Thursday, June 16, 2011
Videokaaran- Story of a Subaltern Culture Maker
At times facebook responses really turn abusive. But then you have to take it as you cannot expect everyone to agree with your ideas. However, occasional chats with some friends (who are in fact strangers as the friendship remains quite platonic and virtual) open up different worlds before you, helping you forget all those abuses. As such I do not suffer from something called ‘sentiments hurtitis’ (a term coined by the Goa based doctor turned artist, Subodh Kerkar in order to define that response of those people whose sentiments get easily hurt when falsified religious perceptions are critiqued), I don’t keep animosity for any who writes expletives against me (what I do maximum is turning completely silent on them. But I don’t deliberately de-friend a facebook contact). Though I dream of a world where double speaks are totally destroyed and hierarchies are toppled, waking moments tell me things do not happen (and people do not behave) the way one expects them to.
The story of Sagairaj Pushparaj, a young man born in a slum in Chembur, Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1981 was introduced to me by a facebook friend and sound engineer, Jayadevan Chakkadathu (we have not met yet). What a story it is! You forget the abuses showered on you by some of your readers and you immerse yourself in the worlds that are fresh, innovating and daring. Jayadev asked me, “Have you seen this short film, ‘Videokaaran’ (Videowallah)?’ ‘No’ was my answer. “This is about a guy who used to run a ‘video theatre’ in a slum in Mumbai,” typed Jayadevan. And kindly he sent me a youtube link where I could watch a one and a half minute clipping from the film. I was hooked. I was desperate to watch this movie only because of the sheer force of that young guy, Sagairaj Pushparaj.
‘Videokaaran’ is a movie directed by Jagannathan Krishnan, a film maker who lives in Mumbai. (Again, I have not met Jagannathan Krishnan, who knowing my interest from Jayadevan, sent two copies of the movie on the very next day by courier. Thank you. And Thank you Rupali for following it up with the courier company and me over phone. We too have not met). Done in a cinema verite mode, ‘Videokaaran’ tells you the story of Sagairaj Pushparaj; of his world views, friends and life in general. This tenth class pass young man, reveres Rajnikant (obviously so as he is born to a migrant Tamil couple in Mumbai) and he knows the filmography of the super star by heart. Sagai admires Rajni not just for his histrionics and gimmicks, but for the philosophical bent of his characters and dialogues (which only an ardent admirer could derive, imbibe, adopt and practice in his own life).
A group of guys, all school drop outs lives a life of Rasta (as in Rastafarians). They are happy and high on life. They are happy because they have seen the worst in their young lives. They have seen violence and gore. They have experienced ostracism and police atrocities. They have gone through all what an underdog would/should go through during the growing up years. Sagairaj, a worldly wise young man has seen it all. During the days of Doordarshan, his father and his boss devised an idea to charge a half a rupee or a rupee from those who came to see the television programs in their shack. Slowly, with the advent of VCR and VHC, this idea developed into a business plan. This was how one of the first ‘video theatres’ was established in Mumbai.
After his father, Sagairaj took to video theatre business along with his friends who have different film personalities as their idols and icons. “People do not have enough money to go to multiplexes where they show films for Rs.180. Here we showed films for rupees ten. If it is a Tamil movie, then it is Rs.5 per person. Anybody could come in and watch movie for five to ten rupees. And we have different themes for different days- religious movies to action films to pure pornography,” says Sagairaj, who is a self trained photographer and photoshop expert. But then one day everything changed. Police party came, despite the vigilance of Sagai and his friends, demolished their shack from where they used to run the theatre.
