Saturday, 20 January 2018

"It's a film about rehearsals, isn't it"?

On 16 September 2017, we screened the film This Land My Land Eng-Land! (India 1990) Dir. Sanjay Kak, at the BFI London. Following the screening we held a panel discussion with Sanjay Kak, Rita Wolf, Farook Shamser and Professor Virinder Kalra (Chair) and audience. 
"It's a film about rehearsals, isn't it"? is a transcript of the discussion.
In the transcript words that were inaudible have been marked and note I didn't catch the introduction by Virinder Kalra.
Tajender Sagoo, January 2018

Professor Virinder Kalra introduced the panel and invited Rita Wolf to begin the discussion.


RITA WOLF: First of all I'd like to acknowledge what a fantastic thing it is, 25 years plus on, that the BFI are presenting this short retrospective of Sanjay's work, because that is, in itself, extraordinary. I think he's an extraordinary filmmaker, he's sort of unrelenting in…when he decides to make a film about something he'll... make that film, and I've been very aware of his work even though I've lived out the country for a number of years now. Whenever he passes through New York I see bits of what he's working on and...I would just like to thank the BFI and I'd like to thank Tajender for programming this weekend, and I think that's something that couldn't have happened 25 years ago, and for that I'm very proud.
Also, to your point about the outsider's eye, in a way I think it... we were living it ... that was our life. I think it takes an outsider's eye to put... to come into a situation, find what they find interesting, or not interesting, and focus on it, and that's what you did, so yeah.

VIRINDER KALRA: Do you want to talk about the first time you've seen it...

FAROOK SHAMSER: I say let's bring back the Jalebis, [inaudible] I think your mother and father!

RITA WOLF: Yeah, I wish I could, I wish I could. They're both passed now, but it was great to see them again, and our neighbour, Carol Stanton – she's no longer with us but that was... that was beautiful to see, yeah.

FAROOK SHAMSER: Yeah, so, ... it's... sometimes I'm hard to get in touch with, but this is the first time I've ever seen the movie, ... Sanjay, the poor thing, spent about two weeks following us, on the fly on the wall, and me and my brother's impression was...... what are you gonna film? What is this about? We are who we are, we have our identity, we do what we do. OK if you're interested – it's just gonna be boring. But, at that time, we kind of thought it. But now it's not, and it's great that you documented something like that and put the hard work, painstakingly for two weeks I promise you, in London.

And dealing with my... me and my brother and friends when we were young teenagers wasn't easy work, as I mentioned. Sanjay... the first time I spoke to Sanjay, yesterday – we'd just been in contact with each other – and… he mentioned, "Well, not much has changed". I definitely think things have changed, and I'm so proud and honoured to see so many Asian artists, musicians, children with a cultural identity. To have Asian network, to have the BFI to promote these things. It was a very, very different time then, when we lived before. And I think we can thank everybody, everybody. It's not just Asian people, it's not just people that have fought. There are people on the right hand of the side with their heart, what I believe in, and they'll accept everything.

You know, why I mentioned in the documentary a world music of fusion... it wasn't just about Bengalis, we didn't want to represent Bhangra. Joi meant victory, so it's victory to everybody, what we did. So the “I'm part of you, you are part of us”. We create, we make music, we create peace and harmony – especially what we need in this time of the world, now, with a lot of phobia that goes on. I have two children, I want them to grow up... you said a very beautiful point, Rita, that, you know, "I wish I had a role model then". And we all kind of followed up to that. So, hopefully, now children – your children, our children, everybody...

RITA WOLF: I hope so...

FAROOK SHAMSER: No matter... yeah, no matter creed, colour or race, that we unite and we fuse each other, and to use art and music and... how can I explain it? It isn't confidence, but just to be proud of who you are and where you come from. And there's always gonna be a brick wall, I can say again, but, you know, we can chip away at it. We have moved a lot, and it's a great honour now to see [inaudible], you know, lots of Asians. Asians, Africans, anybody... you know, anybody. It's just great that we broke down this kind of racist barrier, and we've still got a long way to go. There's a very, very long way to go, but we never ever stop. And with your love, and everybody else's love, and with great people that facilitate, I think it's a great honour to be here today.

