Photo courtesy of Film Southasia.
Photo courtesy of Film Southasia.

Death and education at a film festival

Film Southasia 2019 provided a glimpse of what Southasia is thinking, feeling, and creating.

Rushing from one screening to the next during the latest iteration of the film festival Film Southasia, across the sun-soaked inner courtyard of Patan's Yalamaya Kendra, or up meandering stairways of the century-old structure, a number of themes surfaced in my mind. Held in mid-November 2019 in what was its 12th iteration, the biennial festival had simultaneous screenings almost all the time, and one was forced to make uninformed choices along the way. Sometimes I struck gold and left one of the three halls feeling energised and deeply troubled. At others, a little exhausted and perhaps even subdued. By the time the third day of the event drew to a close, I was surprised by the slow and steady emergence of an interweaving of two of the themes that I had been following instinctively – death and education. Beauty, love and resistance, too, had been prominent subjects of documentaries. But it was death that somehow managed to entangle itself quite irrevocably around knowledge, or its dissemination.

For me it began with Pradeep K P's Our Gauri, an homage to Gauri Lankesh – a woman, who until her last breath actively countered the upsurge of communalism in India through her writing, publishing and activism. Highlighting her three major fields of engagement no doubt comes across as banal when written in eulogy of someone whose murder in her Bengaluru home had caused waves of mass uproar and resistance in unexpected corners of the Subcontinent and beyond. But the film evaded this trap of predictable eulogising by opening a window on Gauri the friend, the sister, the human. A series of interviews with family members, colleagues and friends; people on the street who read her deeply political pieces with reverence; people on the street who had joined marches protesting her murder; and most importantly, youth activists she had mentored in various college campuses in India, including the distant Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, replaced her image as an iconic figure of resistance with a far more accessible portrait. It was the portrait of a woman who loved and protected fiercely, and fought her battles even more fiercely.

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Himal Southasian