This free-wheeling interview first appeared on the cinema portal Passion For Cinema. To read it there, please follow the link
AJAY TG – Man With A Camera
There are places other than this.
Outside of our city of dreams, there are people who worship cinema just as much. Ajay is one of them. But his cinema is not like ours, nor are his aspirations. His life and work are dedicated to other people- people who suffer behind the gigantic screen projecting a Shining India, in silence and darkness. His cinema is their voice. Just as simple, just as fancy-free. Vikalp, an organization of documentary filmmakers who resist censorship, facilitated the screening of his films recently. As I sat and watched DVD after DVD of his untiring passion, an overwhelming sense of hopelessness came upon me. Very few of us would have the courage to abandon all pursuit of personal happiness and ambition to persevere and surrender our life so that some voices from the other side can be heard. If certain authorities put out such a man, what good is the ascent of our cinema to world acclaim? When Mumbai burns we are enraged and rightly so. We brandish the tricolour and scream. But this tricolour also belongs to parts of this country that have been burning for years on end. When we debate high art the next time, when we lament our lack of resources the next time, when we light a candle for our city the next time, might we also remember that there are places other than this?
Here is a longish interview with Ajay. He spoke in a characteristic mix of south Indian Hindi and Chhattisgarhi. I have translated his words into English as best as I could. I hope they haven’t lost the essence of goodness and beauty that this man’s voice reflects. It makes for a long read. I hope you will have the patience to listen to him.
But first a small introduction to the man, his work and his ordeal.
Ajay TG lives and works with his filmmaker wife Shobha and their 20 month son Aman in the steel city of Bhilai in Chattisgarh.
He grew up in a joint family that migrated from Kerala. His Uncle came to Bhilai in 1959 to set up a tea shop near the steel plant. Eventually he had to leave school and work. A chance encounter with Jonathan Parry, the well known anthropologist from the London School of Economics who was in Bhilai for a research visit, was a turning point for Ajay. He became his research assistant and developed a keen interest in history and lives of the Chattisgarhi people.
Ajay then learnt basic film making in a video training project called Jandarshan under the European Union-India Economic Cross Cultural Programme and organized in partnership with The Deshbandhu, a Hindi language daily, based in Raipur. His first film ‘Hathaure Walla’ was about an old iron smith who worked near the steel plant.
Ajay and his wife Shobha made films about social issues and over the years slowly acquired a camera, microphones, cables and an editing computer to become ‘independent’ documentary film makers working from home.
Ajay’s concerns led him to become a member of the Youth Federation of India (a youth organisation of the CPI) and the convenor of the Campaign against Child Labour. The death of a young girl inspired the couple to begin a school in her basti (slum cluster) for 25 poor girls. Recently Ajay and Shobha trained the young girls to make their first video – a short film on gender discrimination in education.
Meanwhile in his documentaries, Ajay began exploring issues of migration and human rights. He then became a voluntary member of the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in Bhilai. PUCL is a leading civil rights organisation founded by Jayprakash Narayan in 1976.
Ajay’s recent films before he was arrested were about the March 8th Women’s Day celebrations and the lives of working women in Chattisgarh; the police attack on the workers of Hero Honda in Gurgaon and a film on the work of Dr. Binayak Sen.
In 2004 Ajay was accompanying a PUCL team in Bastar which was detained by a group of armed Maoist men. Ajay’s camera was forcibly taken by them. Ajay and Shobha were devastated by the loss of their camera.
In January 2008 the Chhattisgarh police arrested a Maoist in another case and allegedly found a copy of a letter. This alleged letter is said to be written by Ajay TG in 2004 to the spokesperson of the Maoists in which he is said to be requesting for the return of his camera. The police then raided Ajay and Shobha’s home, harassed and detained their relatives and seized their editing computer and films.
Thereafter Ajay TG was then arrested on the 5th of May under the CSPSA 2006. He is therefore now accused of having made contact with an ‘unlawful’ organisation. It is important to note that the Act under which he is charged came into existence in April 2006 while the alleged letter is supposed to have been written in 2004!
Ajay has also been accused of sedition under Sec 124 A of the IPC(which Mahatma Gandhi called “the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen.” He also added, “Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law. If one has no affection for a person or system, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote, or incite violence”)
The section penalizes the spreading of disaffection towards the Government through any form of visual representation including word, signs etc. According to this definition anybody expressing dissent against the Government i.e. filmmakers, artists, journalists, writers, actors, academics, social activists can be targeted, if the state finds their views to be against its policies.
