Archive for March 1, 2014

gulabi

It’s a great time for desi documentaries. In the recent past we have seen some pretty terrific ones- Malegaon Ka Superman, The World Before Her and Katiyabaaz to name just a few. Which is why it’s a pity that Nishtha Jain’s powerful documentary Gulabi Gang hasn’t quite got the audience it deserves- yet.

Perhaps the makers ought to have employed the Gulabi Gang themselves to whack our lazy, torrent-savvy audiences into theaters. 😉   The film is now running in its second week in a select few theaters/cities with ticket rates further slashed. There’s no good excuse to miss this one, really.

Anyway, here we have an interesting post by Prashant Parvatneni on Gulabi Gang and how genres usually associated with (fiction) cinema can find their way into the documentary format as well. Over to him:

Gulabi Gang by Nishtha Jain is undoubtedly a rigorous study of a women’s movement in the deep interiors of Bundelkhand where a group of women networked between several villages have formed a ‘gang’ to fight against the oppression of women and dalits. They drape themselves in Pink sarees and carry pink lathis that becomes an image of the identity that binds these women. There are complex issues that these women are dealing with and fighting. Young brides are being burnt, dalit activists murdered and certain high-caste Choudharies have concentrated all power in their hands suppressing any and every dissent using gun and muscle power. It is this nexus of power and oppression that the Gulabi Gang is trying to tear apart under their feisty leader Sampat Pal.

Sampat Pal inevitably becomes the ‘hero’ of this film, her infectious zest and fearlessness naturally grabs the attention and it’s hard not to root for her like we would for the angry underdog taking on the system in a Bollywood film. It only helps that Jain adopts a form of narrative that is simple in structure but quite inventive. It follows 2-3 cases that Gulabi Gang encounters and as it does so, quite curiously these cases turn to a kind of whodunit with the Gang acting as detectives trying to uncover the truth behind the violence inflicted on women.

pink

Like in one of the cases, a young wife is found burnt inside the house. When Sampat reaches the spot, the in laws of the woman claim that she got burnt while making rotis but Sampat in true detective spirit, deduces that it cannot be a mere mishap. There wasn’t any stove at the spot, nor was any other part of the house burnt or even charred. Sitting in the audience even we also could start the process of knitting the clues together and deducing while also being acutely aware of entire machinery which includes the panchayat and the police trying to push this crime under the carpet. Sampat Pal’s own relative burns his wife but she wants the truth to come out. When the director’s voice asks her will you fight against your kin as well, she replies inspiringly ‘I just want to find out the truth’. Quite fittingly then, Anand Gandhi (director, Ship of Theseus) called this film a ‘reinvention of detective genre’.

This is a welcome change as the problem with most documentary films dealing with social evils, people’s movements, subaltern issues etc. is that they have sort of reached a saturation of form. While they do deal with a variety of issues, they follow the same old form – interview of key players, a bit of commentary, a bit of field action all merged seamlessly to ‘illustrate’ and ‘explain’ and thereby ‘document’ the problem. Such a form has turned even more uninteresting with its derivatives populating news channels through their ‘human stories’.

Thankfully the film doesn’t stop short of also pointing towards the limits of such genres that evidently end with a resolution a climax arrived at through carefully plotted series of events. Unlike in a detective genre film, we do not get to know whether the culprit was caught or not. Often the battles are lost and the guilty gets away. But like the truest of detective stories, the importance lies in questioning what one gets on face value rather than solving the puzzle and Gulabi Gang does point our attention towards the need to inquire and shakes up the static status quo.

Instead of a gradual convergence towards a resolution of problem, the film starts to spread in and out of such inquiries of cases and looks at the varied other forms of struggle that a people’s movement engages in – organization, activism, mobilization, planning etc. One of the most charming and equally thought provoking sequences involves the meetings and the practice sessions of the Gulabi Gang. As a ritual Gulabi Gang practices lathi fights with a playful zest as two women take on each other while others on the periphery cheer and clap. It quite casually points towards a ritual- even a ritual of violence (though more for protection in this case) that is involved in any people’s movement.

The entire movement also resembles a theatrical performance. There is backstage practice and rituals and there are costumes and props – the pink sarees and pink lathis juxtaposed against the dry, arid brown and gray landscape is an image that gives tremendous gravitas to the Gang and binds them into a community. In fact the saree and the lathi are the first things that are given to the women who join Gulabi Gang and they have to change into the ‘costume’ right away. There is a slightly comic cut in the film where we see Sampat Pal encouraging the mother of the burnt bride to fight her case and in the next shot the frail creature of the mother is draped in bright new pink saree as she is on her way to the court with the Gang. It’s a terrific reminder of how a bit of theatre and performance is a part of every movement or revolution. It also reminds us how such performativity can be appropriated for contradictory causes – for assertion of justice or for religious or political fanaticism.

