deep roots in our traditional narration styles take stage or get larger than life on a screen, they can send shivers down the spines of the viewer.

Telugu poet Ghadar's performance can shake you just like the youngsters from Pune's Kabir Kala Manch. I'm  surprised by this story in Indian Express that labels Sheetal, one of the girls from Maharashtra's own Rage Against The Machine as a Maoist Naxalite public enemy. If you listen to their words you will realise that they actually talk about democracy and against corruption. But I guess that truth can stall a project like the Lavasa project they speak about and the best way to silence them is to label them as public enemies. The middle class is easily scared by such labels. Maybe the strategy is to drive people who do not agree to status quo to the extreme and force them into a corner where they can be contained. As opposed to the Indian Express article, this earlier article in DNA about the Kabir Kala Manch will give you an idea about what the so called Maoist named Sheetal does.

Meanwhile, the documentary film maker carries his laptop and his story from pocket to pocket,through a network of friends trying to get as many people are possible to see it. He's not alone, there are hundreds like him around India with wonderful stories of all types. It may seem old fashioned in the world of Kony 2012 virals that spread and died faster than you blink but one has to do it if there's a story that needs to be told.

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