Acclaimed independent filmmaker Sanjay Kak screened his latest documentary film, titled Red Ant Dream in Punjab last week. Beginning with Barnala, the tour saw screening at Jalandhar and finally Ludhiana.
The third in a cycle of films that questions the workings of the Indian democracy and the idea of development, the two-hour film studies the possibilities of people’s revolt in India, Kak says.
An awe-inspiring video documentary from the country’s ‘red areas’ such as the mineral-rich hills of Odisha and Bastar, the film documents the struggle and evolution of a people’s war.
Kak, who participated in all the screenings, talked to HT City about the film’s response, his idea of revolution and development and more.
HT: How did you get interested in the idea to make Red Ant Dream (titled Maati ke Lal in Hindi)?
Kak: The film follows my earlier two films in a series namely: Words on Water, about the movement against big dams in the Narmada valley; and Jashn-e-Azadi, about the political situation in Kashmir. This latest film is a take on people’s fights against the avaricious mining companies exploiting the mineral-rich lands, wiping off the tribes that have long been sustained by the forest belts. This issue had been on my mind for a few years now. It is just another in a series of state-supported, twisted ‘development’ stories that benefit a few and ruin millions. Talking of uncontrolled mining in these troubled areas, who is really benefiting from it? The people at large? The people it belongs to? Is it sustainable for long? We need to discuss this.
HT: How has the response been to the movie so far?
Kak: It’s been better than I expected. It’s very encouraging for me as a filmmaker when so many people show up at the screening. The film has seen 25 screenings so far and all have been fairly smooth, except an initial resistance in Shillong by the police. In fact, I was overwhelmed with people’s interest in Punjab, a state that doesn’t have a long history of documentary shootings and screenings. Here, I also met an interesting audience, ranging from the urban youth to peasants.
The film has parts shot in Punjab and touches the revolutionary spirit that exists in local gatherings, echoing the words of Bhagat Singh and poetry of Avtar Singh ‘Paash’.
HT: How was the experience?
Kak: The shooting part was quite easy, as Punjab isn’t a disturbed area. We visited the state twice or thrice for the work. In fact, the total shoot had wrapped up in almost eight weeks. The major work was done on the editing table, along with my editor and co-writer Tarun Bhartiya. It was there that the film formed an opinion and built on arguments. We chose Punjab because the revolutionary ideal persists here, living on through the memory of the Ghadar rebellion of 1915 and the words of the revolutionaries such as Bhagat Singh and Paash. This sentiment actually carried forward the debate on the resistance movements in India, such as Maoism. The film also quotes Paash and Bhagat Singh heavily.
HT: What do you mean to achieve with the film?
Kak: Through all the three films, I have aimed at sparking a debate on the idea of development and have tried to explain the idea of revolution, which really is about people refusing to accept the way things are going on. My sole hope from the film is that it will be seen, discussed and debated.
HT: Do you feel such a film can instigate people to rebellion?
Kak: I don’t think that people can ever be incited into rebellion. I am only asking people to think, to open a conversation on the theory of one-sided development that is supported by the state.
HT: What are the struggles accompanying independent filmmaking?
Kak: Independent filmmaking isn’t a career; one can’t make a living out of it. It’s not sustainable. And it’s not the work of a financially secure person either. It’s a junoon, a passion.
HT: Are you looking at documenting similar pertinent issues shortly?
Kak: Not immediately. I have just made a film and it has taken me more than six months to push it and reach the masses. So, I don’t have a film plan now and
will focus on writing in the meantime.