SANJAY KAK: Over lunch Rita was asking me that, you know, how did-how did I end up working with the people that we work with...... because obviously we met all kinds of people and, you know, even in 1990, when I was researching the film... I mean, of course, Rita was in a sense..... had already arrived, because she was in Coronation Street, she had done My Beautiful Laundrette, but there are many other Asians who had, in a sense...... made a place for themselves in the mainstream. But, I think it was probably instinct that I was less interested in the people who had made it.…. and much after I cut this film I showed it to a friend who said, "It's a film about rehearsals, isn't it"?

And I'd never thought of it, but it was so true, because actually I was disinterested in the performance. I was not interested in the album that Joi Bangla produced, or the play that HAC did or the film that she made. I was much more interested in the muddiness and the stumbles and the awkwardnesses [sic] of the rehearsals of life, the rehearsals of a construction of identity. And I think...... you know, as an outsider, perhaps...  whatever it means to say that I'm an Indian – I don't know if I'm an Indian or a Kashmiri or what of the many identities I carry – but it is true that the vulnerability that I sensed in all the young people I met – a cultural vulnerability – was new to me.

So, instinctively, that was what I was interested in. That "Why are they so uncertain, don't they know who they are? you know? I mean, to remind you of Peter Sellers in The Party, you know, like, who do you think you are? We said, "No, no, no, we are Indians, we know who we are". So, it was a little bit like that, you know, you know, like I was wondering that "Why is there so much, why is there such alot of...?"... I can sense a jitter underneath, about everybody – about who they are, where they are, whether it works for them, doesn't work for them. So I think,...and as I said in the beginning, that the film was supported by Indian television, who thought it would be this valorisation of the "How Indians have conquered the world". And they were... appalled at the rough cut. You know like, they were like, "Where are the doctors, and the lawyers, the successful people. And why these guys?, you know?! Why not Hanif Kureishi, or Salman Rushdie, or, you know...

And the only thing that saved my butt was that I'd written a script, which pretty much said that this is why I was interested in these people. So yeah, we got out of that one. But it is a very strange film, I have to admit, even in terms of its form, because clearly it's not a made-for-television film, although it was made for television. So..... obviously one was..... sort of, quite insistent on.. transgressing and breaking whatever norms there were for what was expected of us.

But it was also, for me..... a means of trying to find a language for myself in filmmaking, where you could deal with political a cinematic language which was not didactic, which did not, you know, hold you by an ear and drag you through the territory of cultural representation and whatever else there was. But to throw it at the audience in a structured way and let them read, you know. So, when Virinder said that, you know, he... you know, he was wondering what an audience in India would make of it... it didn't reach too many people, because in the early nineties Doordarshan screened it only once, but those it did reach totally got it, you know, which was, for me, at that time, a very reassuring thing because we had tried something strange and awkward and yet it had worked for people. 

VIRINDER KALRA: Just before we open it up... I have two questions: one slightly serious and one slightly silly, but for Rita it's gonna be the slightly serious question, and that I think the vulnerability is captured quite amazingly, and I was just wondering how you feel about seeing yourself, maybe now, a few years on, a more mature... seeing yourself like that, in that... how does it come across? Like, other than the kind of....

