Mumbai filmmaker’s ‘Farming The Revolution’ wins top prize at Hot Docs festival | World News - Hindustan Times
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Mumbai filmmaker’s ‘Farming The Revolution’ wins top prize at Hot Docs festival

May 05, 2024 04:34 PM IST

The feature, Farming The Revolution, from Mumbai-based filmmaker Nishtha Jain, was the winner of the Best International Feature Documentary Award on Saturday at Hot Docs, the largest documentary film festival in North America

An Indian film, which follows the agitation against three controversial farm laws, has captured top honours at a prestigious international festival.

A still from ‘Farming The Revolution’, which won the Best International Feature Documentary Award at Hot Docs, on Saturday. (Nishtha Jain)
A still from ‘Farming The Revolution’, which won the Best International Feature Documentary Award at Hot Docs, on Saturday. (Nishtha Jain)

The feature, Farming The Revolution, from Mumbai-based filmmaker Nishtha Jain, was the winner of the Best International Feature Documentary Award on Saturday at Hot Docs, the largest documentary film festival in North America.

The jury statement read, “For its slow study on the poetics of labour organizing, its regal treatment of atmosphere, and intimate embeddedness in a legendary encampment (that has recently begun again this past February due to unfulfilled promises by the reigning government), the International Feature Competition Jury awards Best International Feature Documentary to Nishtha Jain’s Farming the Revolution, co-directed by Akash Basumatari. With endurance, clarity, and purpose, Jain and Basumatari take audiences inside the full dynamic range of India’s over one-year-long farmers’ protest between 2020 and 202.”

The film had its world premiere at the festival in Toronto late last month and Jain was thrilled with the “engaged, enthusiastic reception” from the audience which packed both the screenings (a special screening for the award-winning film will be held on Sunday afternoon).

Hot Docs is Academy Award qualifying festival and Farming The Revolution is be in the running for consideration in the Best Documentary Feature category of the annual Oscars without the standard theatrical run, provided they comply with Academy rules, a release from the festival noted.

Jain, who has tracked social movements from those in Bastar, to those for students’ and Dalit rights, and women combatting gender-based violence in Gulabi Gang (which she directed), was fascinated by the movement as it assumed shape in its nascent stage in the late autumn of 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Co-director Akash Basumatari, was based in Delhi and rushed to the Singhu border as the first encampments took shape there.

“We had seen protests before, but never on this scale. We never totally self-sufficient protest cities.” The miles of tractors crowding the borders of India’s capital made for visual catnip.

“I think we really got sucked into it,” she said, of embarking on her most ambitious project yet. Shooting made for nearly 500 hours of footage collected over 135 days, culminating with the protestors celebrating the withdrawal of the pieces of legislation by the Government.

Basumatari said they moved from Singhi to Tikri as the original site was difficult to negotiate due to “macho aggression” and prosperous farmers who were not accepting of those who didn’t appear to be from Punjab. At Tikri and later, Bahadurgarh, the crew found the nature of the protestors different, more accepting.

They also discovered Gurbaz Sangha, who gradually became the figure around whom the narrative arc developed. “I also found him evolving with the movement, and he was like the seed, you know, the movement planted and it grew,” Jain said. Sangha, in fact, attended the premiere with his wife who is an international student in the Greater Toronto Area.

The film is observational as the filmmakers do not insert themselves into the narrative or editorialise and allow the subjects to speak for themselves, which was Jain’s objective.

Jain underwent some stress before arriving in Toronto as visa issues almost made her miss the premiere. “But it was worth it,” she said, after the award was announced.

For now, the film will travel to the festival circuit before any theatrical release in India, which may be tricky due to its sensitive content and the need for a censor certificate. However, what Jain wants is for it to screen in the Punjab hinterland, which provided to many of the real-life characters that populate it.

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