WAKE UP CALL
No matter how much documentaries are run down as boring and preachy, there is a viewership and a market for them, even it is small and scattered. If only feature filmmakers had the courage and imagination, there are thousands of stories out there, just waiting to be told. If they were made in the fiction format, maybe many more issues would reach a larger audience.
Unfortunately, film is now equated only with entertainment, and even new has to be ‘packaged’ and ‘marketed.’ So if any degree of truth is to reach the people -- those who are interested in the truth that is -- it is through the medium of documentary.
A small band of documentary filmmakers is committed enough to go where no new reporter or filmmaker will care or dare to go. And somehow, the impact is always more when a subject is seen through an honest and dispassionate medium. Marathi cinema has produced films like Gabhricha Paus and Paangira about farmer suicides in Vidarbha, but Deepa Bhatia’s film Nero’s Guests, that follows journalist-activist P.Sainath through areas of devastation, and also comes up with startling facts, leaves a lasting impression on the viewer’s mind. A fear years ago, Rakesh Sharma’s Final Solution did more for creating awareness about the Gujarat riots than any newspaper or TV report could do.
As Sainath points out in the film, a fashion week gets over 500 reporters covering it, but hardly any publication has a full-fledged rural reporting department. Sainath’s, relentless campaign for creating awareness about rural poverty and farmer suicides has not just won him awards but the undying admiration of journalists all over the country. He is a forceful and fearless speaker, sarcastic and scathing by turn.
The title Nero's Guests, refers to a horrifying historical episode, when Nero burnt alive humans to illuminate a party he had thrown, and not one of the guests protested against the atrocity. Sainath and Bhatia say that if we keep ignoring the suffering of our farmers, we are no better than Nero's guests. The film won two awards at MIFF* earlier this year.
(*MIFF: Mumbai International Film Festival of Documentary, Short and Animation Films)