von Max Kramer
A couple of days ago, on the 13th and the 14th of February (2014), I was attending the annual conference of the Gorakhpur Film Festival Movement (GFM) which was held at the Gandhi Peace Foundation in Delhi. Since its inception in the year 2006 the GFM spread to fourteen cities and towns in northern India, most of them located in the economically weaker areas of eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan. The festival movement (mind the second component: movement) thrives due to the conjunction of new technologies and innovative work: digital projectors make new screening venues reachable and the new connectivities established between local film societies and the central highly mobile unit called ‚the group‘, which is based in Delhi, seem to generate the continuity and rapid expansion. ‚The group‘ promotes the concept of an inter-media platform, combining films with poetry, painting, music, academic lectures and film-related publishing in Hindi. During this year’s conference, the participants were reflecting upon their past work and planning their future strategies. Representatives of about a dozen cities were present. Among those invited to join the network this year was Mohad Gani, a self-taught filmmaker from Mathura who proposed to launch a local edition of the Cinema of Resistance, as the festivals of the GFM are called. I want to tell a few stories surrounding his film Quaid (Imprisoned, 2014) as they disclose some potentials of an independent digital film culture and the new ways of public engagement it relates to. Such an understanding should, however, be properly contextualized; in other words, we will start our journey from Mathura.
Most people in South Asia know Mathura for the adventurous stories of Lord Krishna, the amorous god, the war consultant and the ‚cunning‘ child. Until I saw Quaid, the only films from Mathura I knew belong, perhaps, to the most South Asian of all genres: the yatra-film. Images of temples invite the believer to enter a mediated pilgrimage, a voiceover introduces us to the mythologies of the place while the eyes of divine statues bestow auspicious looks.
However, with Mohad Gani’s fiercely independent film, something rather different emerged from the banks of the Yamuna River. This film is remarkable not only due to its place of origin, but because it tells us something about the potentials of filmmaking in our age. It reminds us that, sometimes, you need nothing more than a relevant subject, a dedicated theater group, your house, an elementary school, a self-taught filmmaker and 2000 Rupees (around 25 €) to make a good movie.
The narrative, based on a short story by Gyan Prakash Vivek, is about a strong-willed boy who is caught in the webs of a malfunctioning school and the business of religiously legitimized quacks. At school, the boy’s creative wit is more feared than being acknowledged. This initiates a destructive circle where, through the ostracism of his Hindi teacher, the boy closes himself off and turns more and more aggressive towards his surroundings. Instead of looking into the dynamics of the conflict, his parents consult a tantric baba who advises them to lock the boy into a room until he would come to his senses again. The plot takes a turn when an open-minded teacher joins the local school. He learns about the locked up boy on the roof and carefully attempts to establish contact with him. He slowly builds up trust and reassembles the causes which led to the boy’s imprisonment.
This film can perhaps best be understood as a cultural artifact circulating in a web of stories weaved around it. Beyond the screens of commercially ‚big‘ cinema, the filmmakers often travel along with their films and discuss them with local audiences, thereby adding multiple layers of narrative to the meaning of the film performance. These layers may include the story of the production of the film or some biographical sketches of the professional struggle of the filmmakers.
Mohad Gani did not visit school for more than four years and elementary education in state run schools in non-metropolitan India is well known for its notoriously bad condition. When he was about fifteen years old, he taught himself how to read and write Hindi. Together with some friends, Gani launched a street theater group called Sanket Rangtoli. He wanted to make films but he did not have the money to buy a camera. Getting admission to a film school was, of course, out of question. Again Gani taught himself to edit and direct a film. With his sewing work and the help of some friends he managed to save enough money to buy a camera. Together with the street theater group and some family members, he started producing Quaid about a year ago. They also set up a local film society called Jan Cinema (People’s Cinema) and bought a projector. With this projector the group travels through the city, bringing their films to the audiences they want to address, just as they have done before with the street theater performances. These films are, of course, not just shown, but also discussed with the audience.
Technical stories about minimal budget projects are often fun to hear and sometimes instructive to understand the potentials of digital filmmaking. Just one example: for building a camera dolly the crew put wheels under a table and fixed a chair on top of it. There are some aspects of a ‚third cinema‘ (e.g. Solanas/Gettino/Espinosa) which only came to a broader realization after digital film technology really took off. One way to understand this is in relation to the mobilities of independent film practices. Just as the street theater, films such as Quaid and their crews are coming to your part of town and maybe screen their next film on your neighbour’s wall. They provide us with a glimpse of emerging practices of political filmmaking in South Asia. By engaging in collectively negotiated processes of meaning, they pose a challenge to established modes of production. The next months will show how far Quaid will travel and how it will engage with audiences in South Asia and perhaps beyond. In the meantime, Jan Cinema is already planning their next feature film.
Find an additional article („Cinema of Resistance“) on this Topic online under: http://www.hardnewsmedia.com/2011/10/4174