RITA WOLF: Yeah, we were talking about this..... a little bit earlier when,... I must say I've seen the film only once before and at the time, you know... Sanjay mentioned how I responded to it the first time. Obviously years later removed..... I think part of the reason that I like, I liked watching it the second time around was... it's very clear to me. People see different things: I didn't understand the rehearsal aspect of it and of course once you said it I completely got it, but I and Kali-and my co-founder of Kali Theatre Company, Rukhsana Ahmad, who is here today, so I'm thrilled. The company has been going for 25 plus years at this point, and that was our very, very fledgling outing with our very first play which was a play of Rukhsana 's, which I directed. What I found really interesting is younger self in the film...... was the only one who was facilitating that "next" generation.
So I was in a way... you went to Avtar at Sunrise and he said no, you go to people and they say no. I was one of you saying "Yes! Yes! If you want to do something, write the play I'll see if we can get it put on". So that... and I was slightly older, I think, then some of the younger people in the film. So that, for me... and given the fact that the company exists now and continues to pioneer new works, specifically for women, and women of South Asian background...... gives me a real sense that my instincts about doing that work were right at the time and they continue to be, because that continues to be the kind of work that I love, whereas doing the film work andGod, all that make up and stuff... I mean, wow! you know, that isn't really the kind of work that I love. I'm doing the kind of work that I love now. And......and it was great to see me be able to bring other people into my work...... that's really what I got from it. That's what I enjoy, yeah.

VIRENDER KALRA: Well...... so the silly question is: what's with the hat?

VIRENDER KALRA: Just in case no-one recognised...

FAROOK SHAMSER: Well, funnily enough...

VIRENDER KALRA: The hat is recognisable!

FAROOK SHAMSER:  It did have an Allahu on top, which at the time where there was no Islamophobia... I wish I had it now, I'd wear it every day...

Just to sayit's not a bad thing, I'm just respecting something at the top of the hatbut yeah, yeah, the hat was... I mean, we have all come a long way, everybody. And-and I'd like to thank everybody, just everybody, …for the work and the love and the passion that they do. Recently my brother just received a blue plaque ahead with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. We put it on top of our shop in Brick Lane where we made music 35 years ago with my father - my father was a flautist. You know, we're hardcore at what we do and the funny hat yes, and please, bring back the Jalebis, where are they?

RITA WOLF: Dead Jalebis, yeah

VIRINDER KALRA: Can we open it up to the audience? Not that I can see the audience right now, but...

AUDIENCE Q1: Hi, my name is Suman Bhuchar, I've been working in the arts and cultural field for like... 25, 30 years.

RITA WOLF: Hello, Suman.

AUDIENCE Q1: Hi there.... I might sound a little harsh, but I need to express myself, I hope you'll bear with me. I'm always very interested in explorations by Indians from India about our identity. You know, I now feel it's like Midnight's Children’s perforated sheet, you know, when you get a little bit of thing, you think it's that... and I feel that in your film that really hasn't come across, you know. This may perhaps be because of the way you've opted to not have a voiceover and give us a kind of a context and you've let the... sort of... work in it speak for itself. But I feel that does it a disservice, to the story.

Yet, ironically, your piece now is an archive, because two of the people in there have passed away, you know, and that is really sad to see... but I feel that what hasn't come across is what the work the people were doing meant. I mean, Rita Wolf is directing Sanctuary, it looks like a bit of rehearsal, but Sanctuary was based a story of a real woman who ran away from an abusive relationship and went into a refuge. You know, maybe a line of explanation might have helped. I don't really know...

SANJAY KAK: I think there was that...

AUDIENCE Q1: Hang on, just allow me a last thing. I don't really know why you've got Avtar Lit in there, because he ran a commercial radio station and in a way his... ... it's interesting because I don't think he gave you the space..... but you don't have that answer... so I don't actually understand that juxtaposition in that context. Anyway, that's all I wanted to say, thank you....

VIRINDER KALRA: Do you want to answer?

SANJAY KAK: So..... I will say that as a documentary filmmaker I don't necessarily think that I always know what something means. I can offer you...... I can open out a space for you, I can bring it to you in a complex way, but I do not want to tell you that the real identity of the Asian in Britain "is", because I don't know the answer, you know. If I knew the answer, if I could put it in 5 lines, I would put it in. But as a filmmaker I think my work is to construct an argument, an open argument, and hold your attention.

And let me tell you this: this might sound very perverse, but a dissatisfied audience is not a problem for me, because I do want to trouble people with unfinished rehearsals, you know. And Avtar Lit actually to me is very important because in 1990 in Southall, you couldn't budge an inch without hearing Sunrise Radio, you know. He was a... on the street he was a big knob, and I wanted to show how much of a disconnect... like, Avtar Lit was closer to Holle Holle and the Hippodrome than he was to any of these people, you know.

