Docedge ’07: Lessons for Indian documentary filmmakers
Haobam Pabam Kumar’s AFSPA, 1958, which bagged three awards at the Toronto International Film Festival brought into sharp focus the paradox of the Indian Cinema landscape, ranging from the popular to those on the margins, the subaltern. The need for exposure at venues such as Toronto highlights the struggles of the Indian documentary filmmaker. But in a twist of irony, the screening of the Hindi popular film Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (Dir: Karan Johar) upstaged Haobam’s efforts. Needless to say, the Indian media played up Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna‘s appearance at the festival while Haobam’s film received a passing mention in a couple of insignificant newspapers. Here is the paradox — are both Kabhi… and AFSPA, 1958 different shades of the subaltern? Do both require exposure at such platforms? What are the motivations for seeking such exposure?
Haboam’s AFSPA, 1958, like so many other filmmakers before him, bravely face the onslaught of popular cinema and the apathy of the broadcasting sector – neither can give them any space or imbibe their values. It took a Canadian newspaper to state that AFSPA, 1958 was “guaranteed to spark debate” (Toronto Star, Sep 7, 2006). The Indian media completely missed the point. Thus, filmmakers such as Haobam have to look for support from outside the country, for on one hand awards won confers legitimacy in India, on the other they are also the source for funding. It is a reflection on India’s claim to greatness that Docedge ’07 should be supported by the European Documentary Network. Take a look at their tutor list. The workshop format is interesting, for it not only entails pedagogy, but also reflectionsim and knowledge-sharing amongst the participants. Specifically, the workshop rules specify: a) getting participants to record their styles/approaches in a booklet – to be shared by a wider community b) pitching sessions to take place in public It’s a shame they do not broadcast their participants’ work online… or have a blog. Once again we are faced with the problematic of content. The participants came up with a range of ideas:
- themes with universal dimension and treating with elan subjects like:
- cross-border issues
- minority communities like the Chinese, the Parsis or the Tibetans in India
- clash of old and new value systems in a rapidly changing India
- youth culture.
For instance, Pankaj Butalia, documented the bleakness in the lives of the women in worn-torn Jammu and Kashmir in his The textures of loss while Kanu Behl’s Mila Kya? portrayed the youth in today’s fluid society with paradoxical social values through the metaphor of search for a lost friend. Mahadev Shi’s Kather Baksho told the tale of a city and its work-culture through the fast disappearing tramcars of Kolkata, while recipient of the most promising project award, Bharat Murthy’s film on amateur pornography, You, me and a video camera highlighted the changing attitude to sex in India. Very different in approach was Balaka Ghosh’s A mother, folk-music and landmines. Balaka explored in a hilarious, satiric way Indian politics and womanhood through the story of the ex Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi. Sunanda Bhat received the ‘best-developed project’ award for her film on the migrant labourers of the hilly Wayanad region of Kerala. Haobam Paban Kumar’s Nupishabi depicted the present political situation and insurgency in Manipur through the nupishabis (male actors playing female roles) of the courtyard plays. Reflecting a touch of pragmatism, the focus of the training was on developing narratives designed for the wider world. Interstingly, Nokia sponsored the best project award! But the veneer of niceties was peeled off by Rada Sesic from the Netherlands: “It is not enough that filmmakers make these documentaries. It’s an arrogant attitude on part of the government or the Doordarshan that they do not have a regular slot for featuring docus. Why should we foreigners fund for Indian filmmakers if the public is not encouraged to watch? In Docedge, there isn’t a single broadcaster from India.” It has been argued by this author that new technologies afford opportunities that have the potential to make a signifant difference, even though it may be limited in its scope. If Nokia can spot the opportunity, what are the Indian media entrepreneurs doing?
The questions that arise here are:
a) to what extent is the limited opportunity in India shaping the practices, content, and style of documentary films
b) how can documentary filmmakers create opportunities for distribution and exhibition in India and what are the implications?