By Aditi Patwardhan. Posted on November 01, 2015
We’re not new to propaganda, are we? In media, in political speeches, in international circuits, we come across propaganda all the time. And because we know that it’s downright propaganda, we dismiss it as easily and forget all about it.
Well, except for whatever subconscious effect it has on our minds, but that’s another story! What if we come across a film that’s propaganda like in its appearance, but if we look a bit closely, demonstrates the wittiest of the critique of the system, of the society, of the filmmakers themselves? S N S Sastry’s films take you to that place, where watching his films doesn’t simply remain an experience, but becomes a delightful exercise.
It’s an active exercise of mind and brain, which lets you enjoy the joy similar to puzzle-solving. He achieves that without any pretense though. From his side, he simply juxtaposes the images and we’re blown by the satire, critique and humor that arises out of it. The session ‘Propaganda/ Anti-propaganda’ featuring five of Sastry’s films And I Make Short Films (1968), Keep Going/ Lage Raho (1971), This Bit Of That India (1975), Our Indira (1973) and Ustad Amir Khan (1970) was conducted by cinematographer Avijit Mukul Kishore at PVR Phoenix today.
Conducting this session was in itself an innovative and welcome idea, since this master of Indian short documentary has been forgotten in recent times. While most of Film Division’s films are dismissed as propaganda films, the filmmakers whose films prove otherwise, too, are sadly kept aside. The session began with the screening of And I Make Short Films, the most complex film of the lot.
Put together from stock footage and Film Division’s archive footage, the film uses news readings, political speeches, classical music, cartoons, dialogues from Hindi films- all in a unique way to create an intriguing montage. In the very beginning of the film, he portrays evident contrast in the society by using a ya ya yippee yippee soundtrack for the visuals of a Karnatik music concert. The film has a motif, a reel of film, which keeps reappearing at intervals. Through the film, Sastry brings out various important questions related to filmmaking.
Using a quote by John Grierson saying “documentary is total observation”, Sastry demonstrates the quote showing how observant a documentary filmmaker can be. Later in the film he talks about his inspiration for filmmaking by saying that it’s the sun in one’s belly that’s the source of inspiration! The film required another viewing and a commentary by Mukul to really seep in. Mukul helped the audience understand the subtler cues and the subtext of the film, while also giving some factual updates about Sastry and the film.
Among the other films, This bit of that India is a documentary which was made with an official brief for a film documenting opportunities for foreign students in India. What Sastry has created with this brief is, however, completely phenomenal and enlightening. The film documents students, campuses, facilities and officials from various institutions across the country, but the way it has been presented, it goes way beyond the mere goal of sharing information. It becomes much more. In a similar way, the other documentaries capture something beyond the moving images.
His images capture the essence, the irony lying at the core of life, the humor, the satire in human systems! While concluding the session Mukul said, “His films are called experimental cinema. When seen from art for art’s sake point of view, that’s alright! However, there’s also an angle of politics to every film of his that cannot be ignored. Then there’s also humour. That’s what makes him phenomenal!" Of course, the audience couldn't agree more!