Sunday, November 30, 1997


INTERVIEW WITH FILMMAKER RAHUL ROY was conducted during Film South Asia 1997
By Sushma Joshi

RR: I got involved in gender issues by accident. I had a lot of friends in college, when I was doing my BA - some of my women friends who were feminists were doing a street play and they wanted a "man". So they sort of roped me in. And then gradually what happened was that the groups got involved in various sorts of protests and issues. Then I got into TV and film school and did my Masters there.

Immediately after that, I started working with my - at that time my girlfriend, now I am married to her - and most of her films were around gender issues. But somehow, throughout, I was very uncomfortable. And by gender issues, I mean basically women's issues. I was extremely unhappy throughout. I couldn't understand what I was so uncomfortable with. It was after almost five, six years - more - that what was actually bothering me was that my involvement with women's issues - I was not involved with it in my position of being a man. I was taking an almost genderless position in my relationship to the filmmaker and the subject.

Once I understood that, over the last couple of years I have started addressing my films from the perspective of being a man, on gendered terms. Now I am focusing on making films about men and masculinity, that is my current obsession...Violence kind of fits in. I believe, the way the two sexes interact and communicate with each other, has lots to to do with violence. Violence is the language of communication between the two genders.

According to me - i might be wrong, but I am not a theoretician or an academic - I feel that ultimately what we are looking for is a genderless society. I don't believe that gender as one of the necessary ways in which society has to be organized. I think the point that we always get caught in is this whole thing - that men are not feminine enough, or that women have to break stereotypes and identify with more masculine symbols. But I think that that is not the answer. I don't mean to in any way suggest that women have to lose their female identity, or that men have to lose their male identity.There are certain things which come almost from their bodies, certain energies - which I think are very important, this distinction between the two sexes. But masculinity and femininity are cultural constructs. And I think those have to be destroyed, for any gender equality, for violence between the genders to disappear.

One of the ways around which society has been organized is around notions of patriarchy, which is a power sytem, which is very important for the way we approach our social and political lives. The genders play out a certain roles, certain ideologies - that since the inception of setting out patriarchal basis for society.

INT: Men and women have not achieved cultural equality - what's stopping it?

RR: All these factors - cultural, political, economic - they are all linked together. The point is that the power that is experienced by both genders- or the powerlessness that is experienced by both genders has to be removed. So many factors are so critical to this whole relationship between the genders. So equality as a concept has to permeate through these various notions - not just notions, but these relationships, whether it is economic, cultural, emotional, romantic, whatever. All round throwing away of patriarchy - easier said that done, but the point is that at least we have a fair understanding of it now - we know that that's the way we have organized ourselves. We know what we have to dismantle.

INT: What was working with your wife like? And what were the problems you encountered in terms of decision making and whether there was conflict between you two?

RR: Any man or woman working together - there's bound to be problems. The way we are constructed socially -we carry our baggages. Sometimes, very unconsciously, we behave from our gendered positions. So it is not really possible not to have conflicts. People say it is - I'd like to see that. So there has always been problems - but the point is that we both understood the problems. So I pointed out the problems to her, so ultimately we could understand. We actually enjoyed working together. Looking at the world together. IT's been nice, as well as had its bad moments.

INT: Are you planning to work together on projects with her in the future? Or have you two decided to have your own separate projects?

RR: We will be working together in projects in the future. At the moment, we have taken the decision to work separately since we had become too intertwined and interdependent. So we thought that separating ourselves from each other - because what happens is that often two people are working together - you sort of start becoming experts on one part of the work. That becomes really limiting. When you know the other person is taking the responsibility for something else, you withdraw. You are not really participating - so we took a decision to work separately in order to experience other aspects of work. But we will be working together... At the moment, we are working separately.

Saturday, November 01, 1997

INTERVIEW: Anand Patwardhan

By Sushma Joshi

INT: How did you start making films?
AP: Partly by accident. I had a scholarship where I was studying in America, in 1970, in Brandeis University. It was the time of the Vietnam War. We were organizing against the War in our university. There were lots of anti-Vietnam war demonstrations so I borrowed equipment from the theatre department - although that wasn't what I was studying, I was studying sociology. But, as part of the anti-war effort, I filmed some of the demonstrations against the Vietnam War. That's when I began.