After the concerted efforts of the Release Ajay TG committee and innumerable voices of eminence throughout the country, Ajay TG was finally released from prison late evening on the 5th of August 2008.
The Chattisgarh police failed to file the charge sheet against Ajay TG within the mandatory 90 day period. Ajay was therefore granted statutory bail.
But the police have still not closed the case. The bail order placed conditions on Ajay which required him to present a personal bond of Rs Fifty Thousand, two sureties of Rs. 25,000 each, submit an affidavit of a list of his movable and immovable property, appear at the local police station on the 2nd Monday of every month and denied him the right to travel outside India without the permission of the court.
Where did you train to make and edit films? When and how did you know this is the medium for your expression?
I obtained a diploma in filmmaking from a 3 year project by the Indo-Euro cross-cultural program called Janadarshan. It was initiated by a network of 4 groups under ‘images in social change network’ and sponsored by the European Union. I used to write and paint but was interested in photography even as a child. I would borrow cameras from friends and relatives to take pictures then. With age I grew more passionate about it. I began to see the power of the medium in expressing realities. And thought, if a picture can speak a thousand words imagine the potential of cinema.
You are a prolific documentary filmmaker. What sort of infrastructural support do you need? How do you manage to make films that don’t really have a market?
The minimum you need to make a film is a camera and an editing suite. But beyond that one also finds use for camera stands, reflectors, sound accessories, boom rod, lights and a small filmmaking unit.
I have never made a film with the market in mind or awards or competitions for that matter. Whenever I feel I need to take something to the people or think that no one else is about to say something that should be said or that an event needs documentation, I go ahead and make a film. I am always aware of my limitations and work within the limits. I don’t try to make films that may be better than others, but attempt to make good and simple films with minimal resources that the audiences can grasp easily. Once the films are made I make copies and hand them out to friends so they can see it and show it to others as well. I also take the help of certain organizations like Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha and NGO’s for distribution. My wife is my colleague in Jandarshan and helps me cut the costs of filmmaking.
Your films address a number of issues of poverty, education, women’s rights, politics, caste and policies in and around Chhattisgarh. Who is your target viewer? Who do you keep in mind when deciding your narratives for example?
I clearly make films for those who occupy the lowest strata of our society- people who suffer certain ills and those who are willing to fight them, as well as those who might want to help these people. My aim is to create a better understanding of issues among those people. Some films are also for those who might be interested in social sciences and psychology. I see these films as a sort of documentation of the historical process that will enable generations to come to understand us better. I wish small cameras were available cheaply in the market so a lot more films could be made.
Have you attempted a wider distribution for your films?
No, not as yet.
You have spoken about the gender and class biases that deprive kids in rural areas, especially women from receiving education. What government initiatives are lacking in this regard?
It is not just the rural poor who are in a bad state. Urban slums are even worse. One regularly hears of the government’s initiatives for development of education and women and child welfare, but the question is why is the state of affairs so bad despite lakhs of such programs? Does anyone take account of whether any of this aid reaches those it was meant for? You need dedication, compassion and honesty for that. The lack of which has led to a large part of our population being deprived of opportunities and resources. If you ask the authorities why so many kids don’t go to schools, they say things like they don’t want to, their parents don’t care enough, there is poverty or there is no culture to educate children. On the contrary I ask, having seen the state of government run schools, who would want to go there? There is either no roof or no proper place to sit. Often 100-150 kids are squeezed into one room. And two or three different classes are taught there. There are no adequate resources for education or recreation of the kids. There aren’t enough teachers and those who teach wield the rod at will. It is natural that such a place will incite hatred, boredom or fear in kids.
How did you manage to set up the small institute that you now run for girls?
While working as Research Assistant to social anthropologist Dr Jonathan Parry I noticed that many small girls in labour camps don’t end up going to school in the hope that they will find a prospective boy. On the other hand, many small girls are engaged in labour. For a family that earns a meager 1000-1500 rupees a month, the extra 200-300 rupees that children contribute goes a long way.
I was going through a challenging phase in my life personally, and the plight of these children troubled me deeply. I wanted to help them but didn’t know how.
One day during field work, a lady called Chandar Bai sent word that she wanted to meet me. On arriving at her house, she requested me to give her 1500 rupees such that she could take her 14 year old girl Laxmi for medical tests which the doctor had prescribed. She pointed to Laxmi who was lying on the bed sick and said that the doctor had told her that her liver had filled with water and she had jaundice as a result of which her stomach was severely inflated. Not having the money on my person I told her I would speak to a doctor and immediately called Dr. Binayak Sen, to whom I explained the situation. As he was leaving town he asked me to get in touch with his colleague. When I explained the situation to the doctor he offered to treat Laxmi at his hospital free of cost. However, on further investigation it was discovered that Laxmi was suffering from cancer and his hospital was not equipped to deal with her case.
