We all let Fatma Begum down

Thursday, November 27, 2014

I begin by taking a deep breath and looking away from the screen. A ritual, I swore to continue till my last breath yet in this last sigh, I look away. I face away the promise to document every single trivial and not-so trivial moment that I have lived through. If you are me, you’d fear documenting life too. Who wouldn’t, when your life plays out better than a screenplay that you wrote for your film? To problematize, I add the ambiguities that this documentation comes with. That which happened and that which happened. Which one version would you read and how would you proceed knowing the one you left, could very well be the one that was suppose to go out and not the vice versa?

To ease this, I’ll illustrate with an example. I step out of the public transport I’d boarded from the university till my doorstep. We reach the destination, my place. I see the meter ring Rupees 81. Having made up my mind to tip the guy (winterchills, I need better karma, yadda yadda), I step out deciding to ask him for only ten bucks in return. He willingly parts with a burgeoning note and I pick my bag. As I step forward to cross the road, I hear the old man call me out.

“But you didn’t pay me!”

Embarrassed at myself, I run back and apologize profusely. My dad would refer to this as ‘absent-minded professor’ in making. My excuse for the same to him, in the first place, would be some seven hours spent at the university.

Not that this is the only truth.

In the last couple of days, heck, the last few months, if I have been using the services of cashless payment for cabs etc. I’m used to stepping out and not paying a penny.  The amount is billed to my mother’s plastic and I get a receipt in my mail, a few minutes after the ride is through. I’m used to expecting certain kind of service and it has nothing or very little to do with my preconditioned knowledge of how I’ve come to existence over time.

Consider situation two.
I toiled for a good, first half of this year on my thesis project. A 16mm fiction film that was forcefully thrown into my kitty for being associated with certain numb-nuts who had annoyed the faculty I had intended to work with. Naturally, the politics got the better of me and I was embroiled in a series of warped episodes w.r.t. the production of the film. It was one of the most intensive tasks I’d ever taken upon. Being in the same space as an individual who was as good as family and by whose hands I suffered physical abuse during the course of the shoot. I shan’t go into the details for various reasons. One of the stronger ones being, writing intimidates me. It’s almost as if, there’s a ghost on my back constantly forcing me to upping my ante with my written work and I, for one, always feel like I’m letting everyone down. This has worsened ever since academic writing became necessary and I had to oblige by adhering to it. This post, as a matter of fact, wouldn’t have happened without some push from the non-fictional writing on the uncanny Indian city, we had a presentation on today. While the arguments posited by the individual were so juvenile that my parrot answered the queries, for me, it raised a fundamental divide about what is the ‘reality’ that we are in pursuit of and how does ambiguity play out with different outlooks in the case of revealing this reality?

For those of you living under the rocks, my directorial debut, a short 16mm film was an official entry to the International Film Festival of India, at Goa this year. I spent the last weekend at the festival braving the ignominy and the farcical idea of being treated well.
Having two versions of the same, I find it hard to be least bit less cynical about what happened but I’d like to put it on the table, nonetheless.

Out of the group, only two of us made it to the festival. Our mentor, who is also a giant thwart at the festival had joined in, for the screening. As luck would have had it, inspite of having all the ends in my control, I landed ten solitary minutes late for my screening. Facts, I didn’t know/that got me delayed were:

1) I’d require a ticket for my own movie screening.
2) I’d not be allowed to ‘procure’ the ticket in the occasion that the movie commenced.
3) There’d be no sense of direction/no signage guiding where on Earth was the venue in Goa.
4) All the films from a certain production backing were clubbed together and consequently, packaged as one whole. My film was second in queue.

I was ten solitary minutes late and after crossing multiple hurdles, I managed to sit on the floor of the auditorium to catch the first public screening. As excited as I was, and to send the peeps back home a glimpse, I flicked my phone out to capture the first scene on screen. A rookie mistake because an usher came running and requested, ‘Ma’am, no photography allowed.’

I had half a mind to tell him, ‘bh*sdi ke, do you even know who am I?’, the other half took over and said, ‘sorry’ and kept the phone back. I couldn’t play Salman Khan in my own life. During the screening, I saw scrawny film school kids take down notes, the man placed next to me on the recliner laugh his gut off during a badly acted scene and the murmurs right on at the climax. I could hear my heart beating louder as the leitmotif played one last time to open into credits with my name on the screen. Let me tell you, it’s as good as they make it sound. The feeling of watching everyone acknowledge your work and that you ‘governed’ those fifteen minutes of their life is priceless. I’ve done quite a few things in life, including theatre, music, debates and some shit but nothing equals the grandeur of recognition the same way as filmmaking does.

