Monday, August 27, 2012

1700 Kelvin by Anamika Bandopadhyay


India: 2011

to the Memory of my friend Claude Forget, an activist and distributor for Independent Cinema (1949 - 2008)

Was it Ritwik Ghatak (“Before art shall be beautiful it must be true”) or my late friend Claude Forget who taught me about the importance of authenticity of cinema? I am not sure anymore.
This film by Bengali Anamika Bandopadhyay deals with one of the most delicate issues in contemporary India, this disturbed relationship between the modern urbane society and the rural one which is still the majority. Bandopadhyay focuses on the dramatic situation in the West Bengali village Jangalmahal which is symptomatic for another uproars in other places like Amlashol, Singur or Netai, villages terrorized by police forces sent by the former communistic government of West Bengal. Some people , familiar with the tragic incidents around Nandigram will still remember a this bloodshed against villagers which caused a rupture through the mostly leftish Intellectuals of this Indian state.

The images tell about a village under curfew occupied by armed police forces and about the anger of the Villagers who try to struggle against the invaders. The official motivation was to hunt armed Maoists, the nonofficial and since Nandigram well known reason is the expanding of the modern industry of India which is in demand of land. What an irony that especially the only communistic government among Indian states was fulfilling obvious neoliberal needs of the industry without any mercy for the village tribes. The images evoke in me documentaries of violence against native tribes in Latin America but also in images of the Vietnamese-American war.
Some of the villagers are telling that their houses were confiscated, their women harassed and raped. Some members of the armed forces urinated into their wells the only source for drinking water. Just a few hundreds kilometres from the mega city Kolkata, the forces of the government (which lasted until the elections of 2011) are nothing else as invaders in another culture.

What is so special in this film which appears obviously as a film made under extremely bad conditions hardly with any budget or other supplies is a dynamic between recorded facts (interviews with human rights activist, politicians and most of all - victims and witnesses of massacres against the villagers and on the other hand a few created, performed moments. Some of them are collages, excepts of a film by Ritwik Ghatak, others are for example the “leitmotiv” of a woman writing in her notebook. Even though we see only her hands we understand there is someone who tries to reflect, to handle the disturbing images she witnessed.
Anamika Bandopadhyay emphasizes her visible presence always as that of an outsider from the city, a powerless but a compassionate witness. At the beginning we see her also looking through an objective of a camera. The link between the recording camera and the writing hand of a reflecting person suggests an approach of “caméra stylo”, this old dream of filming like writing.
At the same time there is a connection between us and the filmmaker in realizing, recording and the moments of reflecting in this try to handle all these images of violence and anger.
In these images of violence we see people killed (in a photo montage) or people captured like wild animals. The tension between the filmmakers empathy and sympathy for the villagers and her own helplessness leads to the most disturbing moment. We hear the romantic song “Sunshine on my shoulder (makes me happy) and see the images I just described above in a kind of slide show. Killing, violence and heavily injured people caused by the armed police force. This moments burn into my memory. I didn´t read it as a kind of sarcasm or irony like used for example by Kubrick with music in Dr. Strangelove or A Clockwork Orange. There is rather the colliding of this two elements, the images and the song. Her using of of a sound and image montage as an artistic device seems to me rather as naked despair and anger, a feeling she hardly could express properly while filming the interviews. In the background of some shots we see often armed policemen which seems to me as an embodiment of the arrogance of their power which is mocking and threatening the villagers as well like the filmmaker.
Sometimes Bandopadhyay´s questions to the villagers, witnesses or even victims becomes hectic like she has to fear in any moment a policeman will interrupt her filming. The tension between the villagers and the ruthless police forces is always present. Sometimes it seems it can blast at any moment. The point of view for the filmmaker as for the spectators is a totally fragile and unprotected one.

One of the key moments of the film is for me another hectic sentence by Bandopadhyay spoken to the villager: “We are helpless. We can only convey your suffering to the people.” This is one of the most moving moments. She does not just make a film about something, she is there with all the sympathy among these people and at the same time the whole film is in all its roughness, in his fragmentary character like a seismograph.

Near the end we see her sitting, the face covered by their arms which are pillowed on her knees. For this one moment she seems to be homeless like Caplin´s famous tramp, homeless as the return to her city are not any more possible. As she is not one of the victims, the killed, injured and raped villagers, her body position is like an echo from all the nightmarish impressions burnt in our and her mind with the help of the recording camera. We and her are for a moment alone with these terrible images. As we can learn from the most emphatic filmmakers like Ritwik Ghatak and Terrence Malick to understand what we see or what we film from the world we have to understand ourselves always as a part of it.
As the film is full of anger, empathy and sympa1700 Kelvin by Anamika Bandopadhyay thy for the victims and the villagers against the violence caused by the political and economical interests of the former government of West Bengal, it is also a poetic essay which asks your attention and empathy in an age of audiovisual mass media where all the news channels make us more dull instead of sensibilizing our attention and empathy.

In this composition of documented facts, interviews, collages and performances 1700 Kelvin, a film really made out of nothing, no budget, no properly technical or organizational conditions except the passion and commitment of the filmmaker and her team is quite an exciting essay about “history from below”.
Last but not least 1700 Kelvin is in its anger an authentic film until its bones. And all these bad conditions under the film was made, the fragmentary character, the lack of a budget etc make this impression of authenticity even stronger. It is a f film (and that is why I call it a variation of “Caméra Stylo”) which has the truth of a cinematic diary.

Rüdiger Tomczak

on her previous film RED, please read here

another interesting article on 17oo Kelvin by Abhijit K. Kolkata can be found here

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