Chandar Bai used to work as a labourer on building sites for a civil contractor for a meagre 39 rupees a day. Her husband was unemployed and handicapped – as a result of an accident two years ago he had lost his leg and his job as a chauffer. Also, about an year ago, Laxmi had to be operated upon to remove a tumour from her intestines. Her doctors now say that if that operation was performed correctly she would have been cured and it would not have developed into cancer. In any case, the point is that to carry out that operation, the family had mortgaged their house for which the interest kept mounting and a monthly payment was inevitable. Besides Laxmi, Chander Bai had 2 more daughters and a son, and this entire family of six survive on the 39 rupees a day that Chander Bai earns carrying mortar and brick up many floors. However, the parents insist on the children attending school, and Laxmi’s spirit was indomitable – she would average 70% marks while battling the painful cancer amidst dire poverty.
I started enquiring without any success whether any organization or hospital would treat Laxmi charitably. In many places people ridiculed me and asked me “Who is she to you? Why are you so desperate to get her treated?” This made me even more determined that Laxmi’s treatment would not stop for want of funds. I got in touch with people directly hoping to get some help no matter how small. In the end I managed to put together some money and started the treatment however, it was too late – Laxmi succumbed to her illness and became a memory on 16th August 2005.
After Laxmi’s death I went to her neighborhood, ‘Dabrapara’, to survey it. The word ‘dabra’ means ditch and in reality the neighbourhood was in a ditch. It comprised about 35 hutments/houses. In all there were 32 children aged 6 to 16 years old who did not attend school and 28 of these 32 were girls.
The clearing outside Chandar Bai’s house is fairly large and surrounded by trees. This keeps the area in shade most of the day. With her permission I tied a few cycle tyres from the trees to make swings and procured some terracotta toys from the local potter. Two ladies, Damini and Pramila from the neighborhood agreed to help in going house-to-house to get permission from parents to let their kids play at Chander Bai’s place. The next day about 16 kids arrived and started playing with us. Some of them slowly got their siblings with them, whilst others would sometimes go back in the day and return after some time. Damini and Pramila devoted all their time in taking care of them and making sure they got back home safely. For about two weeks we spent the whole day with the kids, from 8 am to 5 pm generally having a good time and getting comfortable with each other. We learnt that many of them had never been to school, while some of them had attended a few grades and then dropped out for some reason or the other.
One day I bought ten slates and chalk and quietly left them in Chander Bai’s house. The next day we arrived to see the kids pestering Damini and Pramila to teach them how to write. Although Chander was illiterate, Damini and Pramila had both studied till the 8th grade and began teaching them the Hindi (Devanagari) alphabet and numbers. Pramila also knew how to stitch and engaged the older girls with that. My wife, Shobha, and me began spending a lot of time there. When Shobha’s younger sister Jyoti found out what we had started she joined us and took a keen interest in teaching too. Soon Shobha and Jyoti began conducting music lessons which were very popular, and within a year we started an institute without much effort. As word spread, friends and strangers came forward to help in whatever way they could. Dr Balmurli Natrajan and his wife Dr. Vidya took on the responsibility of financing lunch for everyone everyday while Dr. Jonathan Parry donated a sewing machine. This is how the institute started. At the time when the police shut down the institute, there were 22 children enrolled for attendance.
How do you convince locals to send their girls to school?
The parents of the children (many have just one parent) that attended our institute, Baal Aangaan, were all working and would normally spend most of the day out working or looking for work. During this time, girls would normally manage the house, looking after their younger siblings and doing the usual housework. At Baal Aangan, the children were always under the care of someone, familiar like their neighbours, Damini and Pramila. This instilled a sense of security in them and very soon we had no problems at all in convincing them.
What sort of training – conventional or vocational are you looking to provide them?
