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In the doc: A column on documentaries

Film: Gaon Chhodab Nahin | Director: KP Sasi

THE OPENING frame is especially evocative. As a fire burns in the foreground, a man silhouetted against the twilight sky plays a lilting tune on his flute. A blink later, words on the screen locate the song (and hence, the music video) within a tribal movement fighting bauxite mining in Kasipur, Orissa. There is not a moment to spare as KP Sasi’s Gaon Chhodab Nahin (Will not leave the village) recounts the journey of destruction that the country’s tribals are facing in the name of development. In just over five minutes, the music video captures the layers of complexity that has gripped the nation today.

Outside the frame as well, a layer of complexity envelopes the film. A month ago, local television channels in Chhattisgarh telecast a report saying the video was Maoist propaganda used by the organisation to canvass support and draw people towards the party. The channels claimed the information came from the state police department. Nothing could be more untrue, insists Sasi, the director of the music video.

The television reports were troubling. They reaffirmed the fact that the most visible casualty in the war between the State and the Maoists are the democratic voices willing to ask difficult questions. Thus, a music video reflecting the concerns of tribals on the current paradigm of development are nothing but Maoist party productions. However, without intending to, the television reports brought to the fore something else. As instruments of communication, music videos like Gaon Chhodab Nahin have no parallel. They are pithy, stark comments on the world around us.

When Anand Patwardhan and balladeer Sambhaji Bhagat teamed up to produce the music video ‘We are not your monkeys’ in 1993, they nudged Indian documentaries towards a new direction. In just five minutes, Bhagat and Patwardhan voiced a powerful critique of the Ramayana — and documentary makers had activist music videos as a new form to explore.

Over the years, despite a constant stream of productions — RP Amudhan’s take on AR Rahman’s Vande Mataram or Breakthrough TV’s Mann ke Manjeere come to mind — activist music videos have remained relatively unknown in the larger realm of documentary films.

This article was originally published in Tehelka, a leading independent news magazine in India, known for its investigative journalism. 

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