And the fact that he rejects these people actually was perfect for me, because that was the old Asian cultural identity, what Avtar Lit represents. So, I don't know if it comes through, but as a strand the radio station...... in fact, in my synopsis of this film I always used to say that this is a film about three sets of characters and a radio station...

SANJAY KAK: ... because the radio station was everywhere

FAROOK SHAMSER:  Absolutely right, I support on everything that you say, but just to answer your question as well, with Avtar Lit. Me and my brother where struggling in the East End, never mind Bhangra, never mind anything else. And we must've triedthere were no mobile phonesand we must have tried at least the best part of 6 months of the year to get through to Sunrise Radio, to get through to Avtar to say "Give us a show, give us a show"...... it was probably one of the... the kind of main things that made us do the movie, 'cause he said he's got Avtar Lit in. But he... you know, not to put him downeach one to their ownbut we knew he was gonna reject us, and he was absolutely wrong...

... but where we are today is a very different place and, you know, he was wrong and I think you're absolutely right of showing the fundamental parts of just Avtar Lit. And not only to put Avtar Lit... ... down, actually just when you do documentaries... ... you know, for people... I mean, you get involved, there's lots of things that go in between that don't always get edited, you know, within the film, it's all a matter of that. It must be really difficult to get this... I can't even believe the movie was even viewed in India, at that time, because it was nothing, it was like a rehearsal.
…but where we are today, he's wrong. He may have millions of pounds, he may have his entourage, whatever he does...

VIRINDER KALRA: He's gone bankrupt!

FAROOK SHAMSER: Has he gone bankrupt?

But now, you know, hopefully, you know, the archive goes on and it was the beginning of an era that we've all come together to join, of what we are today. And we can recognise, and we can appreciate the beauty of being able to just walk down the street and not worry whether someone just judges you for your colour or your religion. Just being able to do that is a very special thing.
This is very odd and unique: you don't have to be Asian, you don't have to be white, black, anything. Just this very occasion, for someone to sit and watch me in a documentary here, without me being, you know, Ravi Shankar or..... a classical Indian artist, that would even give it the time and space? We've definitely come a long, long way, baby. 

VIRINDER KALRA:  Rita, did you wanna...?

RITA WOLF: Yeah,….that when I see work and, you know, films or, you know, anything, that bounce between form and content, what I really liked about Avtar Lit and Sunrise Radio, whatever one might feel about him as a person, just in terms of what he represents in the film is a wonderful...... structure for the piece. It kind of, it starts with Sunrise and this voice and you think "Who is this?", and he weaves in and out of the story in his own way, as does the music, and I think structurally that was kind of the great device, I thought it was interesting.

Audience Q1: But it's a bit disingenuous and you have to say the characters that you've interviewed, none of them would have been listening to Sunrise Radio, even if Farook did go there and ask them to play...

RITA WOLF: No, no....

FAROOK SHAMSER: But I think, well I was listening, so that was my competition, I wanted to break them down, I wanted to break those barriers down, I approached everyone, I approached the BBC, everyone... I would never, never stop. I called, you know, whoever it was, I called them up. Yeah, but now we're here where we are today, so, and it's...

VIRINDER KALRA: Well, I mean, I think actually, though, when I watched the film the first time, I switched off the volume when Avtar Lit came on.
Because I kind of... I mean, you wouldn't understand the allergy this man causes for a lot of us, so I really.... I kind of... but I think that, at the same time, only you could make this film, 'cause you wouldn't know the allergy he causes to so many of us. But literally I was watching this film and I did switch off his voice, 'cause I find his voice does bring me out in hives, actually.
So all I'm saying is I think structurally it works, but I kind of also... I think there's an affective relationship which we-which Sanjay won't have to that... it's just... and he can't. So the way I think that structurally it can work, but there is an emotional response to that which I'm feeling and I'm hearing, ‘cause I kind of share it, right? But in a way I think, well, that's why I like the film, 'cause in some senses what... you know, Parv Bansal couldn’t have made the film, none of us could have made the film, because we hate Avtar Lit so much. I wish he was here, right?

