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When cinema is means to an end

September 25,2017 09:44

The memory of a film screening in Thrissur, Kerala, a few years ago, during ViBGYOR, an international short and documentary film festival, is still vivid in the mind of Chennai-based documentary filmmaker, RP Amudhan. He (and a few other organisors ...

Parshathy J Nath
September 25, 2017 10:48 IST
Updated: September 25, 2017 10:48 IST

The memory of a film screening in Thrissur, Kerala, a few years ago, during ViBGYOR, an international short and documentary film festival, is still vivid in the mind of Chennai-based documentary filmmaker, RP Amudhan. He (and a few other organisors) knew the screening would be forcefully halted by a couple of right wing fringe elements because the film being screened had a “controversial” take on Kashmir.
Amudhan was convinced the miscreants would attack the projector first. And, as he had predicted, the goons charged towards the projector. However, he stood like a wall in front of it. “They were outnumbered and had to call for police protection as the festival supporters were in majority and stood against them,” he recalls.
We discuss nationalism, anti-nationalism and demonetisation at the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi, where the 12th edition of the alternative film festival is being held. Amudhan who has been an active part since its inception, is also the brain behind a similar activist film collective called Marupakkam that he founded in his home town, Madurai, in 1994. “There have always been controversies at ViBGYOR by fringe elements; but these have created a sense of solidarity among the filmmakers. We came together as a community. Right from day one, all the core team filmmakers including Anand Patwardhan and Sarath Chandran had the drive to push things forward,” he recalls.
A similar spirit of volunteerism and political activism can be seen in the Madurai International Documentary and Short Film Festival, which Amudhan organised in 1998. It is on its 19th edition this year. “The idea was not just to screen films but also train people in filmmaking. The entry was made free and it was a non-funded collective without any corporate support. Our only assistance was from colleges and student groups that provided us with screening venues and volunteers.”
Watching a film is an act of camaraderie and social ritual for Amudhan, known for his films with strong political positions. He had also curated the Social Justice Film Festival for Goethe Institut, which screened films that addressed the lives of the marginalised. The films were selected to offer an overall outlook of the world of the marginalised. “We made sure that festival was not just about film screening but also poetry reading, theatre and photo exhibitions. The idea was to initiate an intellectual engagement amongst the audience.”
It was the social circumstances in the 1990s that led to a political awakening in him.”That was the time when there was a Dalit uprising in Tamil Nadu. As an artiste and a filmmaker, I just could not keep away from what was happening around me.” Amudhan went on to make Shit on manual scavenging in Tamil Nadu which won the best film award at the One Billion Eyes Festival in 2005.
His latest work, Dollar City, attempts to face some uncomfortable questions regarding India as a nation. In the initial stages of his career, he merely documented what happened around him and told them as stories. Now, he sees himself as a filmmaker who has a point of view of his own. “My views may not necessarily be accepted by my filmmaker friends. I think the direction of our country has changed drastically in the last two decades. There is an intellectual lethargy. We could not rise up to the occasion and prevent the growth of certain fascist forces. Who is responsible for this? We need to ask these questions.”

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