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Cinema Of Resistance: A Look At The Kolkata People’s Film Festival

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By Nishant Chhinkwani:

“The basic underlying motive of Cinema of Resistance is not screening movies for movies’ sake, where people come and watch films and go back to where they came from, but to indulge in and encourage and initiate a dialogue. That is the most important objective of this movement,” elaborates Kasturi, one of the organisers of Cinema of Resistance, Kolkata Chapter.

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Harking almost a decade back to 2006, Cinema of Resistance had its humble beginnings in Gorakhpur, a non-descript town on the Indo-Nepal border, as an alternative to cliché and mundane commercially driven cinema being dished out to the people.

The festival started out with the screening of films focusing primarily on content with high aesthetic value, ongoing and past social relevance and certain regional influences, with cinema primarily being made in Hindi and other vernacular languages. Often drubbing out clichéd formulas, the films screened focus on experimental cinema based on real life situations, or are distinct works of art of classical masters who paved way for a pathbreaking, new age, resistance cinema movement. They often portray the trials and tribulations of the common people, and their constant struggle for betterment in terms of struggles and obstacles one faces when not blessed with being born in the ‘right’ cradle.

These films may be described as a wakeup call to the conscience of the average viewer, but they never harp on being preachy or propagandistic.

Since its inception in 2006 in Gorakhpur, Cinema of Resistance has spread its wings far and wide, travelling steadily by word of mouth across the nation. This festival, for lack of a better word, shirks any form of corporate sponsorship. The growth of the movement has been in a very organic fashion, with interested individuals from every city taking out their own time to organize a chapter of this festival in their own city, with a two/three day workshop being organized on tips and methods of hosting the chapter, so as to keep the independent spirit of the movement alive.

Kolkata hosted its second Cinema of Resistance Chapter, aptly named Kolkata People’s Film Festival, spread over a 4 day schedule to showcase relevant cinema from the country and beyond. Commencing on the 22nd of January, it was dedicated to the indefatigable people’s litterateur Nabarun Bhattacharya. True to the rebellious spirit of the event, Dr. Binayak Sen inaugurated the Chapter along with filmmaker Ajay TG and cultural activist Sudhir Suman while renowned documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan delivered the keynote address.

The objective of KPFF and by larger extension, Cinema of Resistance, is simple – to make people aware of the on ground socio-political realities as opposed to a version that we have been spoon fed by the mainstream media. The festival doesn’t have to try hard to be different – it inherently is. No passes, invitations or entry fees are required for attending it. In addition, it is run on solely sundry donations by common people and enthusiasts.

For the first time, KPFF hosted a children’s session where school goers had a special screening of 5 internationally acclaimed short films along with a lecture on the history of cinema, followed by an informal session of love in the time of caste and how it affects the young.

The festival had an interesting itinerary, with films (features, documentaries, short) screened ranging from the famed exiled Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s The Accordion and Ajay TG’s Pehli Awaz focusing on the worsening situation in Chhattisgarh to Nakul Singh Sawhney’s take on the Muzaffarnagar riots with his hard hitting Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai being screened on the first two days.

The next two days played host to equally riveting films like The World Before Her by Nisha Pahuja and Anand Patwardhan’s Father, Son and Holy War among others, along with a very dynamic panel discussion on Faces Of Fascism, which seems all the more relevant in the current, volatile political climate.

And, for the first time, the Kolkata chapter spread its wings out to Shantiniketan, organising a one day satellite festival right after the Kolkata chapter ended. The organisers were, however, up for a bumpy ride this time around. The original venue for the event on campus, Nandan Art Gallery at Kala Bhavan, was cancelled at the last minute without any adequate reason.

“The police called up the Principal and asked him to cancel the permission because a screening of ‘Jai Bhim Comrade’, a film passed with a U certificate by the Censor Board, could cause a ‘law and order’ problem and provoke people communally. What is more interesting is that two weeks prior to the festival, there was a massive ‘Ghar Wapsi’ mass conversion of Christian tribals a few kilometres from the venue of the festival. The police apparently had no clue of any such mass conversion happening, but they certainly had a clue of our one day film festival happening, and decided it was more likely to trigger of a communal backlash than a mass conversion,’ observed Kasturi.

Nevertheless, with the generous help of local students and teachers, an alternate venue was booked and the screenings went on without a hitch. The police’s dubious double standards, in fact, backfired on them as the venue was quickly packed by a very interested audience through word of mouth. “It helped people realise that showing movies and starting serious discussions around them is not allowed on a so called democratic campus. So, they came in droves and that helped us achieve the purpose of the festival.”

In the upcoming months, KPFF has a few small screenings lined up before heading off for the 10th Annual Cinema of Resistance Gorakhpur chapter.

KPFF, and by large Cinema of Resistance, does not exist solely for the reason of entertainment. It is one of the few voices of reason on Indian Cinema that attempt to prick your conscience and force you to think beyond the glass bubble of ‘achhe din’ we are being pushed into.

The voice of protest continues to grow louder.

The inauguration by Sudhir Suman, Utpalendu Chakrabarty, Binayak Sen and Ajay Tg.
The inauguration by Sudhir Suman, Utpalendu Chakrabarty, Binayak Sen and Ajay Tg.
Dr. Binayak Sen’s inaugural address.
Dr. Binayak Sen’s inaugural address.
Anand Patwardhan delivering the keynote address.
Anand Patwardhan delivering the keynote address.
The event was attended by a sincere audience.
The event was attended by a sincere audience.
Nakul Singh Sawhney, who’s documentary 'Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai' was one of the festival’s favorite.
Nakul Singh Sawhney, who’s documentary ‘Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai’ was one of the festival’s favorite.
Theatre formation Paribartak after their performance.
Theatre formation Paribartak after their performance.
Panelists at 'Faces of Fascism'.
Panelists at ‘Faces of Fascism’.
An interactive audience actively participating in discussions.
An interactive audience actively participating in discussions.
Filmmaker Nishtha Jain introducing Gulabi Gang.
Filmmaker Nishtha Jain introducing Gulabi Gang.
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  1. Sanjay Joshi

    Thanx for such a sincere report. I wish that someone from YKA will cover our 10th Gorakhpur Film Festival also. The dates are from March 21 to 23, 2015.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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