Technology, Democracy and People
It is generally believed that technology is an outcome of the growth and development of human wisdom. From this point of view, technology becomes the criterion to judge whether a community is developed or underdeveloped. This perception of development is used and propagated by the West. The West believes that a country lagging behind in technology is invariably backward and must improve its technological base in order to ‘develop’. This, however, is a much publicised myth. Without taking the social structure and its necessities into consideration, no technology can benefit the populace. It can only strengthen a powerful few. And, the fact that two distinct countries exist even within a ‘developed’ country (e.g. America of the Whites and America of the Blacks ) – one developed and the other not – technology alone as a measure for progress is a widespread lie. Technology is worthwhile only when it improves the life of common people and enables their democratic participation in decision making.
The recent growth of electronic and audio visual media has once again brought questions of technology, democracy and empowerment of people to the forefront. Information revolution, viewed at par with the industrial revolution, has been possible with the phenomenal growth of the electronic and audio visual media. Today information is being marketed as a key element in enhancing people’s knowledge, naturally leading to the democratisation of society. However this growth has hardly come to any use of the common people whether in their right to information or level of consciousness. For instance, the numerous satellite channels have merely exposed the bulk of its viewers to cheap entertainment, alien life styles and, of course, a whole range of products that they can neither use, nor afford. Till the control of electronic media remains in the hands of commercial interests, it can never respond to democratic aspirations of the common people. In order to achieve that, it has to evolve a new perspective.
A number of films (and video films) reflecting a new perspective were made in the past decade which, on the one hand created awareness among people, and on the other, mobilised support for the issues they dealt with. Films on Narmada, Baliapal, Netharhat, Chilka or Behrampada are some of those films. Increasingly democratic movements are acknowledging the potential of such films. There is also a sincere attempt to evolve a methodology for the effective use of such films. This process, however, must be spread far and wide. Also, along with evolving a methodology for their use, allied issues of distribution, translation (into local languages), popularising, taking the technology to the grassroots as well as financial aspects of such a medium should also be discussed. Only by being an integral part of people’s aspirations and struggles can this medium be liberated from the commercial interests and elites of the society. Only then can it effectively challenge the dominant use or abuse of such a powerful tool.
In Media Mail we bring to you news, information, developments and debates on media. We believe that a new understanding and perspective on media can be built up only with regular interaction between, and participation of, more and more people. We will be happy to receive regular feedback from all readers and welcome letters, suggestions, news or relevant information that we can include in forthcoming issues.
When Media Lies
Of late there has been a significant rise in the intolerance of the mainstream section of the society towards expressions of difference or deviation. This is particularly so in the case of the most marginalized and underprivileged strata.
This was corroborated by a letter sent to us by Sri Prakash, an independent video film maker from Ranchi.He has been making a series of films on the tribal initiatives in the Chottanagpur belt. His letter says that he along with two journalists from Delhi had visited a tribal village displaced by the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd at Jadugoda in the East Singhbhum district of Bihar.
Entry to the UCIL premises as well as its dumping grounds is strictly prohibited for security reasons. On their return from the village, the police took them to the station for interrogation, after seizing the film roll of one of the reporters, they returned the camera along with the price of the film. The videotape was also checked and they found nothing objectionable. The whole matter was handled very amicably. But later, the incident was reported in a totally different light, by two Hindi newspapers, Prabhat khabar, 28/10/96 and Ranchi Express, 25/10/96, blowing up the issue. The facts were overshadowed by suggestions of espionage and anti-national activities, thereby confusing and misleading the readers, with a seeming intent. One of the headlines read, “Four arrested, released” , when they were simply questioned by the police. Although these reports appeared championing the cause of national security, the motives behind them are obvious-suppressing any voice other than the dominant, especially so where media is a weapon of the underdogs.
The intolerance of a section of the press to peoples’ assertion in their socio-political lives, is demonstrated by two earlier reports appeared in the Hindustan Times, Patna edition. The first one was a boxed report on Kiski Raksha, a film by Sriprakash on peoples’ resistance to displacement by a firing range for the army at Netrahat. Though the report was done as the army’s viewpoint, which called the film “staged by professional artists”, the newspaper’s stand could hardly be hidden under the caption, Propaganda, Lies and Videotapes (“Propaganda, Lies and videotapes”, September 11, 1994,Hindustan Times, Patna). The filmmaker managed to obtain an apology from the editor after two years, in the form of a tiny corrigendum appeared in the same paper (Corrigendum to “Propaganda, Lies and Videotapes*, September 8, 1996, Hindustan Times, Patna). But his reputation as a fine ‘liar’ created in the minds of the readers could not be wiped away by such obscure corrigenda.
The disappointments are largely because the let down is at the hands of the very media which many a time is the only beacon of hope in times of political gloom.
Singing Against the Tide
At a time when entertainment and culture comes wrapped in sponsorships of industrial houses, here was a man who enthralled the audience with his ballads of love and hope. There was no showmanship, no hysteria, no pyrotechnics woven around his concerts.
Pete Seeger was virtually a banned name in the US during the ’50s and ’60s for his role in the Civil Rights Movement. He campaigned along with Martin Luther King for the black rights. It was no surprise then that he was the target of the witchhunt for communists and dissidents by the Mc Carthy Government. Though Bill Clinton’s America acknowledged the great folk singer with the country’s highest artistic honour, he is far from being the mass pop cult figure.
