Monday, August 20, 2012

My Screening Tour in Kerala!

Thanks to Baburaj, Santhosh Kumar and Sreemith, I could organise 12 screenings in Kerala in the month of July 2012.

We started the screenings at Kerala University at Trivandrum on 23 July 2012 with the film 'Radiation Stories Part 3: Koodankulam'. The show was organised by Students Union. Although more than 100 students took part in the screenings only a handful of students asked questions or commented on the film. Students had come from various departments or disciplines. There were questions about the PMANE and alternate ways of producing electricity. All went smooth. There was mutual respect and dignity in the discussion. Baburaj had organised the screening and he too accompanied me to the screening.

The second screening happened at Institute of Journalism run by Press Club, Trivandrum where Baburaj teach communication. We screened Mercury in the Mist, Radiation Stories: Kalpakkam and Seruppu. The students told there was no caste in Kerala. The discussion also went to cover Mullai Periyar Issue. Suddenly we all felt polarized. Racial remarks such as Tamils are backward, lazy and emotional started propping out. 

I met a dalit activist Ajayan next day to share my experiences at the Institute of Journalism. He shared the subtle caste discrimination that is prevalent in Kerala. Matrimonial columns in all the Sunday newspapers are the perfect examples, he said. He also talked about each caste in Kerala having its own distinct food. He also shared emotionally how the left parties have used them as fodders in their "class" wars.

We had two screenings on 26 July 2012. One was at Sree Naryana College for Women in Kollam at 10 a.m. It is run by Government of Kerala. Basic buildings and basic facilities were there. Most of the students were from financially moderate backgrounds. Students came in their uniforms to watch the film. We had a good interaction with the students. Ms.Mini, an activist from Kollam had organised it. Few lecturers were also there during the screening and discussion. But they were not interfering with the process. Students could freely talk and debate with me and among themselves. They were very well read and knowledgeable. 

The after noon screening on 26 Aug was at Fatima Matha College, Kollam. It is run by Catholic nuns. But it is a unisex/co-education college. Students appeared to be better off economically. Students responded positively to the film. There was no antagonism towards the issue and the film or to the film maker. They were very cordial and respectful. I could share many of my experiences in film making and film screening. There were some valid and strong observations by the students opposing nuclear power plants.

The next screening was at SB College, Sangancherry on 27 Aug 2012 at 2 pm. It was organised by Malayalam department of the college. Not many students were there during the screening. And only 10 were there during the discussion. There was one student  - later I found out that he was associated with Students Federation of India SFI affiliated to Communist Part of India (Marxist) - who just repeated what ever the Government of India told about PMANE, Udhayakumar, NGO, foreign funding and India's need for power. He had brought a notebook with points and refused to listen to me. He just wanted to give a speech and he gave. We had to listen to him. We did listen to him. One of the students wanted to know why should they let my film to get screened when 999- a film against Mullai Periyar Dam - was banned in Tamilnadu. Although I tried to explain, he wasn't convinced. Another man asked me to improve the video quality of the film.

The next screening took place at Kathikoodam on 28 Aug 2012. The screening was held at village community centre. 50 villagers -men, women and children - were there. They watched the film sincerely. But they left immediately after the screening. The organisers told me it was very late. I felt because they were fighting against a company there and the film resembled their movement, they didnt want to stay back and to discuss as their movement was going through a tough time for many reasons.

I went to Payyanur on 29 Aug at 2 pm. I met this wonderful family of Nanadalal and his father Ramachandran. They have been involved in anti nuclear activities, anti capital punishment movements which are beyond classical left party framework.  I stayed at their place. I was given wonderful food and care. I felt like talking to my father, when ever I talked with Ramachandran. My father is no more. He was also socially committed and was also active very much in many public activities.

We had a screening of the Koodankulam film at their Open Frame Film Society. 50 people came to watch the film. Most of them were part of Koodankulam support group, Kerala. I screened the film "Shit" too. Many got a shock of their lives. Even Ramachandran, a senior activist from Kerala did not know that manual scavenging takes place at this scale. 

We screened Kalpakkam film on 30 Aug at 11 am at Payyanur College. It is a government college. But it has a history of progressive activities. The teachers were also very open. Students reacted positively to the film. One of them told, " I never heard the Vanthe Mataram with such a shame before". No one objected to the use of the nationalist songs in the film.

We screened the Koodankulam film again on 30 Aug at Karivelur at 6 pm. It is called a party village. It means it is a CPI (M) strong hold. It is also called Martyr's village as party cadres were killed by Nehru's police in 1950's when he was hunting down communists across India. (Incidentally my father Ramalingam too faced the same police search. His relatives who were from the Congress party informed him in advance. So he escaped. Otherwise, he too would have go shot by the state police in 1950's). 

Because it is a party village, party responds violently to any one who opposes the party, particularly the people who have left the part face violence, threat, humiliation and abuse. I met many ex-CPI -M people who faced brutal violence from the current party cadres. The screening was organised by one of the ex party cadre, Murali master. He is a school teacher. He runs a film society and he too faced many threats. He couldn't a projector or a PA system or a venue for screening. Who ever provides any one of them are threatened by the party. Now he took a loan from  some one and bought all the equipment. They had few screenings. One of the ex party leaders was murdered some time back. Screenings came to a halt. I am happy to share here that my screening on that day was happening after two months of silence. In a way the film society got the impetus and the opportunity with my tour and the film. Incidentally CPI -M  is for the Koodankulam nuclear project.

We screened "Shit' and "Notes from the Crematorium" at MBL Media School, Kozhikodu on 31 Aug at 10 am. It is a small media school for well to do students. There were only 20 people watching the film. But the discussion went well. Students had genuine questions on caste and state. There was no confrontation. But we had heated arguments.

On the same day we had a screening at Kozhikodu University for BODHI Film Club. We screened my films "Shit", "Notes from the Crematorium" and "Seruppu". We had some technical problems. But we solved it. Most of the students were either dalit or other BC communities. They were genuinely empathetic towards the  experiences of dalit people. There was one student who consistently asked basic questions. We spent a lot of time in responding to her. But others were well read and wanting to know more.

The last screening of the tour happened at Bank Employees Union at Kozhikodu City at 6 pm on 31 August 2012. There were 30 people to watch the film. Many were anti nuclear activists. But they had some problems with the Koodankulam film. One of them felt that I should have included government's view in the film. But we had a discussion. But it didnt go anywhere. We stopped as it started raining and it was getting late. Incomplete discussions leave you disappointed. But life goes on.

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