CINEMA of RESISTANCE

Outside the gaze of big city festivals, the quiet Gorakhpur Film Festival has become a new wave of an alternative culture of creative cinema
Sudhir Suman Delhi

Suffocated by the trash dished out ritualistically by the monopoly of film and television industry, solely driven by commercial money power and TRP ratings, serious efforts are being made across the country to produce and exhibit alternative, sensitive, realistic and meaningful cinema. One such promising and successful movement is the 'Cinema of Resistance' which started in Gorakhpur, a remote, dusty township in Uttar Pradesh (UP) bordering Nepal, outside the glamour map of metropolitan India and its insulated, 'sponsored' film festivals.

The festival comprises cinema of deep social relevance, high aesthetic value, made in Hindi or provincial languages – documentation which breaks the formula of 'successful cinema' and the limits of imagination. Foreign films, including classical films, are shown to a rapt audience. The main emphasis remains on short films by visionary filmmakers who dare to walk the offbeat road.

These films are produced while instinctively discarding clichéd formulas of filmmaking. It's a tide of new experiments riding on original possibilities. It's a challenge for the filmmaker to tell a different story to the world. This was experienced in the last Gorakhpur Film Festival when historian and feminist thinker Uma Chakravarti displayed on the screen the amazing posters in her 'private collection' and explained their genesis and narratives. This too was a story.

The festival showcases films which portrays the struggle of people for a better life and 'lifestyle'; it celebrates resistance to all forms of hidden and overt oppression. These are films which are a call to the conscience, and yet, they are not crass, propagandistic or didactic: they speak epic, nuanced, sensitive tales of stories which are not spoken in the mainline realm of cricket, entertainment, celebrity and television grandstanding. These are films on the plunder of natural resources by multinationals, the slow, relentless barbarism faced by the tribal people in India, hunger deaths of peasants, the unreported struggles by Manipuri and Kashmiri people for their democratic rights. The reality of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which facilitates the torture and killings of innocents in Kashmir, strikes a tangible chord with this audience. This is political cinema, without a didactic baggage.

This cinema works against the fundamentalist forces of 'cultural nationalism' as much as the 'nationalism' of the plunderers. It feels total affinity with all forms of aesthetic resistance across the world.

The festival opens up windows for a new refreshing cinematic dialogue, for a new audience from all across India, in a non-mainstream landscape. Avant garde artists and innovative filmmakers break new grounds of narratives, cinematography, sound design and storytelling. The idiom and metaphor is different from the big city elite festivals. There is more rootedness, newer forms of emancipation and existential experiences.

Six years ago, in 2006, cultural activists of Jan Sanskriti Manch, filmmakers, journalists and citizens of Gorakhpur in UP started this movement. At that time, none had the idea that people from other cities and states would soon be asking for more such festivals. In this unique experiment in the Hindi belt, the Gorakhpur festival attracted delegates from UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, MP, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Delhi, Rajasthan and Maharashtra; they resolved to establish film societies in 22 cities and towns. The organisers have firmly resolved that this new film society movement will not seek help "of any sort – imperialist outfits, corporates or sundry mafias".

It's a long march. In this 'new wave' the 19th film festival was organised in Indore in Madhya Pradesh (MP). For the first time in the history of film festivals, a festival was held at Ballia, a small, arid town of eastern UP in September 2011. Festival schedules for Lucknow in UP and Nainital in Uttarakhand are fixed for October 2011. Similarly, lovers of good cinema in Bhilai in MP and Patna in Bihar will have their festivals in November and December this year.

'Cinema of Resistance' is the outcome of people's aesthetic and political necessity. It is a source of inspiration for filmmakers to make different kind of films that can truly be called 'People's Cinema'. For instance, edited excerpts from three documentary films 'under production' were screened at Gorakhpur recently.

The first film, Protest, is about the agitation of farmers against the Maitreyi Project in Kasya (Kushinagar). The second, Naad, is on the life of Sadhus and Jogis of the Nath sect of Muslims that symbolises a mixed, syncretic culture, while the third highlights the horror of the deadly Japanese fever which has resulted in mass deaths of children since 1978 in UP, especially around Gorakhpur. The number of dead children in recent times runs into tens of thousands – and yet, there is no anticipation or relief from this annual disaster. These films will also move to villages and towns of remote Poorvanchal in UP, where such
films would be screened perhaps for the first time.

This time, in March 2011, on the occasion of the centenary of International Woman's Day, apart from jailed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi's film Offside and Shyam Bengal's Bhumika, 17 films by women filmmakers were screened at Gorakhpur. These films by Indian women can easily be rated as among the best in world cinema. They depicted complex facets of life: women's freedom, social security, honour killings, the life of lower class women, Thumri singers and theatre actresses, alcohol prohibition campaigns, efforts to preserve the rich, oral, epical traditions of language, music and art, and female discourse in literature, politics, art and cinema.

The cinema culture is accompanied by theatre, songs, paintings, story telling, and discussions on alternative media. The film society movement thereby becomes a creative space for an alternative culture. A celebration of people's creativity against the power of money and the tyranny of mediocrity.

So far, some of the finest in the craft have graced the festivals: MS Sathyu, Girish Kasaravalli, Saeed Mirza, Kundan Shah, Shaji N Karun, Sanjay Kak, Anand Patwardhan, Ajay Bhardwaj, Saba Dewan, Bela Negi, Anupama Srinivasan, Iffat Fatima, Biju Toppo, Meghnath, Paromita Vohra among filmmakers; also, writer Arundhati Roy, among others. Gorakhpur is indeed
becoming an imaginative, thinking landmark in Indian, regional and world cinema. 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: OCTOBER 2011