Rows And Rows Of Fences

November 28, 2011 at 9:15 PMNov (Activism, Cinema, Media, Music, Musings, Soliloquy)

Two Indian films have been dropped this year- 2011- at the International Film Festival of India, Goa. One being Gaurav Chhabra’s Inklab and the other being M.F. Hussain’s Through the Eyes of a Painter.

The first of the film- Inklab, was shortlisted by the Entertainment Society of Goa to be screened at IFFI-2011. But the Central Board for Film Certification had suggested nine cuts saying its contents were “anti-national” to which the director refused to budge. As a result the film was refused censor certificate.

The film shot in the Cinema-Verite style, to mean truthful cinema, which was influenced majorly by the Russian film maker Dziga Vertov, the film Inklab is about a PhD student who is preoccupied with thoughts about change, revolution and peace in political terms.

Through the conversation between the radical protagonist and his friend, who is video recording the conversations, the film touches on various issues that the society is affected by i.e. corruption, naxalism, nuclear power, social equality, GM food and also touches on RTI and student politics.

The problem for the censor board seems to have appeared in the scene where the protagonist is preparing non-lethal bomb in his kitchen. The protagonist, in the film, repeatedly mentions that the purpose of the bomb or rather explosion is to ‘awaken’ and stresses on the fact that he is not for violence. He explains that revolution means peace and not violence.

The film which reminds of the Bhagath Singh all through its narrative has been shot at the Dwarka Das Library in Chandigargh which is a restoration of the library where Bhagath Singh spent time studying Socialism. When the lady, interviewed in the end by the police, objects to the use of “Was” while referring to the police and says, “Even if he is… ever WAS, he will always remain IS” establishes that the protagonist is the continuation of the breath of Bhagath Singh. This gets further strengthened when the protagonist himself says, “Men die but not ideas.”

With this connection established can we call Bhagat Singh, “anti-national”? Will the censor board call Bhagat Singh “anti-national” as it has termed the film? At one point the friend of the protagonist, in Inklab, remarks the ideas and plans of a protagonist as “anti-national,” the protagonist says, “Corruption is anti-national… child abuse is anti-national… hunger is anti-national… poverty is anti-national.” The film speaks of all these and other “anti-national” elements and ends up being called “anti-national”!

“Cinema cannot be used as a means of national debate; it must conform to the ideas of establishment,” wrote Chidanand Dasgupta in his essay ‘The futility of film censorship’ and also said, “If hypocrisies could be put aside and Indian reality portrayed frankly on the Indian screen, not only would we have delectable views of the navels of Rajasthan and the breasts of Bastar State, the lean midriff of Andhra, the bare shoulders of Manipur, the leg contours of Maharashtra, and the bare backs of Gujarat; we would see a fearfully revealing scene of greed, violence, pettiness, indifference to suffering, cynicism, casteism, nepotism, falsehood, cruelty, the world’s most massive prostitution, bribery, jobbery and corruption- all of which the censorship seeks to hide behind the sanctimonious hypocrisy which is the hallmark of this country’s middle-class morals and a large part of its political and social leadership.”

Utpal Dutt rightly calls Censors as”political watchdogs of the ruling class.” Utpal Dutt is of the opinion that “any discussion on films in semi-colonial or newly independent countries must start from the illiteracy, poverty and cultural starvation of the masses. It seems blasphemous to engage in comfortable talk about aesthetics of cinema in a country where the majority starves.” But sadly when films are made in the semi-colonial and newly independent countries about these issues it gets into trouble. The trouble is not exactly because of speaking these issues in the new system but because of questioning the very new system which has come into existence.

“However angry or biting our criticism may be, confine to a cinema of social reform, a cinema that exposes social evils and suggests that some strong action is necessary to redeem the situation, but it has never questioned the democratic system itself. This is essentially a cinema that advocates action towards social change through democratic means,” opines Govind Nihalani and adds, “But whatever little efforts have been made in that direction have unfortunately not had the impact that this kind of cinema should have for the simple reason that these films, after having been made have had very little exposure, very little opportunity to be seen. However grand or however committed an effort might be the important thing for it is to make contact with the viewer.”