Seeger was singing to a packed audience at the Sin Fort Auditorium in New Delhi in November 1996. He was in India after 33 years. Similar enthused fans in Calcutta and Bangalore was proof enough to the fascination he still holds over his admirers in a world dominated by canned culture.
He sang along with his grandson with the bare minimum instruments to accompany his voice when the audience listened to him in rapturous awe. Though at 77 his voice was not exactly in tune, the audience was all ears, not just for his songs, but for the the spirit of them as well. Where have all the flowers gone ?, If I had a hammer, Midnight special, All mixed up, One blue sky above us, John Henry and, of course, We shall overcome are some of the songs that have captured the imagination of people across the continents. Seeger had traveled far and wide picking up songs and stories from all corners of the world, including Raghupati Raghava from India.
Phenomenon like Pete Seeger only reinforces the strength of the other voice when hysteria and hype that comes along with the concerts meant for a channelled culture is norm of the day.
Workshop on Alternate Culture
A cold December evening in Delhi. The audience seated in the auditorium anxiously waiting for the play to begin. Suddenly a loud crash draws their attention to the rear end of the hall. Some chairs had fallen out of place. Someone was groaning helplessly. All rushed to the spot to find a young man in a fit of epilepsy. Some sprinkled water on his face, some put a leather slipper on his nose, some tried heart massage, all tried their best. But nothing could help the unconscious man. The environment was tense. They all decided to take him to the nearest hospital. Then the fallen man opened his eyes and stood up with a big smile. “Don’t worry”, he said, “I am fine. This was only the beginning of our play, and you, the audience, have also played a part”. What followed was a moving performance, without any prop or light, of a play on the hazards of radiation.
Later he explained that their theatre group uses this technique to draw the audience and actively involve them in the play. “We have no money for props, costumes or equipment. We only have our bodies and the environment around us. But we definitely have a message to give to the people”. This was Johney, a member of Vimochana Vedi, a theatre group from Kerala, one of the participants in a workshop on Alternate Culture organised by Pratidhwani. Between 28~30th of December, 1996, some 70 odd people belonging to song, theatre, social action and progressive student groups from all over India, came together in the premises of Gandhi Darshan, Delhi, in a search for the nature of alternate culture that is so much necessary in the society today.
The three day workshop was a mix of experience sharing, training and performance of various media such as poetry, songs, puppetry, theatre, as well as video films. A strong critique of the degrading trend of dominant culture emerged from all the sessions, reiterating the need to look for alternatives in the social movements and folk culture. One of the sessions was dedicated to the poetry of Gorakh Pandey who was always part of a political movement and spoke the language of the people in his poetry. Apart from intense discussions and interaction, a number of interesting performances – plays, folk and peoples’ songs, qawali on human love etc., – were staged by the groups every evening.
Pratidhwani, a cultural group based in Delhi, has been involved with group songs and street theatre for over 15 years. It has been instrumental in inspiring and training numerous social action groups and mass organisations in developing songs and theatre for campaigns. Pratidhwani has also composed tunes for a number of revolutionary verses by poets like Sahir Ludhianvi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Gorakh Pandey.
“It was very enlightening to interact with so many like minded people with such vast and varied experiences. Also, their wholehearted participation inspired us a lot. The entire workshop was organised with minimum resources and all participants came here on their own money. But we feel it is only a beginning and there is a need for much more”, said P. K Basant of Pratidhwani. According to Shubhendu, another organiser from Pratidhwani, “It was a good beginning but we would have been greatly benefited by the presence of Gursharanji, Gadar and several other groups who wanted to, but could not attend the workshop”.
A Vision for Television : f(i)f +v
Drawn together by the common demand for an active and vigorous film culture, the Forum for independent Film and Video, f(i)+v,seeks to bring together film makers and technicians working in film and video, with researchers, scolars, film enthusiasts and students of film and communication.
f(i)f +v represents diverse viewpoints and methods in relation to image making and recognizes no position or approach as being central or privileged. The forum is aimed at providing a platform for all those interested in the development of independent film making in the media, by bringing about a climate conducive to the increased production and distribution of such films.
f(i)f +v enjoins a Public Broadcasting Service which can consolidate, sustain and expand the efforts of the above objectives. Its perspective on a parallel broadcasting system is guided by three essential values:
1. Autonomy from direct political or commercial interests
2. Access to expanding production base and to a wider spectrum of society
3. Plurality in ideas, styles and genres.
The PBS is expected to be a comprehensive, layered structure that works at national, regional and local levels. The other agendas on the list are public screening venues that are free of political control and commercial pressure and soliciting increased funding from concerned institutional bodies to support independent filmmaking.
For more information contact:
Forum for Independent Film and Video, C/4048, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi 110 070
An evening with Adoor Gopalakrishnan
On 15 December 1996, Adoor Gopalakrishnan showed his latest film ‘Kathapurushan’ at the Max Mueller Bhawan, New Delhi. He also participated in a discussion that followed the film.
‘Kathapurushan’ is a film that encapsulates the history of the last 60 years through the life of the protagonist who is a male child born to a rich
landed family in Kerala. Historic events are interwoven into the life of the protagonist in an incredibly lyrical fashion. The aim of the film, in Adoor’s words is “the impact of the history rather than the historic events themselves”. Adoor adds that the although the film is not auto-biographical it is inspired from his life in the sense that “I found that I had lived through very important periods in history. Historically, the last 50 years were very important to India. In the last 50 years we had seen the independence, the death of Gandhi, the first time the communists coming to power through franchise, land reforms in Kerala, the naxalite movement. I wanted to represent this time period, and its impact, in a film.”