As the movie progresses the viewer comes to know that Sagairaj’s hardcore admiration for Rajnikant is only a subtext in the seventy minute long movie. It is a movie about movies and the viewers themselves. ‘Videokaaran’, by following the life of Sagairaj (now thirty years old), opens up a world that is literally ‘produced’ by the movies from all over the world, as a sub product. Noted film maker, Dev Benegal, while talking about today’s film scenario (mainly in Bollywood) observed that film has now gone out of movies as millions of people in India now use mobile phones that are capable of playing a full movie. According to Dev Benegal, each mobile phone (capacitated in that way) is a moving theatre (To see the other extreme of ‘mobile’ movie theatres, Benegal had followed a mobile theatre in a truck that goes to remote villages and show movies in open spaces and had documented them extensively).
‘Video theatre’ is a sub-culture and a subaltern culture, which like the war machines that move on the fringes of the nation state (read mainstream) to plot against it (Deleuze and Guattari), works against the economic and cultural concepts of the mainstream movie theatres. These video theatres are operated from the slums, from the dingy shacks (in fact, Sagairaj reveals that these shacks are made out of really strong walls and he shows the video recordings of the plight of the demolition squad whose bulldozers struggling against the concrete walls of the video theatre shack. Sagai himself had recorded them as a painful souvenir), they charge a nominal sum from the people and they get what they demand.
Films are not dubbed here. People watch the movies for sheer action and story (Dev Benegal speaks of the experience of the mobile theatre owner who tells him that the villagers failed to respond to the movies like Titanic whereas they enjoyed Do Bhiga Zameen or Gurudutt movies as they had ‘stories’ which they could connect with). Sagairaj tells how he and his friends had created a Chotta Bruce Lee out of a Thailand actor. “We did not know his name. When we got the CD, we liked the action and to make him familiar to our audience we named him ‘Chotta Bruce Lee’. He became a super hit amongst our audience and we sourced a few movies with Chotta Bruce Lee in the lead role,” says Sagairaj.
Copyright issues, dubbing, censorship, certification, required safety norms and other related issues of film showing are thwarted in this underground movie showing concept. Though now Sagairaj and his friends do not show films any more (Sagairaj runs a photo studio in Chembur and he does photoshop works for people), he lives in the memories of those days, which made a criminal out of him (he enjoys the status of a criminal because he believes that criminals have better intelligence). But subaltern cultures are often curbed and crushed by the state.
Sagairaj has a different world view; he says that pornography would help to establish a brave new world. There wouldn’t be anymore rapes, experienced in watching porn movies Sagairaj says, if porn movies are watched by people. The guys would know who would be the right woman for them, if they watch such movies. We may not subscribe to his idea regarding pornography but Sagairaj is not about pornography either. It is one part of his erstwhile business and the creation of a subculture, which he is conscious of. Throughout the movie one could feel the intensity of a guy who is trained in the university of life in slums divided by state and its machineries including railway track and police.
When it comes to his intense admiration for Rajnikant, he does not reserve his words. For him Rajni is a philosophy. In his movie Baadsha, Rajni sings to his fellow auto drivers, when you find people in plight, you forget money and go out to help without taking any money as auto fair. “It makes people think about good deeds because it is said by Rajni. He moves people to the core and changes their lives.” But Sagairaj does not fight with his friends who are the fans of Amitabh Bacchan. In diversity they live a life of unity, perhaps something that our democracy has not yet succeeded to achieve.
Life is not a cakewalk for Sagairaj and his friends. They live on razor’s edge, fearing police and the state. Even when they don’t indulge in smuggling CDs, they are picked up as suspects. They have seen worst things in life. “When I showed Passion of Christ, people cried and left one by one. And I stayed back, I watched the movie sitting alone. I too was crying but then I realized that I have seen bloodier things than this in reality.”
“One day, while the track was being laid, a worker fell on the other track and a train ran over him. He was cut into two pieces. People gathered around that gory sight. After a few seconds the upper part of the body moved. The man opened his eyes and looked up at the people vaguely and asked, ‘Kya be…kya dekh raha hai’ (Hey what are you looking at?) and then he closed his eyes and died.”
Sagairaj’s words still reverberates in my mind and a shiver passes through my spine when I imagine that scene.
A must watch movie. Videokaaran.
A clip from Videokaaran