Thank you Kerala ! Not only for this award, but for being what you are. For being the last bastion of hope for this country where despite their best efforts the extreme right wing has never won a single seat in Parliament. Thank you for retaining a sense of community without letting it degrade into religious identity so that being a Keralite has more meaning than being a Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Jew. Thank you for being a State that has still not fully succumbed to the mindless industrialization and destruction of ecosystems that the rest of India proudly parades as “development”. Thank you for literally giving us a chance to breathe.
Thank you International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala and Chalachitra Academy for your hard work and your many years of existence. Thank you to the vision of the political party that gave birth to you and sustains you even when times are bad.
I know I musn’t stray from the world of cinema so I will try to get back to talking films. The problem is my films are always about the world I inhabit and that world is changing for the worse. A few years ago when I was given a similar award it was at a point in time when the current Prime Minister was about to come to power in 2014. In introspecting whether my films over the years had changed the world in any way. I could only conclude that they had not. How could we elect whom we had elected if the films had made any difference? I know that many in the audience and outside will consider it an act of hubris that I expect my films to make this kind of a difference in the real world. But really I am no poet who writes for myself or singer who sings in the bathroom or artist confined to the gallery. I want the world to take notice. That is the level of my ambition. Without it, I would not be able to make films.
The writing was on the wall in 2014 when I concluded I had failed. But people like me had not failed because our films were bad or did not communicate. They failed because the mechanism of showing our films far and wide had failed. Because those in power in different parts of the country did not prioritize the need to show them. Today 4 years later things have gotten worse.
Today’s India has no freedom of expression unless of course you happen to be a right wing murderer or part of a lynch mob, or a rape murderer of Dalits, minorities and weaker sections. Then you not only have freedom of expression, you also have full impunity. On the rare occasion you are arrested not only will you get bail but ministers will come out to garland you.
Today we are up against the total corporatization of the media. And if you want to know what corporates do when fascists come to power, you don’t have to look far back in history. Today we don’t need a Goebbels to crack the whip. The corporates have already done it. Soon after the romance of Independence ended we forgot our commitment to quality mass education and later the IMF and World Bank virtually enforced privatization, creating a new form of Brahminism. Dumbed down generations are now fed pop history and fake news. The iconography can change. Saffron can get temporarily covered under the tricolor. Hindutva can become the new National. But for Brahminism to rule there must always be an object of hate. This Brahminism is not restricted to one caste. It is an exclusivist mindset that always needs to hate enemies. New technology in the form of social media carries the hate to ubiquitous cell phones in the pockets of every lynch mob.
They also train such people to use guns and we have lost many brave human rights activists. Kavita Lankesh is here tonight and it reminds us of our tragic losses.
How can we resist? We cannot do it with counter violence. We can only do it by addressing hearts and minds. A cultural war is raging. We must unite across geography, across political parties, across class and caste to create a culture that is casteless, democratic, just and humane. We are cultural warriors. Our weapons are reason and compassion.
I thank you once again for this award and accept it as a contribution for the work that lies ahead.