Inklab finally, went for a guerrilla screening on the 27th of November just outside the IFFI venue to be watched by a few people who stood with Inklab and for the freedom of speech and expression and as a protest against the censor board’s decision to refuse censor certificate to the film.

This year’s IFFI decided to pay its tribute to Chidanand Dasgupta by organizing a seminar in his memory. It also decided to pay respects to Mani Kaul, S. Ramachandra, Jagjit Singh, Samir Chanda, Shammi Kapoor and M.F. Hussain by screening films with their contribution.

The film made in the year 1967 by M.F. Hussain titled ‘Through the Eyes of a Painter’ scheduled to be screened in the Homage section of the festival on the 27th was dropped after threats from the right wing organization Hindu Janajagruthi Samithi.

Shankar Mohan, the director of IFFI, has said that the protestors have told him that a case regarding the film was pending in the court. He is reported also as saying, “We don’t want to do anything illegal, so we are taking legal opinion.”

This film which won The Golden Bear award at the 17th Berlin Film Festival, is an interesting film which looks at Rajasthan through the eyes of a painter and captures Rajasthan and the life of Rajasthan.

At once reminding of Alain Resnais’ film Guernica where the painting is shot into a film ‘Through the Eyes of a Painter’ does the reverse of Guernica by making a film into a painting. While Resnais breaks the painting into shots Hussain weaves shots and paints them together through editing and turns the film into a painting.

The film celebrating Rajasthan has nothing remotely controversial in it and to the best of my knowledge there is no case against the film. This protest by the HJS is a continuation of the hate campaign against M.F. Hussain continued, sadly, even after his death. Sadder than the hate campaign is the way IFFI has bowed and dropped the screening of an interesting film which has already made a mark in the international circles. IFFI which wanted to pay its respects to Hussain has ended up disrespecting him and dishonoring him while it should have honored him.

International Film Festival of India was first organized in the year 1952, almost 60 years ago. The second was held in the year 1961 and was followed by others at shorter intervals and became an annual event in the 1970s and in the year 2004 the venue of IFFI got frozen to Goa.

“Coupled with the educational role played by the film societies, this initiative played a decisive role in making both the public and professionals aware of the medium. Exposure to the major movements and innovations taking place in world cinema was a major step,” wrote Yves Thoraval who also opined that, “The International Film Festival is an invaluable occasion for the exchange of ideas between the different professionals of the audio-visual medium…”

But the purpose of a film festival is not just restricted to make people “aware of the medium” and create an occasion “for the exchange of ideas between different professionals.” The official website of the festival which announces that the founding principles of the festival “centre on discovery, promotion and support of filmmaking of all genres – thus bringing together the diversity of the forms, aesthetics and contents,” states that the festival “aims to nurture, encourage and inspire Indian cinema and introduce it to the world outside as well as the many audiences that coexist in this vast and diverse country.”

This year’s IFFI and the dropping of two films- one which experimented with the medium itself and not just its content making way for discussing of ideas and another film which is different in its form and aesthetics- has failed the principles for which it stands and the aim that it claims to have for itself.

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Ek Kora Canvas

November 26, 2011 at 9:15 AMNov (Friends, Letter, Literature, Music, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Dearest Srajana and Faizan,

Do you remember the 26th of September 2010? I am sure you do remember the day if not the date. That was the day when we three of us visited the Humayun Tomb in New Delhi, exactly 14 months ago.

Scanning through the age old walls, we walked around talking about the lineage of Humayun, about the architecture being a chocolate flavor Taj Mahal, about a song sequence from Fanaa and Jhoom Barabar Jhoom being shot in the same place. We saw the water flow around the space, wondered where the water came from. We found out a well nearby peeped into it after climbing a bit. We sat under the tree and walked on the lawns. It was a beautiful day.

The reason why I am recollecting all this is because couple of weeks ago I read the book In Freedom’s Shade by Anis Kidwai. The book was originally written in Urdu in the year 1949. It was first published in the year 1974 and then in 1978 in Urdu and later translated to Hindi and published in the year 1981 its title being Aazaadi Ki Chaaon Mein. Now the book has been translated from Urdu/Hindi to English by Ayesha Kidwai granddaughter of Anis Kidwai. The book is based on the notes jotted down about what the author saw and observed around her in Delhi between 1947 and 1949 while she worked as a relief worker for partition victims.

