Our fourth year…
When Media Mail began we were not sure of the future. We didn’t know whether we could keep it going, either financially or time wise. We didn’t know if we would have the energy to continue. At that time of course we didn’t know the problems that can, and always do, arise because of the mere existence of a newsletter. Still, we began be- cause we sensed that there was a need for a platform to share news, views and concerns amongst ourselves. We began with the faith that if the need for a platform was genuine, then we would find the support.
Today there are reasons to celebrate as there are reasons to mourn. A major set back for us, while trying to register Media Mail, was to lose the name itself! A smart corporate house has booked it. That was followed by a nightmarish six months when each name we suggested was rejected because somebody had prior claims to it. Finally, they allowed us ‘Alternate Media Times’. While we are happy to have a name (imagine a newsletter without one) we are very sad to lose Media Mail.
Another concern that is now putting a question mark on our very survival is the issue of subscriptions. We survive on subscriptions. That has been our strength and weakness It has allowed us the luxury of independence. But it has tied us intimately to each of you. lf you forget to send the cheque/draft, we suffer. And many of you, with all the very best intentions, do forget. Finally, a cause for concern is that we have had to raise the subscription. From January 2000 the annual subscription will be Rs. 200/ -.
But there are reasons to celebrate also. The mere fact that we still exist is a cause for celebration. We didn’t think we could keep it up. And we are happy that we did. The other reason to celebrate is that the material we get/collect/ prepare for each issue is far more than we can actually use. And finally the greatest cause for celebration continues to be the overwhelming encouragement from many of you.
So, as we prepare the first issue this year we feel that there are more reasons to celebrate than mourn.
At the larger level too the last year has been a cause for celebrations. We are extremely enthused by the number of documentary festivals that are being organised by committed individually with little or no money, or support. These are not traditional film festivals that promote films for distributors and / or television. These are festivals that present political and social documentaries to students, NGOs, trade unions and citizens. These festivals present the range of documentaries that exist today in this field; they represent the points of view and the perspective of marginalised people; and finally, they present the viewer with a choice, not just visual, but also a choice of personal commitment, involvement and action.
Nottam, a festival organised by P. Baburaj and C. Saratchandran has been travelling through Kerala. The two individuals, who have recently made an award winning documentary (Chaliyar…-the Final Struggle) are travelling with a video projector and a set of cassettes of many recent documentaries. This year Amudhan R. P. organised the second festival for students and people of Madurai.
Government, quasi-government and institutions too are organizing festivals of social documentaries. The most interesting of these is Prakriti , organised by CEC that improves each year. Another interesting initiative is taken by the lndian Association of Women Studies. Since two years now, at their national seminar, they have organised festival of films by women: Women In Focus.
What is of particular interest to us is that while we see, and the press reports confirm, a decline in the audience interest in the mainstream festivals like the International Film Festival of india (lFF1 ), or the Mumbai International Film Festival (MlFF) such festivals draw a committed and enthusiastic audience. This is not to decry either IFFI or MIFF which are important avenues and platforms. MIFF particularly, is drawing energetic and talented film makers and is improving with age. It is increasingly being counted amongst the important festivals in the world for documentaries. And the video section is truly remarkable.
The point however is that people in general are not visiting these festivals. But then maybe their purpose is to show case films and film makers rather than provide a viewing platform for society at large.
Interestingly, MIFF began in 1990 but acknowledged video only after four years with the ‘video vista’ to show case videos. The competition in videos began two years ago and this year they inaugurated the international video competition. IFFI still doesn’t accept video. The inclusion of video was not out of a sense of commitment. After all, even to this day, recognised film makers shudder at the thought of video as a medium of expression.
The inclusion happened because of the grassroots use of video. It is when concrete examples of the use of video as a tool of resistance became visible, it was included in the mainstream festivals. And the parallel festivals being organised today are a consolidation of the trend of the grassroots use of Video. Such festivals address the precise gap that mainstream festivals ignore: to reach out to an audience, with a view to create space for collective action.
Nottam – A Touring Festival of Documentary films
Nottam, a travelling festival of video documentaries, is an attempt by Third Eye, a media group in Kerala, to reach documentary films to people. Third Eye is involved in screening films and documentaries in schools, colleges and film societies. The group owns a LCD video projector and a modest collection of classic films, issue based and other video documentaries.
Since January 2000, with support of various individually institutions and film societies involved in the Third Eye screenings, a touring documentary festival, Nottam, was planned and organised successfully in different regions of Kerala. Through Nottam, several important video documentaries protruded recently were premiered in Kerala. Some of the outstanding films front Film South Asia and Prakriti 99 were screened in places like Calicut, Malappuram, Mannarghat, Trichur, Ernakulam and Trivandrum.
Death of a River, a video film by R. R. Srinivasan on police brutality in Thirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, has been one of the opening films of the festival. Film maker Stalin K. has also been participating in Nottam with his documentary Lesser Humans. Everywhere the audience have watched the films
with great interest and participated in discussions that followed. In these discussions the audience demanded follow-up screenings and collective action.
- C. Saratchandran
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Women in Focus
The Indian Association of Women’s Studies in cooperation with Comet Media Foundation organised a film festival-Women in Focus- at Hyderabad from 8 to 11, January 2000. Dedicated to the issues and experiences of women in South Asia, the festival screened as many as 32 films ranging from documentary and animations to feature films. It drew a large audience varying from university students to house wives. Apart from the members of Indian Association of Women’s Studies and Hyderabad Film Club, film makers like Chandita Mukherjee, Nandini Bedi, Sagari Chhabra, Anju, T. Jayashree and many media persons were also associated with the festival.
The 9th National Conference on Women’s Studies, which took place simultaneously with the festival, focussed on the discourse and debate around the theme of women’s perspectives on public policy. Along with it, Stri Vividha 2000, a fair aimed to bridge the discourses and the common folk by introducing the visitors to the women’s movement in India through the literature and products made by the women’s groups and , the photo exhibition titled ”Women at work” made the film festival a wholistic experience for the audience.
Jana Natya Manch (Janam), the Delhi-based theatre group, has been involved in a nearly three month-long campaign to oppose Clinton’s visit to india. Janam has produced a street play called Nahi Qubool (We Shall Not Accept) which has been performed over 60 times in various working class areas, slums, office complexes and residential areas of Delhi. The play was first performed on 1 January 2000 at Jhandapur, Sahibabad, the scene of the martyrdom of Safdar Hashmi.The play is a hilarious farce which depicts the abject surrender of the interests of the Indian people by the BJP-led ruling coalition. The play ends with a call to the people to decisively reject the pro-imperialist policies and put up a united fight against them.
Documentary festival in Madurai
During 28, 29 & 30 December 1999 the second Madurai Documentary Film Festival was held in Madurai, Tamil Nadu.
18 films were screened in the festival, some of which were Sundari: An Actor Prepares by Madhushree Dutta, Skin Deep by Reena Mohan, In the Forest Hangs a Bridge by Sanjay Kak, Of Hosts and Hostages by Ranjan De, Gargi Sen and Sujit Ghosh, A Woman’s Place by Paromita Vohra, Buddha Weeps at Jadaguda by Sriprakash, Lesser Humans by Stalin K., Chaliyar – The Final Struggle by Sarat Chandran and Baburaj, In the Name of God and Prisoners of Conscience by Anand Patwardhan, YCP 97 by Anjali Monteiro and Jayasankar, Something Like a War by Deepa Danraj, and Theeviravadhigal by Amudhan R. P.
The festival was organised jointly by Marupakkam, Friends for Films and the Centre for Social Analysis, a department of the Tamilnadu Theological Seminary all based in Madurai. The audience were from varied backgrounds. There were students, teachers, writers, painters, actors, directors, activists, workers, farmers, doctors and engineers.
Discussions followed each film. Though there were people invited to facilitate, after a point the audience took over the discussions.
Sundari: An Actor Prepare was considered by the audience as the best film in the festival. The viewers felt that the style of the film was very interesting and that it demanded keen and serious attention. Also the theme of the film encouraged much debate as there were some actors in the audience. The film helped to recollect the tradition of Tamil theatre in which the men performing in female roles were common in the olden days.
Lesser Humans evoked serious response. As dalit politics is believed to be the only answer to fundamentalism in this country it was felt that more such films were necessary to be made and screened. The film left the audience spellbound. Nobody was willing to talk for a while after the screening. In the discussion when some in the audience raised the issue of alternate methods of human waste disposal, others reacted strongly. They said that the film was not at all about toilets, and that it required more serious thought than the peripheral issues that some were talking about.
Buddha Weeps at Jaduguda on the impact of uranium mining in tribal areas of Bihar and Bengal, moved everybody. There were some anti-nuclear activists present during the show, who shared their views about uranium mining, the connection between ‘peaceful’ nuclear activities and the bomb. Naturally the discussions reached the proposed Koodankulam nuclear power station in south Tamil Nadu. Issues of displacement, status of timbals and control over natural resources were also debated.
One day of the festival was dedicated to films on women’s issues. There were five films directly talking about women’s insoles, and nine made by women directors. T’he films brought out several issues concerning women, such as a woman’s control over her body, family planning, population control, concept of beauty, preference of NRI men for indian women as wives, marriage and career. Many activist men were not in tune with some of these issues. However, women in the audience shared their experiences and made the discussion enriching.
Of Hosts and Hostages, Theeviravathigal, Prisoners of Conscience and In the Name of God also gave rise to serious discussions.
The festival was organised with minimal budget. According to Amudhan R. P one of the organizers, ”I got most of the films directly from the film makers. Saratchandran, a film maker and media activist from Kerala, helped us with his own video projector. He also brought seven films with him, which he is using in the Nottam festival. Some of the films came from my personal collection. The T’amil Nadu Theological Seminary gave us the auditorium for a very 1ow rent. We also collected donations from the audience. The total budget was less than Rs. 8000/ -.”
The next festival would be at the same venue in May 2000. Though the organizers were disheartened with a low attendance, the festival generated energy and enthusiasm. Viewers felt that there should be two festivals every year. They also requested Marupakkam to organize monthly screenings of issue based documentaries. A festival like the Madurai Documentary Film Festival should be able to inspire many groups to organize loca1 festivals in smaller cities, towns and villages.
The President visits Taj
Much fanfare and euphoria was created by the Government and the media on the recent visit of President Clinton to india. Though the achievements of the visit are yet to be assessed, it is clear that Clinton’s visit was not terribly exciting for the locals. In fact, it catched tremendous hardship and inconvenience for them.
President Clinton and his daughter Chelsea, visited Agra on 22 March, 2000 to view the Taj. During the visit, local residents were confined to their home’s for almost three hours and were not even allowed to open their windows. There was a virtual curfew clamped on the area by the US Secret Service, which was taking care of the president’s safety. Even the Indian media had to face their high – handedness.
There were two separate programmes set for Clinton. One was his viewing of the Taj and the other, his stay at the Taj Khema, for which two sets of passes were supposed to be distributed to media persons. A total of 60 passes were distributed, 30 for the Taj and an equal number for the Taj Khema coverage. Due to the three-tier security system of the local administration, plus additional security checks by the US Secret Service, leading television channels like Star News, Zee News, ANI, Aaj Tak, etc., failed to enter tine Taj. However, there were no such restrictions on the US media persons, more than hundred of who moved freely with the President.
A complete chaos prevailed at the Taj on 22 March, when many Indian journalists were not allowed entry although they had valid passes. One lady correspondent could not enter despite requests from the Union Home Ministry to 1et her go. Many correspondents were in tears for not being able to enter the Taj. Only 13 ‘lucky’ media persons managed to go in.
The problem occurred due to the haughtiness of the President’s personal security system that had absolutely no respect for the Indian administration’s ability to protect their President. They had in fact taken over the entire security operations on to themselves without bothering to maintain any co-ordination with their Indian counterparts, many a times acting arbitrarily.
Not in Agra alone, wherever the President travelled, there was considerable inconvenience caused to the local people, and the same behaviour was meted out to the Indian authorities in the name of security. But somehow the media seemed to have taken this attitude for granted, after all Clinton is not just anybody. Nothing substantial appeared in the media about this aspect of Clinton’s visit. It was all praise for the US President. In fact, the way the Indian media knelt before the US supremacy, and the Government undermined and humiliated its own institutions, should be a matter of great concern.
