Cycle, Chaityabhumi to Chandrudu: How These Films Journey Through Dalit, Tribal Lives

The Mooknayak reviewed the movies that were screened in a film festival, dedicated to the cinema of the marginalised, held in Noida.
Cycle, Chaityabhumi to Chandrudu: How These Films Journey Through Dalit, Tribal Lives

Noida- With an aim to promote short films based on the struggles of Dalits and tribal communities, the Cineasta International Film Festival of India (CIFFI) — a pioneering voice in the international film festival circuit — held a special screening of four such movies and documentaries in the city on february 7 and 8.

Directed by Devashish Makhija in 2021, ‘Cycle’ was one among the movies that were screened on the second day of the film festival. The movie shows how a young tribal woman, who violated and denied justice, turns rebel and how she struggles to be able to fulfil all the expectations that the path to retribution demands.

The film is a scathing attack on the alleged state-sponsored violence that the tribal community across the country has to go through.

Interestingly, the movie has been shot with the help of a phone camera in the forests of Madhya Pradesh in Central India. 

Cycle explores the cyclical process of violence unleashed by the police and the retaliation by the tribal community. It won several awards in film festivals across India — the Mumbai International Film Festival, the Bengaluru International Short Film Festival and the Kasargod International Film Festival — in categories like best short film, best director, etc. 

The movie has been based on a short story — ‘Butterflies on Strings’ — from the anthology ‘Forgetting’ written by Makhija and published by HarperCollins Publishers India.

Naachi Se Baanchi’ (Dance for Survival) was the second short film based on the life and work of Dr Ram Dayal Munda, who was born in a tribal family of Tamar in Jharkhand. 

He went to the United States for higher studies and returned to his state to teach at the Tribal and Regional Language Department of the Ranchi University and later became its vice-chancellor.

Dr Munda has represented adivasis in the United Nations. He was awarded with the Sangeet Natya Academy Award in 2007 and the Padma Shri in 2010. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha (upper house of Parliament) in 2010. 

Directed by Meghnath and Bijo Toppo, the film throws light on the struggles of the tribal community.

Meghnath is a filmmaker and activist, who has been working in Jharkhand for the past 40 years. He has led several struggles against the state's “destructive development”. 

As a filmmaker, he has tried to document the voice of  the marginalised. He was awarded with the prestigious 59th National Film Awards and 65th National Film Award. 

Toppo, who belongs to the ethnic group Kurukh, is an anthropological and national award-winning tribal documentary filmmaker from Ranchi. 

He uses films as a medium for his social activism on behalf of marginalised indigenous communities, and teaches video production at the city's prestigious St. Xaviers College. 

Documentary ‘Chaityabhumi’ reveals Ambedkar memorial’s centrality in the Dalit imagination. It begins its journey at Rajgruha, a house at Dadar in Mumbai where Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar lived, and travels to Chaityabhumi — which is not far away. The memorial at the site where Ambedkar was cremated in 1956 looms large in the Dalit imagination. 

The essayistic film by Somnath Waghmare focuses on the annual pilgrimage that takes place to mark Dr Ambedkar’s death anniversary on December 6. It shows crowds making their way from across India to Chaityabhumi, stalls selling his books, calendars and statuettes of the great leader and the Buddha.

The captivating musical film produced by PA Ranjith's Neelam Productions explores the profound relevance of the public event in contemporary India. More than a mere celebration, the documentary shows, the event delves into the intricate web of political implications it holds for the identity and empowerment of the Dalit community. 

Waghmare is a documentary filmmaker and researcher from a Dalit-Buddhist family in Maharashtra. He has produced documentaries like ‘I am not a Witch’ and ‘The Battle of Bhima Koregaon: An Unending Journey’. The films received international acclaim. His work, deeply-rooted in exploring the cultural politics of marginalised communities in India, continues with ‘Chaityabhumi’ as well.

The next movie in the list was ‘Chandrudu’ — which is based on the life of IAS officer Gandham Chandrudu. The short film depicts caste discrimination in India before the 2000s and how footwear is associated within the hierarchies of society. 

The story revolves around the true incidents of lives of father and son Gandham Chandrudu — who is the first person to pursue education in a low social background family. 

The plot generates how Chandrudu had a fantasy of wearing footwear — which was far away from his economical status and right to have them.

Directed by John Shreedhar, the movie artfully employs footwear as a mark of honor in rural Andhra, where bare footedness was once a common sight, particularly some 30-35 years ago. 

Despite the rarity of such a sight today, the film's poignant message still resonates, as evidenced by its inclusion in prestigious international film festivals such as the Ontario Film Festival and the 7th Indian World Film Festival. 

A director-cum-junior assistant in a government department, Shreedhar understands the value of filmmaking and writing in a sensible way.

He says, “I have been interested in filmmaking since childhood. I began learning film-making when I was in grade 10.”

He has made five short films and is shooting his debut movie, which is in its post-production phase. 

The screening of the film was followed by a panel discussion, which included filmmakers and academicians. 

Professor Ratan Lal, who teaches at Delhi University’s Hindu College and is a keen observer of the Dalit movement, said, “It is the responsibility of Dalits and tribals to tell their stories themselves. It’s imperative for these groups to be proactive and assert their presence in the Indian cinema. Without their voices, the portrayal of their experiences risks inaccuracy — highlighting the critical importance of self-representation to achieve authentic and equitable storytelling.” 

Waghmare, who also took part in the panel discussion after the screening, said, “The oversight of Dalit and indigenous narratives not only marginalises these communities but also perpetuates a cycle of misinformation. As filmmakers and scholars, we must delve deeply into research to understand the complexities of caste and tribal issues.”

Dr Vikrant Kishore, the festival co-director of CIFFI, and an Associate Professor at the University of Nottingham, Ningbo, China and an Honorary Fellow at Deakin University, Australia." said, “As the curator of ‘Resilient Realms: Journeys through Dalit and Tribal Lives’, my focus has been on selecting movies that highlight the experiences of Dalits and adivasis in India. Together, these films contribute to our festival’s goal of raising the voices of the marginalised, fostering greater understanding and appreciation.” 

Prashant Negi, assistant professor at Dr KR Narayanan Centre for Dalit and Minorities Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, said, “It's crucial that cinema evolves to present more nuanced and authentic representations, as these stories have the power to influence public understanding and attitudes towards these historically marginalized groups.”

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