About his film making Adoor says “I make films that allow the audience to interact. Because I respect the audience. I cannot spoon feed them like it is done in the commercial films. Many things are unsaid, unstated and left for the audience to connect, interpret, derive, construe and conclude.” This method, according to him, allows audience participation and does not lead to passive viewing.
Although Adoor has not lacked artists, and even top Malayali artists like Mamooty are keen to work with him, his working methods sometimes confuse his actors. Adoor never gives the script to the actors. They are only told a synopsis of the story and the character they are to play. They are given the dialogues during the shooting and rehearsals are held in the presence of the director. Giving the script earlier he feels is “dangerous as they will interpret it in their own way and will invariably misinterpret it or stylise it wrongly.” But the effect of not knowing what they will be doing from day to day is compounded by the fact that Adoor’s film do not have climaxes that are a common occurences in commercial Malayalam films. Adoor narrated an amusing experience of a well known actress who, on being informed that her part was over and she could leave on the following day, asked “but what about the climax? Aren’t we going to shoot that?”
Adoor’s main lament, that was also the undercurrent of the entire discussion, was his feeling that people are not seeing his films. He feels that there exists a misconception in people about these kinds of films and they are not even willing to see for themselves what the film is like.
He added that the tendency of the Government to declare it ‘(entertainment) tax free’ adds to the ‘ problem and ensures that people will not see the film. He feels people are willing to pay to see cinema and ‘tax free’ status only classifies the film into a slots that the general audience do not identify with. Adoor mentioned that while ‘Kathapurushan’ was playing in a theatre in Trivandrum there were many enquiries about the next change which was ‘Raja Hindustani’, a commercial Hindi film.
Adoor also feels that women are lesser keen to see his kinds of films than men. Although he could not authenticate this feeling of his he mentioned an incident where he was witness to an exchange between a couple and the husband wanted to see Adoor’s film while the wife was not only reluctant but she dragged her husband to another film. Adoor feels that under normal circumstances the women in the family decide the film to view and they don’t want to see his films.
Adoor seemed very perplexed about the lack of audience for his films. He was asked whether the problem was related to distribution whereby perhaps his films did not reach smaller towns or whether it was a general audience rejection of his kinds of films. Adoor did not have a clear answer to this but he expressed his faith that he believes that there is an audience for such films. He suggested to the Delhi audience that they should associate somebody who could venture into screening such film in Delhi. The films should be screened in regular and commercial basis and he was sure that his effort would be commercially viable. He suggested that possibilities of using the smaller Siri Fort Auditorium for this venture could be investigated.
A Forum for Dissemination
On December 3 & 4, 1996, few filmmakers and social action groups met in Bangalore to look for ways of disseminating. It was decided to call this forum Netwaves.
The production of activist documentaries began in India in the decade of the 70′s. Some of the pioneers were people like Tapan Bose, Anand Patwardhan and Deepa Dhanraj. The very encouraging trend today is that many more people have joined the stream. Today there exists a list of scores of documentaries that can be termed as ‘activist films’. Most of these investigate or present social problems and/or peoples’ struggles and movements for social change.
The dissemination of these documentaries, however, is not adequate. There are reasons for that. The first and the foremost being that there is no distribution channel in lieu of which it becomes the onus of the filmmakers to disseminate their films. This they do with varying commitment as well as competence. The other problem is that of language as most films are made in one language and it is difficult to get page versions. Thirdly, there is no system for ensuring that social action groups receive regular information on films that are being produced.
Some of the discussion of the two days, that helped to spell out the objective of the forum, is presented below in brief.
All producers of activist documentaries and social action are severely handicapped by the lack of an organized network or channel for distribution. From a film maker’s point of view, dissemination would justify the high investment, ensure some financial returns and tap the potential of the medium, for social change, to its fullest. On the other hand, groups working for social transformation, often based in the grassroots, do not get adequate information on existing or new productions. Simultaneously, a need also exists for film makers to be in touch with groups for feedback.
By and large in India, the medium of video has yet to be integrated in the work of social action groups. Other media like songs, posters etc.,have been integrated easily but video, for many reasons, is yet to be used effectively as a medium of social change. It was decided that Netwaves should direct its energies towards this urgent task.
Besides, local language versions are a necessity and should also be on the agenda of Netwaves.
Finally, there is need to work towards extending and expanding the constituency of viewers of such documentaries.
Hence, Netwaves emerged as a response to the need to build greater communication and interaction between producers and users. The activities of Netwaves will be as follows :-
First of all, Netwaves aims to bridge the gap between film makers and social activists by setting up a distribution channel for activist videos which will ensure that social activists receive films in regular manner and film makers get a chance to recover costs. It will also provide assistance in the translation of films into regional languages. The forum will attempt to bring together social activists and film makers for regular interaction, sharing and learning from each other. A newsletter will provide all users with regular information about activist films and their access. Besides, Netwaves will also organise film festivals of activist videos in different regions and establish a media watch unit to keep track of the developments in media policy and corporate media. Finally, by conducting training workshops for social activists to facilitate them to use videos more effectively, Netwaves hopes to enlarge the constituency of the users of activist videos.
For further information contact:-
K. P. Sasi
c/o VAK, D 1 Shivdhum, 62 Link Road, Malad West, Bombay 400064
Okomedia award for Meera Dewan
‘Amrit Beeja-The Eternal Seed”, a documentary film by Meera Dewan, has been awarded the Promotional Prize of the City of Freiburg at the Okomedia’96 (International Ecological Film Festival) in Germany.