The fourth chapter of the book is titled ‘The Camp at Humayun’s Tomb’. The historical place was a camp for the victims of partition where around 60,000 refugees were housed! As I read those pages I kept remembering our visit to Humayun’s Tomb. The water there, the well, the grass, the soil, the trees, the broken walls, the stones nothing over there spoke of this aspect of history which intersects with that place! The place was silent about a certain episode of history!

Sixty thousand people lived there in the tents provided by the Government of India. But the general feeling of the people there, as Anis Kidwai writes, was that the Government wanted to throw them out of India. There were solid reasons for the homeless to believe so.

Anis Kidwai writes about those several people who lived in tents with no proper blankets to protect themselves in the winter. Dilli ki sardi is known to you both and me. Imagine spending day and night in the open without proper clothing during winter! Pneumonia and influenza swept through the camp and everywhere bodies were racked by coughs, chests wheezed with congestion.

The camp at Humayun’s Tomb has a special tent for the old women, weakened and cripples by age. Anis Kidwai says this special provision had to be made because the sanctuary seeker’s when left for Pakistan couldn’t be bothered to take the old family members and relatives with them for they would require assistance to walk and times were such that people had to run for lives. Many of these elderly people were brought to the camp. One such old lady was brought to the camp from a graveyard! Her grandson had left her in a graveyard on his way out.

Graveyard must have been an extension of the camp! Yet the last journey was difficult in dark times. The shrouds being distributed were short in size and wouldn’t cover the corpse completely. Anis Kidwai recollects how the Pir wouldn’t agree to bury the corpse when the shroud wouldn’t cover the corpse completely. The situation was so graver that men and women had to be buried without shroud and in their soiled clothes!

Many survivors, remembers Anis Kidwai, at the camp would speak of revenge. A Sikh boy, she recollects, once said, “Nineteen from my family were murdered. I, the twentieth, am still alive to avenge their deaths. I want to live only so I can kill as many of the murderers as possible…”

Six decades after all this, when we visit the place the place seem to carry no memory of it at all! The same walls which the refuges must have held while struggling to breathe because of the congestion in the chest, the same wall which the old lady and many like her must have held to walk. The same passage through which water must have flowed carrying blood of the survivors who must have bent to drink water letting blood mix with the water or must have washed their wounds in the same water passage. The same corners of the architecture which must have echoed with the angry cries of those who wanted to take revenge.  The same earth beneath the feet which must have shaken as the several homeless shivered in the winter.

Humayun’s Tomb doesn’t carry the memory or history of the camp. Humayun’s tomb doesn’t speak the horror stories of partition which it witnessed. Humayun’s Tomb doesn’t shame us with our history. Not a single blade of grass, not a single grain of soil, not a single leaf of the tree, not a single drop of water flowing through the historical space reminds the visitor of the grave history attached to the place! Silence. Absolute silence.

There was one member of the camp who once came to Anis Kidwai and asked her if she had some time in hand. When she said she did have time in had the man asked, “So, shall I get my dholak?” The man was a mirasi, a qawwal who wanted to play “just one number.” Anis Kidwai refuses to listen to a song and silences his by saying, “Music in this graveyard? When the dirges of death let up for a while, then there will be singing…” Narrating this episode from the Humayun’s Tomb, the author writes: “Crestfallen, he retreated. Truly, how difficult it was for singers of happy songs to survive in such times.”

There are dark songs in the dark times, said Brecht. But who will sing the songs of those dark times. Anis Kidwai is singing, through her book. But what stands more visible is the Humayun’s Tomb completely divorced of memories of partition, allowing a part of history erase from our minds.

Not just Humayun’s Tomb, Puraana Quila too was a camp with around 80,000 inmates. Today we have stories about how Elkazi lit the walls of Puraana Quila to stage Tughlak which is a post-Independent history. But there is not enough memory and stories about the dark episodes of our history. How conveniently we let certain episodes of history erode. Not a single reminder in the entire place of Humayun’s Tomb about the dark times of partition! The silenced history.