Audience Q1: I mean, I think the film's a good piece of archive, right now. The stuff about HAC at the end is really good and, you know, have [inaudible]. But I just feel that...... in terms of trying to construct an identity of British Asians, which is what these things are always built as, is kind of wrong, in that context, because...

AUDIENCE: Let somebody else ask a question, please...

VIRINDER KALRA:: [...] carry on, let's go.

AUDIENCE Q2: I really like the film, I'd never seen it before... so thank you for making it. I think, although I know the guys on the panel are trying to, you know, show that things have changed – and I think they definitely have. In some ways I think a lot of the opinions and, kind of, the issues articulated in the film are still relevant today even for younger British Asians, and I think they will probably continue to be.

But my question was more about...... is more to Sanjay in terms of... because if you watch like Bollywood films and mainstream Indian cinema, in terms of the way, NRIs... and kind of the immigrant, international lives are represented, it's often, to me, at odds, with the way that most of us actually do live and I think even today there's still this sort of dream shown in Bollywood cinema of what it is to go abroad and to make it and to succeed... so I was wondering if in India you think that is still the general consensus of what it is to be an Indian abroad?

SANJAY KAK: I think it might help here to tell you a little bit... that this was meant to be a project of 6 films which looked at the Indian abroad, and obviously in each film... you're not gonna tell the same story, you know. You have to be... cumulatively I hoped that it would be a series of films about migration, you know. It just so happened that I was an Indian filmmaker and I was making them about Indians abroad. So, and that time, and...... we didn't have a huge budget, so there was only that much time. And you had to research at a distance, there was no internet, so you can imagine the whole process was quite bizarre, and we were really shoestring. But I was very struck when I came to the UK... at how important this space of culture was for the Asians here. It wasn't so in South Africa, for example, it was very different. South Africa in 1990 was dealing with a very different set of issues.

So, the film in South Africa actually looks at a land, housing, "home" –  the idea of home, that is so essential. I mean that... so you could do a film about that in-in-in London as well, in 1990. You know, you could have made it about a real estate agent in Wembley, for example. But I didn't. The film in South Africa, actually one of the central characters is an estate agent, called Brian Patel, who calls himself an "estate agent of change", because actually what he's doing is that he's helping Indians buy into previously white areas.

So, each film tried to identify a strand of the immigrant’s... identity, and his existence... and existential questions. And England, I may be completely wrong and naive, but I think that Britain is an over-mediated society, you know. People watch too much television, they read too many newspapers... so it really matters who's on television, what... you know... India's getting there, the Indian middle class is getting there, but I was very struck how critical it was for people...... this space. So, like I said, this was also the early '90s...... you know, there are people who had broken down the doors and become achievers, Hanif Kureishi, Salman Rushdie... so many people, they were already.
But I wanted to be in that space, but I wanted to be in the margins of that space, you know. I wanted to be in the ... Rita was a little coy about her comment when she saw the film 25 years ago, because I reminded her that her email said to me that after watching the film she felt very sad, and she felt it was like Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, you know, because there is something of that going on, you know.

So...... I mean, what do Indians make of Britain, or British Asians or how Bollywood represents it? Quite honestly I am not interested in either debunking it or dealing with it, I'm much more interested in... to me the core of my filmmaking practice is... “how am I understanding it?”. Like, you know, am I understanding something, and how do I share it with an audience? In a complicated... in a way, where the... my film and my filmmaking practice is as complicated as what I think of what's going on. I do not want to simplify. That is the television documentary film, you know, which, within the first 15 minutes you know that smoking cannabis is bad for you, and then for the other 30 minutes they just keep reminding you that smoking cannabis is bad for you, so in that sense I'm not interested in that kind of filmmaking.

Audience Q2 : Thanks.

Audience Q3: How did you come to this understanding of your identity?... as someone who is coming from a different culture, is there any experience opportunity that you can suggest for young children of other cultures to face these vulnerabilities that they have?

