Sunday, August 29, 2010

An afternoon at Jeevika

A personal story of a family whose mother is a nurse, dilemmas and desires of three youngsters in the reform era, journeys of young women in search of brighter futures from Chattisgarh, Orissa to Delhi and the anguish suffered by them and their families, visual wonders of Titanic and Gabber Singh in Assamese of the 40 year old mobile theatre of Assam whose 120 member troupe performs for nine months straight moving from over 70 locations, mesmerising sounds of Rukma-the lone female Mangadia singer in Rajasthan, and to round it off a discussion with budding documentary makers on reality and the medium.

That was my afternoon at this year's Jeevika. There is so much I do not know about India.

In the discussion with filmmakers, Nandan-the moderator's question "what is a documentary?" offered different responses. It offers perspectives on everyday issues and happenings, it helps us discover new ones. It is a reflection of the filmmaker's conscience. It is a subjective portrayal of someone else's story told in a creative form. It offers a balanced view of a given situation or an issue. So what is the documentary's relation to reality? Whose reality does it portray? The film maker's choices of subject, the setting, the questions, the sounds, the speed, the flow, the length all make him or her an "agent of reality". He or she is presenting someone else's story and the way in which the story is told already adds a subjective coating on the original narrative. This is the structural design of any form of communication. Be it the written word or the news. The message and its form of communication can significantly affect how the receiver sees it.

Then of course the person who sees also brings his or her own subjectiveness to the message that is received. Its interesting that an audience will typically charge the documentary maker with onesidedness when there is a disagreement. If the film reflects your own feelings and opinions, one-sidedness of bias is usually not an issue. Another charge levied on filmmakers is one of prejudice. Why is the film being shown in AC halls to an "educated" audience? The third one is usually of follow up, what has happened after the film? How will this film be taken to those who matter, who can make a change? Are these unreal expectations? What the audience fails to see in many cases is the work that has happened before the film? Often filmmakers spend months and years understanding the issue, building relationships with the stakeholders, shooting, editing etc etc. I am no filmmaker but I can appreciate that what we see on the film is a microcosm of what all they know about the issue. For the audience, it is very easy to deflect their own prejudices, stereotypes and apathy back to the filmmaker. Maybe at the end of the screening it should be the filmmaker who should be questioning the audience?

Sheena Iyenger's book-The Art of Choosing also offered such similar inferences. So many cases, even for doctors, the presentation of the product than the product itself affected choices and decisions. We talk about "informed" choices; but unfortunately, the politics of that information sometimes makes the soundness of the decision seem incredulous.

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