Madurai Talkies will produce a weekly half-hour programme to be shown by cable networks in and around Madurai. Several cable operators have already agreed to be hosts to the ‘cablecast’ every Sunday at 10 am, starting from 23 April.
”The stories will be of local events, places, individuals and groups, in non – fiction. I have also asked local NGOs to support our venture and many of them have reacted positively. I feel this new area will be challenging and interesting” says Amudhan, one of the initiators, who is also part of Marupakkam, that works with media among the youth of Madurai.
MIFF 2000: What is DD afraid of?
‘The bosses of Prasar Bharati and the officers of Doordarshan should hang their heads in shame and work hard to put the national channel on a par with the Public Broadcasting Service’ (PBS) in the US or with the BBC.” For this innocuous and honest statement, made by the veteran documentary film makers Mr. Homi Sethna, Doordarshan was so miffed that it chose not to give live coverage to the closing ceremony of the Mumbai International Film Festival of short and animated films (MIFF 2000).
This childish reaction of Doordarshan speaks louder than all the words and statements about autonomy and access. It is also significant that this exhibition of peevishness t ook place over a festival of documentary films. While the media’s attention has been focussed on the controversy surrounding Ms. Deepa Mehta’s feature film, Water, the lack of space available for documentary films which expose Indian realities is a much more important issue for the future of free and democratic expression in this country.
The statement quoted above was made at the opening of the MIFF when Mr. Sethna was given the V. Shantaram award for Lifetime achievement. Never one to hold back on his views, Mr. Sethna used the occasion to speak up in clear hearing of the Minister for lnformation and Broadcasting, Mr. Arun Jaitley. The audience of documentary film makers, of whom several have first hand experience of the obduracy of the Doordarshan bureaucracy, clapped long and hard; the officials looked embarrassed. And then the. planned their revenge. A strange foully of revenge – more like cutting off your nose to spite your face.
In the final analysis, it really does not matter if Doordarshan telecasts opening and closing ceremonies of film festivals. What is of much more relevance, even to the documentary film makers who indulged in a good bit of DD-bashing at the closing ceremony, is whether the national channel will provide the space so that their works are seen by a wider audience. The irony is that such a space existed before the talk of autonomy began. Instead of expanding the time given for films on socially relevant themes, the new dispensation has blocked them out all together. Instead, as the film maker Adoor Gopalakrishnan said at the festivals only that which sells has become more important. And documentaries, it is assumed, do not sell.
In several ways, the documentary film festival is of far greater relevance for the Indian media than a festival with feature films for it emphasizes an important missing element in the visual media. While there is finance available for feature films, even for art films now adapted to popular audiences, there is precious little money for documentaries which record life as it is and not life as some would like it to be.
In the past, Films Division had ample funds to make documentaries on a whole range of themes. Regardless of their quality, these films were compulsorily shown before a feature film in cinema theatres. But even if only a few of these films are memorable, they established a space for this genre. They also brought to the indian public a consciousness about the diversity of India.
Today, film makers who want to make documentaries and who resist the attraction and money of commercial cinema or advertising, have to struggle hard to gather funds for each of their projects. At the end of it, they have a product that is often flawed but usually of great value because of its content. A combination of censorship guidelines and the attitude of many censor boards, as well as Doordarshan’s head-in-the-sand attitude, ensures that the majority of these documentaries on lndia’s social problems are never seen by more than a handful of people.
Some film makers like Mr. Anand Patwardhan, for instance, who has gained recognition in many festivals for the quality of his films, have now chosen not to bother about the censor or Doordarshan. Instead, Mr. Patwardhan makes films which can be seen by small audiences and which initiate discussion and debate on the subjects he tackles. Many others are doing the same.
This is a pity. For instance, two of the films that earned recognition at MIFF are films that ought to be aired on Doordarshan. One is on the campaign for the right to information in Rajasthan which has found a response in other States, too, such as Madhya Pradesh; the other is about the struggle of the people of Mavoor in Kerala against the callous disregard for people’s health shown by industry which was set up with the blessings of the Government and which has polluted the entire area. In earlier documentary film festivals, such as Film South Asia in Kathmandu, a film on the imp act of uranium mining in Jadugoda, Bihar, was applauded for its content. Indeed, the national video section was full of films on important subjects that deserve much wider viewing.
Can this ever happen and if so, how will it happen? Before the festival began, Mr. Bankim Kapadia of Films Division hinted that the Government was seriously considering a separate channel, like Discovery and National Geographic, which would be devoted entirely to documentaries. Mr. Kiran Karnik, who heads Discovery in India and has had experience with rural broadcasting, holds that such a channel is financially viable. He pointed out that in Europe there were eight channels that exclusively telecast documentaries and that of these only (lee was Government supported.
However, even if such a channel comes about, will it accommodate the kind of films under discussion? Given Doordarshan’s record, where film makers like Mr. Patwardhan have had to fight protracted battles in court to get their films aired, it is unlikely that the best and the most revealing films on social issues will find a place on the channel.
Yet, even if a separate channel, or Doordarshan’s main channels, were to show the documentary films that win awards at festivals, or are chosen for the Panorama section, it would be better than nothing. For instance, the films that collected prizes at MIFF should certainly be aired on the national channel. Some of these films may be controversial. But if they have run the gamut of the censorship laws, and have also been recognised for their quality in festivals, why should they not be telecast? Why should film makers have to go to court repeatedly to enforce what is a basic right?
The real problem for the government is the power of the visual medium When documentaries tackle social issues, they can reveal much more than the printed word. What people see cannot be denied. For instance, hunger and starvation cannot be hidden from the camera, the conditions of children working in hazardous industries despite the ban cannot be sanitized when shown on film, the government’s indifference in the face of a natural catastrophe such as a cyclone or an earthquake cannot be minimized or justified when it is documented in celluloid.
Therefore, documentaries are a problem if your job is to sanitize the truth, or to hide it altogether Regardless of the party in power, this fear of the truth, of reality seems to obsess those in charge of the government media. Therefore, although Doordarshan’s over-reaction to even mild criticism is not surprising, given this background, it does not bode well for the future. @ With the growing intolerance in the country towards anything that does not conform to the majority view, the space for alternative views is shrinking. The concept of promoting and protecting Indian culture,which has been used to explain opposition to films such a Water, is hardly conducive to an incisive,rigorous and uncompromising presentation of reality, some-thing that documentary films have been able to do effectively. It would be an extreme irony if independent views can only find space in the market-led private media while the ”public” media, whose defined role is to serve the interest of the ”public” and not that of the market, cuts them out altogether.
Courtesy: The Hindu
The best of MIFF 2000
International Film Competition
The Albatross by Paul Bush (UK) – Golden Conch
3 Misses by Paul Driessen (The Netherlands) – Silver Conch
Fiction (upto 75 minutes)
Marana Simhasanam (Throne of Death) by Murali Nair (India/UK) – Golden Conch
The Offering by Paul Lee (Canada) – Silver Conch
Non-fiction (upto 50 minutes)
Adoor: A Journey in Frames by Rajiv Mehrotra (lndia) – Silver Conch
International Jury Award
Cube’s Planet by Ursula Helfer, Lutz Garmsen (Germany)
International Video Competition
Non-fiction (above 60 minutes)
The Choir Boys by Magnus Isacsson (Canada) – Golden Conch
Medellin Notebooks by Catalina Villar (Columbia) – Silver Conch
Non-fiction (upto 60 minutes)
September 11, 1973: The Last Stand of Salvador Allende by Patricio Henriquez (Canada/France) – Golden Conch
A Calcutta Christmas by Maree Delofski (Australia) – Silver Conch
National Video Competition
Whose Reality? by Vaibhav Kumaresh – Silver Conch
Non-fiction (upto 90 minutes)
The Shame is Not Mine by Arun Chadha – Golden Conch
Right to Information by Anurag Singh – Silver Conch
Certificate of Merit (Non-fiction video upto 90 minutes)
Chaliyar – The Final Struggle by P. Baburaj, C. Sarat Chandran
Voyage to Freedom by Ananya Banerjee
Three Women and a Camera by Sabeena Gadihoke
Blindfolded by S. Sriram – Debut Film
Songs of the Ancestors by Anula Shetty – Debut Film
Tales from the Reading Room by Minkie Spiro (UK) – Critics Award
Tinta Rosa (Blood Ink) by Carmen Guarini, Marcelo Cespedes ) (Argentina) – Special Mention by Critic Jury
Lifetime achievement award – Homi Sethna
Sriprakash wins the Earth Vision Grand Prize
Sriprakash, whose film Buddha Weeps in Jadugoda has been shocking audiences all over the country and subcontinent, has gone on to win the Earth Vision Grand Prize at the Earth Vision festival in Tokyo, a festival that focusses on films about ecology and environment.
The film, which vividly records the suffering of tribal communities due to the utter callousness of the government and plant officials in handling such a dangerous radioactive material as uranium, had also won the third prize at the Film South Asia’ 99 in Kathmandu.Interestingly, the selectors for MIFF’2000 did not deem it fit for competition. Still , it was well received there. Apart from festivals, the film is being extensively shown in Jharkhand and in activist circles all over the country.
The Jurors Special Prize was awarded to Rice Paddy: Hotbed of Life (Korea) directed by Lee Euy-ho. This documentary examines the ecology of rice paddies and the creatures living there. Created by humans, the paddy houses not only rice but also countless living creatures in its bosom. lts denizens may change with the seasons but the rice paddy remains unchanged, proving living things with all their needs.
The Excellence Prize went to Waste Not, Want Not (Hong Kong) by Yvonne Ng. This film talks about the wastage of food in Hong Kong when people in many parts of the world are on the verge of starvation.
Library on the Net
netLibrary.com has over 10,000 brooks available online. The library offers free access to about 2,800 books in the public domain. For an annual fee of $29.95, users can access thousands of additional volumes still under copyright, both through the site and through academic or other libraries, to which the company sells the electronic versions.
Users of the website can ‘check out’ an entire book, giving the user exclusive access to that volume for about a day. Then the book is ‘returned to the shelves’ and becomes available for the next person. Visitors can copy or print single pages, just as you can photocopy single pages of a printed book.
To try the netLibrary yourself, go to http://www.netLibrary.com
A Letter from Korea: Finally, access became legal
Hi ! Finally in Korea, the public access became legal according to the recent broadcasting law which was passed in the congress, after 7 years of lobby and struggle. The new law contains the following articles:
Article 69-6: KBS (Korean Broadcasting System: Korean public TV which has two nationwide airwaves channel) must carry the viewers participation program made directly by viewers.
Article 70-7: Cable operator and satellite operator must carry the programs made by the viewers through the regional or public channel if the viewers who made the programs demand their programs to be broadcasted, when there is no specific reason not to be accepted.
So, although there remain many obstacles and policy issues, big progress was made in the area of democratic media movement. On behalf of Korean media activists, I appreciate all the support for our movement from all ar und the world, especially those whin helped us organize the screening event last spring, those who sent valuable information which helped our advocating activities. Please keep contact and I will let you know our future progress!
Thank you very much.
Myoung Joon Kim
Labor News Production
The FSA Travelling Festival
Film South Asia, the competitive biennial festival of documentary films on South Asian subjects. brings together the latest and the finest the subcontinent has to offer in non- fiction film.
15 of the outstanding documentaries from the subcontinent made between 1997 and 1999, including the prize-winning films from FSA’99, have started their journey to venues around the world. Following is the list of films selected for the travelling festival:
Fishers of Men – India (Ranjan Karnath, Padmavati Rao),
Voices of Dissent: A Dance of Passion – Pakistan (Noorkhan S Bawa).
Don’t Pass me By- Nepal (Sarah Kapoor, Christina Lamey and Kristi Vuorinen),
Three Women and a Camera – India (Sabeena Gadihoke),
A Letter to Samten – India (AIex Gabbay),
Jibon (Life) -India (Altaf Mazid),
Duhshomoy (A Mother’s Lament) – Bangladesh (Yasmin Kabir),
Muktir Kotha (Words of Freedom) – : Bangladesh (Tareque Masud, Catherine Masud).