FAROOK SHAMSER:  So, how do I identify cultural identity when I was young...... the way that we all grow up. We live at home, we eat beautiful food, we mix our food with everything else, we learn a bit about our culture and... you know, it's to feel Asian and proud, in a way, that you kind of have to do it. I mean, I personally just use music, which I was obsessed with. My father was a flautist, we used to sell music in Brick Lane. So I was quite fortunate that I was brought up around that.
I'd go to concerts at the Bangladesh new year in Trafalgar Square where my father used to play, probably played at the Royal Albert Hall with some Bollywood headliner what have you. So I was very lucky. Now how I influence it...... I think that it's up to them, you let them lead the way but, you know, you can remind them of old things.

I actually wanted to bring my young boys today but they couldn't do it –  one's 8 and the other one's 5, and they come with me. And slowly, slowly I start to, you know-you know, there are no children here, but I take them to events, I try and encourage them to get into things. They can, you know, they can watch TV for a little amount of time of what they want, of what they're into, but then I try to play them some nice music, and I try to influence them with different things. I cannot push them and force them, 'cause the worst thing is... I think we were both very fortunate we had understanding parents, which was very strange those days. It was like "Don't let the relatives know that you're actually doing this", and it was quite a... or, you know, your neighbours, it was quite a difficult time to actually just... to-to come out and be Asian and do what you do. But I was very fortunate..... difficult question, I don't really know how to answer it, but just-just give them love and let them encourage themselves.

VIRINDER KALRA: Is there a question here?

AUDIENCE Q4: The question of identity as seen through the culture... is a bit of a highjack from sociologists. They have reduced it to any observation that you-you follow a group and whatever they do is their culture. But that is a bit different from what culture used to mean not so long ago, and that meant the finer aspects of a civilisation. And it seems we are floating in-between this liquid situation where sometimes we mean... works by Nazrul Islam and, maybe, Bolshoi Ballet... and also whether... whether...... arranged marriages are a culture. Now... I find it a matter of dispute as regards to the identity of culture... being a fixed box. And if that is defined as your culture, if you accept anything from outside that fixture, you have to throw something away. I recall, several years ago, I read an article...... in the Guardian, by... Pakistani journalist of Pakistani origin, he acquired some interest in Western pop-rock music...

VIRINDER KALRA: Sir, a question would be nice.

AUDIENCE Q4: Yes, Sarfraz Mansour says at the same time that his- father says... "Well, that was not our culture". Now the question is: have I lost my culture if I have appreciated Maya Plisetskaya's performance and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, and if I admire the works of Ingmar Bergman and Sartre and Beethoven? Have I lost anything of my culture, or is it possible for me to expand my culture?

RITA WOLF: Absolutely...

VIRINDER KALRA : Shall we just take a few more questions, 'cause we don't have much time and then we can just wind up... let the panel... a few more people...
There's one more behind...

AUDIENCE Q5: Thank you, Sanjay, I am quite impressed with what you've done and I think, just to pick up from what my colleague here was saying, to defend these sociologists, I think things have moved on a lot. Identities are not anymore fixed, malleable. They are iterative, they are-they are dynamic, they're porous they're constructed, there's no identity out there somewhere anymore now, and social sciences have moved on with that. And what I would like to say, following this Sanjay, is perhaps it might be good to invite you back to do a re-take... how the characters in your old film have shifted in the ways they negotiated...

VIRINDER KALRA: Yes, that's true...

AUDIENCE Q5: And also the narratives have changed back in India through which this film would be received – dominant narratives at both ends have shifted – and so have been the subversive narratives across [inaudible]...... that might be a very interesting way to have it as a sequel, both for teaching and learning. Thank you.

RITA WOLF: That's a brilliant idea, yeah...

AUDIENCE Q6: Sanjay,... did you see a lot of different artists, or how did you choose or find these particular ones, coming from outside Britain?

SANJAY KAK: Yeah. So, I did meet a lot of people...... but I think for a documentary filmmaker... it's extremely important, whether you're dealing with individuals or you're dealing with a group, to figure out very quickly that "Are they receptive to what I'm asking?", you know. So, I met many... many young Asians who were, you know, in the arts...