Earlier in 1995, the film had won an ward at the Bombay International Film Festival. This was followed by the national award in i996 as the best environment/conservation/preservation film. The 43 minute film is a celebration of Indian women’s understanding of nature and Vrikshayurveda, the ancient Indian plant science.
For more information contact
South View Productions, 73, Poorvi Marg,Vasant Vihar, New Delhi 110057
Korea: State Gags Video Group
On June 14th 1996, Mr. Dong-Won, the representative of the independent production group, Purn Production, and the film/video committee chairman of NFAC (National Federation for Alternative Culture), both located in Seoul, Korea, was charged for the violation of the Audio and Video Censorship Act and arrested. All video tapes and editing equipment owned by Purn Production were confiscated.
Founded in 1991, Purn Production is a non-profit video production group based in Korea, whose mission has been to provide alternative media to people. As a grassroots organisation, Purn Production gas campaigned against media control and State oppression.
Under military dictatorship, Purn Production has been subject to various forms of oppression. However, the 14th June raid came as a major shock – an extreme measure undertaken by the first non military civilian government.
The case for the raid is based upon the Audio and Video Censorship Act, passed recently. The new Act is an extension of the Act relating to video productions. Article 17 of the Act mandates “any person who desires to produce video works or to obtain a license for import, carrying-in for the purpose of selling, distributing, lending, offering for showing them, shall be in advance subject to a censorship of the Public performance Ethics Committee”. The violation of this law, as stated in Article 26 on Penal revision, results in “imprisonment for not more than two years, a fine not exceeding ten million won (equivalent to $12,500)”.
In 1995 NFAC and the Lawyers Group for a Democratic Society legally opposed the restrictive provisions of the Act. Concerned over it’s capability to regulate independent, creative activities by civilians who produce non commercial video work, the Democratic Lawyers Group even suggested specific alternatives.
There appears to be no ground for the arrest of Kim Dong-Won and the confiscation of video equipment owned by Purn Production. The revised Act does not all for the registration of non-commercial video productions. According to the preliminary notice on the Audio and Video Censorship Act’s Enforcement Ordinance Article 19, “any Korean video which is produced for educational, religious, industrial and training use and is recognised as sanctioned to article 20” will not be subiect to advanced censorship.
The members of NFAC and other alternative media groups have called for the immediate release of Kim Dong-Won along with the return of the ‘equipment confiscated from Purn Production.
For further information contact
Purn Production, Tel: 011-82-2-823-9124, Fax: 011-82-2-823-9125
Documents on South African and Indian Audio Visual Media
The Zebra Information centre based in Denmark and the Open Window Network, South Africa has jointly brought out a publication called Voices and Visions: Audio Visual Media in the New South Africa. This publication contains contributions by various people who in recent years have been actively involved in different areas of the South African audio visual media. It covers issues such as the political discussions currently taking place within the sector, the impact of new ‘bitcasting’ technologies, training opportunities, problems of funding, the transformation of the South African Broadcasting Corporation and the latest developments within the AV community media sector.
Copies priced at US$20 can be had from:
Zebra Information Centre, Elmegade 5.1, DK-2200 Kobenhavn N, Denmark.
On similar lines the Zebra Information Centre is planning to produce a booklet which focuses on the issue of “alternative/ non-dominant” audiovisual activities in India. The booklet is envisaged as a contribution to the development of the “alternative” communication in India. The articles in the publication will be written by film makers and media practitioners from India. Gargi Sen from Magic Lantern Foundation and Vibodh Parthasarathy are in charge of the compilation of the material. The printing and distribution of the booklet will be done by Zebra.
Culture, Communication and Power
The Centre de Sciences Humaines (French Centre for Human Sciences, CSH, New Delhi) and Centre for Cooperative Research in Social Sciences (CCRSS, Pune)are jointly organising a seminar on Culture, Communication and Power at the Convention Hall, Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi(India)between 21,22,23 April 1997.
This seminar attempts to respond to the interlinkages of culture, communication and power.
1. The role of commun ication in development programs:emerging issues and new challenges
2. Communication technology:problems and prospects
3. Gesture,speech and image:their status yesterday and today
For further information contact
Bernard Bel, CSH, 2, Aurangzeb road, New Delhi 110 011 (India), Fax:(91) 11 301 8480, Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Guy Poitevin, CCRSS, Rairkar Bungalow, 884 Deccan Gymkhana, Pune 411 004 (India), Email:email@example.com
International Festival for South Asian Documentaries
A film festival of South Asian Art Films and Documentaries is scheduled to be held in Kathmandu between 24 and 26 October1997,organised by the magazine Himal South Asia. The festival will have screening of films on South Asian themes from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka as well as from expatriate directors. The upcoming festival will be first in a regular series of events which over the years will focus on the different aspects of South Asian filmmaking. FSA’97 seeks to create an interactive venue in Kathmandu where those involved with documentary films will come together to exchange ideas and plans for future work. Besides directors and producers, the event will also be attended by critics, station-owners, buyers and connoisseurs from all over Asia. FSA 1997 will accept films and documentaries made after January 1995. All entries must reach the festival office by 1st July 1997.For entry forms and other queries, please contact:
Suman Basbet, Director,Film South Asia, PO Box 7251,Kathmandu, Nepal, Fax :+977-1-521013, e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
TV & Video Systems
With the rise of television and video viewership across the globe, the market today is flooded with television sets and VCRs of thousands of makes, shapes, sizes, gizmos, and above all, millions of complexly worded technical specifications, All leading manufacturers of TVs bombard their prospective buyers with exciting terms such as “17 System”, “165 wide screen”, “1250 lines HDTV”, “200 Watts PMPO”, “S Band & Hyper Band Tuner” and many others leaving a common user completely baffled. Also, with the rapid development of video technology and a race to make video recording equipment smaller, of higher quality and, of course, compete with each other, consumers are having to come to terms with various tape formats such as VHS, SVHS, VHS and SVHS-C, 8 mm, Hi8, U matic Low band, Hi Band, Betacam, Digital Beta and so on. Unable to fully grasp these terms, we often tend to resort to a technical malapropism using wrong terms to denote simple things. For instance, the terms “VHS Camera” or “U matic Camera” are used indiscriminately (of course incorrectly) to distinguish between a non professional and a professional camera. Or we tend to be very impressed with the technical jargon and end up buying equipment with facilities that are unnecessary, expensive or difficult to service. Let us try and decipher some of these terms to see if we really need them or not.
