June 14, 2013 : There are probably very few more spectacular ways of commuting to a screening than to take a cab ride in the midst of Mumbai’s fierce monsoon, especially if your route takes you across the Bandra-Worli sealink into the citys’ south. (The futuristic architecture of this newest Mumbai landmark is only a moderate distraction from those real, real waves out there.) It all gets even more heightened when your driver points out that his CNG tank is running to empty, before politely helping you out into the pouring rain at Haji Ali, and into another taxi headed for the Alliance Francaise at Churchgate.

But for Mumbaikars this was probably just another wet day, with people bravely arriving at the compact little Alliance auditorium, helped no doubt by a short and timely lull at the n-th hour. The square basket in the foyer was full with dripping umbrellas at 7 pm, and I think we had every one of the 90 odd seats taken, and eventually all the floor space, including the aisles, occupied. (So much for rain dissuading the committed documentary buff of Mumbai.) Jabeen Merchant introduced the film on behalf of Vikalp, the film-makers group that has been screening regularly at this venue for several years now, and that regularity probably has something to do with the turnout…

A discussion followed the film, with an audience that seemed to  be made up of old comrades of the Left, some journalists and writers, and of course, many many young people. There was a lot of curiousity about the life of the guerillas in the forest, as well as the ethical and moral dilemmas involved in filming people whose lives are on the line, hunted as they are for being the ‘greatest internal security threat’ to the nation. There was also some curiousity about bringing in Punjab into narrative of ‘those who live the revolutionary ideal in India’.

June 15, 2013 : On this extremely wet day, it was not nature but culture (or at least the failure of technology!) that threatened the screening: the Films Division auditorium at Pedder Road is on the 9th floor, and the lift had packed up, and with a small audience building up at the base of the building, no technician could be located. Over the last year the hugely under-utilised spaces of the Films Division have emerged as a valuable new screening space, as Mumbai’s ‘FD Zone’… Eventually the technicians at FD, led by the energetic Premraj, quickly lined up an alternative space in the adjoining building, so that only a little after the scheduled time we were able to begin.

Surabhi Sharma, who co-curates the FD Zone screenings, introduced the film, to an audience that really packed the studio. Every inch of space was taken, right up to the door, which was almost dangerously impossible to open, and some of us had to stand outside for the 120 minutes of the film. The discussion followed in a rather stuffy and overheated space (a recording studio, not really designed for so many people). The questions were sharper than the previous night, often more pointed (“why is there such a selective history of the Left in India?”), and sometimes verging on hostile (“why is this film like a propaganda film for the Maoists?”). Obviously its not easy to persuade people in the course of a film (or the discussion that follows) but the fact that the film unsettled some of its viewers is hopefully a valuable space in which other dialogues will carry on.

June 16 2013 : Our third screening was held in the leafy and quite beautiful campus of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences at Deonar, and was organised by the Radical Study Circle, an informal student group. On a Sunday afternoon the large seminar room was surprisingly full, mostly packed with the newly arrived students of the fresh academic year. There were also such veteran activists and scholars as Anurag Modi, Bela Bhatia, and Binayak Sen, all sitting cramped behind class-room desks, which was a nice touch.

The discussion that followed ranged from the very basic doubts of young people (“What will we do without mining? Are we rejecting development?”) to a more felt, personal curiousity about the lives of those who commit to a revolutionary life, whether that is in the forests of Bastar, the hills of Niyamgiri, or the streets of Punjab.

June 17, 2003 : The fourth consecutive screening of this series was at Pune, and involved a drive across what increasingly seems like a landscape of a real-estate developers dreams, all 3 hours of it. Much of the drive involved rain, but that seems to be a constant thrum in all accounts of the screenings of this film.

Ashish Rajadhyakshya, film scholar and curator, introduced Red Ant Dream to the participants at the now legendary Film Appreciation Course run by the National Film Archive of India. The audience at the annual FAC screenings is always a mixed bag of film buffs and scholars who have gathered from all over India, a handful of dedicated film-watching Punekars, as well as students of the FTII. In the audience there were also my friends, the film-scholar Gayatri Chatterji, and the very talented and often profound film-maker duo of Rajula Shah and Arghya Basu. There was a long discussion, with the questions ranging from the outraged (“How can you talk against the national interest?”) to more complex questions about the use of archival material, and the ethics of representation.

I asked Arghya to mail me some of his first reactions and can do no better than to quote from some of what he said:
It was difficult to see through/decode the authorial intent in Red Ant Dream, perhaps like most of Sanjay Kak’s films. I say that as a compliment, since personally speaking other readings/viewings of it are wasting chances of real dialogues that the making of a film like Red Ant provides us with. The reasons go back to/come from the filmmaker himself who lets the film be touched, unmade, transformed in the making… after every film if something in us changes it’s perhaps the movement that the maker himself has given himself and us…”
“It is futile to try and apply the old rules to live a new age. Politically, Cinematically, Humanly; impossible. We have more and more of invaluable documentaries that make us more and more helpless. But the Truth should liberate us. Or shouldn’t it? Is it the Problem?Red Ant Dream invites a large part of its audience to re-invent histories and definitions. It looks to suspend feckless arguments, taking sides or emptying the seat with the helpless gaze of an informed philanthrope. Till one begins to see .. as in/through Red Ant Dream, an Epic that challenges us to read it.
Denied worlds de-spatialize and connect through the film, it’s ebbs and flows dissolve capricious power-loving chronologies, binaries etc.
Rivers, mountains sold/unsold; Wars, open/closed; past/present…
Cinema sometimes breaks the chain by letting itself dream with the red ant. And that doesn’t begin nor end with the film itself.”

Amen to that!