RITA WOLF: All my friends told me that they'd met this director from India called Sanjay Kak...

SANJAY KAK: But it was very critical for me. So, like, Farook today acknowledged for the first time in 25 years that he and his brother gave me a very hard time. And they did, because they were unsure, you know. They didn't want to say no, but they never took me home, which really was something I would've liked to do. But it was this little dance between yes/no/yes/no, you know. With Rita, on the other hand, you know, from the first go I knew this is a person who wants to talk. This is a person with whom I can have this conversation.

 With Parv, again, Parv Bansal, and  HAC, they were willing to give me access to all kinds of slightly personal spaces, but Parv is a very good actor, so he's always performing, you know. He's always performing in the film – I know that he never drops his guard. And so even his off-handed comment is a sharply observed one, he knows what effect he's gonna play.

So, to answer your question the choice of which characters to stay with was based on my sense of... “is this person interested in talking to us?”. And is interested in a very fundamental way, that is, that are they going to say something which I don't know? 'Cause for me it's pointless, going to film with people where I know what they are going to say, because, then... why don't I just write about it, you know?

But the opportunity that a film gives you of stubbing your toes against the unexpected, saying "Wow!"... see, for example, Farook is so contradictory within that same 30 seconds, and that's am-wonderful. For me that's why those bits are there. Because, you know, he wants to, but he doesn't want to... and, you know, and I think that's so important for a 21-year-old trying to make it in the world of music... how can you not be full of contradictions, you know?

So yeah, so that was basically what... OK, to put it crudely, you're looking for a certain vulnerability in the people you wanna film. A vulnerability, cause vulnerability leads to openness, you know... too much cultural capital and too much self confidence leads to a hard exterior, you know. So you need-you need... you need people to be in a supple state...and then you can have a real conversation. This is very early work, by the way, I'm a little bit embarrassed by it…

VIRINDER KALRA: OK, we do have to stop on that, but actually I think that was a very nice summary and I'd like to... please join me again in a round of applause.
We'll probably be in the bar if people want to carry on conversations, but I think we have to leave quickly from the room, because another film is coming in, I assume, so...

Still from "This Land, My Land, Eng-Land!". (Left to right) Sanjay Kak, Farook Shamser, Rita Wolf & Virinder Kalra. 2017


Sunday, 14 January 2018

Ajay Bhardwaj in Conversation (2012)

Ajay Bhardwaj
On 18 November 2012, we screened the film
Milange Babey Ratan De Mele Te Ajay Bhardwaj at the British Film Institute, London.
After the screening, Ajay Bhardwaj talked about the film and his work as a filmmaker. Listen to a recording of Ajay Bhardwaj in conversation with Virinder Kalra and audience.

(Let's Meet at Baba Ratan's Fair) Dir: Ajay Bhardwaj, India 2012. 

"the self became the other"

Borders spring up; new nations are born of a violent rupture and unprecedented blood - letting, uprooting millions of people; and a centuries-old composite culture is silenced forever. Or so it would seem.

As the British departed from the subcontinent in 1947, Punjab was partitioned along religious lines into a Muslim majority state of Punjab (west) in Pakistan and a Hindu/Sikh majority state of Punjab (east) in India. For the people of Punjab, the self became the other. The universe of a shared way of life, Punjabiyat, was marginalised, replaced by perceptions of contending identities through the two nation states.

However, as Milange Babey Ratan De Mele Te shows, in ways seen and unseen, the idea of Punjabiyat inhabits the average Punjabi’s everyday life. The film moves fluidly across time, mapping organic cultural continuities at local levels – a cultural terrain strewn with haunting memories of the violence of 1947; of separation from one’s land; of childhood friends lost forever; of abandoned, anonymous graves in fields. Accompanying this caravan of seekers and lovers are ascetic non-believers whose yearning for love and harmony turns into poetry against war and aggression. Such is Punjab where miracles never cease to capture the imagination..