"Sangharsh": filming the Dalit Panthers' struggle and its' grace.
Paper short abstract:
My film on the Dalit Panthers in North India follows three young idealists spreading political consciousness in slums and villages. Focusing on poetic moments of grace that create breaches in the propaganda, I'll reflect on their importance for the film and on their heuristic value for anthropology
Paper long abstract:
A teenager's denunciation of communal riots ends with a romantic song.
An elderly peasant forgets the words of an Ambedkar song, leaves the village gathering to work in the fields and sings a father's farewell song to a little girl who'll soon be married.
A statue of Ambedkar seems to have witnessed events of caste violence in the previous sequence. Her melancholic facial expression takes us on a musical road trip during the monsoon…
These are some of the unexpected poetic sequences of my film Sangharsh (105 minutes, 2018). Shot in direct cinema in the late 1990s during my Phd fieldwork, its editing process took place some twenty years later and recreates the emotional texture of the "ethnographic encounter".
While some of these gracious sequences were staged spontaneously by the people themselves, others were artificially created or simply emphasized during the editing process with the help of music. These sequences impose themselves as emotional landmarks, delivering open-ended messages. Although not incorporated with any precise intentions, they seem to retrospectively suggest that people's lives and aspirations cannot be contained by conventional political mobilization and that the deeper emancipatory horizons of humanity could remain beyond the reach of politics. The beauty of the characters' vulnerable lives nevertheless justifies the need for self-defence and assertion against oppressive forces, as advocated by the Dalit Panthers.
While these examples highlight the heuristic value of ethnographic cinema for anthropology, they also question the status of artistic practise in relation to the disciplinary framework of social sciences.
Grace: unexpected moments in ethnographic films