Gorakhpur to Kolkata: Cinema Caravan Picks up Pace in Eight Years

Main akela hi chala tha jaanib-e-manzil magar

Log saath aate gaye aur kaarvaan banta gaya

-Majrooh Sultanpuri

(Alone I was going towards my destination, but/
People came along and the caravan grew)

Had the modest initiative that took off from a mid-sized town in Uttar Pradesh eight years back not taken wing beyond Gorakhpur, perhaps this piece would not have been necessary. In 2006, some cultural activists got together and pooled contributions from the people of that town to arrange a film festival, albeit of a kind that the Hindutva-dominated Gorakhpur was not used to. Soon enough the festival became an annual affair in Gorakhpur and would be entering its ninth year in a row. It did create perceptible ripples in the local cultural scenario and punched a few holes in the right places. But what was definitely not foreseen at the start of the journey was the proliferation of Cinema of Resistance festivals, which over years grew roots in more than ten cities spread across seven states. Inspired by the UP experience, chapters sprouted in Bihar, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal. In the coming year, the movement is preparing to take its first steps in four more states, namely Punjab, Delhi/NCR, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, as local teams begin to crystallize. Perhaps it is a good time for a retrospective pause to take stock of the journey that has brought us here.

Starting from the late ninetees, with filmmaking technology becoming portable, affordable and widely available, India had been witnessing a phase where a number of serious and committed filmmakers were embracing the documentary. Methods of procuring and screening films also had gone through an astonishingly fast change, as far as technology was concerned. However, there was a mismatch between demand and supply when it came to the scenario of public screening of documentaries. The public hardly got the chance to watch documentaries with the market-driven television, cinema halls and fast-emerging multiplexes all-engrossed with ‘features’ and Bollywood. The movement wanted to fill that lacuna. It decided to focus on the genre of cinema that was truly concerned with issues facing us as people. Ashutosh Kumar, a comrade from UP, came up with the name Cinema of Resistance for our movement. At the crux of the matter is the people’s resistance –against the neoliberal economic onslaught, feudal fetters, imperialist domination and those of patriarchy, caste-oppression and religious majoritarianism. This constitutes the pulsating heart of resistance. We as cultural activists working with cinema became a part of this fight. Co-fighters, if you will. With all these on our minds, the First Gorakhpur Film Festival came into being in the March of 2006. It was Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s Martyrdom Day.