I digress. Moving on from the rose tinted happiness, I walked out of the theatre and high-fived the co-director only to hear some misdirected comments about my timing and how I missed ‘everything’. But ofcourse, no one bothered to keep it for me. I missed being felicitated but my professor being ‘kind’ enough offered me his set of carnations. He wouldn’t look so stupid holding the memento in his hands as much as holding a set of flowers. Besides, flowers are pansy, no? (I’m sorry)
I fast forward to the next day, where after being inundated by the accolades and hounded by the press bureau, we were scheduled to appear for a conference, first thing in the morning. My colleague (the OCD ridden dude who gets talked about often, also our DoP and the co-director) was in touch with the IFFI’s media staff and had sent in three names (including our professor’s) to be on the panel. Next morning, a few hours before my flight when I arrived at the venue, I received an anti-climactic response as my name was nowhere. Not on the pamphlet outside the Media room where the conference was suppose to take place, nor on the stage. Only the name tags of the male representatives from the film were up there.

By the time OCD ridden friend arrived, I was fuming and announced to him (in the presence of one of the coordinators) that I was headed to the airport since they wasted my time (amongst other things). Immediately, my professor caught hold of the situation and asked me to come on the stage. I was hell bent upon saying a no but the coordinator got a name card with my name and the moderator of the conference got me on the stage. I had no option but to sit between the two seniors.

I know not what was more humiliating. The fact that they introduced me merely as a ‘Film Scholar’ with no relation whatsoever to my film or the fact that none of the journalists addressed a question to me! The questions were all for ‘Mr xcv’, my colleague, who went on record to say some of the most infuriating, redundant things which are brushed aside practically in the first discussion on cinema at an institute like mine. Initially, I was angry and repulsed by the level of regression, it’s only later that it occurred to me how pathetic and ignorant their level of knowledge towards cinema was in general. Not only had half of them conveniently skipped our film but had also not done any homework with regard to the panel or the film. While I agree, it’s hard to get material about our film online yet, it isn’t hard to complete research about the credit roll. My classmate was constantly addressed as ‘the director’ and I, a researcher. Motherfuckers, if anything, I did the sound design, screenplay and production design along with direction and he was involved in direction and cinematography. Yet, it was him who went on board and replied to all the obnoxious and regular questions asked by the journalists about anything and everything including the damn sound design! If not him, my professor hijacked the mic thrice, in the middle of the point I was making.

Now, I can be mad and report the entire event at stretch or I can leave it at the laziness of the journalists to be blamed in this situation. I suppose not as much when the only ‘informed’ few landed up to me, after the conference. These few were from the All India Radio and heard my points during the conference, which in turn, made them want to interview me one on one for their respective show. My colleague not only intervened but also decided to jump in, I was bemused and allowed for this as what had happened before that was far more ridiculous than his initiation for fame in intervening through a discourse.

Now, I’d like to believe he had nothing whatsoever, no ulterior motive to question my legitimacy or have my name on or off the table yet I believe, the divide between acknowledging the work of your ‘female’ colleague in some which way was nowhere close to what it had been for your ‘male’ colleague. I say this with prior experience of similar treatment and reception from the duo of the professor and his misogynistic student. My professor went on board to say (about another documentary on the oral folk tradition of Punjab) about how that is a ‘feminist’ film where, nowhere does the film aim to set itself as one. Surely, the mentors and the makers of the same believe in gender equality and if that is labelled as ‘feminist film’ then you can well imagine the gender politics at play with his own student and his project. Later, ‘we’ met a few of our distinguished, well settled alumni and the introduction for the ‘filmmaker’ surprise, surprise went only to ‘Shri’ his male student, while I stood there giving my own introduction (scholar, filmmaker and a musician). I left 45 IFFI with a bad taste in my mouth. Perhaps, it was due to Budweiser Magnum or perhaps, it was really all the misogyny  that I went through at the event.

Beyond that, I lost my Goa virginity to a good cause. I ate, breathe, and consumed beer and wine, all through the weekend. I’d wrap my head with a bottle of wine and wound up by the sea with beer in my bag and a bottle in my hands, barefoot, chasing the shore till the point my dress would be drenched in salt water. I longed for salt in my hair and beneath my feet, all of which I felt two folds with the beer. The proverbial return to the city costed me two whole days of recuperating to life and coming to face the winterchills here. Not to say that I am Goa convert but sometimes when the shit gets real with the classes, readings and theorization, a little something by the pool (butter fried calamari, if you insist on the details) along with a few KF Ultras helps you unwind. So looking forward to the next two legs of the workcation triade lined up until the next quarter of the year.

In other news, I’ve a meeting scheduled with my professor in a few hours from now and I’ve chewed an acceptable amount of nails only to curse myself over the inability to think of a term paper topic. Urgh. My nails look disgusting and I’m failing as an academic so I’ve nothing to fall back on. Join me for a pity-party over some coffee and wine. I promise, I won’t make a mess of that. Urgh.

You Might Also Like


Hos in Different Area Codes


Stalker Count