The Forgotten Army – India (Kabir Khan),
No One Believes the Professor – Pakistan (Farjad Nabi),
Skin Deep – India (Reena Mohan),
Thin Air- India (Ashim Ahluwalia),
Pure Chutney – Trinidad &Tobago (Sanjeev Chatterjee),
Ragi: Kana: Ko Bonga Buru (Buddha Weeps in Jadugoda) – India (Shriprakash),
Listening to Shadows – India (Koushik Sarkar)
‘Your Honour’, the smallest newspaper in the world
A publisher of Brazil has brought out the smallest newspaper in the world, which is only 1 inch in height and 1.4 inch wide. Dolores Nunessi said about her 16 page monthly newspaper, Your Honour that it is the realization of a 75-year old dream of her family.
She said that her father had begun publishing a 10 cm by 10 cm newspaper in 1935. She said that after years of hard work she has been able to reduce the size of the newspaper to its current dimensions.
The paper publishes material written by prominent writers, legal experts and rural sociologists of the city. Its circulation is 5000 and is available all over Brazil. Another newspaper published by the same house is 4.8 cm tall and 6.5 cm wide. Apparently readers have no difficulty in reading the newspaper.
- Courtesy: Hindustan
Global Grassroots Resistance Directory
There is now a Global Grassroots Resistance Directory available at: www.geocities.com/Capitoll-Hill/Lobby/5217/ggrd.htm
This worldwide directory facilitates decentralized and non-hierarchic networking between and within grassroots movements resisting capitalism and oppressive power structures, e.g. in connection with the Global Days of Action against Capitalism, and similar campaigns.
The directory contains contact information of all known groups, associations, and organizations that:
* struggle against exploitation or oppression of people, communities or the environment, and for solidarity, cooperation,grassroots democracy,decentralised forms of social organisation, and ecological sustainability;
* seek to resist capitalism and oppressive power structures;
* maintain and value grassroots based forms of organization on principles of democratic decision making, decentralized forms of organization, broad and public access to information, broad and critical internal debate, while opposing authoritarianism, elitism, and hierarchical tendencies .
The directory also includes information of web sites and mailing lists that may be of use for networking with the sorts of groups mentioned above. Thus, web sites can be used as starting points for searching out contacts, and mailing lists for outreach in general.
Anti-racists file suit over Yahoo Nazi site
A Paris-based anti-racism group declared that it was taking internet portals Yahoo! Inc. to court over the sale of Nazi memorabilia on one of the websites it hosts. The International League against Racism and Anti – Semitism, which called in February for a boycott of Yahoo sites for the same reason, said it was seeking an injunction in a Paris court to force the California based company to stop sales in France.
A Yahoo.com auction site puts hundreds of Nazi or nee-Nazi, or Ku Klux Klan objects up for auction, including films, swastikas, daggers, photos and medals. Under French law, it is illegal to explicit or sell products with racist overtones.
Yahoo came under fire from another anti-racist group, the Anti Defamation League, which accused the net service provider of the hosting dozens of sites that promoted messages from racist hate groups including neo-Nazis.
Media and women in China: Some statistics
* In media organizations, women account for 8.5% and men account for 91.5% of policy makers.
* 17.6% of women and 82.4% of men are department managers.
* Women account for one third of the overall media workforce.
* A 1996 survey by Women Media Monitoring Network involving 8 mainstream newspapers found that:
* 91% of men were quoted as key figures in news, against 9% of women.
* In news with pictures, 71% were men and 29% were women.
* 82.2% of men and 17.72% of women were depicted as active and positive actors in news. Women outnumbered men in news where the characters were depicted as passive receivers.
* The women’s movement or women’s issues accounted for 0.99% of all news.
Courtesy:Media and Gender Monitor, WACC
A radical arts gallery on the Internet
www.subvertise.org, a radical arts gallery on the internet, was launched on 20th February 2000. Created by a global network of artists and campaigners,it exists to document, develop and promote the art form of the post-corporate millennium – subvertising. subvertise.org displays hundreds of images, photos, banners, billboards covering a spectrum of issues including transport, war, climate-change, racisms genetics, corporations, sexuality and globalization. Many images are anti-copyright and can be downloaded at high-resolution. All the images also act as visual links to artists, campaigners and further information.
”Subvertising is the Art of Cultural resistance. Subvertising is the art-form of the post-corporate millennium,” says Daphne Locke, one of the artists behind the subvertise.org site. ”it is the ‘writing on the wall’, the sticker on the lamppost, the corrected rewording on the billboard and the spoof message on the T-shirt – but it is also the mass act of defiance of a street protest. The key process involves redefining and reclaiming our environment from the corporate beast”
”Whether you need outrageous illustrations for your campaign literature, graphics for understanding and explaining complex social issues, or inspiration for an action, this website is for you. Follow the links to the artist, add your own images or even ‘steal this site’ as your own gallery” says the ‘subvertise.org’ flyer.
Media Juggernaut Rolls into 21st Century
By Gumisai Mutume
At the beginning of the new millenium the world faces the spectre of a global commercial media sector swamping the traditional national press and promoting the commercial values of international capital, according to media analysts.
They warn that the development of such a juggernaut hardly augurs well for any diversity of opinion and freedom of expression and threatens to muffle the voices of the world’s poor majority in a continually globalizing world.
Some nine media super-corporations already virtually control the industry and, together with 40 or so smaller players, produce the bulk of the world’s newspapers, magazines, books, films and television and radio programmes.
”In some ways, the emerging global commercial media system is not an entirely negative proposition” notes Robert McChesney, professor at the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois.
”Occasionally it promotes anti-racist, anti-sexist or anti-authoritarian messages that can be welcome in some of the more repressive corners of the world.
“But on balance, the system has minimal interest in journalism or public affairs -except for that which serves the business and upper-middle classes and provides privileges for the few lucrative genres that it can do quite well, such as sports, light entertainment and action movies.”
In his book ”Rich Media, Poor Democracy” McChesney says even at its best the entire system is saturated by hyper- commercialism. Consumerism, class inequality and individualism are taken as natural while political activity, civic values and anti -market activities are marginalized.
As trade liberalization pries open global markets the same few multinationals are bound to further consolidate their hold on diverse countries – from Argentina to South Africa, Australia to India and just about any other liberalizing economy.
In the capital cities of the world, very few people have never heard about CNN, Walt Disney or Sony. They enter the living rooms of the world on a daily basis and are among the media groups owned by the nine largest conglomerates – General Electric, Sony, AT&T/ Liberty Media, Disney, Time Warner, News Corporation, Viacom and Seagram, and the German-based Bertelsmann.
The world’s first global TV news channel, CNN International beams its signal to more than 200 nations making use of satellite technology. It already broadcasts in Spanish and aims to broadcast in Hindi, French, Japanese and Arabic, on its way to becoming a truly global commodity. It now is owned by Time Warner which, last year, was rated the largest media corporation in the world with nearly 30 billion dollars in earnings.
Before the media explosion of the late 1980s, national media generally were characterized by locally or state-owned radio, television and newspapers, especially in developing countries. When a flurry of mergers, takeovers and cross-ownerships began, some sections believed that the advent of the Internet would eliminate the monopoly of these media giants as a new democratic medium was being established, notes McChesney.
Subsequent developments, however, have seen the same corporations also colonizing the Internet.
In September this year came the world’s biggest media merger with one of the world’s largest entertainment companies, Viacom amalgamating with another big player, CBS. Viacom owns or holds interests in Blockbuster, MTV Networks, Paramount Pictures, 19 television stations including UPN and National Amusements Incorporated, a company which operates approximately 1,300 motion picture screens in the US, the United Kingdom and South America.
On the other hand, the CBS Corporation owns CBS Television and infinity Broadcasting Corporation. 7 of its 15 TV stations are in the top-ten markets while Infinity Broadcasting Corporation operates 163 radio stations.
‘ This exciting merger creates the industry-leading media company for today and a dynamic growth vehicle that will benefit shareholders well into the future,” said Sumner Redstone, chairman and chief executive of Viacom.
But critics fear the influence of the market on the news values of such media organizations, driven by the profit motive. For instance, how will poor African, Asian and Latin American countries be covered and portrayed on the pages and screens of media outlets owned by these global corporations?
The world has shrugged off the idealistic notions of the 1970s when there was attempt to introduce a ”New World Information and Communication Order” expounded by the Non Aligned Movement to pay more attention to the nations of the South.
Missing in today’s unipolar, commercially-driven world, however, is any International debate on the implications of such mergers and monopolies for media pluralism, democracy and accountability especially for developing nations.
”The financial markets have certainly spoken. They have richly re warded some media-company mergers and made stockholders – including journalists – happy folks,” writes Tom Goldstein, dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in an essay for the Online Journalism Review.
”Walk into the lobby of a big news- paper these days and you might be confronted with the latest stock price of the paper’s parent company,” says Goldstein. ”lf journalism is Just another business then the primary scorecard of success is justifiably the verdict of the financial markets.”
These media powers are not only based in developed countries. Clarin in Argentina, Globo of Brazil, Televisa in Mexico and Venezuela’s Cisneros Group are among the world’s 70 largest media groups and like their bigger rivals are also expanding into their regional markets, Mcchesney observes in his book.
Nonetheless, amid mounting pressure to open up the global market, some countries are resisting. The Nordic states, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and South Korea, and a host of others continue to subsidize their small movie industries. They were among 20 countries that met last year in Ottawa, Canada to work out ways to keep the power of Hollywood from destroying their film industries.
One of the proposals adopted at that conference was to ensure that the World Trade Organization (WTO), which is promoting free trade and opening up the world to international capital, be kept out of the cultural arena.
Courtesy. Inter Press Service
Amnesty International Film Festlval 2000
An international event which offers the best of contemporary film making regarding human rights issues. A forum for debate about the interfaces of human rights, media and film.That is the Amnesty International Film Festival, now in its fourth edition, to be hosted in Amsterdam between 11 and 15 October 2000.
Amnesty International has selected three key themes for this year’s festival: Campaigning ‘ against Torture, Human Rights and Religion, and Corporate Responsibility and Accountability.
Deadline for entry: July 1, 2000
for more information contact.
Amnesty International Filmfestival
P 0. Box 1968. 1000 BZ Amsterdam.
Fax: +31 -20- 6240889.
E-mail: email@example.com, Website:
The IDA Awards
The 16th annual International Documentary Association (IDA) Awards Competition recognised and honours distinguished ‘ achievement in non-fiction film and video. Any non-fiction work completed, or having primary release or telecast between January 1, 1999 E1 and Aprll 15, 2000 is eligible to submit for the Distinguished Documentary achievement Awards categories, which are as follows: Feature, Short, David L. Wolper Student Documentary, Limited Series, Strand Program, TV Magazine Segment, and additional consideration for the ABC NEWS Video Source Award for Best Use of Archival News Footage in a Documentary. Winners are honoured at the 16th Annual Awards Gala on October 27 in Los Angeles. The lDA screens the winning films at DocuFest on October 28.
DEADLINE: April 15th, 2000
Final Deadline: May 15th, 2000
For more Information,
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org OR visit
website at http.//www. documentary.org
Okomedia 2000, the 17th International Ecological Film Festival takes place in Freiburg, Germany, on 18 – 22 October 2000. The international competition will screen films on ecological topics and is divided in two sections: General Competition and Children’s and Youth Programme. Film and videos of all formats, lengths and genres from 1999 and 2000are eligible for the International competition. The jury offers a wide range of awards and prizes to the winners.
Deadline for entry.. May 1, 2000
Write to: Okomedia lnstitut.
Fax: ++49(0)761 – 555724.
E- Mail: email@example.com,
Planet In Focus
Planet in Focus is Canada’s first annual,international environmental film and video festival. Its primary mission is to promote the use of film and video as catalysts for reflection, discussion and appropriate action on the social and ecological health of the planet.
Recognizing that the environment is contested terrain, both as a biophysical entity and as a philosophical frame, Planet in Focus invites submissions of films and videos, in aIl genres, that critically examine the concept of ‘environment’ and challenge current human/nature relations.