Perhaps we all know that the moving image in a motion picture is essentially made up of a number of pictures that are actually stills. If we shoot a moving car with a movie camera, we shoot 24 still pictures of the moving car in a second. When we run the film at the same speed, we get a moving image of the car. Each still frame remains in our memory for one-tenth of a second. Since the speed of the film is much faster, we fail to register the gaps between each frame, thus seeing a flickerless, smooth moving image. The concept in television is much the same except that in a film we see each frame as a whole while on television we actually see only a dot of light scanning the picture tube at a very high speed.
In layman’s term, the image we see on a television screen is made of a strong beam of electrons emitted by the electron gun in the picture tube of a TV. According to the electronic configuration of the image that it receives through an antenna or cable connection, this beam scans on the picture tube just as we scan letters, words, sentences, paragraphs and pages while reading a book – left to right and top to bottom, then turn to the next page. However, the speed of this scanning is very fast. This is where the TV standard comes in. According to the standard we use in India, PAL, the electron beam scans 625 lines to render one frame of the moving image. It scans 25 of such frames in one second. However, even then there is slight flicker. To reduce that, the beam scans all the odd lines first (1,3,5,7 onwards) to make half the frame, called the odd field. Thereafter it scans the even lines making up the even field. Hence, it actually scans 50 fields in a second. But the entire process takes place so fast that our eyes are unable to register the minute aberrations. Broadly, three major TV standards are used in the world. They are:
UK, India, most commonwealth countries
625 lines, 25 frames/ see. 50 fields
USA, Japan, South America
525 lines, 30 frames / sec, 60 fields
625 lines, 25 frames / sec, 50 fields
but a different frequency for color
However, as technology developed to make things, in this case sharper and closer to natural, several variations within these basic standards came into being. Some of them are NTSC 3.38, NTSC 4.43, MESECAM etc. Even PAL has several clones, PAL-D, PAL-GI PAL-I etc., with subtle differences between each.
Since the above specifications deal with the video signal itself, they are also applicable to recording equipment and all other machines that are used for production, viewing or broadcast. For example, a pre-recorded tape that comes from America should always be checked for its standard. Most likely it will be recorded in NTSC and cannot be played back on an ordinary VCR that operates on PAL. In case a tape is recorded in SECAM, we can view it in our PAL VCR and TV, only in black and white. The same applies for equipment purchased abroad. A camcorder, VCR or TV bought in America or Japan is likely to work only in NTSC. To solve this problem of incompatibility of standards, manufacturers developed multi-standard equipment. In the world market there are VCRs and TVs that can operate 13 or 17 standards, may be more. In India too there are a number of TVsets and VCRs that can play back and record 3 systems – PAL, SECAM and NTSC 3.38. Some PAL VCRs can play back NTSC. However, they cannot necessarily record in NTSC. While it may appear very simple to convert standards by recording, say a PAL programme on to an NTSC VCR, even if one uses multi-standard VCRs, it is not possible because when the recorder gets a signal in PAL it can only record in PAL and not in any other system. Equipment that can convert standards are very complex and expensive.
All these complexities of standards are hardly applicable in India since we use the PAL system. All material that we are likely to use will be on PAL, unless, of course, we are using a lot of material from countries that use different systems. Similarly, if we use shooting or editing equipment, we will be working only with PAL. So, if a friend based abroad offers to buy you a camcorder from that country, ask for one that works on PAL.
Internet – A Threat to Humanity?
The fantasy of sailing in cyber space is now a reality in India and is a cause for much excitement among its users. However, as is the case always with technology, along with its numerous advantages, there is a scary side to it. Recently The Pioneer carried an interesting feature about the Internet, titled “Internet is a threat to the future of humanity”, in which Frederick Noronha interviewed Ziauddin Sardar. Sardar, visiting Professor of Science, Middlesex University, is an internationally known scholar, information scientist and futurist hailing from Pakistan. He is the co-editor of the book “Cyber features: Culture and Politics of the Information Superhighway” published recently. Here are some excerpts of what Ziauddin Sardar says in the interview.
On why he sees the Information Superhighway a threat to the future of the human race, he says, “There is this belief that the Internet gives us total freedom to communicate with everyone. The total freedom exists provided you are reasonably rich. With the money n eeded to enter the Internet world, you could feed a family in Bangladesh for a year. Then, on the Internet, it’s not a total anarchy situation, which gives you freedom over what to say, as is made out to be. Its a very controlled anarchy. Big players control everything.”
