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India non-fiction fest: The changing face of India

June 22, 2013 11:36 IST

India non-fiction fest: The changing face of India

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The first ever non-fiction festival got off to a flying start in Mumbai today. Here's what unfolded.

India's first non fiction festival went underway today, Firday 21 at Mumbai's Nehru Centre. Across three days, the festival will see over 50 non-fiction writers talk on topics as varied as cinema, health, finance, careers and politics among others.

On Day 1, speakers included Tavleen Singh, Ankit Fadia, Harish Nambiar, Naresh Fernandes, Meena Menon, MK Raghavendra, Mahesh Bhatt, Rahul Bose, Bhavna Somaiya and Minissha Lamba among many others.

The session featuring Harish Nambiar, Naresh Fernandes and Meena Menon focussed on the changing social fabric of Mumbai with each of the three journalists narrating their experiences of the city and its reaction to the riots and the blasts.

Fernandes and Menon have chronicled the city in the own ways. Besides having written extensively on the city's 'Jazz Age' Fernandes has been an astute observer of the changing face of the city as the editor of Time Out Mumbai. Menon, besides having worked as a journalist in the city since 1984, has also written Riots and After in Mumbai: Chronicles of Truth and Reconciliation. Harish Nambiar's Defragmenting India offers a fascinating view of the country from the point of view of a pillion-rider on an Enfield Bullet motorcycle (Read his interview here).

Fernandes pointed out that the city had become unrecognisable in very many ways. From being a manufacturing hub, its economy now thrives because of the service sector. "And since many of them are part of the informal sector, they are deprived of the provisions and perks they deserve," he said. "This informality is seen even in the city's landscape as the proportion of people living in the slums has doubled from 1991 to 2011."

"The mills of parel have given way to gate community and inclusive public spaces like Marine Drive and Juhu beach have made way for 'exclusive' spaces such as malls," he said.

"Riots have also rearranged the city's cartography," he said, "There are Jain enclaves in south Mumbai and Muslim (ghettos) in Mumbra (a suburb of Thane, Mumbai's satellite city).

Meena Menon spoke about the genesis of her book, Riots and After in Mumbai: Chronicles of Truth and Reconciliation and narrated the difficulty she had trying to get information from the city's police in spite of invoking the Right to Information Act.

Menon also spoke about the surviving members of the Bane family. (Banes were one of the Hindu families living in Jogeshwari's Gandhi Chawl whose members were burnt alive during the 1992-93 riots).

Even as the incident provided a trigger for a Hindu backlash, the Banes were all but forgotten till Menon tracked the surviving members to their house in the western suburb of Borivali.

They had moved on, she said, unwilling to seek revenge so to say, believing rather in the Almighty's justice.

Many survivors, she said continued to live in the hope of divine justice, expecting little or nothing from the country's judiciary that has failed to deliver justice in many ways.

"Till then, no one thought this could happen in Mumbai. But it did," she said.


Image: From left: Harish Nambiar, Naresh Fernandes and Meena Menon
Photographs: Abhishek Mande/Rediff.com

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The early '90s also became a talking point in a completely unrelated session. MK Raghavendra, a noted film scholar and researcher pointed out that films in the '90s were far bolder than those being produced today.

He was talking in a session titled Bold Cinema for Real India/Real Cinema for Bold India and pointed to the economy as one of the major reasons why cinema today is far less bold today.

Raghavendra said that to make a film palatable to a larger section of the audience (and thereby make more money) one had to let go of a lot of 'bold' aspects. "You aren't going to be too happy eating popcorn while watching a disturbing movie or have dinosaur miniature figures being sold if you'd shown them eating up little kids in Jurassic Park," he noted.

The scholar was responding to filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt who suggested that one can be bold only within the constraints of a matrix. "We always make films hoping that people watch it," he said arguing that one always has constrains, whether one likes to admit it or not.

Bhatt further argued that being bold doesn't necessarily mean flowing against the tide, attempting to justify his latter-day movies such as Raaz, Jism etc (which he scripted). "I thought it was a bold decision to make to move away from the kind of cinema I was used to making (path breaking films such as Saraansh and Arth among others).

"Don't I have the right to titillate you and make money?" he asked those who had criticised him.

In an attempt to define what is bold, Rahul Bose said that it would be the moment when a filmmaker wrote/directed a particular shot adding that it also would have to do with the where the filmmaker was in his/her career at the time as well as the prevalent conditions of the society.

It was however left to Minissha Lamba to make the most valid point of all. "Today there is nothing such as bold," she said, "because there are so many places from where we're getting all sorts of information. Chances are we've seen everything there is to see on the news channels before we see it in cinema. There is nothing such as bold anymore because we've almost always 'been there and done that'."

Lamba whose debut film directed by Shoojit Sircar, though critically well-received, failed miserably at the box office recollects telling Sircar that it was a movie far ahead of its time.

"You can be 'bold' today," she said, "But if your audience is not ready for it, you with you, you will be dejected and ask yourself what my place in society is."

MK Raghavendra concluded the session saying if he were to pick a cinema that is truly bold, it'd have to be the one coming out of Russia even as he urged critics and audience to appreciate 'the giant oak as well as the weed that grows at its feet'.

"The only thing new under the sun," he said quoting the late American president Harry Truman, "is the history you haven't read." 


Image: From left: MK Raghavendra, Sanjay Gadhvi, Mahesh Bhatt, Rahul Bose, Bhavna Somaiya and Minissha Lamba
Photographs: Abhishek Mande/Rediff.com

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