Early Deadline: May 1, 2000
Final Deadline: July 1, 2000
for more information’ contact:
Mark Haslam. 37 Melbourne Avenue’ Toronto.
Ontariot M6K 1K4, Canada. Fax: (416)516-7801.
E-mail: divests web.net,
The 16th International Short Film Festival Berlin is slated for 7 to 12 November, 2000. About 300 short films and videos will be shown during the festival, 100 of which will be nominated for the international competition. The festival is being organised by ‘Bewegliche Ziele eV’ (Moving Targets). Film and videos of all formats ay be submitted. owever, to be eligible for competition, their duration should not be more than 20 minutes. There is no limit to the year of production . Concepts for installation and performance projects may also be submitted.
Deadline: 20 June 2000
Contact Interfile, Urbanstrasse 45,10967 Berlin, Germany,
Fax 0049 (0) 30 6932959,
Double Take – Looking at the documentary
Edited by Raqs Media Collective,Published by foundation for Universal responsibility & Public Service Broadcasting Trust
Rs.200, Pages 136
Rather a multiple take. Looking at the documentary anew. With all its possibilities. Practices. Doings and undoings. Or as they say it contain stories, litanies, anecdotes, complicated philosophical digressions, personal ‘ confessions, sardonic humour, outbursts of joy and anger and what not! While the production resembles of a source book (which it partially is) it has the warm accounts on the documentaries from academics to film practitioners. Along with some undeniable guidelines. On the budget format and sample worksheets. Of film festivals and web addresses – all compiled in , one collection.
The book edited by the Raqs Media Collective trio, compile as diverse and vivid elements of documentary production and distribution, as it starts with a chart which begins from the lime the very idea of a film crops up. It passes through the stages and processes in which the film making would undergo until the distribution or end up in toying with a new idea.The book itself is in the same line.
The book, by and large, consists of the personal accounts of the authors on the theory and practice of documentary film making and its dissemination. The style keeps abreast with the lucid narratives. As noted sound recordist Uma Shankar writes at length of ”Metaphors,Mixers and Microphones” finds a friend commenting on the paper, ”what a wonderful way of writing a biodata!”
Rajiv Mehrotra initiates the book by describing the experiment with India’s Quest, a collaborative effort of seven film makers to make and distribute the films in wider platforms.It has to be seen as another attempt to overcome the gap between the funding agencies, film makers and the audience. The book proceeds to Sanjay Kak’s deliberations on how democratic and constructive medium of expression documentary is. He argues that eery film should transcend the tests of the time as it could emerge into a plain which provides a worldview that survives the present, helps to understand the past, and prepare the society for the future. Ruchir Joshi narrates his tryst with the creed of commissioning and funding persons in a more sarcastic manner’, also ending up in sketching the ideal commissioning or funding person, who can otherwise be a nightmare to any documentary film maker. The trio – Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula, Suddabrata Sen Gupta – of Raqs Media Collective themselves present the intricacies of an essential component in documentary making, the research. With small epiphanies and serendipitous which may even transform the way of looking at the subject after a certain point. Further, Ranjan Palit describes how documentary cinematography is varied from fiction photography, which is followed with Samina Misra’s perceptions on the aesthetics of sound. In ‘Notes from the editing room” . Sameera Jain narrates the ”all-consuming work” of editing, in constructing the ideas of the film. The next few write-ups of Anita Roy,Mukul Kesavan, Rajeev Bhargava and Suddabrata Sen Gupta deal with the intellectual and social experiences of the ideas which construct the notion of the documentary.
Altogether, a valuable book with diverse sentiments compiled in a single volume. It may find immensely useful for documentary film-makers, media analysts, researchers and documentary enthusiasts in general. With its heartfelt personal accounts at one end and resourcefulness at the other. The reader can heave a sigh of relief as it saves one from a taxing search engine to look for an article on ‘ editing or a sound bibliography on documentary films. Moreover, these are the ideas, experiences, and information, which many in the field can identify with. The only problem with such a book is, perhaps, when one finds it just to leaf through, it may not leave a deep singular impression on what exactly it tries to communicate, due to the diverse treatment of the theme. ‘
- Anupam Sam Ninan
Women Making Meaning: Telling stories about Reality
by Shabnam Virmani
Shabnam Virmani, of Drishti, Ahmedabad,presented this paper at the Sarojini Naidu School of Performing Arts in Hyderabad.She also used clips from her films to illustrate her talk.Presented below is an edited version of the paper.
I see my work as part and product of the women’s movement in our country. My films are a response to women’s need to articulate, nourish and defend an identity that imbues their lives with meaning. They are a response to women’s need to literally make their own meaning and share it with one another across space and time.
What do these films do?
Mainstream society has engineered its mass media in the classic top down mode, with little or no participation by reroll poor communities. However, even in the more alternative spaces – the NGO movement, grassroots activism, the development sector – a lot of documentation, research, propagation
of ideas and experiences happens within the circuits of the well-in-formed, urban educated strata. The experiences and struggles of rural women’s lives are theorized, documented, filmed and discussed in scholarly journals, books, forums and seminars. Do we ask whether rural women themselves find this knowledge useful? Do we spend enough creative energies in using accessible and popular communication media to feed this knowledge back into rural women’s lives in ways that could be strengthening and useful to them?
In my/ Drishti’s work we have found video very powerful as a tool for networking and cross sharing of experiences of women/people from one village to another. VHS copies of our films are distributed, in numbers up to 2000 per film, to grassplot groups, institutions, NGOs and activists who screen these films to audiences ranging from 10 to 1000 in different parts of the country. I believe we can use independent documentary (and with some effort TV and radio) to genuinely be media’ for the people of this country to ‘close the loop’ and move us away from dominant vertical modes of communication into more dynamic, lateral and circular ones.
When Women Unite: The Story of an Uprising
Take, for example, a powerful grassroots movement against liquor in Andhra Pradesh. Women challenged the government,exposed the political economy of liquor, claimed public space in dramatic and assertive manners and took collective action to deal with domestic violence and poverty. This movement was analysed in 3-4 scholarly articles in the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW). However, the lessons and experiences of this movement would have failed to reach other rural women in the country. And amongst women’s groups in Gujarat and other Northern states there was an active curiosity when they heard about this movement – to know more; to find out how rural women like them, did this; what role did literacy play, etc. That was the impulse with which we produced a film on it.
Exposing women to the actions of women struggling elsewhere, highlighting their strengths, helping to generate and propagate new role models for women and contribute to the overall process of empowerment of women in the country – video manages to break through both the barriers of space (which theatre suffers from) and literacy (which the print media suffer from).
Currently this film is being used by rights activistic women’s groups, colleges and educational institutions in India and abroad. We have received feedback about this film playing a motivating factor for women fed up with alcohol in Rajasthan and Gujarat to meet the sarpanch, or take other action. At one end, radical groups like POW are screening this film for rural audiences, and at the other end, the IAS Academy, Mussoorie is using it as a part of the Foundation Course for officer trainees.
To that extent these films help facilitate such lateral communication networks, in which the films become the medium by which women in Andhra talk with women in Gujarat or elsewhere.
The Films themselves
My very first video documentary, Aama Kono Kono Vaank? (In this, who is at Fault?), taught me some very big lessons.
It was a film that documented rural women recounting their experi ences of violence during the course of a gender sensitization training with them in Saurashtra. It was a harsh, grim and rather depressing look at the helplessness of women in facing dowry harassment, physical torture and burning attempts at the hands of their husbands and in-laws.
Now this film, well-intentioned though it was, and it even moved some urban activist friends of mine to tears, but it was not such a success with rural women. It brought into very sharp focus for me, the socio-cultural gaps that lay between me as an ”urban, educated feminist filmmaker” and the rural women I sought to communicate with.
Aama Kono Kono Vaank taught me that I would have to define and prioritize my audiences. Did I want to be speaking primarily to people like me (at seminars, at festivals and such like) or did I want to speak primarily to rural poor women? This decision would fundamentally alter the way I make films in future, what I choose to say in them and how I choose to say it.
Method, Content and Form
I will look at method and content together, because the two are interconnected. What were these gaps that Aama Kono Kono Vaank brought to light? To start with, I realized that violence was so common in rural women’s lives that they did not react to it with the kind of sanitized horror that we urban women did. Further, I realized that this film did nothing for rural women, because it created and reinforced their self-image as Victim.
On the other hand, it was obviously doing things at a certain level for urban women. I had to ask myself, was there a politics implicit in my being unable to read resistance into these women’s lives? Why does BBC, for instance, more readily sponsor and tele- cast certain kinds of stories about women in India, such as child foeticide and Sati? Because it somewhere reinforces their image of women as exploited Victims in a medieval Third World, while reinforcing their own self-image as the ‘civilised’ world. Were we urban feminists not guilty of echoing the same impulse?
In the last 8 years of filming I have learnt one humbling fact – if you are open to looking you will find, along with the oppression, pain and tears, good measures of resistance, humour, joie de vivre, and laughter as well. Certainly a lot to learn from. And it is this Zinda dil spirit that was the theme fora later film I made with women activists of Madhya Pradesh: ‘Tu Zinda Hai!
I took a critical decision, some where along the way, to focus on this Tu Zinda Hai! spirit, on the forms of resistance women have evolved to cope with oppression. A decision to read resistance into rural women’s lives and actions – as a conscious and deliberate feminist praxis. A decision, never again to reduce the women in my films to passive victim-objects, not only in their socio-material realities but then doubly so through my film making process. A decision,never again to make films ‘on’ women, but to make films ‘with’ them. And this brings me to the Methodology issue.
In trying to close the gaps between us, instinctively and quite logically, I moved towards involving the rural women i sought to communicate with, into the filmmaking process itself. I have discovered that if the filmmaking process becomes a collective one, then something starts happening at a societal level. Filmmaking itself becomes a social process. A group of women are consolidating their sense of history and self, using the filmmaking exercise as a platform, a tool…
To that extent film for me has not been so much an intensely personal visions or expression. It has been a collectively negotiated articulation of a set of experiences, emotions and convictions.
Hopes Soaring High
What are the kinds of negotiations one does in this method? In 1993, we made a film called Hopes Soaring High. This was a docu-drama set in Dholera, Gujarat that chronicles the emergence of a women’s savings or self-help group, and how it helped the women to gain control over their lives. During the process of script development, women objected to our filming a scene portraying the women of the group beating up an upper caste money- lender. They felt to recreate that scene and show it around may unsettle the caste dynamics in the area, and become counter-productive to their struggle. However,we felt that if this film has to inspire rural women in UP,MP and other places, it must somehow portray this act of daring. Eventually, we negotiated a solution that was acceptable to all. To talk about what happened in the film, without showing it. The beating is recounted by a woman in a letter to her son.
Ek Potlu Beek Nu
We made Ek Potlu Beek Nu (A Bundleful of Fear) in 1992, which was scripted and enacted with the field workers of a women’s development program called Mahila Samakhya in Baroda. These were village or small town women, almost all of whom lead experienced violence in their own lives and struggled individually or collectively to combat it. In a collective script development workshop their experiences were woven into a script for the film, in which they subsequently acted.
Ek Potlu Beek Nu, most of all, is about violence against women, the psychological effects of patriarchy and women’s struggle to conquer Fear.
It is an entirely dramatized narrative of five rural women, each entangled in some conflict (marital or familial or societal). The story unfolds as these women struggle with patriarchal structures of authority – the family, the panchayat, the police station and the courts – while simultaneously getting drawn to one another, ultimately finding strength and solidarity in each other.
The women who participated in this film started using this film extensively in the villages of Vaghodia taluka in Baroda district, renting a TV-VCR and taking the film from village to village, holding discussions with village communities. The film in one sense helped consolidate their identities, their convictions and ideology.
This film curiously presaged the emergence of a real-life alternative – the Nari Adalat – an informal women’s court, that emerged 2-3 years later.Some of the women who acted in this film sit as ranches and arbitrate cases brought to them by men and women from the surrounding villages. Without wanting to romanticise the role of this film, let me say that this parallel court would have emerged without this film. But this film nevertheless played a role in consolidating their identity and growth as a women’s collective.