I had not intended to give the place a form of a formal educational institution, which is why I had called it ‘Baal Aangan’ – Children’s Courtyard. The volunteers, who are mostly from the neighborhood maintain their social relationship with the children, namely that of a neighbor/elder. As all the children are from the neighborhood, they do not consider the place different from their own home, and address the volunteers not as ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’, but by how they address them when they meet otherwise – ‘Nani’ (Grandmother), ‘Chachi’ (Aunt), ‘Didi’ (Sister), ‘Bhabhi’ (Sister-in-law), Mami (Aunt). This keeps the children quite comfortable and relaxed, as opposed to a disciplined setup. I wanted the children to learn Hindi, English, Chhattisgadi, Mathematics and basic Politics and History, such that they are equipped to start life. Where possible, we even wanted to impart vocational education in a field that they showed interest in, such that somewhere down the line they could make a living by working in that field. However, very soon after we started, some children expressed the desire to go to a formal school. I contacted the Director of the Rajeev Gandhi Shiksha Mission, a governmental body responsible for child education, and with their guidance taught a few children as per the educational council syllabus. These kids (in total 7) now attend formal school.
I understand my circumstances and limitations, and wanted to do whatever was possible within that. However, one thing was always clear and at the centre of my thinking – I wanted to ensure that whatever we taught the kids should be beneficial to the kids in coping with their tough life. Therefore the focus was that we teach them something which they display a natural affinity and interest for, the training should be professional and the training should enable them to stand on their own feet at some point in their life. One of our girls Babita has taken to sewing very well and infact already started making a living for herself.
Where does filmmaking fit in?
Being a filmmaker myself I was curious to know how these kids see their own lives. I started teaching them filmmaking as an experiment. But when I saw their interest and aptitude I began thinking of a long-term project. Documentary cinema is not a viable career option so I had to think of this practically. I started to teach video shooting to the women who were helping out at the organization along with the kids. Eventually I wanted to create small groups of 7 to 10 people who were trained in shooting, photography, video mixing, editing etc. so they could start a cooperative studio and take on projects for marriages, birthdays etc.
Now if say 7 people make up a group, 5 out of them could do this work and 2 can still make documentaries, work on health issues etc. if they have a share in the earnings of the group as a whole. The idea was to set up a group in every district head quarter of Chhattisgarh with poor women mostly and then set up a network between the block head quarters and smaller units. We called this project Janani.
Do you intend to tie up with a recognized education board in the future?
On principle I am against formal education. I do not believe it is the solution to our problems.
Was the formation of the new state a step in the right direction for that region?
In a capitalist set up like ours politics is also a business. The politicians want their investment back once they are in power, then they want to make profits and then gather funds for the upcoming election again. What can we expect of them here? The only relief the farmers have got due to the division of the state is from acute electricity shortage.
Your film Bhook Ke Virudh, Bhaat Ke Liye talks about food crisis and its solution, demonstrating a small victory against a multinational. While most documentary filmmakers seem to be careful not to come across as providing easy answers, you are not afraid to point to an answer where you see one. How do you approach the subjects you decide to make a film on?
I was making that film for an NGO called Rupantar and the film is still incomplete. I research my subjects thoroughly and only make a film when I am totally convinced of it. I also need to ensure that the film will not go against my ideals.
Like I mentioned earlier if I feel there is something that I must take to people I make a film on it. Similarly if I feel that if through a film incorrect information might be disseminated I abandon the project no matter how much work has already gone into it. Once I got an opportunity to make a film on a Women’s Self Help Group. The tales I got to hear of their success were truly romantic so I set about my extensive research. After about 4 months of work I began to realize that under the pretext of making them independent the group was entrenching them in debt and a consumerist culture. I refused to make the film. A lot of intellectuals made fun of my overly critical position at the time but later came around and told me I was right.
I am a very simple man. So my answers to questions are also simple. The people I work for and work with cannot bear the burdens of unanswered riddles. Life for them is daily bread and the joy of festivities.
You have closely observed the issues that confront women in the area in a couple of your films. Where is the women’s movement headed? What are the main issues that still defeat them?
The right to live with self-respect and equal rights, like anywhere else in the world, is the biggest issue confronting women here. Women’s movements in Chhattisgarh are unfortunately very weak. The only organizations I can think of in this area are Mahila Mukti Morcha (started by Martyr Shankar Guha Niyogi), Chingari and Mahila Janjagriti Sangathan.
In a recent case, a woman has committed sati near Raipur less than a week ago. This most primitive of rituals has not been in the news since Roop Kanwar’s death in the 80′s in Rajasthan. She was, if I am not mistaken, a lower caste woman. Do you think the act was voluntary? What could have prompted it? How is the politics developing around it? How come women’s groups are not coming forth to protest as much as they did in Rajasthan?
