July 20, 2013 : We did 3 screenings of Red Ant Dream this past Sunday in Bangalore, and this post is from Ekta, who co-ordinated the 2.30 pm screening on behalf of the media and arts collective Maraa.

Maara audience

Maara audience

The event was hosted on the first floor of the very intriguing ‘rack-supported’ structure of Jaaga, a space for tech groups, artists and social organizations to meet and share their work.
Hence this guest post: from Ekta, of Maraa, at Jaaga.

Dear Sanjay

Consider this a letter to you in response to the film. It’s a long one, may be you can read it with a hot cup of chai when you have some time on your hands:
I remember myself wondering when I watched Jashn-e-Azadi, I wanted to ask you how do you negotiate the distance between you and the image you are creating? But I guess over the years, of making films myself, and also, listening to and observing your patience with audiences, and your quiet moments with yourself, it seems that the lines start blurring between the image and the image maker. I am still grappling with that one… but it seemed as though you showed us what you saw.

As for the film, I think it is an extremely important film to be seen. And I think it captured the sound scape of pockets of resistance that are waiting to be connected. The sound from the loudspeakers, mics and other gadgets, seemed like they were trying to reach out far, far, away. No doubt Chhattisgarh will be heard by Punjab, will be heard by Odisha, will be heard in the North East, and this sort of collective consciousness will happen, it is bound to. No matter how fragmented it all seems now, making those links in our minds is critical.

Jaaga screen

Jaaga screen

There are two particular shots that moved me in the film: one where the man screams out mic testing, one, two, three. In itself, you bring our attention to this device which gets personified as a catalyst in people’s movements. And there is another very brief moment we spend with a blacksmith who interrupts the speech by Comrade Lingaraj Azad in Niyamgiri – that pinned it down for me. People will stand for themselves and will not give up, true resistance will come when you and your loved ones are vulnerable, hunted and/or displaced.  I wish that such interruptions were more frequent in the film, given the quality of numbness it transmits through both sound and image.

There were some quick silences in the film, which I wish breathed longer, especially some of the cutaways. I saw great wisdom, a strength of survival on all the faces in your film, I would have liked to stay with them for longer, with their wrinkles, their hands and feet. It is incredible to note that they grow old in these places, the question of displacement is unthinkable, and disturbing. I believe that just by the premise of their age, and the will to live so long here, is reason enough to for them to live where they know their ways, to live where they feel an attachment to sunlight, air, wind, among others. And in the film, there were those opportunities and several stolen moments with the camera.

The found footage, was of course a revelation, given that it was the first time, we were actually seeing the Maoists. It was very disturbing, and I was particularly intrigued by the camera person who made those videos, for he points to the goat and the chicken as creatures who now be lonely! It is quite humbling to note that the Maoists did actually let their Chattisgarh policemen friends off. In the play where the colonizer roamed around in straw hats on horses, followed by the Brigadier on horseback in the Jungle Warfare College, was an interesting juxtaposition. I have always somehow made a connection in my head about the British and the Indian State, and naturally I think of Kurtz from Heart of Darkness.

Your voice-over almost disappears in the second half of the film and kind of gets taken over by Comrade Azad. Was that deliberate? Just wondering in terms of structure, for it stood out for me. I have learnt to like voice overs after watching Herzog’s films, but in Red Ant Dream, I was curious about the adivasi’s POV sometimes, even though they told stories and experiences, I missed their opinions, philosophies, desires, fears. In the film, they seemed to fit into a pre-decided framework. I suppose that is so since it is a story you were telling from your POV. (Perhaps this film was not meant to go down that route). It seemed to me, in moments, that the information you provided in the film, alienated me from the poetics of the visual imagery and disconnected me from the characters. I wanted to know them more closely.

Jaaga tree-top

Jaaga tree-top

In the Punjab part, although I love Pash, I wanted to see more of how his poetry manifests itself in everyday lives of people. I wonder how his poetry could translate against the landscape of Punjab. To follow those people in protest and resistance was quite an experience – plays, songs,  posters, flags, but the conflict there was not articulated as much as it was in Niyamgiri and Bastar.

There is something very refreshing about the sound design, I really enjoyed even the little subtleties, for instance the sound of trains and horns merging with the industrial landscape in Orissa. Many months ago I wanted to screen Where The Green Ants Dream, one of my favorite films,  particularly for its sound design, in the contest of land grabs in rural Karnataka. But at Maraa we debated that the links we make between the film and the local context is critical. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but then I heard of Red Ant Dream and I thought, this could not be a coincidence. The next thing we know we are organizing its screenings in Bangalore.

I am sure you have seen Herzog’s film. I feel the poignancy of protest comes in the stubborn act of playing the Didge, as it reverberates and pins down protest and resistance in a very powerful way. Herzog also shows powerlessness when there is no translator left for an aboriginal  who is fighting for his land in a court trial. These moments do not necessarily define the struggle for the viewer, but pushes it further and further in the realms of ambiguity and uncertainty, which makes the times we live in feel more dangerous and precarious, as it is. You see this protest in the adivasis of Bastar, especially the young girls.

There is something  under the surface, we will have to go beyond scratching this surface. We would like to show your film and Herzog’s film to push the conversation on how the language of cinema can sharpen or take away from the content – of course, one is fiction and the other a documentary, should  be fun.

Politically, I think you make your point very clearly, however I still wonder about your response at the Mount Carmel screening, when you said people will take sides. I wonder if there are only two sides, or are there more. There were many people who got scared and fled to Khammam, at the time of Operation Green Hunt. War also creates fear and that leads to another path. It’s not necessary that anger always translates to violence. I can understand to some extent why and how it does, but many people are incapable of violence, people carry a lot of self doubt and morality with them. The choice that the Maoists have made, comes from a very complex space and this choice requires one to see beyond themselves. What motivates them to take this, unlike soldiers of the CRPF, is something that cannot be generalized. It is that mind space that I am curious about.

Anyway, I have said a lot, but I am making it a habit to share my thoughts and views with people we invite for screenings, performances etc. Somehow it is not enough to say the film worked for me or did not. I wanted to put it down in words, and think of this as an ongoing conversation.

Warmth

ekta

Jaaga 4