Filmmaker Rajaditya Banerjee talks about his upcoming documentaries Achhut and Dam? Damned?
Rajaditya is now documenting a series of occurrences that are connected by the common thread of the courage and spirit of Indian women through multiple perspectives
Real life scenarios have always intrigued the artistic mind of filmmaker Rajaditya Banerjee, especially as he grew up exploring the world through his author father Debashish Banerjee’s lenses. So when the year 2015 shook Rajaditya with multiple unforeseen and irreparable losses, he took it as an onus on him to also impart his visions and findings to the world in the form of documentaries. After a series of documentaries that addressed the cycle of life through multiple approaches, Rajaditya found himself yet again in Purulia, a place that was introduced to him by his father hence bringing the process to a full circle. Rajaditya has now shifted his focus to a series of occurrences that are connected by the common thread of the courage and spirit of Indian women through multiple perspectives. The first two of his three Indo-European collaborations namely Achhut and Dam? Damned are all prepared to set off on a film festival voyage, while the third is waiting to be announced soon. We speak to the filmmaker to learn more about his vision of documentaries.
What made you choose two starkly different topics such as untouchability and a dam project as topics for your upcoming documentaries?
For the last 20-25 years I have travelled widely around India especially our own Bengal which made me come across a plethora of real life occurrences that seemed like a hotbed of incredible stories. Eventually I went on to shoot a few films in Purulia, a place that was introduced to me by my father. Purulia is home to a beautiful winter carnival popularly known as the Srijan Mela, and I remember stumbling upon the concept of Nachni for the first time in this carnival. Even though I was too young to comprehend the concept as a child, their stories went on to intrigue me a lot especially due to lack of awareness about this ancient dance form and the woes of untouchability that they deal with till the end of their lives even today. Nachnis are often associated with prostitution which is absolutely untrue hence the basis of their discrimination too is fundamentally a social stigma. This gave birth to the first of the two mentioned titled Achhut. The second film is named Dam? Damned? which explores the adversities of a power storage being installed in the Ayodhya Hill region of Purulia for hydropower facilitation. The Thurga Power Project is the second dam project in the region which will of course facilitate modern infrastructure in the area, but also lead to inevitable ecosystem destruction according to environmentalists and indigenous inhabitants of the area. As a result of this project, up to three villages will be subjected to a mandate while 300 hectares of forest land will be chopped off completely. The last dam project also brought along with it false promises which have further infuriated inhabitants against a similar fate. A hill corridor along this region named Dalma is known for being a natural habitat to wild elephants which will also be disturbed, resulting in a human- nature conflict. A few people have already died as a result of this. This problem is visualised through the eyes of a young girl searching for her elephant friend thus creating the crux of my second film.
The little girl in your second documentary happens to be a fictional inclusion. Tell us how figments of fiction are an inevitable part of documentation in your eyes?
I never distinguish between feature and documentary films. Everything boils down to good cinema and bad cinema at the end of the day, and cinema is all about storytelling. Documentaries are often stereotyped within specific topics loaded with statistics, which isn’t always the case. Hence, the little girl in Dam? Damned? is as much a part of the movement as the inhabitants are. She in fact represents the movement itself.
Achhut and Damn? Damned? happen to be the first two of a trilogy. What can we expect from the third?
Honestly before terming it as a trilogy I would like to consider the prospect of more than three films in this series. Since all of these projects are part of an Indo-European joint production celebrating the spirit and courage of Indian women. The third film is named Cracking the Glass Ceiling which sheds light on exceptional housewives who have broken the glass ceiling in numerous ways. Patriarchy is still a prevalent problem in post-globalisation India and the third film will look at the victories of women even when overshadowed by traditional societal standards.