Lalmati Verma, wife of Shiv Nandan Verma from the village of Chechar recently committed voluntary Sati. Neither is she the first Sati from that village, nor I would think from the family. In 1962 the same village witnessed the sati of Asmat Bai, wife of Malik Ram Verma. There is a temple in her memory in the village where ritualistic worship is carried on regularly. Neither the government nor any groups have attempted to shut it down.
Verma’s are probably Kurmi by caste. Despite Kurmis being Shudras, in Chhattisgarh caste hierarchy they are high up and think of themselves as Kshatriyas. This is the main reason why they are a lot more orthodox than others here.
The government made sure the issue was not publicized, especially because elections were around the corner. Even the local media did not carry anything except one or two furtive reports. But a lot of members of that family have been arrested. Only children and women have been left at home. I’ve heard there is no breadwinner left and they are in dire straits. Their friends and relatives have also ostracized them due to fear of the police. In my view this is another form of state terrorism. People are too afraid to challenge the authorities. Besides they also lack social and political consciousness.
How strong is the Salwa Judum in the area today? Tell us about its origins and the changes if any after the Supreme Court verdict.
Recently I travelled to an area affected by the Salwa Judum activity. I met and spoke with people there. The camps have been converted to resettlement colonies and the Bijapur collecter told us that his district has no more camps left. When we looked, we could see camps on both sides of his office less than ½ a km. away. The only thing is the camps have now been converted into slums. We interviewed people living there and they told us that for months now they have no employment. The free ration that the government used to provide for them has stopped coming. But they have to stay put there. When we asked them why they came there in the first place they told us that the police got them there saying that if they stayed back in their villages they would help the Naxalites.
Tell us about the black law under which you were arrested. Is it necessary? Has it managed to curb ‘terrorism’ in the area at all?
I was arrested under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005. Whether or not laws like this are needed can only be determined by experience. CSPSA is not the first such law in our country. Someone told me 25 of our states have laws like this- POTA, TADA etc. have all set bad examples. CSPSA is perhaps even worse than the earlier laws. Because the police can arrest anyone under it saying that they suspect him/her of having links with banned organizations. They do not need to produce any evidence to the effect. Nor can the judge grant bail if the public prosecutor opposes it.
I don’t think terrorism can ever be fought with laws like these. On the contrary their misuse will only encourage such acts. We need to ask ourselves why people turn to terrorism in the first place. When the system frustrates people to such an extent that they have nothing but hatred and vengeance left in them, they take recourse to violence. These are often people who have suffered extreme oppression and believe they can find solutions only by seizing authority not by making requests to it or voting. They hold their faith or ideal above all else and would be proud of dying or killing in its name. Often they see it as a route to heaven. Their idea is that the only way the world can be set right is if they are in power. All of it is a sort of crazed passion. Law and order means nothing to such people and they are ready to endure anything for their cause. What good is law, guns or state terrorism against them? It isn’t hard to see this. But these laws are still made. The thing is that the majority of votes come from the so-called middle class of our society that thinks of laws as a sort of tortoise shell that will shield them against all ills. Politicians enact these laws to appease this majority and misuse them to suppress political opposition.
Did you meet Dr Binayak Sen in the prison? Were you arrested on the grounds of making a film on him? Were you ever told what they suspected you of?
Dr Binayak Sen is in Raipur Central Jail and I was in Durg Central. But a day before I went to jail I met him during his trial in the court.
I was not arrested only because I made a film on Binayak Sen. I had also made a film exposing murder and rape by police personnel in Bastar and Ambikapur. People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) was the first organization to uncover the atrocities of Salwa Judum. Their target was always PUCL.
I was never told why I was arrested.
How has the work Dr Sen did been affected after his arrest?
As a result of Dr Sen’s arrest the medical program of an entire district was brought down. Thousands of patients are suffering to date. His dispensary was in an area largely populated by tribal people. TB, Malaria and malnutrition are rampant here. There is no other governmental or private clinic either. Patients used to come to him from distances upto 80 kms. The police started to harass his patients after his arrest. They were told that he is a Naxalite and anyone who kept in touch with him would also be arrested. They were so scared they stopped coming to see the other doctors in the dispensary as well. A TB patient of the village died after the arrest having been unable to continue his course.
Why did the administration take a dislike to a social worker as acclaimed and dedicated as him? What sort of movement is on within the state for his freedom? Why did pressure not result in his release as it did in yours?
Dr Sen was the state secretary and national vice president of the PUCL.
Under his leadership PUCL exposed the human rights violations in Chhattisgarh (Bastar and Ambikapur in particular) by the Naga force, CRPF and Salwa Judum. They also protested against the violations and took the case up to the Supreme Court. A lot of fake encounters were probed as a result. Now the case has become some sort of a prestige issue for the state and is so convoluted that the police are forced to keep him in.
