Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Jaa Riya Hoon

(Taking the Horse to Eat Jalebis)

Hindi | Film | Director: Anamika Haksar

This is my belated first post about experiences at the Kochi Biennale in December 2018. I am starting not at the beginning of my journey there, but rather with this striking film whose images haven’t really left my mind.

A whirlwind of images that cycle from dreams to reality as we are drawn into the lives, desires, of remembering and forgetting of residents of Old Delhi. A woman describes having eaten only one chapati in a number of days and then the constant ache in her stomach as she sorts rubbish, picking up a tiny boat figurine as she talks of her father who worked as a fisherman. The smallest snapshots of dreams that touch on issues greater than life. The woman who dreams of lying with her female friend and them laughing, joyful. The man who thinks of his tribal community from his homeplace Jharkhand and the injustices committed against Adivasis. The labourer who imagines his boss as a lizard in a jar while being verbally abused by him, the woman who dreams of her and her husband in fine clothes, sipping cool drinks. Mr Jain’s famous tour is hijacked by the pickpocket played by Ravindra Sahu, whose use of physical theatre on the screen is striking. His alternative tour that weaves through the spice markets, to an old woman preparing aloo methi, where the workers eat sabzi, dal, chawal for 10 rupees. The story of the woman and the pin, who as a child would pick up every grain of rice that fell with a pin in order to eat it. Walking with a foreign tourist who doesn’t want to hear the stories of the woman whose son died when he fell in a well or the man whose father was a communist and suffered the consequences. A doorway that closes, hiding the face of a boy. Police targeting the vulnerable. In a fighting ring with authority. Failure of the health system. Set up of a ‘temporary hospital’. A woman who has been repetitively abused, treatment with special water and lighting of a lamp. To the ‘real’ tour with fresh meat and bread, jalebi. The alternative tour with jeera water and the offer of the 10 rupee meal amongst the locals, denied by all. The pickpocket turned tour guide holds the gaze of a young woman. Begins to reminisce about love that was lost. No linearity but an intoxicating swirl with the use of animation and paintings. Every shot striking and provoking, continuing to swirl long after the screen is out.

Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Jaa Riya Hoon screened recently at Sundance. It has not been picked up for a general release at the time of writing, but I did read that Haksar and team are hoping to take it to the theatre. 

 

Sadgati (Deliverance)

Sadgati timeline

Satyajit Ray | India | 1981 | Hindi

In a village, it begins. A man called Dukhi chopping grass of the chamar (untouchable) caste. He is exhausted, depleted, but determined to set in place the arrangements for an auspicious date to be chosen for his young daughter’s marriage. Quickly, his wife Jhuria reveals that he has been ill. And he has not yet taken food. But he is determined to move off in this pursuit. He instructs his wife to buy atta, chawal, dal, ghee, namak and haldi and to create plates from leaves. He will fetch the Brahmin and return with him, he says. His wife tries to get him to eat before his departure, but he is determined to get on his way. She is left standing with cup and plate in hand, deep concern embedded in the shot of her face. He makes way into the village, to the Brahmin’s house and throws himself to the ground as he greets him, the caste delineation demarcated. He reveals his request, to which the Brahmin replies by sending him to work, taking advantage of the opportunity for free labour. First to sweep, then to fill sacks of husk and transport it to the shed and finally to chop wood. The detail and care of his sweeping is captured along with the weight of those sacks of husk through a shot from behind and side of a man hunched over, shuffling along as he struggles to bear the undeniable weight. He goes to ask the Brahmin where the axe is to begin the third task, pausing outside, allowing us to become privy to the conversation that the Brahmin is having with a man who just lost his wife. Telling him that his task is to remarry and see his lineage continue, that the Brahmin himself is up to his third wife. When Dukhi arrives before wood, the shots tell us that this hunk is immense, impenetrable. It is dry, knotted, a solid block not unlike the body of the Brahmin that moves with great heave and effort. Back in the village, his daughter picks the leaves, creates the plate. In one telling shot, she is standing solemnly, gazing outside to check if anyone is coming then returning to a child’s game, reminding us of her age. Another lower caste man approaches Dukhi and asks what he is doing and why. The protagonist explains the situation and the man suggests to ask the Brahmin for food. The man says he doesn’t want to ask anything else of him as he needs the auspicious date. Dukhi says he would like tobacco, and the man obliges. He goes to the Brahmin’s house to seek fire. The Brahmin is eating a hearty lunch, his wife fanning him. The Brahmin’s wife tells her husband off for allowing him to come to the house to which he points out that they are getting free labour. She hurls the hot coal outside toward Dukhi, some of which lands on his feet. He returns, he smokes. A juxtaposition of activities, as the Brahmin eats paan, spreads himself out and sleeps. He wakes up, goes out of the house and finds the protagonist asleep under the tree. He shouts. Dukhi wakes. He explains he is feeling weak, that he hadn’t eaten. The Brahmin tells him he can eat when he finishes working and shouts at him to hit the wood harder. And harder. Dukhi begins, still unable to penetrate it. Then power builds in him and he hits the log harder and harder. The Brahmin moves inside while his son watches on, horror in his eyes. Dukhi collapses onto his face. A powerful shot of devastation in the man who witnessed his beginning with that wood, now also witnessing his end. He speaks to other men from the community and tells them not to move the corpse. The Brahmin goes to ask them to move it. They meet him with strong stares of disapproval, devastation, unwavering stares that see him retreat.  The newly widowed Jhuria weeps as cattle move behind her in the background. Tears roll down their daughter’s face. Jhuria goes to his body. A storm has arrived, the sky is weeping soaking them through as she kneels over his body in desperation, before going to the Brahmins house. Her calls are shut out by walls and doors. Then it is dawn and the Brahmin is outside, attaching a rope to the ankle of the corpse. He begins to drag it, his effort visible as he climbs an inclination, a plain with only a scattering of trees. And he leaves the body to rest, a shot of it amongst animal sculls and bones. Finally, he performs a ritual around the hunk of wood, axe still in place. This film offers superb acting and brilliantly captures the characters’ states, from desperation and pain to immense cruelty. An arresting portrayal of inequality and suffering that is as relevant today as it was at the time this film was made and at the time Premchand wrote the short story on which the film was based in 1931.

