Nawaz Yasin Islam interviews Sanjay Kak and Tarun Bhartiya whose documentation of revolutions has made others see red
IN THE motherland of political compromise, any movement putting up the bare minimum resistance is best seen as a revolutionary one. Revolution has been a facet of evolution through the annals of history and documentation of the same has provided a platform for introspection among the generation of today.
The quest of pursuing subjects that lend an alternative to national discourse has been the trademark of well known Indian documentary filmmaker, Sanjay Kak. His critically acclaimed documentaries are ‘Words on Water’ on the anti-dam Narmada movement ‘Jashn-e-Azadi’ on the suffering and grit of the people of the Kashmir valley. ‘Red Ant Dream’ on the revolutionary linkages between different people’s movements in India is his latest film.
Moving between Punjab, Bastar and Niyamgiri, the film documents the songs, histories and struggles of people who try to imagine a different world into being. The ‘revolutionary link’ connecting the beads of movements throughout the nation is what Kak attempts to document in his critically acclaimed, Red Ant Dream.
Canvas makes an attempt to enter the restricted political world of “those who live by the revolutionary ideal in India” in an exclusive with Kak and his associate Tarun Bharatiya.
Can you explain the title of your film Red Ant Dream.
SK: Titles can’t always be explained, they are like names. The title of this film comes with some whimsy, and hopefully some ambiguity. After people have seen the film we imagine it will make more sense.
What were the challenges you encountered in Independent filmmaking?
SK: It is quite difficult for me to think of the making of films as a challenge. I would rather like to think of it as a journey for the difficulties fall within the territory of what we do as film makers. Be it difficulties during shooting, editing or finding an audience… these may be challenges or obstructions but are a part of it.
Did editing and narrating Red Ant Dream come to you as a stiffer task compared to your earlier ventures?
SK: Yes! That’s because in a sense, these are films constructed on the editing table. The material comes from the real word say the Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa or two weeks spent in Bastar etc but the argument is constructed in the editing table. So you find a way of editing that material and making a narrative out of it which means that even the visual logic of it actually is found on the editing table! You have what you have and you begin to extract a form of the story from it.
Red Ant Dream has diverse narratives. The Maoists in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand; you also include Punjab and bring in references to Pash the revolutionary poet and Bhagat Singh. How did you link them?
SK: The film was always a film about the persistence of the revolutionary ideal in India: the Maoists are only one strand within that, just as the Samajwadi socialists in Odisha is another. Inquilab Zindabad – the persistence of that idea of revolution, not as a slogan to be mouthed at Jantar Mantar but as a real objective. That is one reason we move to Punjab. We also go there because of Pash, who exemplifies some of that spirit of the turbulent 1970s. We go there because of Bhagat Singh and what he meant to people once, and what he continues to mean to them. We go there because it disturbs our viewers’ tidy conception of where revolutionary sentiments reside…
How would you distinguish a documentary like yours from some of the serious media reporting made available to the public?
SK: I think the difference is that in a documentary, I would like to show those parts of an issue that will not be outdated even after a couple of years. Say, if I make a movie on the anti-dam movement, I would like to make it in a manner such that people watching it after 10 years are pushed to think of things but a news report on the other hand exists to inform and not to provoke one to think. (Tarun adds) Media reporting is immediate witnessing whereas a documentary is witnessing and remembering.
TARUN BHARATIYA, who has been instrumental in a giving the documentary its shape, from co-writing it to editing had his views to share as well.
In the documentary Red Ant Dream, three distinct movements have been highlighted. Can a common line be drawn across them?
TB: The common line is what we describe our film as… it’s about those who lead the revolutionary ideal in India. All these three movements share the discomfort with what is happening in present and their desire to imagine a revolutionary world which will change the current trend. It’s about a group of people wanting a change.
Don’t you feel that such movies can instigate a rebellious feeling among people?
TB: I think we patronize a lot and the young people can decide for themselves. The police have created a sense of discomfort among the people. In all our special screening, the young people have come in big numbers and sat through the length of the film. When you make a political film, it is often thought as propaganda films but what we have to show is entirely different. The apprehension of police has been misplaced.
Are you looking at documentation of some of the pertinent issues here in Meghalaya?
TB: I have been making series of films like tourist information for Shillong (basically an anti-tourist film). I have been working on a film on the Uranium issue. I have shot for six years and what remains is the editing part. I have just finished a film named When the Hens Crow on the ostracizing of women.