Ayesha Kidwai says she first read her grandmother’s book in 2002 in the wake of Gujrat violence. There is a need to listen to the stories from the past. The past has to narrate its story to us. Memories should be kept alive, in words, in space and in every possible way. Possibly then we will be able to stop history from repeating and be able to form a new history for ourselves.

That day while we sat under that huge tree on the left side of the tomb, I read out a poem to the both of you, a poem that I had written that very morning. It was titled ‘Kora Canvas’ (Empty Canvas) and if you remember correctly the poem repeatedly kept mentioning about images being erased and the canvas becoming empty again. There is a certain erasure of images of partition in that space where I read the poem to you too. Aaj phir kora hai woah canvas (the canvas is empty yet again)…

Someday, we should revisit Humayun’s Tomb and listen to the unheard story of Humayun’s Tomb. The crying whispers and whispering cries of Humayun’s Tomb need to be heard… We should shame ourselves a bit with the dark history of our country.

In harmony,

Samvartha ‘Sahil’
26 Nov 2011

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The Ekalavya Of Indian Cricket

November 23, 2011 at 9:15 PMNov (Friends, Media, Musings, Soliloquy)

Vinod Kambli was almost out of the horizons of our memory till he walked in yet again when he spoke emotionally on a TV channel recently (17 Nov 2011) and suspected the semi-final match of the 1996 World Cup to be fixed.

Lot of ink has been spilled and vocal chords strained over the ‘allegation’ made by Kambli. But less attention has been paid to his words, “My career ended after this and I was dropped from the game,” and “It was not just Sachin’s dream to win the world cup,” in an emotional state, not forgetting to mention the teary eyes.

Saba Karim, who also appeared in the programme said that he reminded Kambli that he had played 35 ODI matches after the semifinals played on 13 March 1996 indicating his career did not end there. The point all seem to forget is that between the first match that Kambli played (August 1996) after the semifinals was ODI number 1106 and the last match that he played in Oct 2000 was ODI number 1652. So, the question immediately pops up is of how many games was he allowed to play 35 matches? And what needs to be noted is he made seven come backs after the WC-96 toournament where he was dropped to make way for Ganguly (1996) , Azhar (1997) and VVS Laxman (Apr 1998) at different times. No doubt about the talent of the players who replaced him. The batting average of Kambli in those 35 ODI matches was not good enough to strengthen his place in the national team say many. True. But when one is not consistently appearing in the team how is one expected to show consistency in the game?

Was it just his failure in the field which cost him his place in the team? Shashi Tharoor asking similar questions to himself says, “Dark whispers speak of issues of temperament, of fatal fondness for alcohol, of player’s sleep being disturbed by a raucous Kambli’s  carousing after dark during the matches.” Derek Pringle also notes, “A weakness against short pitched fast bowling played its role, but his off-the-field lifestyle clearly irked those in charge.” Now place this with the response of Mohd Azharuddin to the ‘allegation’ about the WC-96 semifinals being fixed. He not just rubbished the words of Kambli but also called him “Characterless.” Was he referring to the “off the field lifestyle” marked by “fatal fondness for alcohol” and “carousing”? Let us assume so, for a while. Then Sharad Pawar’s response to Kambli’s words. He too rubbished it and added, “Had he concentrated on his game we would have another Sachin.”

Come on Mr. Pawar the powerful (and franternity), how could India afford to miss another Sachin? How could you afford to lose? How could we afford to?

During the 1993 test match against England at Wankhede stadium Mumbai after the day’s play where Kambli was unbeaten with a century, Sunil Gavaskar went to Kambli and said, “You are shuffling too much across and exposing your leg stump which the England bowlers will try and attack, so mind that.” Kambli calls those words “words of wisdom” with all his respects. He went on to make 224 later in the same test without knowing he was just 12 runs short to the then highest score by an India i.e. 236 by the man who gave him “words of wisdom” the previous evening. The same man went on to give his own watch to Kambli as a mark of appreciation for the double century which Kambli has treasured.

Two things come out of the story. One, Kambli is an emotional human being. Two, Kambli would listen to “words of wisdom” and to people whom he respect.

