Monday, December 3, 2012

‘Most Indian documentaries are propagandist and less effective’


 Shubhradeep Chakravorty is a journalist who turned to documentary filmmaking after Gujarat’s communal violence in 2002. His first independent documentary controversially probed the events leading up to Godhra while one of his recent films illustrates the life-threatening conditions faced by defence lawyers working in terror-related cases. Speaking with Avijit Ghosh, Chakravorty discusses why he took up documentary filming, how lawyers are fighting more than legal battles to uphold our democratic system – and where documentary cinema stands today in India: 

  What attracted you to making documentaries?
I’m not formally trained in documentary filmmaking. This happened by default. When the Godhra incident took place in February 2002, what struck me were the contradictory theories Hindutva leaders and government officials were putting out. Some said it was a conspiracy hatched by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. Others said the Students’ Islamic Movement of India or a Kashmiri militant group was behind it. Yet others said it was a result of a conspiracy by local Muslims. All these contradictory theories puzzled me – so i decided to investigate the incident for myself.
    I left my media job and started making a documentary called Godhra Tak: The Terror Trail. The screening of this was attacked in October 2003 by the VHP in Ahmedabad. They told me to stop making such films and quit the field – i decided to stay on and turned to documentary filmmaking full-time.
    There’s certainly a rich field outtheretoexplore–butdoyou think documentary films are coming of age in India?
Documentary films still lack outreach in India. Cinema halls don’t screen them, television channels do not have slots for them. They can at best depend on film festival screenings and private screenings which are much less than required. Apart from this, India still produces very few numbers of independent documentaries. Most documentaries are propagandist films, made either for government agencies or NGOs – this makes them less effective and more prone to public apathy.
    One of your recent films probes the tough circumstances lawyers appearing in terror cases face – please tell us about this?
Well, on February 11, 2010, Shahid Azmi, the lawyer of 26/11 Mumbai attack accused Fahim Ansari, was shot dead at his office in suburban Mumbai. Shahid’s murder was not an exception. Earlier, Naushad Kashimji, a well-known human rights advocate from Mangalore, was also shot dead by unknown assailants on April 9, 2009.
    My documentary investigates these two killings and tries to see them as a culmination of many incidents of intimidation happening around India against lawyers fighting terror cases. Many bar associations across the nation passed resolutions barring lawyers from appearing on behalf of terror-accused persons. The documentary shows how the legal fraternity is getting divided and the widely-held principle of providing legal help to even the worst criminals, to give them all the opportunities to defend themselves legally in a fair trial, is being abridged.
    The film underlines the darker side of Indian democracy, revealing the involvement of rogue elements from the establishment in such killings along with the resilience of lawyers trying to fight for justice by remaining within the framework of democracy and the system established by law. While it shows the threats and intimidation such lawyers face, the documentary ends with the positive example of Shahid’s assistant and Kashimji’s wife who have both taken up the profession of law to continue their mission. So, i want to say that justice can only be sought by remaining within the system, despite such intimidation – and even incidents of killing.