Screened as part of Revisiting Ray at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, 15-16 May 2018. 

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO

 

Raoul Peck | France, USA | 2016 | English | Documentary

Advanced screening @ Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), 11 September 2017

ACMI. A giant screen. A glass of red in hand. Drawn in at the beginning and let go only at the end. The story of James Baldwin. James Baldwin the writer, the visionary. He who dared to challenge racial divisions. Institutionally inbuilt racial discrimination. Along with Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jnr and Malcolm X. One by one, we are presented with the stories of these assassinated men. We learn that James was not aligned to Black Panther ideology. He didn’t hate whites. He had a white teacher as a child who he talks fondly of. Nor was he with the black church. Who didn’t condemn racist acts against their people. James and the words from the 30 pages of his unfinished manuscript Remember This House are our window into the continuation of white supremacy and racism in the USA. This film is a blaring reminder of how art can reflect and propel attitudes and norms. With the series of historical clips it shows. From films, cleverly, eloquently selected and cut to pinpoint the sociopolitical climate of the day. From footage of direct state suppression where black people are injured and killed in various protests around the country over the decades. Racism distinguished articulately in the open forum afterwards. Interpersonal in the overt everyday and the historically created institutional racism that is structural. That pervades the systems under which we live. Baldwin articulates down forms of institutionalised racism on stage. At one point, we are shown an interview with Baldwin who is joined by a white philosophy professor from one of the ivy league institutions. The professor argues that we should be concerned about other categories rather than race, like the fact that as an academic he connects more with fellow academics than other people. Baldwin points out the race discrimination within institutions, for example the church being segregated into white and black, blacks not being part of unions, the way schools are run, the way history is taught. In Australia too. On this night, Nayuka Gorrie and vocal members of the audience raised that they should not have to give examples of experiences of interpersonal racism so that whites to believe it exists. Also how seemingly innocent images are given a depth in this documentary in terms of what they reinforce. Thin white women smiling and prancing around. The ‘perfect’ white family with their house, garden and picket fence. Because historical segregation has resulted in a gigantic ignorance. I am reminded of older generation white people of this country who tell me ‘we didn’t know’. And apathy. I agree, that it’s sad to think that it is necessary. To show images of hanging black bodies, as this documentary does in its final stages. In order to push a predominantly white audience into a silence of shame. That a display of such violence may be required. To reach people. But I guess if it does. If this time, whites talk to whites about it. People find words to explore these realities and the conversation really flows. Then art here is not to reinforce. To romanticise already indoctrinated ideas. It becomes about making change. So that we cannot dismiss it at the level of ‘oooo…ahhhh. That’s happening over there (but not here). How horrible, atrocious, shameful.’ But rather. Look deeply into our own backyard. And see how. And why. It is happening here. Very different historical events. But parallel underlying issues. How many more times will we hear the excuse, ‘but I am not a racist’. Well you are. We all are in a sense. As long as racial demarcation exists I see the inevitability there. And it’s not just about you. Or me. But what we as a collective say and do (the interpersonal). But besides that. What we do about the structures. The structures on which our nation has been established (the institutional). And how we can question them. How we challenge them. And ultimately change them. And we can start by facing up – as James says – to our history. Talking openly about our past and learning from it. In order to make a future to the benefit of fellow humans, the diversity of peoples in this country and especially the First Peoples, who continue to bear the brunt of the fact that we still have a long way to go.