Sanjay Manjrekar recollecting the WC-96 semifinals had remarked, “It was a sad moment – people still remember Vinod Kambli being stranded there and tears and crying; but that is what Vinod Kambli is all about. And all of us felt the same but Vinod Kambli is more demonstrative.” This gives an insight to the behavior of Kambli out of the field, it appears to me. What needs not to be forgotten is the social and economical background from which Kambli came and given the success he was enjoying, it was a dream that he was living and he was living it in a royal way, given the emotional and “demonstrative” he was including the fact that he was “full of energy and enthusiasm” as Rahul Dravid once said.

While announcing his retirement from International Cricket he mentioned that he had informed about his decision to Sachin Tendulkar, his childhood buddy. We know the story of S. Gavaskar and him at the Wankhede. So, the question remains, to me, is how much did team India and the people associated with it try talking to Kambli about “player’s sleep being disturbed” by his “carousing” and about his “life style out of the field” which “irked” them? Had they spoken he would have listened to and the story of him respecting the “words of wisdom” of Gavaskar and going on to make a double century stands as a witness to it.

What “irked” all so much? So much that they couldn’t even speak to him enough to ‘help’ this “characterless” to shape himself? If not on human grounds (too much to expect I guess) at least for the sake of cricket, sake of India, sake of Indian cricket for he could have become the other Sachin!

Former Captain Azharuddin while rubbishing the ‘allegation’ of Kambli not just called him “characterless” but also “of no background”. As Vaibhav Purandare pointed out, “To point to his lack of background is to ridicule his poverty and his struggle against all odds.” True. But it is not just to ridicule his poverty but also his caste.

Vinod Ganpat Kambli comes from fisher folk caste (backward caste if not scheduled caste) and from the Mumbai suburb Kanjumarg.

Wikipedia explains why Kambli was one of the best over-the-top hitters of spin bowling: The small patch of land that served as his first cricket pitch was surrounded on all sides by high-rise buildings. The scoring system was dictated by the lack of space, and the higher a batsman hit the ball into the buildings the more runs he scored.

Stories about his coach Ramakant Archekar taking care of his travelling expenses and his class teacher at the Sharadashram paying for his schooling is well known like his friends treating him for dinner and Sachin Tendulkar treating him with Vada Pav after the matches. These stories not just reveal what Vaibhav Purnadare means when Kambli has fought against odds. It also reveals what exactly Dravid meant when he said, “To come from where he came, a very humble background and to achieve what he did… he has a lot to be proud of.”

Proud of a career that began with a six. Proud of taking Shane Warne for 22 in an over. Proud of being the first Indian to score two Test double-centuries in a row against two different opponents. Proud of being a man with four Test centuries to his name in his first seven Tests. Proud of the fact that though he ended his career at the young age of 24 his test batting average marked 54.20.

But any sort of expression of this pride and that very success itself is not tolerated, especially if the person is from a background class and importantly caste. So now when some bloggers angered by the ‘allegation’ that Kambli made they say things like- “All Kambli is left with is those awful 1990’s earrings,” “he has had two hot wives and that is a big achievement for him given his bald looks,” which are nothing but an intolerance towards the success and flamboyancy of a man from a backward class and caste. Not much different from the intolerance towards Priyanka Bhotmange riding a bicycle in Khairlanji.

Another blogger, after declaring that he is writing “as a cricket enthusiast and a responsible citizen” goes on to say, “Cricket as we all know is a gentleman’s game but sometimes unfortunately the characterless creatures like Kambli emerge from the dirty drains which brings bad name to the gentleman’s game.” Note the usage of words like- unfortunately, creature (not even the least human respect), dirty drains, bad name!

This castist and classist attitude is not restricted to cricket fans but also to players and as S. Anand rightly pointed out is also the attitude of the very game cricket itself.

As S. Anand said, “it does not require much disciplinary training to infer that cricket is a game that best suits brahminical tastes and bodies and that there has been a preponderance of Brahman cricket players at the national level.” In comparison to the games like Hockey or football, says S. Anand, cricket hardly involves much physical activity. Not just that but it neglects body like no other game in India and is a game which only those who have surplus time can afford, given the very structure of the game. With these sharp observations S Anand  draws our attention towards the brahminical and elitist nature of the game.