Sardar does not believe that the net is making life simpler for its users. He says, The net generates illusions, illusion of control, illusion of power, illusion of neighbourhood, illusion of free information, illusion of unlimited knowledge and wisdom. But actually you are paying a heavy price – loss of your own humanity. Because you simply become an extension of your computer …”
Sardar feels that the internet is not about education. It is more about boredom. He explains, “One can log on to the Web and cruise for hours, jumping from page to page, subject to subject, country to country, computer to computer – ‘surfing the net’ in a frenzied journey to nowhere. You never stay on any particular site long enough to gain something specific out of it. Moving from site to site is no more than boredom of the computer kind. One can’t learn simply by persuing information. One learns by digesting it, reflecting on it, critically assimilating it.”
In Sardar’s view, the Internet is either commercial, or a giant and filthy toilet wall. Sardar says, “People will deny it, but there is a lot of pornography on the net. Just look at the 60 odd Internet newsgroups whose titles begin with ‘alt.sex’ And literally thousands of privately run bulletin boards which pander to sexual perversion, all in the name Of freedom of expression. ‘Its becoming impossible to log on anywhere and not be invited to buy something you don’t want. The more the Internet develops, the more it will become basically a commercial place.”
Sardar’s latest book warns that cyberspace kills history and even real people. He explains why. “Virtual reality first emerged as a safe and inexpensive way of training pilots to fly advanced military planes. Virtual reality has now moved on to the entertainment arena largely
because the US defence industry wants returns by finding other uses for the technology it originally developed. Dress rehearsals for the smart-bombs, which so consistently missed their targets in the Gulf war, was carried out in cyberspace.
“Cyberspace, like so much of modern advanced technology, has its origins in the military. The Internet was developed as a foolproof mode of communication in case of a nuclear war during the Cold War. It grew as a computer network that linked university research centres with military departments.
“Cyberspace is particularly geared towards the erasure of all non-Western histories. Lots of historic information is being put into cyberspace – in a very very antiseptic form.”
On what potential the Internet has for the Third World, Ziauddin Sardar feels, “Frankly, the way Internet is developing at the moment, I don’t see any. Only, our Third World elites will be on-line, talking to their counterparts in the First World. Thus making them even more alienated.
Communities which are rich will become powerful; but the vast majority will be worse marginalised. I think the Internet will be a weapon of economic power and knowledge.
“My first prescription is that we must be aware. Know what the Internet is capable of, and what it is not. Also what illusions it has created. Secondly, concentrate on basic stuff first. Third World countries need decent telephone networks. Currently, pockets are on-line, heavily computerised, while you can’t even make a telephone call to the next village. Let that happen first before we think of the Internet.”
Courtesy Frederick Noronha and The Pioneer
Subhash Rawat is a young film maker from Uttarkashi. He also has a theatre group. His brother runs a commercial video recording unit through which he records weddings and cultural events. In 1991 Uttarkashi was hit by a massive earthquake that left death and destruction in its wake. The media reporting of the earthquake was superficial and faulty and Subhash took up the camera to document the actual impact. Out of this footage he made his first film, ‘Traas’ (Fear of the Unknown). Subsequently, Subhash has made 2 more films: ‘Shikhar Par Suman’ and ‘Gangotri’.
Q: How did you think of making video films?
A: My elder brother was a photographer. He had learnt photography and lived in Bombay for a long time. When we were young we were all interested to see our photograph, then I wanted to know how this photo is made ? Later my brother bought a video camera. I was always interested to do something different. When he bought the camera I made an animation film – this is about 13 years back. I had no knowledge of animation films. I remember, this film was one minute long. I first drew the cartoons, then I made a few calculations, for how long should I hold the shot, this shot will hold for 25 seconds, one second will go from there. This is how it began. I had the equipment to experiment and that is how it all began.
Q: The kind of experiment you are talking about, from there most of the people go in the direction of commercial films, specially since you have a theatre background. How did you get interested in documentaries?
A: Even while I was doing theatre I wanted to do something which had some relation with the common man. I mean, the work which I am doing should talk about them. It should have some message, some relevance, it should not be only for entertainment. Even when I was doing theatre, our plays had a definite theme. So I did not have to think a lot when it came to documentaries, it came naturally.
Q: What kind of problems did you face? Because we don’t make films for ourselves but want others to see it.
A: That’s why we make films. That’s why we work so hard so that people at least know. It’s not important that people know that I have made the film, but they must know what has happened. What’s the point of working so hard if the film doesn’t reach people. I don’t know how to reach people. The only way I knew – in a small town we know most people. I showed the film to them, took the advise from some also. I live in Uttarkashi. If I travel to other district headquarters and show my film then at least some people will get to know. I travelled widely with ‘Traas’. I met different kinds of people. Some people got to know of the film and took an interest in organising screenings. So I travelled a lot with the film, especial to the district headquarters, and screened it. I also screened it once in Delhi. I felt that with a screening in Delhi more people will get to know, whether through the newspaper or otherwise.
Q: Was the experience of screening in Delhi different? Were your expectations met?
