Meghalaya means a place in the clouds. This place in Northeast India does at times feel like that. Besides the poetry of its landscapes, it has its share of human drama, follies, passions – both good and bad. To get to the Garo Hills where I lived from 1999 to 2001, one has to cross Guwahati in Assam. The city and its vicinity are often in the news for ‘insurgency’. In fact the dominant image one has of this part of India is that it is rocked by violence. In my films and in the book of short stories I am presently working on, I try to look mostly at the other side. At the daily rhythms of life in the village, at people – their wishes, aspirations – their humor and their labor. Once in a while I do try to capture the dark side…as in the story ‘Meghalaya Moon’.
In the page Stories are excerpts of this story and others. A publisher has shown interest in the book which will be a collection of these stories.
Just over 500 viewers came to the ‘kliene zaal’ of de Balie, the venue for the screening of the documentaries under the ‘Voices From the Fringe’ package from? India. While most of the events of the ‘India Festival’ of Amsterdam celebrated the art and culture of India, the Voices package under the banner of the ‘India Express’ program of de Balie looked away from the center – at the fringes and raised critical issues and questions. When change happens at the pace that it presently is in India, what do we see? Is there a price to be paid, what is that and who is paying it? How is technology being used by the media and by people affected by the media? What hasn’t changed? These are just some of the questions asked through the films. (download catalogue: ‘Voices From the Fringe’ (pdf); file requires Adobe pdf reader 9.0 or higher)
This lecture presentation will look at three individuals who are at the very bottom of the social and economic hierarchy in South India through excerpts from documentary films. Each has a voice with which to speak out. With all three individuals, this occurs in a ritual context, where the individual takes on a form greater or other than human to make it possible to transcend the role that society has forced them into in the course of their daily lives. The first is a maid in Mumbai and works for the filmmaker. The personal story reflects the hierarchy between the two until a dramatic moment in the narrative turns the maid into a goddess. The second is a lower caste woman who lives alone in a village in Tamil Nadu, a funeral singer who has articulated a language that others pay her money to hear. These two films have been made recently in India. The third is a man of a lower caste in a village in Kerala. In the course of the ritual, he acquires divine powers qualifying him to bless those in the hierarchy above him. The question we ask is: Are these traditional voices from the fringes essential towards the maintenance of the social order even in today?s fast altering fabric of India?
The idea is to focus on Indian documentary films from the geographical, economic, cultural, religious and political fringes of a society that has global economic and political aspirations. These voices are as varied as they are fresh and articulate. They are counterpoints to the more visible and audible side of the new emerging India. They are connected, touched by and changed by the India with the global aspirations. In turn, how do they connect, change and contribute to the India we see in the spotlight?
This Film Festival is supported by the HIVOS-NCDO Cultuurfonds.
Twenty Seven films will be screened at the Balie, in Amsterdam along with discussions and debates with filmmakers from India in attendance. Nandini’s film‘Notes on Man Capture’ is also on the program followed by another film ‘Tales from the Margins’ and a discussion on Northeast India.
FILM: Ambi Jiji’s Retirement by Nandini Bedi
Collaboration: Public Service Broadcasting
Trust, July 24
In this age of meta-discourses of the environment, even a neutral depiction of shifting or jhum cultivation can be condemned to preconceived judgements. After all, there is no dearth of mainstream academic notions of what is damaging to the environment, but Nandini Bedi?s short film, Ambi Jiji’s Retirement, is a heart-rending caution against a two-dimensional view of community-based social and economic systems that once thrived in varied ecological systems.
The film that bagged the top award at this year?s Jeevika Film Festival, captures the life of Ambi Jiji, an 80-year- old resident of the West Garo Hills in Meghalaya, as she witnesses, in the very act of her children and grandchildren buying food from the market, the death of a centuries-old tradition of claiming from cleared forest lands everything that was needed for a life of dignity.
The story details a shift from a community-run jhum cultivation to emergence of permanent plantation, which reduces availability of land for regeneration and multi-crop cultivation, in the very life span of the protagonist.
Some of Ambi Jiji?s descendents have accepted the market-driven change, while others are losing the independence and food security to become agricultural labourers. These changes are creating social ruptures in a close- knit community, and the old lady is shown trying to put up a fight to save the traditional notions of ownership that are being undermined by private registration of land.
There is no attempt to preach a solution, but there is a desire to draw home glimpses of a disintegrating community life that existed in harmony with nature, till it lost out on the definition of local versus global and ecologically sound versus bad.
As the director herself said, it poses a question: ?Are we witnessing more generally known global phenomena in a remote village in Meghalaya??