Trolley Talkies: Farmers utilise their time watching films of resistance  

Films are screened at 6.30 pm daily at Pillar 783 at Tikri. Cinema of Resistance has set up a small, makeshift “cinema hall” at the Ghazipur border, showing films daily at 6 pm

Trolley Talkies: Farmers utilise their time watching films of resistance  

Namrata Joshi

‘Silence also has sounds
Has words
Gunpowder was mere earth
Before the blast
Like people’

These lines from a Punjabi verse, quoted in photographer turned documentary filmmaker Randeep Maddoke’s Landless, also point at what his film intends to do. It isn’t just a searing examination of the exploitation, inequities and brutal atrocities heaped on Punjab’s Dalit farmers, but also presents a narrative of persistent violence and violation, from the perspective of the underprivileged and the disenfranchised. It makes them “hold the lens”, brings their voices centrestage from the margins and also underlines the crucial link between land ownership and caste fissures.

It refers to the landless labourers as scarecrows, who might protect the grounds they stand on but have no land to call their own. As one of them states: “Khet begaane rahe, kabhi apne nahin hue (the fields remained remote and unfamiliar; could never become one of our own)”.

Maddoke has been screening the film at various sites of the ongoing farmers’ protest. And it is easy to see how readily it segues in with the current struggles, lending the ongoing battles an added note of poignancy as well as urgency.

The moving image has been emerging as a significant presence in the farmers’ protests. Hearteningly so. It’s about films becoming an integral component of the cause and giving it a leg up, being stakeholders in real issues than just offering a escape from reality. So, there is Trolley Talkies, that variously describes itself as “morcha of visuals and sounds” and “cinema that moves with the movement”. It has been holding screenings since late December at 6.30 pm daily at Pillar 783 at Tikri and doubles up later as a night shelter. In solidarity with the farmers, Cinema of Resistance set up a small, makeshift “cinema hall” on January 15 at the Ghazipur border at Akhil Bhartiya Kisan Mahasabha’s camp, showing films daily at 6 pm.

These efforts hark back to the community viewing culture of touring talkies or tent cinemas in the hinterland, especially of Maharashtra. It’s about pitching a tent, putting a white screen and showing films with a basic projector and sound system, in the remotest of areas.

Then there is Cinema Vaandi, the cinema outreach programme in the interiors of Kerala, in which a van equipped with projection facilities travels to villages and towns for screening films. Started by the film lovers’ collective Kazhcha Film Forum, it’s about taking films to the people, if they are unable to go to the cinemas themselves.

At the farmers’ protests the community element has not just been limited to people huddling together and unwinding with a film after their day-long public meetings. The collectivism is also in the kind of progressive films that are getting curated.

Cinema of Resistance have been showing videos of Karwan-e-Mohabbat, Amir Aziz’s poem ‘Sab yaad rakha jaayega’ Poojan Sahil’s versions of ‘Bella Ciao’, well-known Dalit musician and theatre personality Sambhaji Bhagat’s poem ‘Ye Hitler Ke Saathi’ and KP Sasi’s ‘Gaon Chhodab Nahi’ on the exploitation of indigenous communities under the ruse of development by corporates and politicians. Inspired by a song by Bhaghwan Maaji, leader of the adivasi movement against bauxite mining in Kashipur, it calls for a collective struggle to hold on to all that belongs to the communities—nature, environment, tradition, land, livelihood, culture.

It also screened Norman McLaren’s seminal anti-war film, Neighbours and, in the days to come, intends showing Maheen Mirza’s Agar Wo Desh Banati (If She Built A Country), on the struggles of women from Chhattisgarh against the bourgeoning mines and power plants in the region.

Trolley Talkies showed Rajkumar Santoshi’s The Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002) on the life of one of the movement’s beloved icons, Anusha Rizvi’s 2010 film Peepli Live whose portrayal of a farmer’s suicide and the media circus around it looks eerily prophetic of the present times and Anurag Singh’s 2014 Punjabi film Punjab 1984 that looked at the impact of insurgency on a family.

Most resonant has been Shyam Benegal’s 1976 Hindi classic Manthan. Inspired by the milk cooperatives pioneered by Verghese Kurien, it documents the collective might of farmers in bringing about the White Revolution. And also offers motivation and hope that the current farmers’ stir may well be the harbinger of pivotal, ground breaking transformation in the future.

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