Is it really so hard to speak one’s mind in Chhattisgarh now? Luminaries like Habib Tanvir, have been speaking for the underprivileged from the area for years now.
More than a 150 people have been arrested under the CSPSA with hard evidence available against only 7 of them. Not only those who keep independent views but also people who are in touch with such people even over the phone can come under fire in the state. People like Habib Tanvir and Nandani Sundar are rare also because they are extremely well known so it is hard for the state to conspire against them. But even if these people were to live in Chhattisgarh today they would fall prey to state oppression in one way or another.
Were you treated as a political prisoner? (The Chhattisgarh DGP indicated Dr Sen is a political on being grilled about his arrest on a recent visit to a university in the USA)
Not in the least. The jail had no separate provision for political prisoners. In a barrack constructed for 20 people there were about 58-60 people besides me.
In fact even provisions available to regular prisoners were denied to me. I was not even allowed to read books.
Tell us about your experiences in the prison. Are there more political prisoners, perhaps not as high profile as you and Dr Sen?
It is common knowledge that prison is a different world altogether.
It was worse than what I had heard or ever imagined. I would be surprised if a young man were to go to prison for some reason and not return a seasoned criminal. The worse your crime the better you are treated inside. No kinds of human rights apply there. It is the height of corruption.
But I began to see the outside world in a whole new light when I was in there and had a lot of time to do so.
There were a number of other political prisoners besides me in prison but I wasn’t allowed to meet them. In the same jail about 74 tribals arrested under CSPSA were kept in a separate cell and no one was allowed to meet them. I met one of those young men in the prison dispensary one day. His name was Mangal Ram (son of Massu). He told me that he was asleep one night when the police came and arrested him. He still does not know why he is in prison. There are many such people who are in there without having committed any crime at all. Some of them have even been convicted.
Did you expect the sort of support you received from the release Ajay TG committee, Nobel laureates, Amnesty and many other concerned citizens?
No I could have never even imagined it.
How is your freedom still being affected? Did you recover the filmmaking equipment that had been ceased?
You know I used to feel strange in rallies shouting slogans like ‘Ye Azaadi jhuthi hai’ (this is no real freedom) but now I understand its meaning in full. This freedom feels like a long leash around an animal’s neck. I may not be imprisoned in a room anymore but my freedom to work, speak and express myself has been taken away. My friends are still hesitant to meet me. Every 15 days I have to report to the police station like a criminal. Nothing of what was ceased from my house on my arrest has been recovered.
Are you working on more films? If yes, what and how?
I want to make a film on my arrest and the reasons associated with it. The story line is ready and I have started work on the script. Once that is done I will start asking my friends for help to make it.
I am also busy gathering footage right now on a film tentatively called Kanoon. It argues that laws cannot suppress terrorism and questions why people are losing their faith in the judiciary and protests are turning more violent. I was accompanying camera crews during the elections and am travelling around the state to other places as well. On my visit to Lalgarh recently I found that such little faith remains in the system that the people have shut the local police station down completely!
What cinema do you see as inspiration? Tell us about your favourite films and filmmakers.
Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shyam Benegal, Hitchcock, Akira Kurosawa, Mrinal Sen are some of the filmmakers I really admire. I also enjoy Priyadarshan’s comedies in Malayalam.
I grew up in an environment where watching films was looked down upon. It was impossible for me to see good films or films I really wanted to watch. Even now it isn’t easy. So I see whatever I get an opportunity to watch. It was only after joining my film course that I learnt of so many good films and directors. I am exceptionally fond of Malayalam cinema. Films like Chemmeen, Neelakuyil, Aakrosh, Pather Panchali and The Bicycle Thief have had a profound emotional impact on me. Aakrosh left me disturbed for days.
I hear that you want to write a fiction film next. What is it on? How are you working on it?
I have been imagining three stories for a long time now and I want to make them exactly how I see them. Whenever it happens I want to make them myself. 2 of these are based on women’s issues and the third is about the life and struggles of a child labourer. Right now they are on paper as short stories. My dismal financial condition does not allow me work on them right now.
Has your recent ordeal affected your convictions in any way?
The arrest totally destroyed my social life. Also I have very little faith left in the democratic process now. But my will to work in my chosen direction remains unaffected. If anything it is only stronger now. With my social life gone there is little else for me to do in any case. If I don’t make films I have no reason to live.