My Voice, Your Voice, Our Voice
Related to the question of form is the question, ”Do I claim to give voice to women through my films? And in this process, where is mine?”
Take my decision to use a fictionalised narrative of the anti-liquor movement, at the expense of direct, talking heads interviews with scores of rural women.To that extent, When Women Unite is ( more straightforwardly) a ‘portrait’ of a movement. It is the ‘Story’ of an Uprising. A ‘Story’ of reality.
Be it drama or documentary, relatively speaking both are mediated representations of ‘reality’ drama more straightforwardly so, documentary less straightforwardly so. Documentary also is a perception of reality, a creative treatment of actuality. Because we all make stories of our past, what happened, what didn’t, we forget a lot of the inconvenient, and make linkages that attempt to order, connect and make meaning out of what is a lot of chaos.
Tu Zinda Hai!
The women of Tu Zinda Haï! are as much the filmmaker’s creations, my creations, as they are their real selves (or their own self-creations). They are ‘imagined women’ (to borrow a phrase from Rajeshwari Sunder Rajan ) represented realities, admittedly invested with my ideological convictions arrived at through a sincere negotiation with their ‘real’ realities. I speak through my characters, and they speak through me. That’s the pact.
Finally, I want to end on a note of self-critique. We are often guilty of either reducing and /or trapping women into the ‘Victim’, or valorizing and romanticizing them into ‘heroic vehicles of Resistance’. In this binary bind we tend to fluctuate between Victim- Agent, Helplessness-self Sufficiency, Either-or. Reflecting on our own positions as feminist women we see that we are never quite Either-or, but always a bit of both, at all times. So we need to devise fictional worlds that are as complex, contradictory and provocative as the real one.
CHARKHA – Wheels within Wheels!
By Deepti Priya Mehrotra
Charkha has been an ambitious venture, something of a dream.Innumerable activists and journalists over the years have sensed the lack of sufficient reportage about meaningful people’s initiatives. Issues and processes that affect large numbers of ordinary people simply find no place in the mainstream media. Charkha was designed to bridge this gap. The idea was to encourage grassroots activists to write, and channelize this writing through a multilingual feature agency. Support to foster and hone writing skills was to be provided through workshops.
The need for such an initiative had already been widely felt, therefore when Sanjoy began Charkha, it enjoyed general support and goodwill. Sanjoy’s personal dynamism helped, as also his sensitivity to the craft of writing.
The cause was demanding. It took dynamism, sincerity and unshifting hard work. This was 1994. Charkha spearheaded a media campaign on cerebral malaria in Rajasthan. This broke new ground, bringing ground-level information and perspectives before a ‘national’ readership. With this, the organization was launched.
Over the years that followed , Charkha experienced its share of ups and downs. On one hand wonderful features were generated, and actually placed in a number of newspapers and magazines. Workshops with activists and mediapersons were conducted, successfully stimulating new thinking. We were able to put together special articles for The Hindustan Times, The Economic Times, Humanscape, eminar etc.
On the other hand, Charkha took its time stabilizing. Several times, it all but vanished! For long stretches, funds were non-existent. Some members of the Charkha team joined, left, reemerged – dependent largely on the availability or absence of financial resources. The office space we had enjoyed at AVARD (Association of Voluntary Agencies for Rural Development) varnished when Sanjoy moved to Assam in March 1996. For nearly two years, with no team or infrastructure, I carried on the work at a minimal baseline level. This voluntary input of time, energy, skills and space left me drained, yet somewhere very satisfied. However, I was doing all this only because I saw it as a sort-of interim and emergency situation – I was waiting for Sanjoy and the rest of the Board members to generate basic resources to sustain the venture.And then, Sanjoy himself vanished injury 1997, when he was abducted by ULFA terrorists.
Crisis and Reconstruction
Charkha was already in crisis at that point. I had been sustaining it alone, in the hope that it would survive the crisis, and expand, once the Board members generated needed resources. (I had joined in August 1995 to head the Charkha-Delhi initiative – i.e. take charge for editorial, sourcing and marketing work but not for raising basic resources). Sanjoy’s vanishing seemed to put a final seal on the viability of Charkha. At that point, I would have given up had not the Board suddenly called a meeting and said they want to help reconstruct Charkha. (The Board at that time had Mr. Alok Mukhopadhyaya as President, Mr.Anil Singh as Treasurer. Ms. Vijaya Ghose joined as Secretary, in Sanjoy’s place. Mr. RV. Rajagopal was on the Board, but had left Delhi to return to Madhya Pradesh. Mr. Rajesh Tandon, Mr. Walter Fernandes and Ms. Pramada Menon had also been on the Board, but a1l three resigned, because they were unable to give the time it required.)
As it turned out, the Board members who remained on board were themselves unable to give it the time and attention it required. They requested me to run the organization. I agreed to take on the task of revitalizing Charkha, on the condition that they would take care of fund-raising for a period of three years. In the beginning of 1998, Mr. Alok Mukhopadhyaya (VHAI) promised he would look after basic funds for a period of three years, along with Mr. Anil Singh (VHAI) and Mr. Shankar Ghose (NFI). Buoyed on by their promisees Charkha set up an office, in a spare room that CENDIT generously pro vided us, at subsidized rates. A small team joined, and began work with much enthusiasm. However, within a few weeks we had to shut down the office – for lack of funds.
I was angry at the betrayal. Yet, I decided to try to raise funds myself. NFI funds needed to be pursued: Charkha had no FCRA clearance, and the funds NFI allocated for us were foreign-funds. I pursued, and obtained, ‘Prior Permission’ clearance, and could therefore access the funds in September ’98. This time I set up office in an annexe in my house – seeing that it was not realistic to promise steady rent to anyone. Two members of the old Charkha team rejoined – Tarun Bose and Aman Namra. Both had left earlier, when Charkha had no resources.
Again the feature agency took off immediately. Activists began sending us features – in fact, some had never stopped! I approached each of Charkha ‘s old funders – UNDP, CAPART- and FES . Bhaskar Bhattacharya, at UNDP, was warm and understood the venture very well, but was facing problems within his own organization. After several meetings and prolonged discussions, CAPART gave Charkha a small project. So did FES.
Having learnt some of the ropes during the previous three years, I went about setting systems in place with some semblance of efficiency. However, I took some decisions that were to prove misjudgements. I had decided that I would not like to earn my bread and butter from Charkha. Rather, I would put in say two to three hours of voluntary labour everyday,providing direction and seeing to the smooth functioning of all the systems. I thought a venture like Charkha needs this. I thought its credibility rests on the sheer transparent commitment of those who are in it. I wanted to devise mechanisms to prevent vested interests from developing in Charkha. I also wanted to nurture a democratic ethos. I felt that hard work and concern for quality have to come from within each person. So, while I did discuss in detail how to ensure quality, and good work, at the same time I refused to rule by fiat. I myself put in tremendous hard work, which I hoped would set a trend, By myself remaining transparent and totally accountable, I would help create an ethos that would allow Charkha to be rofessional, high-quality, efficient and at the same time identified with the grassroots.
Meanwhile, in order to set the organization on a stable footing I also pursued an CRA. When we were told, after 7 months of the application, that it would be refused, for the first time in my life I approached a friend to put in a word for us. It was his intervention that obtained Charkha an FCRA.
As soon as I thought Charkha was now on stable ground, and destined to take off again, the whole thing seemed to collapse. This time it was internal strategising and ‘capturing’. Responsible for this were one or two Board members together with one or two team members. The details are murky.
Spelling out the details here will serve little purpose. lf there is a constructive objective, I am willing to go into the details with like-minded friends/comrades. The purpose could be to salvage Charkha; it could be to analyse why similar things go wrong in so many NGOs. The purpose could be the creation of a new network or organization with an ethos of sharing and accountability, an attempt towards a truly collective and democratic process, and similar visionary work….
‘With this in mind, I am structuring the rest of this article as ‘Learnings and Questions’.
Learnings and Questions
1 . The media does respond if we generate high-quality features. Efforts to write meaningfully for the media must ensure quality.
2. Quality, in an attempt like Charkha’s, comes from a deep understanding and respect for grassroots work a passion for sharing the underlying realities, processes and experiences with people at large, and simultaneously the skill to do so. This means skills of communication, sensitive editing and re-writing, to retain activist sensibility, yet meet the requirements of varied publications.
3. Training workshops with activists and mediapersons can play a very useful role in such work.
4. The print media is getting increasingly consumerist and has less and less space for authentic people’s stories. However, it is possible to expand the available space – and utilise it more meaningfully.
5. The people running such a venture need to be seasoned activists, mature personalities and skilled journalists/editors – all together. A visionary venture requires visionary people to realise it.
6. There is so much need for such a venture that as soon as it begins, it immediately gets inundated with too much work – requests, demands, articles, issues which demand urgent attention.
7. Regular work cannot needs a collective, a team.
8. Systems have to be generated for ensuring basic efficiency.
9. Norms should be created so that an organization cannot become a hotbed of vested interests (be it careerist, fame and name, glory, self-perpetuation, a ‘permanent’ job…).
10. Transparency and accountability are essential in terms of the organization as a whole, and also for each person within the organization.
11 . NGOs virtually always have a central personality running them . Issues of leadership, ‘egos’ and ‘personalities’ are rife in the NGO world. The ‘leaders’ as well as the ‘led’ are together responsible for the situation. What happens when somebody does not want to be this kind of leader, rather wants democratic and participatory functioning? Are many people not ready for this yet? Do they want to be led – or else to lunge at the opportunity and wrest this measly power?
12. What happens if an NGO gets ‘captured’ by such persons – opportunistic, money-minded, and hopelessly inefficient?
13. NGOs want governmental bodies to be accountable and transparent. What about our own accountability and transparency? A number of NGOs have unprincipled megalomaniacs at the helm, drunk with a sense of their own self-importance. What good are they doing to the causes they say they stand for?
14. What sort of persons should be on the Board of an NGO? What is the function of the Board? With no need to put in one iota of energy into the organization, Board members can assume the power to not just advice, but also hire and fire. A rotten President can, then, ruin an organization, pouring cold water on years of work put in by somebody else. ls there any integrity left, if NGO Boards behave like this?
15. Funding agencies work on the basis of proposals and reports, and the credibility of the organisations/personalities who head organizations. How can they better monitor and oversee the use of the funds they provide?
16. Without funds, there is no working team. With funds, there are crowds of people dying to work ‘for the cause’. Obviously funding distorts priorities, attitudes and values. What to do?
17. Issues of ethics are spoken about unendingly by activists. We point fingers at communalized, globalists. Capitalists, profiteers…. But what if ethics is in acutely short supply right here? What if crass and crude self-aggrandisement lurks behind elaborate facades of self-righteousness?
18. ls there a point at which it is better that an organization fold up, rather than carry on in a degenerated state? Should any NGO be tolerated if it becomes merely a shop, selling ghatiya stuff?
19. Can the activist community institute norms for self-governance with ethics and dignity?
20. There is enough genuine commitment, moral authority and high-level skills to be able to sustain ventures like Charkha. If an NGO falls through the cracks, who are the losers, whose are the faults? – And, who can save the situation, salvage the work,
resurrect the vision? Charkha- like ventures belong to a very very wide circle of people. They are in no way the properly of their Board, or their working team.
There are wheels within wheels. There are threads connecting all of us, each with each. If a vision like Charkha betrayed, it has an impact far beyond the few individuals directly associated. Can we do something – to save the organizations or at least to save the vision, so that somebody, somewhere can actually do the work that needs to be done….?
Media and Culture
P. Govinda Pillai
What is Culture?
A well known anthropologist raised the question: Why humans have culture? Then he went on to explained the origins, development and function of culture in the society. But the question is a bit misleading, because it may give an impression that first the humans came and then they acquired a facility called culture. Which came first: human or culture? A question like which came first: hen or the egg? Ac- tually humans are human because they have culture. The emergence and evolution of humans are coeval with the emergence and evolution of culture. Formation and acquisition of culture is precisely the point of departure between human and non-human living beings.