1971 was also the time when millions of refugees were coming from Bangladesh - although it wasn't Bangladesh yet, it was East Pakistan. We organized a hunger fast for a day in our university to send the money to the refugees. I made my first completed film then, asking people whether they were eating or not on that day. That film was called Business as Usual, because we found funny responses.
Then I came back to India and worked in a village project for a few years. I wasn't doing anything in film, but I did a small film strip with still photographs of a TB clinic that we were running for rural patients. In 1974, I joined the JP Movement in Bihar - a student movement against corruption, and made a film about the Bihar movement. That movement ended up with the Emergency being declared in India. The film became an underground film, because it was banned. During the Emergency, I also began a film about political prisoners, which was completed after the Emergency ended. It was called Prisoners of Conscience.

My filmmaking has always been related to other work that I was doing. The last years, I have mainly been making films against religious violence. I have made three long films about the rise of fundamentalism in India The first one was called In Memory of Friends, and it deals with Punjab. Second part is Ram Ke Naam, about Ayodhya, and the third part is called Father, Son and Holy War. In each of the three films, I have dealt with the issue of communal violence, but with a slightly different analytical tool.

In the first film, I talk about class struggles, because it was the idea of Bhagad Singh and the Left Revolutionaries who believed that class solidarity would be the antidote to communalism. If the working class realised that it was class issues that mattered, not religious divide…

In Ram ke Naam, the second film, I was looking not only at the Left's response to communalism, but also to the caste question. The people who have benefited from the revivalism are basically the upper castes. The lower castes have been oppressed for centuries. So they really have nothing to gain from the revivalism. The lower castes were not even allowed in temples, so why should they fight for temples?

In this film, I also talk about Liberation theologies. What has happened in India is that Hinduism has been hijacked by Hindutva, by a group that wants to use this only for political gain and financial gain. It has nothing to do with the essence of Hinduism necessarily. There are disputes about what Hinduism actually means. It is so broad. One of the main protagonists of Ram Ke Naam was the priest of the Ram Temple who actually spoke out against the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Hindu fanatics. He was, by the way, murdered a year and a half after the film was made.

Then I made Father, Son and Holy War, which deals with the connection between gender and communalism. Mainly between machismo - the male psyche that is behind the violence that is taking place.

INT: So you think violence is derived from models of masculinity?
AP: As I pointed out in the film, its not necessarily only men who are doing it, because women are part of the same patriarchal system. It wouldn't survive if it were all only men doing it. So I show women using patriarchal language to rouse thousands and thousands of men against Muslims - you men are impotent, that kind of thing.

INT: Do you think we need to be moving towards a new construction of gender in order to deal with violence?
AP: I think we have to break down this masculine-feminine thing completely, because these are constructions which people have been socialised into. I don't think that there is a biological difference, and if there is, we can't do anything about it, so we need not even try. So the fact we are trying means that there is not a biological difference. These are social baggage that we are carrying, images of manhood...

INT: What kind of alternatives do you envision or propose?
AP: There is no distinct answer to this, but we have to discourage and laugh out of existence those ideas of manhood and masculinity which is perpetuated by advertising, perpetuated by everything we read, the posters that we see. Everything. So that's why Father, Son and Holy War tried to show you what popular culture has done with this as well. One has to basically reunderstand what it means to be a human being, and forget about male and female.

INT: Have you done other work in areas of violence?
AP: No. It's not that I set out to do something against violence. For instance, the Narmada Diary is about a non-violent movement. It happens that the movements that I have been attracted to most were people fighting with non-violence as the means. But I have also made films on Naxlites who in fact were using armed struggle.

My main concern is to fight for social change, but my personal opinion says - violence finally dehumanizes, even when its violence for a just cause. So I have problems with that, although I can't actually sit in judgement over others who have chosen this as a means to use. I couldn't say that in South Africa people shouldn't use armed struggle to overthrow Apartheid. I don't think that personally I can impose my views on other people. But I myself was drawn towards non-violence as a means to fight.

