A mirror to the stronger sex
Father, Son and the Holy War
Direction: Anand Patwardhan
Enlighten, Rs 499
In Ram ke Naam (1992), Anand Patwardhan made the world sit up and take note of his no-holds-barred take on the flavour of Hindu fundamentalism that culminated in the mindless violence at Ayodhya. Then he burrowed deeper into why, apart from being the result of a social tumult that powerful politicians sought to profit from, this conflagration came about in the way and at the time it did. Why did tens of thousands of common people -mostly men - from across the country answer the rallying cry of the politically motivated?
This provocative documentary first released in 1994, has now been made available in DVD by Enlighten as part of three documentaries by the award-winning filmmaker.
Patwardhan divides the film in two parts. The first, Trial by Fire, looks at modern-day evidences of sati, or funereal pyre, that reflect the mythological story of Ram, the principal deity in Ayodhya, and his wife Sita. The second part, Hero Pharmacy, looks at the incendiary diet of machismo that Hindu men have been raised on to 'reverse' the 'historical wrongs' perpetrated by Muslims. When rhetoric translates to action, carnage is inevitable. Muslims, too, raise their hackles in the name of manhood. Patwardhan explores whether the spiralling violence is mainly the result of this confrontational construct of manhood. It's a rare narrative in a country that's still plummeting in the name of religion. A must-watch.
Along the river of life
Children of the Pyre
Direction: Rajesh S Jala
Enlighten/Under Construction, Rs v499
This is yet another product of Enlighten's march to shine light on - and, in most cases, bring back from oblivion - some of the best documentaries produced in India.
Children of the Pyre was shot in 2007 on the Ganga in Varanasi. To be precise, at Manikarnika ghat, one of the two places in the holy city where the dead can be cremated. The uncompromising camera follows seven teens who live off the dead along the ghats. They are the scavengers who help the doms, who cremate the bodies, and make off with the colourful kafans (shrouds) the dead bodies come wrapped in - to make money reselling them. Because they work with the dead, these poor children are treated as untouchables. They dope, scurry about beyond the reach of authority, and follow no law but their own, for sheer survival.
There's a chilling directness to the film. The kids, high on something or the other, relish the fact their lives are scandalous to others. One of them tells Rajesh Jala's camera: "I hope more people die and we get more shrouds."
The 74-minute documentary has won several awards, including the Indian National Award for the best documentary. A result of the audience it got is that four of the seven children were admitted to a school in Sarnath in 2010, sponsored by well-wishers who watched their story. You, too, will be moved.