What is culture then? Though it is a familiar term widely bandied about in everyday parlance as well as scholarly discourse, when it comes to definition, we all fall into a mire of confusion.
”Culture”, Raymond Williams said two decades ago, ”is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language. This is so partly because of its intricate historical development in several European languages, but mainly because it has now come to be used for important concepts in several distinct intellectual disciplines and in several distinct incompatible systems of thought.” (Key Words, 1976).
The modern connotations of this highly evocative word is not later than, stay, Mathew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy (1869) or Edward Tylor’s Primitive Culture (1871), though our century has enriched and distorted it almost beyond recognition. In Indian languages too, the equivalents of ”culture” acquired its current meanings only after the First World War (1914 – 18). The first really authoritative modern Malayalam dictionary Sabdatharavali published in 1922, did not ”recognise” the present meanings of Samskara – it only approved the ancient meaning of the Sanskrit word, such as Shodasa sanskaras rites of passages etc. It is only in editions of the book revised in 1950s that the modern meaning too was added to the list. As late as 1918, Rabindranath Tagore lamented the absence of an equivalent Bengali term for the English word”culture.” It was then that the great Suniti Kumar Chatterjee came forward to save the situation by suggesting the adoption of sanskriti for culture. The usage of this word in Hindi, Kannada, Marathi etc. also could be traced to the post-World War 1 decade. Perhaps only Tamil can boast of purely local equivalent, Panpad and Kalchara. Though these two words are not strictly equivalent, they are often used as such. The former is pure Dravidian while the latter is variation of sanskrit usage. Whatever it be, the Tamils also began to use these words with present connotations only during the last three quarters of the century.
All this goes to prove not just the evolution of the meaning of the word but the evolution, transformation and even metamorphosis of the concept itself – the concept of cultured its nature and functions. Both the material culture of the anthropologists and the mental culture, and cultural products of non-anthropologists were always recognised as very vital to human life and society, but the relation of culture to power structure of society and its hegemonic patterns and their ideological underpinnings are new discoveries of the recent one or two decades – generally termed as post-modern era.
The facile idea of culture as a leisurely pursuit, or marginal activity and a soothing umbrella under which every class and everyone could seek a shelter is now outdated. Even the idea of all-embracing ‘national’ culture and its alleged hoary traditions are now under cloud of distrust. In a very significant work on the subject Glen Jordan and Chris Weedon say:
”Everything in social and cultural life has fundamentally to do with power. Power is at the centre of cultural politics. It is integral to culture. All signifying practices – that is, all practices that have meaning – involve relations of power. They subject us in the sense that they offer us particular subject positions and modes of subjec tivity these subject positions are not a1l the same. The power relations inherent in a particular signifying practice may be in a state of equilibrium, but more often, they involve relations of domination and subordination. We are either active subjects who take up positions from which we can exercise power within a particular social practice, or we are subjected to the definitions of others.” (Cultural Politics, Oxford, 1995, p 11)
From this understanding of the role of culture in political and power structure, they delineate the realm of Cultural Politics.
”Whose culture shall be the official one and whose shall be subordinated? What culture shall be regarded as worthy of display and which shall be hidden? Whose history shall be remembered and whose forgotten? What images of social life shall be projected and which shall be marginalised? What voices shall be heard and which be silenced? Who is representing whom and on what basis?” (Ibid, p4)
The Role of Media
It is through communication that culture is inherited, exchanged and transformed. And communication needs media. Almost 250 centuries ago humans began communication through the media of lines, colours and shapely paintings and artifacts. About the symbolic communication through abstract and arbitrary lines, i.e. the al phabet is a new-fangled fashion in human history with no more than fifty centuries’ history. For many centuries, only a microscopic minority of society had the skill and permission to handle this device, which may be termed the first technologisation of the word. Even in this century more than half the humanity is illiterate.
Now on the threshold of the 21st century, we have travelled a long way from the days when our forefathers in Phoenicia discovered this wonderful device of the alphabets – skin parch- ments, palm leaves, bricks, metal sheets, paper, printing and back again to live sound and image communication of the dawn of civilization with our electronic gadgets. The growth and expansion of media technology at breakneck speed and hairbreadth precision increased human communication skills and effectiveness immensely. Accumulation and propagation of knowledge and ideas have become truly global, reaching out to every nook and corner of the earth and even to ethereal expanses. But along with such benefits, dangerous and counter productive hazards are produce, too.
Media needs technology and technology needs tools, machines and material, from pen and paper to television broadcasting stations. Primitive tools anti quills were within the capability of average men and women, but modern printing complexes and giant telecasting stations are worth millions, much beyond the grasp of even well to do members of society. Only big monopoly combines could afford them. Even powerful and rich States find it difficult to run the modern media without substantial support from the affluent and monopolists, and transnational corporations (TNCs) as sponsors and advertisers. So the ownership of the means of communication, just as the means of production and livelihood, has created a highly unequal world, or rather, enhanced and strengthened manifold the inherited hierarchically structured societies, nationwide and worldwide. Along with that, the chasm between the mass media handlers and mass media consumers tends to grow with every step of tht’ technological advance. The number of communicators tends to decrease and number of audience, tend
to multiply steadily. The very idea of Communication as a Common Community activity and mutual exchange is subverted and the whole process becomes a one-way traffic. The society, the world, gets divided into two major classes: on the one hand a minority class of communicators who by the same position wields positions of wealth and power. On the other hand, we have the consumers of the media message, the helpless victims of communicators and mind manipulators. I am certainly aware of the talks and dreams about responsive and participatory communication, etc. But as things are, they all are still in the realm of dreams and conjectures.
The global media situation today is summarised by Edward S. Herman and Robert W. Mcchesney as follows:
”Since the early 1980s there has been a dramatic restructuring of national media industries, along with the emergence of a genuinely global commercial media market. The newly developing global media system is dominated by three or four dozen large TNCS, with fewer than ten, mostly US based media conglomerates towering over the global media order with its thoroughgoing commercialism, and an associated marked decline in the relative importance of public broadcasting and the applicability of public service standards. Such a concentration of media power in organizations dependent on advertisers’ support and responsible primarily to shareholders is a clear and present danger to citizens’ participation in public affairs, understanding of public issues, and thus to the effective working of democracy.” (The Global Media: The New Missionaries of Corporate Capitalism, New Delhi, 1977)
They proceed to explain:
”The global media market is dominated by ten or so vertically integrated media conglomerates, most of which are based in the United States. Another thirty of forty significant supporting firms round out the meaningful position in the system. These firms operate in oligopolistic markets with substantial barriers to entry. They compete vigorously on a non-price basis, but their competition is softened not only by common interest as oligopolists, but also by a vast array of joint ventures, strategic alliances and cross-ownership among the leading firms. To no small extent, the hallmarks of the global media system are its financial underpinnings in advertising and its thoroughgoing commercialism. The global television system emphasizes a few areas of commercial promise: music videos, news, sports, children’s fare, a few genres of filmed entertainment and shopping. There is little that distinguishes the content provided by any of these firms from that of the commercial media.” (Ibid)
In an excellent study, Douglas Kellner closely analyses the United States TV and other media such as films, and convincingly establishes their role in promoting American hegemonic and imperialist agenda. He says that the ”artifacts of media culture are not innocent entertainment, but are thoroughly ideological artifacts bound up with political rhetoric, struggles, agendas and politics.” It is the task of the media critic to decode such loaded messages wrapped in innocent veneers of entertainment. This advice is specially relevant in India where venerated classics of great tradition like Mahabharata and Ramayana are packaged in glittering TV tinsels and palmed off to innocent viewers with the ulterior purpose of promoting vicious communal agenda.
”A media culture has emerged in which images, sounds and spectacles help produce the fabric of everyday life, dominating leisure time, shaping political views and social behaviour, and providing the materials out of which people forge their very identities. Radio, television, film and the other products of the culture industry provide the models of what it means to be male or female, successful or failure, powerful or powerless. Media culture also provides the material out of which many people construct their sense of class, of ethnicity and race, of nationality, of sexuality, of ‘us’ and ‘them’.” (Media Culture, London,1995)
Though we hear of alternate media projects, the situation as of today present a gloomy picture of the new millennium. A disillusioned media magnate like Jerry Mander gives up all hope of reforming the media and writes a very disturbing, if futile book called ”Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television” (Mapusa, 1998). One of the dilemmas of technological advance is that there is no escape route for a retreat from the ”State of the Art.” But Gandhis and Manders do help us to see through current myths and superstitions circulating around the so – called high-tech civilization.
Mr P Govinda Pillai is the Chairman of Kerala State Film Development Corporation and an eminent scholar.
Courtesy: Souvenir of the 8th National conference of UNI Employees’ Union
The need for alternate media
Anand Swarup Verma
There are infinite instances across the Babari Masjid incident in 1990 to Kargil in 1999 where the power of media has reached a perceivably alarming standard. The trend set forth with the Operation Blue Star, especially among th Hindi newspapers, continued unabated throughout the Ayodhya episode. The anti-sikh, radical Hindu psyche of these papers become clear if we review the news analyses and editorials of those days. The headlines and news reports of the ‘national’ newspapers reflected a distinct communal bias in their reporting of the unlocking of the so-called Ram Janambhoomi temple in lêebruary 1986. By the very style of reporting one could have sensed what was ahead. There was a scuffle among the newspapers to lure readers – quite similar to the Operation Blue Star days – in the choice of news presentation. Delhi bound newspapers like Jansatta and Navbharat Times proclaimed it as the return of Ram to his holy land, while the Lucknow papers presented the news like mythological stories churned out by Geeta Press. A few months later, when the VHP took out the Ram-Janaki Rath, the Press behaved in the same manner. The consequence of their fanaticism was the rapid spread of Hindu-Muslim riots across the country, and a swelling of hatred between the two communities.
Throughout these incidents the newspapers ignited the emotions of the people purely for the commercial interests. During Kargil in 1999, and the nuclear tests at Poklnran earlier, the commercial character of both the Press and the electronic media came out in the open. During that time the media was propagating World Cup Cricket as the symbol of ‘patriotism’. As soon as India was out of the tournament, they turned their attention to Kargil. Now business flourished in the name of Kargil as it did during Valentine’s day. From all this, a clear paradigm shift is visible in the focus of journalism.
But – in the context of growth, development and reach of media – why has the media, instead of fulfilling the needs of the people, become an impediment? Today the media is confronted with a number of precarious challenges, each of which need closer and critical analysis.
Apparently the last 20 years mark a tremendous development for journalism. Technological advancement has resulted in sleeker and increased pages. There is a phenomenal increase in edition and circulation. But despite all this, in terms of news, people are increasingly being disconnected from each other. News has become so focalised that if a certain daily has a Lucknow edition and a Kanpur edition, the reader of the Kanpur edition will not get any news of Lucknow and vice versa – even though physically the two cities may be a few hours away from each other. In fact, this kind of localization of news has come in the way of people’s right to information. Thus, when we say that journalism has developed, we have only confused ourselves by mixing up the development of printing technology with that of journalism.
Before 1947, journalism was seen as a mission to identify with the national movement. Though journalism as a profession exposed to the wrath of the government, the editors of those days, Ganesh Shankar Vidhyarthi, Babulal Vishnu Paradkar, Mahavir Prasad Dwevedi, Munshi Premchand, Banarasi Das Chaturvedi, etc., played a significant role in stimulating the nationalist movement.
Today, however, journalism has become a commercial venture, and people are attracted to the glamour that journalism has acquired over the past two or three decades. And this applies b0th to English and Hindi journalism. Many are attracted to that journalism which has access to corridors of power. Those who take up journalism as a mission for social change are left demoralized.
After Indira Gandhi declared Emergency and imposed media censorship in 1975, there was a positive attitude in journalists. By 1977, there was a new trend of investigative jour nalism which, for a while, was commendable. However, slowly, in the name of investigative journalism, reports pertaining to personal lives of politicians began to find more space. After the suffocating environment of the Emergency was over, readers found a new enthusiasm and interest in newspapers. Many new dailies and magazines came to the stands. In Hindi, magazines such as Ravibar, edited by Surendra Pratap Singh, gave a new direction to journalism. A magazine like Maya changed its character and became a political magazine due to the qualitative change in what readers found attractive.