When I screened ‘Traas’ in Delhi it was also reported in the newspaper. But I didn’t feel that more people had b come aware about the issue. When I met people they would say that “yes, I read that a film on this issue has been made”. But nothing happened. Neither the number of informed people increase, nor were many sales made. Only one or two people bought copies. The biggest problem in Delhi was that, some people I met’ personally, saw the film but didn’t believe that the film was made by a simple VCR to VCR edit. They felt ‘Traas’ contained many important things that have not been covered in the other films on this issue. But they didn’t know how to take it to people. They appreciated the film but couldn’t help in this matter. I was amazed that despite working in the media why couldn’t they help me. Another set of people talked of a re-wit. But I felt they were asking me to take the money and hand over the film and raw material to them and also remove my name. I thought this was not correct as the film was not made for profit. The way I had begun, I never thought of money. So I rejected these proposals. These are the problems of interacting with people who work with media in Delhi. So, nothing happened.
Q: How did you hear of CENDIT?
A: While showing ‘Traas’ I began to feel that there were some irrelevant portions and the film was unnecessarily long. I also wanted to add some other things. I didn’t have the energy to do the whole thing over. I wanted some help. Also, professional equipment. You know how difficult it is to do a VCR to VCR edit on VHS. Frames have to be cued, frames slip, audio gets cut. Somebody suggested the name of CENDIT. When I met them they said that “this film is good as it is, don’t change it. When you make your next film we will help you.”
Q: Then what happened?
A: Through ‘Traas’ I got to know CENDIT. Later I received a letter inviting me for a training workshop. After the training it was decided to form a network of all the participants and CENDIT was to coordinate the network. We decided to also include in the network all the older participants.This was 1993 and already 4 training workshops in the preceding 4 years, had taken place. We had a first meeting of this network in August 1993 and it was decided to make a film on the issue of ‘natural resources and people’s rights’ that would comprise of several short films made by the participants. Each participant would choose a specific subject in their own area. I decided to make the film on the issue of ‘Gangotri’. But I could complete the shooting and editing in time. Also all the films were not made. Only Prakash (Sri Prakash who has made ‘Kiski Raksha’, ‘Odo Miyad Ulgulan’, Abua Dishum’) and I made the films.
Q: Why did you need a network, why didn’t it emerge and what did you feel when it didn’t take shape?
A: I thought the network would primarily help to share information amongst the different members. I would get to know what the others are doing and others would know of the film I was making. Secondly, I had felt the need of a network during ‘Traas’. I feel I couldn’t take ‘Traas’ too far because I wasn’t a pan of any network. A network would help to distribute and disseminate the film. Thirdly, I was interested in the work the others were doing, I didn’t want the network only because it would help me. I was interested because the socio-political issues being discussed in the network were relevant. Unfortunately, the network didn’t take shape.
Q: Was there any problem because of that?
A: See, the first problems are of the format .We work on the VHS format. So distribution or dissemination is very difficult without a network. For self-distribution it is necessary to work on a format people will accept, which even TV stations will accept. I have equipment but it’s all VHS. These were also expectations from the network, that there will be an agency, like CENDIT, that has professional equipment and will make that available to us at low rates, we also wanted some minimum financial assistance from the network. But the network initiative failed to take off. I have so much of shot material. But it’s all on VHS. I don’t know what to do with it. If I had access to a better format I could use all this material.
Q: Are you facing any problems in film making these days?
A: At a level there are no problems. Problems are because I am not being able to deliver. I am not pursuing leads or meeting people. I am also thinking what should I make a film on. Right now I am not 100% interested in making a film. But the day I get interested, the film will be made.
Q: Are you happy working like this?
A: I find that each step of film making gives me happiness. As for success, there is no end to it. In this field of activist films, I feel I am on an initial step. How far I can reach and how far I want to go, remains to be seen.
Film by Subhash Rawat
(Reviewed by Somnath Sen)
Gangotri is an appeal for the sake of the environment and the way of the people populating the area. Gangotri is an ancient Hindu pilgrimage, historically attracting people from all over the country and abroad .The Ganga Mandir is the – main attraction, remaining open for six months of the year for worship.
The main concern of the film is the transformation in the Nomenclature of the visitors from pilgrims to tourists which actually signifies larger more ominous changes. The film states that since the advent of a motorable road, the yearly five hundred odd pilgrims have turned into a torrent of over 5000 tourists everyday during the visiting season.
Even a few years ago, the only people to make the ardous trek to this area were people on a religious mission. Now the situation is vastly different. Besides the religious importance of the area, the breathtaking vistas(captured by a wonderfully mobile camera) the clean air with the perennially snow-capped Himalayas as the backdrop allure others with less than spiritual goals. Foreign tourists, trekkers, back packers and even the average middle-class Indian all converge here thus swelling the influx manyfold.
Although tourism is growing in leaps and bounds, the infrastructure required for such an avalanche of visitors is not. Adequate facilities are not able to keep up putting immense pressures on the environment. Something is bound to give and the locals and the outsiders fear that the slide has already started.
The film is sensitively shot and very intelligently brings the viewer to it’s thesis. There’s no hard-sell here. One is almost automatically led to a conclusion that a pristine environ, the uplifting beauty of the area might not survive for the next generation.
A rather coherent film, it looks at views of practically everyone involved. From tourists to local residents, from NGOs to the temple trustees, everyone seems to realise the potential of the tourist trade to cause immense damage to the area. Knowing the importance of the tourist trade to the people of the area(unemployment is rife here) no one is adamantly against the visitors. The demand is for better utilization of the resources and a holistic approach to tourism as opposed to the haphazard, destructive action now adopted by the government.
A well made film, Gangotri very eloquently makes its point. Technically just about adequate, Gangotri though stands out because of the immensely creative use of sound.
