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Documenting A Movement


Anupama Srinivasan

FILMING REALITY: THE INDEPENDENT DOCUMENTARY MOVEMENT IN INDIA
By Shoma A. Chatterji
Sage Publications, Delhi, 2015, pp. 297, Rs. 895.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 3 March 2016

Books on Indian documentaries are rare and an effort such as veteran journalist Shoma A. Chatterji’s Filming Reality that looks particularly at the Independent Documentary Movement in India is indeed welcome. One immediately recalls B.D. Garga’s well organized and informative From Raj to Swaraj: The Nonfiction Film in India (2007) that presented a historical overview of documentaries in India starting from the beginning of cinema itself in the late 1800s. In a sense, Chatterji’s book picks up where Garga’s book leaves off. Eschewing a chronological narration of the history of the movement, she prefers to look at genres such as the Biographical documentary, Ethnographic documentary, and films on Sustainable Development. She focuses on filmmakers and analyses specific films, mostly those made from the mid-1980s onwards. The Independent documentary in India can be said to have been born approximately in the mid 1970s with Anand Patwardhan’s Kraanti ki Tarangein/Waves of Revolution (1974) and Zameer ke Bandi/ Prisoners of Conscience (1978), both made as strong protests against the state of Emergency (1975–77) imposed by the then government. Notable filmmakers such as S. Sukhdev, Santi Prasad Chowdhury and S.N.S. Shastry were making interesting and powerful documentaries even in the 1960s, but mostly under the banner or in association with the state run Films Division. Over the years, filmmakers such as Manjira Dutta, Vasudha Joshi, Ranjan Palit, Sanjay Kak, Reena Mohan, R.V. Ramani, Madhusree Datta, Amar Kanwar, Saba Dewan, Rahul Roy, Sameera Jain, Paromita Vohra, Nishtha Jain, Meghnath and Biju Toppo, Rakesh Sharma and numerous others have contributed enormously, each bringing her/his own distinct way of looking and subjectively documenting the times. The word ‘subjective’ is being used consciously and deliberately, to emphasize that a documentary represents the filmmaker’s interpretation of reality, and hence never is and should not be seen as an objective recording of it. We are 40 years into the movement, and in these exciting times where the digital revolution has made filmmaking into a more democratic medium, it is of great importance and value to look back and critically analyse both the documentaries made in the past four decades and the trajectories of the makers. Filming Reality, however, for the most part, opts for a eulogistic tone, commending the remarkable courage and persistence of documentary filmmakers in India who in the words of the author ‘are trying to reach far beyond the ...


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