But in 1980, Indira Gandhi returned to power with an entirely new face. In her previous term, she had found communal organizations like the Jan Sangh rather threatening. But in order to gain popularity in this term she made communalism her vehicle. She, with active support of her son Sanjay, began a trend of inducting criminals and out- laws in politics. This trend has made a deep impact in Indian politics. No political party today is devoid of criminals, barring perhaps the Left parties.This has reflected in the media in general.
Due to the increase in journalists working with regional languages there was a substantial increase in tile publication of language dailies. Politicians too became aware that language dailies could play an important role in shaping public opinion. Consequently,the importance of people involved with language dailies increased. Politicians built up a cordial relationship with these papers. As the standard of politics declined, it had a direct impact on the regional Press. There came a time when a section of journalists became active collaborators in the politician-bureaucracy-mafia nexus. In this situation, pro-people journalism was pushed to the margins, while the pro-people journalists became busy in saving their lives.
Today media, which is regarded as the fourth pillar, is stronger than the other three (legislature, executive and judiciary). It has immense power. This fourth pillar takes stock of the other three, but there is no fifth pillar to monitor the fourth one. The role of the editor does not exist anymore, now the owner itself has taken over this role.
The need for alternate media starts here. The main task of alternate media is to bring pro-people journalism to the mainstream and connect journalism to the needs of people. The con cept of alternate media is not something unique. In fact, from time to time. in various levels, different people have talked about alternate media, even if there were differences in seman tics. Whenever a person or an organization thinks of publishing a newspaper or magazine, it is driven by the fact that the existing media is not able to fulfill its needs. That is why it has to create an alternative or its own media. And this is true for most of the small-scale newspapers or magazines.
A few years back, a few journalist friendly from Delhi met to discuss about the current situation of media and find ways to develop alternate media. The meeting was convinced that instead of localized and disconnected attempts, efforts should be made to combine all the forces involved with alternate media tender one umbrella; to give it a national character rather than a regional one. The stress was on an all – India character as against a national one, so that a reader in Guwahati can access that news about Ghazipur that is relevant to him or her. This aspect makes our view exclusive from the prevalent ones. It has to be understood that anemia persons on their own cannot develop alternate media. Along with the media personal all those forces searching for alternatives in various streams (education, economy, environment social structure, political system etc.) must be connected.
Of late, india is also jumping on the bandwagon of other Third World countries as the Press and news agencies are increasingly being run by industrial houses and multinationals. ‘The arrival of global companies in electronic media – in English, Hindi and now even in regional languages – is making sure that we read, hear and see only what they want us to. During Kargil, the electronic media managed to bring war for the first time in its live form, to our drawing rooms. Star TV was closely following the reporting style of CNN during the Gulf War. But it went unnoticed that all the information was based on what the Foreign and Defense ministries provided, and their camera could go only to those places that the Defense ministry permitted. The print media too published only ‘sponsored’ news. For example, in May 99, the first anniversary of the Pokhran tests, the news agency kbràfp circulated a report titled ”Parmanu Parikshan ne Pokhran ki kaya hi palat di (The nuclear tests have changed the face of Pokhran).” This report stated:
Within a year after the nuclear tests, Pokhran and Khetolai villages have come out of the shadow of famine. There is record rainfall here. Nearly 100 km of wastelands in this area has turned lush green.
The report described the prosperity of the area based on ‘some sources.’ The description included information about the Public Works Department erecting a one-km long stone bearing the name of Pokhran. But, on the same day, newspapers like The Times of India, The Statesman and Indian Express reported about the misery of the inhabitants of Khetolai village. There were serious physical ailments like cancer, blindness heart failures etc., and radio- activity was reported even on cattle.
The other papers also carried similar reports. But it is difficult to fathom how the Varta correspondent saw im ages of prosperity in the area. It is obvious that it was a fabricated report emanating from forces that felt Pokhran had raised the country’s head in pride. However, this was only a small, insignificant example. Everyday you will come across such reporting on every significant event. In capitalist media politics, this is termed as ‘misinformation’ or ‘ disinformation campaign’.
Publishing fabricated news on all matters of national importance has become common these days. Often one comes across terms like ‘from informed sources’ that might shock the readers. Such news items were common during Kargil. On June 3, the Dainik Tribune, published in Chandigarh, carried a front-page news titled ”Ghuspetiyon par napalm bamo se hamle (infiltrators attacked with napalm bombs).” This item was not visible in any other daily. The Dainik Tribune did not mention any
source even though it was an impor tant news. Such news items must carrythe source. The following day, 4 June, Jansatta claimed that it was a wrong information, mentioning the Indian Air Force as its source. Similarly, The Free Press Journal, published from Mumbai, allotted important space to a news item that said Ghauri and Shaheen have been installed at the line of control. Again, there was no mention of any source. Then Rashtriya Sahara on 25 June carried an item headlined ”Gulam Kashmir aur Punjab ki seema par Pak ke parvenu hathiyar tainaath. (Pak Nuclear arms installed at the border of disputed Kashmir and Punjab).” There was no source to this news either.
In this situation, it has become imminent to organize the alternate media and give a concrete shape to a network amongst them. In the meeting we conducted in September 1992, along with the issue of freedom of expression, the question of ‘whose freedom’ also came up – freedom of publishers, editors, authorities or journalists? The meeting highlighted those tendencies that have assumed dangerous proportions these days. For example, the black-out of people’s struggles, freedom of communal expressions, conscious opposition to minorities, women and dalits, over-emphasis and glamourisation of crime reports, creating rifts between people of different nations through misinformation, institutionalization of the corruption in journalists, propagation of decadent cultures etc.
This is the right time to decide how to give practical shape to alternate media. This is such a vast and diffi cult task that it requires a movement, which needs a lot of preparation. lf we agree with its philosophy, we need to come together to decide on its practical form.
- The author is a senior Hindi Journalist and editor of Samkaleen Teesri Dunia. This is a translation of his Hindi article.
An interview with Sanjay Kak
Sanjay Kak hardly needs an introduction. His film In the forest hangs a bridge was warded the Swarn Kamal at the 1999 National Film Awards in India. His first independent film Kinnaur Ke Log (The People of Kinnaur) was made in 1983. Geeli Mitti (The Wet Earth), won the Rajat Kamal at the National Film Awards, 1985. His long association with television saw interesting documentary films and series like Pradakshina: Journey Down the Ganga, Punjab: Doosra Adhyaya (Punjab: Chapter Two). and Kiski Ganga?(Whose River Is it?). Some of his other documentaries include This Land, My Land, England, A House and a Home and Cambodia: Angkor Remembered. Among his recent films are One Weapon, a video about democracy in the 50th year of Indian independence, and Harvest of Rain. Sanjay is also a founder Of the Forum for Independent Film and Video (fif+v). At a time when the relevance of the documentary format is increasingly under question, it was inspiring to talk to a man who has been faithfully married to the documentary form for 18 years.
How old were you when you won the Rajat Kamal for ‘Geeli Mitti’?
It was 1985, so I must have been 27.
‘That’s quite young’ What did it do to you? Did it help you in any way?
Not really. I was young yes, but there are no real advantages of being an early starter or a late starter. I made that film and followed it up with 3 or 4 rather wasteful years working in television. I think I restarted documentary film making four years down the line. Without being immodest, I would say that I don’t think national – or even international – awards matter in any real way. It hardly makes any impact on your film-making. Nor does it appreciably alter the funding sources for your films.
How did ‘Geeli Mitti’ happen ? As I understand you were studying economics at that time….
As an undergraduate, I wanted to be a print journalist. Since economics – which I studied – left me somewhat cold, I thought Sociology would lead me to wider understanding about society and culture. That led me to an MA in sociology from Delhi School of Economics.
I was also involved in some theatre at university and did the odd bits of research work for documentary film. That led me to TVNF, which was quite an exciting place, led by the film-maker Pradip Krishen. At the same time I saw some of my friends in print journalism who were terribly disillusioned, so there was no question of going back to it.
I have to say that I came to documentary film-making not because of any exceptionally deep-set passion for cinema, but out of a wider curiousity about ones times, about our society and culture. No formal training therefore.
Why do you say that you’ve ‘wasted your time’ after ‘Geeli Mitti’?
I think I look at it that way because work in television was not a choice, it was something that you did because it was the only work for a film-maker here in Delhi in the early 1980s. May be there was another kind of work, but I couldn’t see it. Perhaps if I were a political activist, it would have led me to another kind of film, but that’s not where I came from. But even as I worked in television, somewhere I knew that I wanted to get to a more reflective space. Even if the themes are political, mine was – still is – a more reflective kind of space. On the plus side, television has certainly left me with a great deal of confidence about being able to deliver. But in terms of ideas, I don’t think those days of working in television did much. In television you spend a lot of time meet a certain medium standard, which is not your own.
While you have made films that are more complex like ”This Land, My Land, England,’ I feel’ One Weapon’ is probably the most fascinating of all your films.But I felt it was too short.. You must have tons of unused footage.
Actually, I didn’t have too much material because I didn’t shoot that much. There were some obvious limitations – I knew I had to cut a half-hour film, it had to have two locations and so on … which worked against it in some ways. And although it can’t be avoided, having a commission, however generous it may be, can be very counter productive for thinking. I’m still very glad that I made that film, I definitely knew it was the direction that I wanted to work in, which was to explore a more directly political vein. That is precisely what I am doing now around the issue of water and the Narmada valley. It’s about politics, about people, the state and the workings of a democracy. That film was like a sketch of what this film will probably be.
That is where I find the new cheaper technology of Mini DV so ex- citing. At least you can start constructing the film before you look for the money. What otherwise happens is that you do a 10 day recce, come back and write a proposal. If you are lucky, you find the money. Then you are locked -that’s your film. You can only change it that much. After about a week’s shooting you realise that the film should have been different. By then its too late because you have only a few days left, you might as well wrap it up, etc.
So, in the absence of budgets that will allow you to really do a proper research, I am very excited about Mini DV. Take my example, I have shot probably 20 hours of material already, and now I am sitting down to figure how the film should be. I think that the combination of Mini DV and the large screen video projector is the most exciting thing that technology has done for film-making.
I liked ‘One Weapon’ because formally you have maintained your standard and yet you have touched a subject that is so vital for the Indian future: dalit movement.
I think it may be because you are reacting to the political content of the film. But, without actively thinking of doing a film about political space it happened. This project came up. I got a call asking me if I would like to do a film on ”democracy.” Which is why I see that film as a sketch of what I am doing now.
I have worked all my life on commissioned work. In a sense it’s a burden, but it’s also a privilege. That’s what I like about documentary filmmaking. lts the opportunity of actually being – how should I say it – paid to think. You are being paid to say,
”okay, travel for two weeks and think up an idea for a film that reflects on the idea of democracy” – I think its an enormous privilege. I think that’s what documentary film-making is for me. I am not oblivious of my audience, but its like a responsibility. The real thing you are being asked to do is to think, to reflect, to inform, to make connections. How much of what goes into it may vary, but thats the essence.
When I see my films in some kind of a sequence, although they are completely different in themes and treatment, there is only a sensibility at work which is consistent … But otherwise statistically , or in content, or subject matter – there is such a range that it really reads like a CV of a television producer – one on Angkor Vat, one on Indians abroad, one on water harvesting!! In that sense I admire the ability of film-makers to stick with concerns – say like Rahul Roy who has for several years been making films around the idea of sexuality. I feel that’s great because I have myself flitted from subject to subject.
Is there an audience for documentaries?
My experience is that there is definitely an audience out there. I am not saying this as the defensive reaction of an optimistic film-maker – sort of like ”if you don’t have an audience then why do you make films?” I say this because I can feel an audience being crystallized, partly as a reaction to television. These are not committed viewers alone, they may be people who may not be particularly open to social issues or environmental issues, but they are I think a bit tired, a bit exhausted, by the mediocrity of television. The answer does not lie in a 24-hour documentary channel, I am not sure about that. But like people inhabit multiple spaces, there is a very large audience who like turning periodically to viewing documentaries – initially perhaps in the form of a festival, or even regular screenings. I haven’t been to a single documentary screening in Delhi in the last two years – lets say the first screening or the first two screenings particularly’ -which is not packed. And it is not all friends and relatives; there are people who read the newspapers and land up.