Later in a comparison with hockey and hockey players with cricket and cricket players he says, “The game (hockey) is never likely to recapture the public imagination. Most important, Dhanraj, Thirumalvalavan, Dilip Tirkey, Jude Menezes, Lazarus Balra or Pragat Singh are unlikely to win the confidence of the publicity managers of Pepsi and Coke. They are also unlikely candidates for promoting credit cards.” Saying this he adds, within bracket, “Add to this the fact that cricket players tend to be a fairer lot compared to hockey players. And TV and cinema have always promoted an Indian brand of racism that excludes the darker looking majority. He goes further to say, “This marginalization also owes to the social backgrounds of hockey players and they are unlikely to make much headway in Brahman-dominated cricket.”

The right points have been hit saying cricket is a brahman dominated game in India and that the non-brahman are unlikely o make much headway. How many Dalit cricketers have been produced by India? S. Anand counts it as three- Palwankar Baloo, Vinod Kambli and Dodda Ganesh. While the first name happens to be pre-independent the other two are post-Independent but had a short-lived career. While Dodda Ganesh was not given enough chance to appear promising, Vinod Kambli was not allowed to translate his promising powers and strengths to great success.

K.R. Nayar, a journalist who saw Sachin and Kambli grow up as cricketers revelas that it was difficult to judge as to who among the two were best but says that Kambli was hailed as more talented than Sachin. But  Sachin, as K.R. Nayar says, focused on sharpening his game and built a wall around him and kept all his friends out including Kambli while Kambli spent a lot of time with his friends. As S Anand points out “We do not need much statistical backing to assert that Indian cricketers have excellent personal records at the expense of the team.” He adds to it, “Such a strange statistic is unlikely to be available in say, hockey,” trying to drive the point that cricket as a game in not just brahminic and elitist but also quite individualistic. And as Dravid pointed out “Kambli was a team man.” Not just that he was a man of friends with whom he liked to spend time.

If Kambli was weak “against short pitched fast bowling” the coach could have worked on it and should have worked on him, as he could have surely become another Sachin. But team India and its associates chose to drop him several times from the team for his bad form, his weakness and more importantly his “off the field behavior” which “irked” them to the extent that they think he is “characterless.”

Rahul Dravid once, while speaking of Kambli said that part of the challenge of international cricket is to be able to cope with stuff of the field. Probably Dravid was suggesting that Kambli was taken away by the sudden success and limelight. It is a task to handle stardom and not let it distract while it gets attracted to the successful. But as said earlier this ‘celebration’ of one’s own stardom was essentially because of sociological reasons. This needs understanding and not just rubbishing him off by saying, “success got into the head.” If Kambli got carried away and this carrying away distracted his game to an extent then it should be a lesson to learn from and should be understood like another version of Mayavathi getting corrupt with power. But again this needs a larger understanding and not just dismissing of them.

So, did Kambli destroy himself as many believe? Kambli certainly got destroyed. He himself did play some role in it. But there were other factors which led to this destruction too. Kambli while saying his career came to an end after the WC-96 semifinals said that it was not just Sachin’s dream to win the world cup. It was the dream of Kambli too to win the World Cup. But the structural circumstances are such that it won’t allow him to win it for the nation like Kachra, in the film Lagaan, is not allowed to hit the necessary six  and it is a Bhuvan who hits it. So Kambli and Sachin are not just narratives of what one can become and what one could have become but also of what allows one to become and what stops one from being what one could become. As a friend of mine put it he is the Ekalavya of Indian cricket.

It was also Kambli’s dream to win the world cup. Else tears wouldn’t role down the way it did on 13 March 1996 at Eden Gardens. But India will never play for Kambli. India will not even in the remotest of its possible imagination think about winning the world cup for Kambli. When India wins the World Cup finally, there are people to carry Sachin saying he has “carried the team for long”. True Sachin’s contribution may remain undisputed. But how many thought of wiping the tears of 1996 still frozen in the eyes of Kambli saying, “Friend, finally we have done it. We have done it for the tears that you shed.”?

Tears of Kambli during the programme where he suspected the WC-96 semifinals to be fixed, speaks of the chocking reality of castist, classist, individualistic India and his words of suspicion or allegation, even if or not not factually true, should be understood as an expression of frustration caused by the castist elitist individualistic India, which not just failed Kambli but also itself because else we would have had, as Sharad Pawar said, another Sachin.

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