Boo to the Big Bully
Award-winning documentary filmmaker K.P. Sasi's satirical music video on America was screened in Bangalore recently as a precursor to George Bush's visit to India
REACHING OUT K.P. Sasi: `What a newspaper article or a book cannot communicate, a film is able to in a short time'. PHOTO: ANAND SANKAR
K.P. Sasi has just about blown his chances of ever getting a visa to visit America. The beard he sports would have never really worked in his favour and his short musical "America! America! (American War Paar Da)" criticising militarist American foreign policy must surely be the last straw.
The musical was one of the many movies screened at the recently held film festival, Films 4 Peace. The festival was organised as a precursor to the protests that would greet the visit of U.S. President George Bush to India.
Based on a song originally written by Kamaan Singh Dhami, Sasi's film takes a markedly different approach in presenting an issue as serious as the effects of flawed American foreign policy on the world. The four-minute video is satirical, with editing tricks making dancer Malavika Tara Mohanan often dance on Bush's shoulder and the White House, but is severe on America's role in promoting conflict and questions the very notions of American ideas of peace and liberty. The video was a big hit at the festival and it appears it has acquired quite a fan following around the world.
Does documentary filmmaking in India need to change its approach to cater to a new and young audience? Excerpts from the interview with K.P. Sasi.
"America! America!" is so different from your other films. How did you end up making it?
The song came up during the invasion of Afghanistan. We used to have a small forum that used to mobilise protests on different issues. Kamaan was a part of that forum and he wrote that song and started singing it. The song became a big hit and was again used during the invasion of Iraq. At that time we thought of doing a music video but we never got to do it because of the money involved. It took some time to raise the money, and whenever we raised some money we did some work. We knew it would make a major impact, but we are amazed at the response. Thousands of copies are being distributed, and people from different countries are singing the song. Even some two-year-old children are hooked to the video. It is reaching the youth very fast. What an article in a newspaper or a book cannot communicate, a film is able to in a short time. In many meetings people ask for it to be played many times. In Honk Kong, it seems they once played it ten times. I have made three feature films and over twenty documentaries but the effect of this film is more than what I had imagined.
Your last film before video was The Source Of Life For Sale, a movie about the impact which privatisation of water supply will have on society. It is an issue not much reported in the mainstream media and in fact people believe privatisation will bring better service. How can you reach a bigger audience?
There are two sides to this question. One side is issue-based films or activist films, whatever you call it, have no reach. That I think is wrong. Say if you write an ordinary book with Penguin, how many copies are sold? Two thousand? That's the kind of readership we are talking about. But if you produce an activist film, at least 500 copies are circulated. One screening if you take, one copy gets 100 screenings, is watched by 30-40 people. You can imagine the audience. But even today our films don't have a proper distribution network. We began about 23 years back and we had to convince the movements about the possibility of our video. Many of them were not convinced. Today for most of the struggles, a documentary has become an inseparable need. When you compare us with the western world, there is a much better system of information dissemination.
Do you think documentaries in India have a commercial space that has not yet been discovered?
Last year, the documentary on emperor penguins, March of the Penguins was a blockbuster around the world. I believe documentaries do have a commercial space. It is very difficult to convince a distributor. You can relate to a director or an actor. But distributors want to make big money, that's it. The only way is to take up distribution yourself and spend money for publicity, which is too much to ask of a filmmaker.
But issue-based cinema seems like it is gaining acceptance. Last year Santosh Sivan released his movie on sexual minorities, Navarasa, commercially...
When we began documentaries, there were very few with us, Anand Patwardhan, Tapan Bose... Today there are lots of people. Issues, which large sections of the society, especially the middle class, are going to face is something that cannot be ignored. Films are a part of life. There is nothing like I live cinema, eat cinema, shit cinema... That is a myth created by the pretentious art film world. You cannot give cinema a place more than it deserves. I believe issue-based feature films are on the rise. It is ignorance to say that cinema cannot deal with issues.
Critics have often said that documentaries don't take a journalistic approach i.e. presenting both sides of a story. Comment.
What is the objectivity of the adivasis in Narmada Valley? To look at the issue of dams, which is submerging the land of their forefathers. The myth that the mainstream media projects is that you have to have both sides of the story. My films are one-sided. Here is a question of a large section of people's voices being suppressed by the mainstream media, the government, corporate world, bureaucracy, the legal system and the police. Any work that makes their voices heard is great work.
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