So, our first responsibility is to create an audience for our work and that audience will in turn make the space for us wherever, on broadcast or in screenings. As part of the Forum for Independent Film and Video (fif+v) we had circulated a proposal for funding regular screenings, where our function was really to draw up a map of institutions, people, and infrastructure, which then anybody could run. We saw our job mainly as helping to see it through and think it through. Of course, something like Nottam, in Kerala, for example, has taken off without this kind of macro, nationwide pic- ture, and I think they are doing a great job. But it was the same idea, magnified – that you have circuits, you send a bunch of films, and a group of filmmakers from place to place, so that it consolidates the resources, curtails the expenditure.
However retrograde it may sound, I think you can’t constantly talk of documentary channels and DD prime time as a window for documentaries. By constantly knocking on the doors of Doordarshan, you are falling into the demands of their narrow imperatives. Then you are not going to make independent films. You are going to make films that they can show. And what they can show, we a1l know is dreadfully limited.
Another important thing is that documentaries work best in a dialogic mode and I think television is an enemy of that kind of dialogue. Television documentary has its own form, because you have to give your viewers something complete and closed. So for any film that does not lend itself to a straightforward two-line synopsis, you need to have a dialogue, and that dialogue can only come from an audience.
How did the fif+v, (forum for independent films and video ) emerge?
Initially by the need to screen films in a critical context. These were not public screenings, though we experimented with all combinations – mixing public screenings with forum screenings. It didn’t always work because when you got into a hyper-critical mood that was great for film-makers, then lay audiences would get terribly bored and so on. But if we don’t create a critical space for ourselves, who will? So initially it was just a space where we would meet and talk. We were quite clear that we will not do any kind of work generation, no active lobbying either. Then the Public Broadcasting issue came up. We felt such a structure should exist. We wrote a paper, tried to push it around, but we realized that we don’t have the skills or the resources to lobby with ministers and MPs. We’d thought of working towards a South Asian festival or a workshop. But means and hands are yet to get ready … But I don’t think our work has been wasted. We’ve just heard about the Public Service Broadcast Trust that Rajiv Mehrotra has floated. Tile 3 or 4 attributes of the system that he envisages are exactly those we had in our minds, which is very nice.
Do you feel it is an appropriation of sorts?
Not at all. I think we were very clear – at least the core group of fif+v – that in order for your ideas to go into Circulations It doesn’t matter who picks it up. We like to see it as a think-tank of ideas, motivated not just by altruism, but by the desire to expand the context for our work.
Interestingly, the Forum has become less and less active in t the last year or so, because now there is a steady stream of screening/ discussions at venues like the Max Mueller, IIC and Habitat Centre. Getting together for a screening used to be our focus. That basic function is fulfilled.
When you began, there were very few independent or political film makers but now it’s different. What do you feel about this change?
When I started making films, one worked in complete isolation. I remember that I didn’t even have a notion of what is the kind of documentary film I was to make. I simply made them. I remember seeing Manjira Datta’s film, ”Sacrifice of Babulal Bhuiyan,” and I was so struck by it, it was truly exciting. I went around looking for Ranjan Palit, who had shot it, since I really didn’t know an Indian cameraman who shot like that. Since then, I have always thought it important to actively locate a peer group. Between 1982-83, when I made my first independent film, and today, these 18 years have seen a shift from working in a situation of zero community to quite a reasonable one. Ironically it is Delhi that has emerged as a better city for documentaries, and there is an intellectual space and audiences for what we do. There are colleagues, technicians and academics who you can interact with. Now people are exposed to the best documentaries in the world, at least in Delhi. So it is bound to effect.
Is anybody doing really exciting work? The answer would have to be no. And that includes me! I think we have reached a plateau of competence. Five years ago films by people like Manjira, Nilita Vachani, Ruchir Joshi, Ranjan Palit & Vasudhaloshi – all made me believe that something was going to happen. It’s definitely there, but as I said, it’s a plateau, we have to crack the ceiling. I think part of the experimentation was happening because there were some sources of funding overseasz it was more generous, Perhaps more open ended. Today that has dried up. Let’s look forward to funding from other sources. But whatever it may be, you have to produce films and create your audience simultaneously. And within the film-making community we have to develop a critical space for ourselves.
Some films from MIFF’2000
A Woman’s Place
USA/lndia/South Africa, English 57 min, 1998
Advocates of Women’s Rights often turn to Iaw but find themselves confronted with important issues like: How do you change their conditioning which has denied them equal status In society and assure them that new laws are meaningful? How do you enact new laws that reform customs harmful lo women, yet do not offend people’s cultural and religious sensibilities? A Woman’s Place explores these and other questions. It examines the legal strategies of three extraordinary women in South Africa, the USA and lndia.
Film by: Paromita Vohra, Maria Nicolo, Catherine Stewart’ Patricia Fall Heerden
Producer.. Paromita Vohra
Enquiries: 28/1 7A PGMP, Off Mahakali Caves
Road, Andheri (E) Mumbai 400083
Email: parodevi@ vsnl.com
Portraits of Belonging: Sagira Begum
(Katre mein Samandar)
India English/Hindi, 31 min, 1998
Like many others in the old city of Delhl 75-year- old Sagira Begum does zari(golden thread) embroidery – an ancestral profession- and dreams of having an easier lifestyle and better wages some day. Craftsmen sell ancestral handiwork to survive in the congested oId city. There aren’t too many takers anymore, and Sagira’s community will slowly abandon this work. Old ghosts are replaced by strange new ones such as television. Sagira continues to embroider, and life in the old city goes on. ..
Film by.. Sameera Jain
Producer: DD3 – Directorate General, Doordarshan
Enquiries: A 1, IP College, Shyamnath Marg,
Ne Delhi 110054
Fax: 91 11 6990948
Email: sameeraj@ bol.net.in
A Burden of Love
India, English, 45 min, 1998
Thls film seeks to explore the status of Alzheimer’s Disease in the Indian context. It features people who suffer from it, their family members and care takers, and people from the medical fraternity. The various aspects of this dreaded condition are handled with sensitivity and empathy. The film also attempts to dispel myths and misconceptions about the disease, and highlight our social needs to manage this illness better.
Film by: Brahmanand Singh, Priti Chandriani
Producer: Pace Productions
Enquiries: Alpa Apes, E’ 1 Pochkhanwala Rd,
Worli, Mumbai 400 025,
Fax: 91 22 415 3350
Goa Under Siege
lndia, English! 30 min. 1999
Goa, a small state in the western coast of India, with an abundance of sun sea and sand is a hot favourite of tourists from aIl over the world, While the tourism industry in Goa has flourished over the years, an overkill has resulted in undesirable conditions. There are many Goans who are not happy with the development, and are raising their voice against the promotion of tourism in Goa. This film investigates the impact of the development of large scale tourism on the State’s ecology, economy and culture.
Film by: Gargi Sen, Sujit Ghosh, Ranjan De
Producer: Magic Lantern Foundation
Enquiries: J 1881, Chittaranjan Park New Delhi 110019
Fax: 91 11 6223894
Blessed by the Plague
India, English, 52 min, 1999
From being a plague-ridden, filthy city regularly devastated by floods, Surat has undergone a dramatic transformation over the last spears, and is today, one of India’s cleanest cities. Blessed by the plague presents rare archival footage from Surat to recreate the events of the past 5 years. It explores the role of the citizens, local civic authorities, and a charismatic ‘people’s hero’ in catalyzing dramatic change, and then ensuring its sustainability.
Film by: Arunabh Bhattacharjee
Producer: Arunabh Bhattacharjee, Sunil Shanbag
Enquiries: 18 Gulistan, 13 Carmichael Road,
In Search of Khichri
(Khichri ek Khoj)
India, Hindi/English, 48 min, 1998
This film’s main narrative, the exploration of the problem of malnutrition amongst the Korku adivasi children of Melghat (a forest belt in Maharashtra’s Amravati district) is interwoven with insights into various economic, social and environmental issues related to the region. By exposing the condescending attitude of the Government officials to wards the Korku people, the film reveals that the situation of malnutrition ls related to the alienation of people from their resource base, from their traditional medicines, and from their nutritious indigenous foods. It shows the iIl effects of governmental charity: the mechanical dishing out of ‘khichri’ and free pots and pans.
Film by: Nancy Adajania
Producer.. Nancy Adajania
Enquiries: 1 Sea View, 14M Road, Khan
E-mail: nancyadajania @yahoo.com
Jungle Tales: Surviving
Development in Uttar Kannada
India, English, 52 min. 1999
Uttara Kannada in Karnataka is one of the most densely forested districts in India. Development projects in the district have displaced one out of every ten inhabitants. The film examines the livelihood and survival Issues of the forest – dependent communities against the backdrop of the destruction of a fragile and versatile ecosystem in the Western Ghats region, and state interventions towards Joint Forest Management, funded by multi-lateral aid agencies.
Film by: K. P Jayasanker, Anjali Monteiro
Producer: Tata Institute of Social Sciences
Enquiries: Unit for Media & Communication,
TISS, Deonar, Mumbal 400 088,
Fax: 91 22 556 29 12
E-mail: umctiss @vsnl.com
Right to Information
India, Hindi/English, 33 min, 1999
This film focuses on the activities of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan in Rajasthan. a non- political peopde’s organization, which uses innovative methods-such as folk songs and puppet theatre – to expose people to larger issues, and encourages demands for greater transparency in government activities. Making information available to citizens helps them enforce accountability, and prevents corruption.
Film by: Anurag Singh
Producer: Jharana Jhaveri
Enquiries.. MD-4 Sahavikas Society IP Extension’ New Delhi 110092
The Shame is not Mine
India. English, 37 min, 1998
In a society where rape evokes shame and stigma for the victim, it is not surprising that most rape cases go unreported. It is a painful social reality. The outright violation of the 1aw and fear of further oppression forces thousands of women every year to live with the trauma of rape, while the offenders roam free. But in a backward and deeply feudal part of Gujarat, one women decided to fight the system. Neeta Goswami, a rape victim, came out to openly fight against the upper cast disbars. This film reveals her inner strength and determination to take ber struggled to its rightful end.
Film by: Arun Chadha
Producer: Arun Chadha
Enquiries: C-50 1 Kaveri Apartments
Alaknanda, New Delhi 110019,
Fax: 91 11 6429448
E-mail: vdeepak@del3. vsnl.net.in
Unquiet Flows the Chaliar
India, Malayalam/English. 37 min, 1999
This film is an attempt to chronicle the longest drawn out environmental struggle in India. On one side of the river Challyar , Kerala’s second largest river, is the pulp major, Grasim Industries Ltd., spewing death and destruction. On the other side there are about three lakh rustic villagers along the Chaliyar’s balks. The toxic fumes and deadly effluents from this pulp and rayon factory have already killed many, and left hundreds with fatal diseases, and devastated the ecology of the area beyond repair.
Film by: Sridevi Mohan
Producer.. Sanjay Mohan
Enquiries: Abhaya, 82 Bodheswaran Road.
Nandavanam, Thiruvananthapurarn 695033,
Fax : 333612/ 4
In Search of Safia Khan
(Safia Khan ki Talash Mein)
India, Hindi. 20 min, 1999
Safia Khan was one of the 5 women leaders – the others being Annje Beasant, Sarojini Naidu, Kasturba Gandhi and Indira Gandhi – whose portrait hangs on the walls of the Congress House, off Lamington Road, Mumbai. Yet, Salpa Khan has never been given the same status in our hearts and minds. This film as part of an ongoing relearn yh attempts to do just that . It details her life and her contribution to the Indian National Movement till she died of cancer in 1961 .
Film by: Nischint Hora, Utkarsh Mazumdar
Producer: Sonal Shukla
Enquiries: 28/8 Good Faille, Sindhi Society, Chembur, Mumbai 400071
E-mail: utkarsh @ vsnl.com