Defying the season, a northeasterly wind huffs and puffs its way from the Arabian Sea through the smog-bound Indus and Ganga plains, to caress the tiled roofs and tall Silver Cotton trees in a grassy courtyard of Lalitpur. The wind carries tales of the vast Subcontinent it has just traversed to finally breathe free and luxuriate in the winter sunshine, amidst an audience that feels for the people and landscape it has touched during its travels.
Here, the wind can safely talk of all that it has seen and experienced along the way through the lens of filmmakers, who tell amazing stories at YalaMaya Kendra every two years, shaking pre-conceived notions and forcing Southasians to think anew.
At one edge of this fecund Subcontinent, where nearly a fourth of the global population lives, two pre-teen girls undertake an austere and difficult pilgrimage, prostrating every step of the way for three days through rocky mountain terrain for the well-being of all creatures inhabiting the planet. At another, two Dalit girls, swallowed up by the sea, have to be buried in their mother’s kitchen since there is no other place where their bodies will be allowed to find rest. Growing Up in Ladakh and Six Feet Under track these twin tales at Film Southasia 2019.
On the its Western edge, two boys, who should be playing and studying, are instead forced to fend for their themselves in cold and windy Kabul, devastated by a heady concoction of religion and politics. In Kachin state on the eastern frontier, young women and men find themselves wasted by opium addiction, but there is no other way they will be able to defy the horrific conditions of jade mining. Kabul, City in the Wind and Opium Wars tell their stories.
In between, there are so many stories, each unique and brilliant in its own way. In A Dying Wish, an aged couple in Maharashtra, full of life, asks the government for permission to die before they are overtaken by debilitating illness. In the same state, a patriarch sees fit to impose upon his family a rooster as a pet, and just when the family has adjusted to its quirky ways to begins loving the cock, decides to have it chopped and eaten in the delightful Tungrus.
We see education factories that take the joy out of learning, churning out robotic engineers-to-be by the hundreds in Kota, Rajasthan in An Engineered Dream. Elsewhere in Rajasthan, it is such a struggle for dedicated teachers to cajole children who have barely food enough to eat, to find a breathing space among their chores to live and learn in Are You Going to School Today? In Hyderabad, Deccan, when a student, defying his poverty and Dalit origins, decides to reach for the stars, the state machinery drives him to suicide in We Have Not Come Here to Die. When, in the heart of the capital of India, a young student from a minority community decides to stand up for his rights in a premium educational institution, he is disappeared without trace and his valiant mother and sister launch a futile search in Ammi. Majoritarianism and the global movement to the political and religious right also finds expression in mob lynchings in India’s northern belt over a matter of food choices in Lynch Nation. Across the border, the joy of making music is a dying art, struggling against the puritanical ethos of the Pakistani state in Indus Blues.
As the circle turns we come back to two women, now grown up, one in Karachi and the other in Bangalore, gunned down for trying to create space for free expression, against majoritarian trends. After Sabeen and Our Gauri tell their stories.
Is it all doom and gloom and a time for despair in Southasia? No, says the rollicking Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon. Life will find a way and sprout anew in all its amazing diversity despite the restraining barriers says this film, a mixture of fact and fiction set in the heart of Old Delhi with an ensemble cast of 400!
And the people of the Subcontinent will find their true spirit in their own unique ways, protesting by fasting and Satyagraha as does Dr. Govinda KC in We Are With Dr KC in Nepal or in traversing 7500 km from Kanyakumari to Kashmir in a padyatra with a message of peace and harmony, in Walking with M.
Come then, and watch Southasian life and living in all its splendour at FSA’19, “Where the Mind is Free…”! Come watch, meet and interact! This is just a foretaste. Come feast with us!