What is happening in India is happening all over the world: in Brazil, in China, in Indonesia – a race is going on in the so-called emerging countries / threshold countries. All these countries want to catch up as much as they can with the rich countries of the world. They want to be attractive for investments and match up their growth rate with the world market. In this regard, no consideration can be taken in India for the traditions of the indigenous people or the untouchables. Capitalism in its present-day global character – without guardrails, without ethics, without religion – is heading for an apocalypse, all-consuming, without ideas for the future.
This may be a drastic description, but its garish portrayal is reality for our protagonists Pankhi Bai, Ghinnu Kole, Sushmita, Selva, Lakshmi and Biras Topno. They represent the 100'000 people who are marching to Delhi, and, who in turn, represent hundreds of millions of landless persons as well as farmers and indigenous people who have been expelled from their land.
My personal starting point
The Indian subcontinent interests me and has interested me for quite sometime in a special way – with its fascinating political history, its complex and tension-filled social and religious structure and its quite modern conception of statehood. This interest is based not only, but also, on my family situation.
After a trip with my family through the southern part of Tamil Nadu we spent a few days (somewhat coincidentally) in the Training and Cultural Interaction Centre CESCI of Ekta Parishad. It was very exciting for us to meet the people there and discover their social and political work, as well as experience their thoughts and their deep conviction. At that time, they told us about the idea of a gigantic march involving 100'000 people, which they were planning for the year 2012.
I could not get over the idea of this event and began to think about the possibility of making a film about it. A year later, the producer Franziska Reck encouraged me to consider actually proceeding with the project. She herself is politically and personally very interested in this theme.
The idea of making a film with a specific political subject interested me after such a long time. Not a political film in the sense of agitation and propaganda, but rather a film dealing with politics. And my interest lies also in making the resistance and fight of indigenous people and landless farmers visible – to show the methods of their resistance – so as to be able to understand non-violence better.
My interest was additionally fired by current political events – the upheavals in the Arabic world, which began peacefully, mainly in Egypt and Tunisia, in contrast to the very bloody conflict in Syria.
The producer Franziska Reck and I agreed – we wanted to make this film.
Together with Paolo Poloni I made an extensive research trip to many places and spoke with many people in India. We had conversations with Indian politicians and journalists; we studied the organisation Ekta Parishad in depth. We researched political, economic and social themes that affected the landless farmers, the indigenous people and the untouchables. We made additional visual research with a camera and tried out diverse cinematic glimpses into Indian reality. This journey gave me a very good basis for working on the film concept.
... much more
Four months before shooting began, I flew once again to Mumbai to make the final preparations.
This journey ended abruptly at the border customs – I had been ‚black-listed’, I was banned from entering the country.
My valid visa in this connection was not relevant. The customs officers were unable to give me a reason for this refusal. Three hours later, thoroughly frustrated, I had to board the same Swiss plane to return to Switzerland. I was confused and troubled. Questions tormented me: And now? Where do we go from here?
Back in Zurich, we were very interested in learning the reason why I had been prohibited from entering India. We crashed into a wall of silence on the part of the Indians. We simply were provided with unofficial information from the Ministry of the Interior in Delhi.
One reason they gave us was that I had already been in a region where tourists do not go – and that with a tourist visa.
The place they mentioned and the time I was there were correct. I was researching in Chhattisgarh in the middle of India, there where there are the most steel plants, where there is unending poverty, where the air and earth are polluted – and in this region there are the Maoist guerrilla organisations of the Naxalites. They rule over an area that is three times as large as Switzerland.
RECK Filmproduktion made several efforts to get help from various networks to have this ‚ban on visa’ lifted. In vain. It quickly became clear that I would not be able to enter India in the near future.
But we definitely wanted to make this film. For reasons of solidarity and convinced of the importance of these peoples’ (the landless farmers and indigenous people) concerns. we were certain that our film would reach a large, international public.
In order to realise this film, we had to find a director who would be capable of directing the filming in India.
We found him! Kamal Musale. He is Indian and Swiss with residence in Mumbai, an experienced director and cameraman and we were able to acquire him for this delicate task. My research and the film concept at hand provided a good basis as well as the necessary prerequisites for his work.
Then we organised the technical conditions that would make it possible for me to view any material shot in India in a relatively short time and provide feedback quickly. Like this, during shooting – first in villages and then during the march – we had regular exchange by mail, Skype and telephone. So we developed a feasible way to work together.
In spite of everything, I do not want to hide the fact that this situation was a borderline experience for me. Sometimes I called myself the ‚remote-director’: by remote control I guided the content and the dramaturgical and artistic decisions. The documentary shooting situation is very complex: it consists of too many decisions on a minute-by-minute basis, the emotional and cinematic access to the protagonists and events and are thus difficult to control. In spite of excellent communication between India and Switzerland I was unable to influence as much as I had anticipated.
Fortunately, Kamal Musale worked well with his crew and I had copious differentiated and cinematographically interesting material from India. However, I had to find my way through the material like a film editor does. She views the material from a professional point of view, without knowing the real situation or the purpose of the director when he is shooting the film. This situation makes it possible for her to productively play the role of a counterpart. Suddenly the editor and director found themselves in practically the same situation. But for me, this role was new and unfamiliar.
I did not have at my disposal the emotional and contextual topography of the material as one usually has from the experiences that occur when one is filming. It was extremely difficult for me to orient myself in the material. I was searching for my stories and persons, the appropriate emphases of themes, people or information that are necessary for making a film narration interesting.
Thanks to the united effort and a somewhat longer cutting period, Marina Wernli and I were, in the end, able to master this difficult situation.
In conclusion I can say that this film was a very enriching experience for me – especially in view of the highly exceptional realisation process and the unconventional collaboration with Kamal Musale.
Christoph Schaub, October 2013