This last week has been an exciting journey into an important new territory. It began appropriately, with a screening of Jashn-e-Azadi at the closing day of the 3rd Gorakhpur Film Festival, organised by the Expressions film society of Gorakhpur, in the heart of what is known as the “hindi heartland”.
Gorakhpur is the home of the legendary publishing institution, the Gita Press, of the writer Munshi Premchand, the poet Firaq Gorakhpuri, and of course the eponymous Gorakhnath temple. (In recent years it has also emerged as the site of a particularly virulent format of right-wing Hindu chauvinism, and the importance of the Gorakhpur Film Festival has to be located particularly within this last quite considerable challenge.)
In the 60th year of Indian Independence, the festival significantly chose to stay away from the officially generated celebratory hoopla, and commemorated the event under the sobre slogan of visthapan aur vibhajan ke saath saal (sixty years of division and displacements). It opened with a screening of M S Sathyu’s classic representation of the trauma of Partition, Garam Hawa, and closed on Feb 26th with the first festival screening of our recently completed “Urdu/Hindustani” version of Jashn-e-Azadi.
The Gorakhpur Film Festival showed an interestingly curated range of films, from contemporary documentaries (Ajay Bharadwaj; Biju Toppo; Surabhi Sharma; Vinod Raja) to classics old (Ritwik Ghatak) and new (Saeed Mirza), and a whole Sunday devoted to films for children. There was also theatre, and poetry…
The very well-attended screening of Jashn-e-Azadi was followed by an intense Q&A. This was hugely helped by the fact that the GFF had brought together an excellent group of progressive writers, critics and teachers associated with the Jan Sanskriti Manch (Forum for People’s Culture); and they came from Allahabad, Basti, Bhilai, New Delhi, Patna… Once again the openness and the complex thinking that people brought to their viewing of the film was a vindication of the value of sharing an apparently complex argument. (Never complicate what is simple. Or simplify what is complex…)
In the days immediately before and after the Gorakhpur screening I have had very similiar experiences with discussing the film with groups of young college students at the Jamia Milia Islamia (Awam) and at Delhi University Arts Faculty (Premchand Vichar Manch). Already more and more groups of people have expressed an interest in using the film in India, to raise questions around the hard issues of Nationalism, and Nationality.
Could it be that the film is finally finding it’s mark…?