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The world according to Chandra

Meet the Kannadiga who is the organiser of Toronto's multicultural Regent Park Film Festival



Chandra Siddan: "To make the world a better place, we need to keep seeing what we can give, not how much we can hoard." — Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

SHARP-WITTED, deep thinking, hard-hitting, fearlessly honest and surprisingly humble — that's Chandra Siddan for you, a Bangalore-born documentary filmmaker and organiser of Toronto's multicultural Regent Park Film Festival. Back in Bangalore after 12 years, Chandra screened her film, Williamsburg Experiment, at Time & Space Art Gallery yesterday. The experiment was designed to explore the relationship between art, money, and value. Chandra teamed up with Berlin-based Martin Wrede, a trained artist and photographer, for this documentary.

"A city with a population of six million should definitely have more film culture," says this former English lecturer, who was introduced to the fascinating realm of art cinema by her professor, the late film critic T.G. Vaidyanathan, while she studied for her masters in English literature at Bangalore University.

The lady, now settled in Canada, is in the city to complete production work on a personal documentary. Surrounded by tapes, camera accessories and books, Chandra fished for a framed black-and-white photograph of a 13-year-old, draped in a silk sari, two plaits with a strand of flowers on one, a resigned look on the innocent face. Of course that girl was her, and of course I almost fell off my chair when she revealed that she was married off to her uncle when she was barely 16!

"What were all those educated `ideal citizens' around me doing? Many of my teachers in this top English school in Rajajinagar knew that I was going to be married off at barely 16. Why didn't anyone think of stopping this outrage against the girl child? Shouldn't good education mean living and making others live in an ethical manner?" asked Chandra.

"Marriage was a job. My daughter was born when I was 17. The marriage had no problems as such, and yet I saw this great unlived life and I wanted to get out of this terribly restrictive conformist set-up. So I left for U.S.A. when I was 29 and studied film at the New School for Social Research, New York, and later at Ataatliche Hochschule for Gestaltung, Karlsruhe, Germany." This was where Chandra met her present husband, a German toxicologist, who has also accompanied her to Bangalore.

At New York, she worked for a year with Asia Observer. "For over a year, I managed to write editorials that veered towards the left-of-centre path without the fundamentalist bosses ever knowing it. That stint told me that I could write," said Chandra, who plans to write a book on the `Cinema of Expenditure'. "It will contain the material that I developed as a thesis on Quentin Tarantino and post-modern cinema," said Chandra, whose essay, "Playboy of the Eastern World", has been included in the Penguin book, Mr. Naipaul's Round Trip and Other Essays.

Chandra's keen eyes have picked up the ills of metros like Bangalore. "Schools that are called `good' and have taken it upon themselves to churn out `ideal citizens' are only perpetuating a class system. They weed out low-scoring students in sixth grade, and lay down rules that are dead," she observed. "A vibrant society is one that is stimulating, one that has thought-provoking surroundings, be it graffiti, hoarding or even the clothes that one wears. We idolise Gandhiji and continue to be blind followers of rules. He broke a few rules because he believed that would help mankind. By saying that he could do it because he was the Mahatma disempowers all others who would like to evaluate the rules," said Chandra. On a personal level, she has always given her graphic-designer daughter, Smriti Gargi, the freedom to negotiate set rules.

Much of all the things she feels about early marriage, a society that says "don't get involved", and about child rights violation will be getting into her present documentary.

Chandra's earlier work include The Gift, a German fiction with English sub-titles, Death of an Artist as Salesman, an installation, Naked Revolution, a multimedia opera, and Moving, a 16mm film that was shown at the Despardes Festival in Toronto.

To promote a South Asian identity in Toronto, Chandra started the Regent Park Film Festival there. "There are several film fests in Germany and Canada. The response these fests get is amazing. I would like to facilitate such a movement here," offered Chandra, calling for people who are passionate about meaningful cinema.

"The middle-class in India can do wonders if only it wants to. For so many people here, the day-to-day pressures make them feel as though they are living at the bottom of the ocean. To make the world a better place, we need to keep seeing what we can give, not how much we can hoard........."

The conversation did not stop there. There are so many theories that Chandra Siddan has. The sparkling intelligence of this Kannadiga working in Canada is waiting to bubble up through her documentaries.

Chandra can be contacted at abulafi@hotmail.com.

MALA KUMAR

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