INT: You started out being involved with Vietnam. Was that part of the reason for being drawn towards non-violence, since that is associated with non-violence?
AP: Not necessarily. Not everybody was non-violent. (Laugh). Yeah, yeah, flower-power and all that. People in my university even killed a policeman and robbed a bank to protest against the War. So there were all sorts of people doing all sorts of things.

INT: So were you ever involved in violent acts of protest?
AP: No. Non-violent protests, for which we were arrested.

INT: Do you think your documentaries have had some effects in mitigating the current communalist violence in India?
AP: Asking about violence is not the right question. The films that I made are not specifically aimed towards fighting violence. Each one deal with different issues. They deal with issues of social justice.

INT: Do you get reactions?
AP: Oh yeah, I get that all the time. I also travel all over the country, showing films and having discussions, so I can get a fairly good idea of what effect they are having. That also changes how I make them interacting with the audience.

INT: Can you give us some examples?
AP: If you want a dramatic example, I had people who were doing Kar Seva, who actually went as part of the Hindu fanatic brigade to demolish the Babri Mosque. But after seeing Ram Ke Naam, they came and told me that it had changed their perspective and that they had left the party. There were two people, and probably more that I don't meet. So I get enough feedback to make the whole exercise worthwhile.

Even though my films are not normally shown on TV so they don't have a huge, big audience. They were finally shown on TV after a big fight in the courts. Then they reached millions of people but normally the films are shown when we take our projectors around. Or by video. It wasn't banned per se; it was just that TV wouldn't show it. Three of them were shown on TV after I won a court case. Three court cases.

INT: What are your future projects?
AP: I am doing a film on fish workers right now.

INT: What's the focus?
AP: Fighting against the factory ships. These foreign factory ships that are depleting the oceans around the whole region. And against aquaculture which is destroying the coastline, depriving the coastal community of drinking water, because all the water is becoming saline.

Monday, October 06, 1997

The Sound of Silence (1997)

Layers of miscommunication between a well-meaning American couple and a visiting Sherpa man, compounded with the dilemma of the Nepalese filmmaker who is caught in between as interpreter, prompt the viewer to review the limits to language and communication. Innocent discussions about food and culture reveal much about relative positions, through statements that could only be made through untranslated remarks and silences.

Tuesday, September 30, 1997

Sound of Silence

The Sound of Silence was screened at the Young Asian Currents in the Yamagata Documentary Film Festival in 1997. Here is the link to the festival:

NEPAL Publications / index / New Asian Currents

The Sound of Silence

Director: Sushma Joshi
Source: Sushma Joshi
c/o PR Joshi PO Box 140, Kathmandu NEPAL
NEPAL / 1996 / English, Nepali / Color / Video / 60 min
Sushma Joshi

Grew up in Nepal. When she was nineteen, she went on to the US to do her undergraduate studies at Brown University. She majored in International Relations, which led her to be especially interested in questions of communication between different cultures and the power of representations. This interest in cultural issues and ethnography led her to take classes in anthropology and documentary. The Sound of Silence came out of these different interests. She is at present working in Kathmandu, doing freelance journalism and web work, learning the tabla and living in an old, old house in the middle of Patan, an area that started out as a mediaeval town of the Kathmandu Valley. She hopes to be able to do more work in video and perhaps also CD-ROMs in the future.

In this video, layers of discommunication between a well-meaning American couple and a visiting Sherpa man, compounded with the dilemma of the Nepalese filmmaker who is caught in between as interpreter, prompt the viewer to review the limits to language and communication. Innocent discussions about food and culture reveal much about relative positions, through statements that could only be made through untranslated remarks and silences.

Director's Statement
The Sound of Silence came out of production classes in the Modern Culture and Media department at Brown university. This is about the communication/miscommunication between a Sherpa man and his host family who brought him over to the US, so that his adopted daughter, who was deaf, could go to school.
I was interested in examining issues of subjectivity/objectivity, representations and the question of "truth" rather than in making purely journalistic works.This has led me to edit in an experimental style that can seem disorienting to audiences used to a linear narrative.
I was trying, with my editing, to catch situations where the ambiguities and contradictions of everyday life blurred into how people perceived and represented themselves on camera. I was also interested in trying to use the video that I had caught to think about larger issues of structural inequality, privilege and power, and in interrogating my own position as translator and mediator.

Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival Organizing Committee