Just the other day, after a slide show by an artist, an earnest young man came to me saying that he wanted a picture with me. Now this does not happen every day and after his friend clicked furiously on the mobile camera, I asked, ‘Why me?’ He answered, ‘Tuhanu Paash di documentary vich vekehea-sunea hai.’
This transported me to 21 years ago when a fresh graduate from the Panjab University Theatre Department said he wanted to interview me for a documentary on poet Paash who fell to militants’ bullets in 1988 to become a legend. The filmmaker as a young man was Rajeev Kumar (47), who had put his savings and contributions from friends to give a tribute to the revolutionary poet. Support came to him from veteran dramatist Gursharan Singh who bought 100 copies of the film to be distributed abroad.
Rajeev has come a long way since then in his steady journey from Mullanpur Dakha to Mumbai quietly pursuing his dream to portray the other side of Punjab, one of struggle against oppression, while making a living on television production. “ I experimented with two short films ‘Nawan Janam’ and ‘Atu Khoji’ based on Punjabi short stories by Sarvmeet and Gurmeet Karhialvi.
Once again with support from family and pro-people ideology friends of ‘Lok Kala Manch’ at Mullanpur”. The next venture was ‘Nabar’, a farmer’s fight against illegal immigration agents after his son’s murder at their hands. This won the National Award and it is among a handful of Punjabi films to get this honour.
This year his film ‘Chamm’, which deals with dalit struggle, has met with acclaim and is headed in shorter version for Cannes coming May to be screened in the ‘2017 Short Film Corner’ and full-fledged at the International Film Festival of South Asia at Toronto. And what after ‘Chamm’? “I want to make a film on a dalit woman protagonist who is twice exploited by the upper castes and men from her own community.”
Interestingly, he is also doing his doctorate on ‘Comparative study of Punjabi diasporic and Latin American films’. He says his aim is to probe the reasons why Punjabi cinema is so enmeshed in nostalgia and ignores contemporary issues that are crying to be addressed.
Rajeev’s friends and comrades have always been his support, including his wife Jatinder Jeetu who heads operations in a reputed television company in Mumbai. “We had met in a play production in the university days when she was studying law and acting plays too. She put no career compulsions on me so I can dare to experiment.”