(Somnath Sen has studied cinema direction at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles and is presently working as a free lance Cinematographer and director)
Today there is an encouraging trend where more and more people are using audio visual media to voice the aspirations of the marginalised. Some personalities are well known, but there are many dedicated film makers whose films may not reach the lime light due to their limited resources and lack of any network for their dissemination. We have below a few of these efforts.
Wait Until Death
Bengali, 54 min, SVHS, 1995
Chinchurgheria, a small tribal hamlet in the Midnapore, West Bengal, falls prey to the deadly disease, Silicosis, claiming as many as twenty two lives. The film is an enquiryinto the apathy and neglect by the administration and the political parties alike towards this village of stone-crushers.
Film by: Supriya Sen/ Samit Basu Mallik/ Tathagatha Banerjee/ Jayanta Chakraborty
Source: Perspective Audio Visuals, 30 13-A, NS Datta Road, Howrah, West Bengal -711 101
Price: Rs. 500 (VHS)
The Pesticide Trap: Who is Trapped ? Pests or Peasants ?
Tamil/English, 59 min, Betacam, 1993
Agriculture has been there for ages, but pesticides are of recent origin. The initial success of pesticide use has blinded us to the proper understanding of its impact, resulting in large scale problems in our ecology and agriculture. This video examines this question and emphasises the need to search for organic alternatives which are healthy and sustainable.
Film by: M.Sivakumar
Source: Tamilnadu Science Forum, 6 A R K Colony, 1st Floor, Eldams Road, Alwarpet, Madras – 600 018
Price: Rs. 300 (VHS)
Adoo Miyad Ulgulan
Hindi/English sub-titles, 40 min, 1995
The film describes a 30 year old struggle by thousands of tribals in the Chottanagpur area against the Koel – Karo dam which threatens their very existence.
Film by: Sriprakash
Source: KRITIKA, 30, Randheer Prasad Street, Upper Bazar, Ranchi 834001, Bihar
Price: Rs. 500 (VHS)
Bombay: A Myth Shattered
Hindi/English, 30 min, VHS
Shot extensively throughout Bombay Gangotri, a sacred pilgrimage for the following the riots in December 1992 and January 1993, the film looks at the disintegration of community life during the ten days in January that Bombayites remember as the most traumatic of their lives. It also focusses on the lesser known side – the ordinary people living in bastis, chawls and apartment buildings who resist.
Film by: Teesta Setalvad
Source: Nirant, Juhu Tara Road, Juhu, Bombay 400049
Price: Rs. 250 (VHS)
Hindi, 48 min, VHS, 1996
One more dam, more tribals uprooted, more tribal land to be submerged along with its history and culture. This time it is the Surangi dam in the Ranchi district of Jharkhand. The people have come together in protest. The film brings out the spirit of an ongoing movement against repeated attempts at displacing tribals of the Chhotanagpur area.
Film by: Sriprakash
Source: KRITIKA, 30 Randheer Prasad Street, Upper Bazar, Ranchi 834001, Bihar.
Price: Rs. 500 (VHS)
(Fear of the Unknown)
Hindi, 64 min, VHS, 1992
Uttarkashi was rocked by a severe earthquake in 1991. Traas is a first hand account of the scale of devastation and experiences of the people.
Film by: Subhash Rawat
Source: Roop Sagar, Uttarkashi, U.P.
Price: Rs. 600 (VHS)
This film is on the growing caste violence and massacre of Dalits in Tamilnadu.
Film by: MOSAIC
Source: 26 – A, Vazhaithoppu, Madhurai, Tamilnadu – 625001
Price: Rs. 250 (VHS)
Hindi, 30 mins, VHS, 1995
Gangotri,a sacred pilgrimage for the Hindus, has always attracted pilgrims. But nowdays “tourists” have replaced the erstwhile pilgrims. This increase of tourism has created alarming impacts on the limited resources of the area. Can Gangotri, with a fragile ecosystem, ignored by sincere planning, accomodate this pressure?
Film by: Subhash Rawat
Source: Roop Sagar, Uttarkashi, U. P
Price: Rs. 500
Tamil /English, 20 min, U-matic, 1994
This is about the struggle of women in Pudukotahi, one of the first few districts of Tamilnadu where total literacy programme was successfully completed. As an offshoot of literacy programmes, the women in the area organised themselves to take up quarrying on their own, managing which, they were able to eliminate middlemen and contractors for three years. The video is on the ongoing struggle of women where they are thrice discriminated, on the basis of class, caste and gender.
Film by: M Sivakumar
Source : Tamilnadu Science Forum, 6 A R K Colony, 1st Floor, Eldams Road, Alwarpet, Madras – 600 018
Price: Rs. 175 (VHS)
Tamil, 29 min, VHS
A Video on the intensive prawn farms in Tamilnadu and the affected peoples’ struggle against them.
Film by: VRJ Prabalan
Source: Sangamam Communication, 17 Kutchery Road, Mylapore, Madras 600 004
(Fragrance of the First Rain)
Telugu/English, 24 min, U-matic
A film on the conceptual notion of water from the springs of ancient traditions in soil and water management.
Film by: Vinod Raja & Ashok M
Source: 143, 4th Main, Malleswaram, Bangalore 560 003
Gargi Sen, Indu MG, Sujit Ghosh, Ranjan De
Magic Lantern Foundation, J 1881, Chittaranjan Park, New Delhi 110019
Ph: 91 11 6447151/6221405, Fax: + 91 11 6231801