28, Januray 2012, The Hindu

It took 14 years to make the 200-minute-long documentary “Jai Bhim Comrade” on Dalits. Director Anand Patwardhan explains why.

On January 9, in the bylanes of Byculla‘s BIT Chawl, a documentary was premiered after sundown. A huge white screen ensured that people from the three-storeyed buildings nearby could also view the film. For over three hours Anand Patwardhan’s “Jai Bhim Comrade” took us on a musical-historical journey. Beginning with the rousing voice of Vilas Ghogre, we move quickly to the police killings in Ramabai Nagar in 1997. Suddenly, the camera takes us inside Ghogre’s home, where he scribbled his last words before committing suicide on the fifth day after the police firing.

Why did the film take 14 years to make? “I wanted to continue filming till all the false cases against the people in the colony were removed, or until the police officers who had ordered the firing were sent to jail,” explains Patwardhan. The Ramabai Nagar case took its own natural course. Another thread was exploring the tension between caste and class. Patwardhan says, “Vilas was a Dalit who became a Marxist, but then chose to reassert his Dalit identity, by tying a blue scarf as he hung himself. I wanted to understand this seeming clash of identities. As Vilas was no more, I began filming others from his musical tradition. A few were Leftists like Vilas, others celebrated Dr. Ambedkar‘s life and message. I wanted to do justice to this whole spectrum.”

The spectrum is broad indeed — from a proud song describing the Dalit who became a barrister, to those that recount the travails of migrant workers to the city; from lullabies based on the teachings of the Buddha, to naughty qawaalis that celebrated sexuality equally by men and women. Almost each song is juxtaposed with evocative visuals — claustrophobic slum-dwelling illustrated by a chicken coop; “My barrister husband is coming home” juxtaposed with visuals of men sweeping the streets. As Patwardhan points out, this is not an ethnographic film. “It is a record of the people and events I encountered. Many were not recognised as singers. Saraswati Bansode was a housewife. Shanta Bai Gadpaile’s husband was a poet and she remembers his songs. The tradition is so strong that ordinary people just sang.”

Many songs in the film narrate the game politicians have played with Dalits. In one instance, at an Ambedkar Jayanti function, small boys are dancing to the tune of “In the Mumbai… we are the Bhai..” from Bollywood‘s “Shootout At Lokhandwala”. Somehow the lyrics fit — Dalits have been used by the underworld, as well as political parties.


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