Gulabi Gang ends with tragic human drama as the documentary manages to trace a character arc of sorts of one of the Gang’s members – Husna. Husna, a hardworking and passionate activist and member of Gulabi Gang takes a position completely contradictory to the movement when her own brother kills her sister for marrying out of love. When she supports him instead of condemning in the name of culture and tradition, one is hit by the extent to which such fundamental, patriarchal ideas can deride compassion and human justice and what a difficult battle Gulabi Gang is fighting – not just externally but internally. For me, the film was special because it shows how certain genres – like detective, political, social drama, human drama genres – can seep into documentary also; in-fact they come from the reality that the documentary often deals with. But, it also shows how cinema can avoid using genre as a trope and move in an out of genres to question the complexity instead of using such genre games to manipulate sentiment and to take an easy position of a sympathizer. The last sequence shows Gulabi Gang members waiting for a train on the platform and few men looking at these women clad in Pink Sarees with contemptuous humor. For them they look nothing short of fancy dress. One of the men asks the man who moves around with the Gang – ‘kuch milta hai issse’. The director shows amazing empathy here as she cuts to the image of Sampat Pal staring into the camera or perhaps into the far horizon, sitting amidst other women with eyes filled with acceptance of difficulty but shining with a rare honest hope. All the contempt of the scene just washes away and we are filled not with sentiment but with emotion – an unsaid but urgently felt hope and a desire at least to think.

 

(This post was originally published here.)

Since the time we saw Nagraj Manjule’s debut feature ‘Fandry’, we have been shouting out from rooftop that it’s a terrific debut and a must watch. Click here to read our recco post. This week, Fandry is releasing outside Maharashtra, and with English subtites.

The show details – Date: February 28 to March 6

Delhi NCR
PVR MGF Mall 9:10 PM
DT Cinemas Vasant Kunj: 3: 30 PM

Indore
PVR Indore 5:00 PM

After the film’s release and the acclaim it got all over, Nagraj wrote a piece for Maharashtra Times. Much thanks to @Shankasur who came up with the idea to translate it in English for wider reach, took the permission, and did it for us. Do watch the film if you haven’t seen it yet. And then read it.

Nagraj-Manjule-photo

Remembering   Fandry

Now that Fandry has been released, I am reminiscing all the memories that are linked with it. These memories have accumulated over a long period of time. The very moment someone mentions Fandry, I am reminded of experiences from
childhood and that of growing. I grew up with a strange sense of fear and a realisation that I was born into an under-privileged life. I was made aware of my limits since my childhood. I would go to watch Ramayana and everybody’s seats were fixed. While watching King Ram from a corner, the invisible “No Entry” signage that was in my mind was getting bold and clear. The surrounding social setup was up in arms that constantly kept reminding me of my deprived social status.

I don’t exactly remember when my innocent courage took a backseat and I became aware of my caste limitations at every step. I never realised when this impotent maturity became a part of my life. Whenever I uttered my or my mother’s name, or even make a reference to my caste while filling forms in school, the class would break into a faint yet violent laughter. To avoid these embarrassments, I would walk up to the teacher and whisper my name and caste into his ears. I made this into a habit since I was in primary school. When one’s identity becomes the reason behind his inferiority complex, he has nothing more to say. I don’t remember since when I feared telling my own name to others. All I carried along was a sense of fear that it would be criminal of me to do so.

When my father would address my friends as “saheb”, “sarkar”, my expectations for friendship, equality would seem unreasonable. If someone loosened the noose around our neck, we would celebrate that as our freedom. But that didn’t stop me from dreaming. Even in this gated social setup, dreams would find their own little ways. A simple jean pant, a sweet dish during a festival, electricity connection at home, a new pair of footwear would seem like dreams that could come true. The system I was living in would stack up these little wishes and desires and make them appear as dreams that were out of my reach. But dreams don’t have labels of caste and religion. They express their desire to be realised in most innocent manner which gives rise to a chaotic struggle between these dreams and our own inferiority complexes. Sadly, the later always wins over the former.

When I entered college, the old nightmare was in front of me all over again. I had expected that at least in college, I would be treated with some dignity. In my first year, we had a story by S. M. Matey in which the protagonist curses the villian as “Hey Kalyaa Wadaaraa!” (Wadar is a denotified tribe (DNT), while Kalyaa refers to a dark skinned man. It’s difficult to translate the heinous undertone of this phrase). I had this habit of reading through all the lessons and stories before the course starts.
When I came across this sentence in Matey’s story, I decided to remain absent in the class the day when this story will be taken for discussion. I bunked classes for a week and thought that the professor must’ve finished discussing this story. To my worst surprise, the professor started with the story the same day I chose to remain present again to the classes. Not to mention, when sir recited those lines, everyone looked at me, trying hard to control their laughter. I felt an immediate need to miraculously disappear from where I was sitting, like a god.

A man starts expecting such miracles to happen at times of these depressing encounters with life. Fandry reminds me of these episodes. It reminds of the haunting space called school. It reminds of those innocent dreams; reminds me of the dreams that were squashed and crushed by the might of my underprivileged caste identity I carried throughout.

“Fandry means what?” is a question that I’ve been asked numerous times. And I’ve refrained telling its meaning in one simple word. Fandry is a word used by a tribe, that lives around us, in their dialect. We do not know of this dialect nor about the tribe. We are unaware of their lives, their dreams, the pleasures and perils of their existence. When you will come searching for the meaning to the word Fandry and spare a moment to understand about lives of these people, I would consider my attempt to keep its meaning a secret a ssuccess.

Fandry is not a secret but an invitation for all of you. Please accept it and face the ugly truth that we always prefer to ignore. A truth that we’ve always been hiding like an epidemic. But when a vaccine to this epidemic would be discovered, we will have to accept that we are struck by it. It is only then I can dream of a clean and compassionate dawn in history of mankind.

– Nagraj Manjule

(Translated by Kaustubh Naik aka @shankasur)