Collective's initiative to spread people-centric films

Collective's initiative to spread people-centric films

For more than a century, cine-goers have felt getting transported to a different world, when watching films in cool interiors and mostly calm ambience  of the movie theatre, far away from the maddening crowd.

The People’s Film Collective, however, has taken cinema out of the confines of a dark, air-conditioned auditorium, out in the open, bang in the middle of a bustling bazaar.

Armed with a cinema projector and a foldable screen, the Kolkata-based group is changing conventional ideas of film distribution, screening “films that matter” everywhere, from a busy intersection in Kolkata to a closed jute mill where workers are fighting for wages and even at villages, where the season’s flavour is usually the latest masala pot-boiler. Meet Dwaipayan Banerjee, Kasturi Basu and Durba Rudra; in their mid-30s, academically accomplished, politically aware and out to make a difference.

It all started in May 2013 with the screening of a documentary film on the plight of workers from Gauripur Jute Mill in Naihati under the North 24 Parganas district, around an hour’s train ride from Kolkata, made by the Collective itself.

The mill, like many others dotting both banks of the river Hooghly, has been closed for some years, with workers demanding the management clear their provident fund and gratuity. As the film unfolded in front of a rapt and involved audience, some broke down in tears and some sang songs of resistance.

Screening the film in front of 200-odd people made the Collective members realise it does not matter where a person comes from, one’s educational background or even general level of awareness; there is more to people’s liking than just the formula-laden, glitzy fare mainstream makers dish out every Friday. The scene was not much different when they screened Haobam Paban Kumar’s much-discussed 77-minute film, AFSPA, 1958, at the busy intersection of Bagbazar in north Kolkata.

“People got down from buses to check out what we were showing and many got stuck there, standing through the film. One such person, who stayed back for the screening, later joined us as a volunteer,” said Banerjee.

 Among the viewers was septuagenarian Rabi Saha, who stood transfixed, the images of brutality and violence in Manipur bringing back memories of bloodshed during the Naxalite movement between 1968 and 1972. He later expressed how the film reminded him of the crackdown on young men and women the Bengal state machinery launched under Chief Minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray.

The Collective is also a part of the Cinema of Resistance movement, started by film maker Sanjay Joshi from UP’s Gorakhpur in 2006 as an initiative to spread people-centric films. In keeping with this mission, the Collective started the annual Kolkata People’s Film Festival (KPFF), not to be confused with the star-studded Kolkata International Film Festival. In its third year this year, from January 22 to 24, the festival has become a meeting ground of activists and film makers, who are eager to push the boundaries of cinema, through documentaries, shorts and even feature films.

 Kasturi, who moderated a session including activists and alternative film makers from across India, concluded that looking at “trajectories people’s cinema has taken over the years”, it has become clear that it has the potential “to emerge as an alternate voice and alternate media, breaking the status quo of ‘mainstream’ films and media”.

 She pointed out that the Collective has undertaken a project to initiate documentation and have a dialogue between similar collectives and individuals from all over the country.
Dwaipayan, who is rooted in the trade union movement and Leftist politics since students days, summed up the reason behind the Collective and its purpose in one of the festival’s session.

“The ‘culture industry’ that is held up as benchmark by dominant classes in our society no longer reflects peoples’ lives in any way and more often than not portrays a much distorted version of our dystrophic reality. This creates a need for alternate film making as well as screening,” he said, adding on the need for the political Left to look beyond political confines.

“If a political ideology confines itself only to political activities, agitations and protest response to oppression, it will eventually lose its ground. It would be limiting to understand any political ideology only in terms of economic struggles,” he said. Banerjee also stressed on the need to create a ‘social Left’ in juxtaposition with the political Left, much like the right wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). “Much has to be learnt from the way RSS works amidst the people. They work closely with people at the grassroots level and thus leave their ideological imprints in everyday discourses,” he pointed out.

Dwaipayan explained that even though this process “might come across as non-significant, it has a profound socio-cultural impact in the long run, and prepares a solid ground for the political right”, stressing on the need “to address people culturally, not only from a pedestal, but also from below; not just during political struggles, but also during people’s leisure time; not just with an immediate vision, but thinking long term”.

Social responsibilities aside, the Collective has also been taking an alternate way of managing its economical aspects. Rooted in the belief that “sponsorship is censorship” they stay afloat without financial support from corporate houses, governments or agencies funding NGOs.

The Collective runs on monthly contributions from members and donations received from audiences at their screenings, which are all free. Although it is not a part of their agenda, the Collective could end up on the very screens they put up at public spaces someday, themselves the subject of a documentary.

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