Monday, February 26, 2024

Three documentaries that seek to give a retrospective understanding farm protests

15th International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala screened three documentaries on farmers’ protests of 2020-21.

15th International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala screened three documentaries on farmers’ protests of 2020-21.

Bigger struggles, and events, in their immediacy, often drown us in a flurry of developments and their various strands and narratives. To make sense of them, one needs to look back at them in retrospect, after a few years, when the dust has settled so that a cohesive, comprehensive idea of all that has gone on can be formed.

Three documentaries being screened in various categories at the 15th International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK) attempt to make a retrospective understanding of the historic protest of Indian farmers in 2020-21 against the three farm laws enacted by the Union government.

Varrun Sukhraj’s Too Much Democracy being screened in the Long Documentary section begins with a catchy, tongue-in-cheek approach to poke fun at the powers that be that tried to push through the laws, which were accused of being pro-corporate and anti-farmer. But, at later points it evolves into a complete chronicle of the struggle that went on for one year and four months under the scorching sun and the pouring rain, until the laws were repealed. Prateek Shekhar’s Chardi Kala – An Ode to Resilience also takes a similar approach in bringing on screen the kind of efficient organising combined with will power that sustained the struggle for so long.

Sukhraj’s documentary is marked by the intelligent juxtapositions that he makes, at times between the words of the leaders and their acts on the ground. At one point, he plays clippings from some pliant mainstream news channels who run propaganda shows castigating the protesters and questioning them over the funding that sustains the protest. In the next sequence, he shows heartening images of food and other essentials being brought every day by farmer groups in tractors, leading up to sequences from a langar (community kitchen), which offers food to anyone who passes by without questioning their religion or caste. The documentary also captures the evolution of these stop gap arrangements into a permanent system consisting of shops with all the necessary items, medical stores and even salons.

It also captures the media ecosystem that gets formed from within the protesters, including a newspaper called Trolley Times and several YouTube channels that counter the propaganda that appears against the farmers in some mainstream news channels. One of the talking heads compares the media support that the Anna Hazare-led India Against Corruption struggle got with the media attack that the farm protest or the anti-CAA protest had to face. Though both the documentaries have their share of inspiring images and soaring protest songs, it is in capturing the nitty gritties of organising a struggle and sustaining it over a long time that they become future textbooks for democratic protests.

Akshit Sharma’s short documentary Dews of the Storm looks at the whole struggle from the perspective of the inclement weather that the protesting farmers had to face. The flooding by the unexpected rain and storms add to the suffering of the protesters, who are already facing an onslaught from a powerful State.

“I come from a farming family in Rajasthan. Even before I joined film school, I’ve been fascinated by protests and have covered quite a lot of them. When the farmers’ protest began, I headed over to the protest sites and stayed there for a long time, visiting the different State borders to capture the struggle there and document the whole movement. This short documentary is a single strand from a larger documentary that I am working on,” says Mr. Sharma.

Some of the well-known documentary makers of the country are also working on their own documentaries on the farm protests, which is seen by many as a landmark event of our times.

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