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"blending activism and filmmaking"







(DV, 44 min, 2001) Hindi and Kashmiri with English subtitles

"It's not on the folk form, but a look at culture in the regime of fear" - Indian Express, Mumbai

"It talks about living, the desire for normalcy and the inadeqacy of the state to provide for the common man..... " Hindustan Times, Delhi

"How does art survive in a regime of fear? I first encountered this question in 1999, while taking photographs of Kashmir during that mindless war with Pakistan. That summer, I established contact with the National Bhand Theatre, Wathora, and the Bhagat Theatre, Akingam, two groups that were still performing in the traditional Pather form of satire. I returned twice in 2001, now armed with a camera.

I was encouraged by what I found: an illiterate community has sustained a centuries-old tradition in the face of debilitating social and cultural changes. Although perenially intimidated by the corruption, violence and intolerance that prevail in Kashmir, the bhands are still affirming a commitment to their theatre, to the critical potential of its form and the liberating joys of performance. Faith in Sufism has tempered their enthusiam for satire and they identify with the collective voices of Kashmir's freedom.

The Play is on.... follows the two groups as they prepare for public performances, a rare phenomenon today. For the bhands, who daily witness the erosion of their way of life, each performance represents both a change as well as a repetition of the same brutal fact: that they are not free to share their revolutionary spirit."

Bronze Remi at Houston International Film Festival
Best Film---UNESCO MITIL Prize
Special jury award at Karachi film festival

Previous screenings:
Berlin, Margreat Mead (New York), Busan, Mumbai, Nottam, Zanzibar, FSA (Kathmandu), Amascultura (Lisbon), Berlin Ethnofilmfest, Lutton (UK), Rai Film festival (UK), Docudays(Beirut), Karachi, International Three Continentes Festival of Documentaries--Argentina, Asian Social forum, Crosssing Borders (Iowa city), Lussas (France) and Alamkara festival (Mumbai)

(DV, 60 min, 2003) Hindi with English subtitles.

...in this film, Pankaj Rishi Kumar tackles one of the most delicate problems:how to show on screen the way the democratic ideal adapts itself to the surrounding social, economic, political, and cultural context? What the film director achieved with "MAT" is impressive inasmuch as the material collected (electoral meetings, interviews of candidates and converstaions with the electorate ) was so subtly deconstructed and reconstructed as to yield the portrait of a people in its full complexity. Through it we are transported not only to India but to anywhwre on the planet, where so called intangible values are imperceptibly corrupted as soon as they are applied:human all too human, as someone said. - Fribourg Film Festival


The assembly elections for the north-Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) concluded on 24th February 2002 with a predictable result: a hung assembly. The situation changed drastically after the Gujarat carnage, when the BJP had to win a vote of confidence in Parliament. They
managed to scrape through with 23 votes thanks to support from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which demanded as a bargain that its leader Mayawati be made Chief Minister in UP. The BJP's political maneuver--an alliance with its traditional rival, representing untouchables and other backward castes---was steeped in cynicism and irony. It revealed the desperation with which the BJP, traditionally representing upper caste Hindus, was trying to stay in power, as well as the willingness of the BSP to compromise its adversarial politics.

THE VOTE is a filmic deconstruction of the electoral process. It closely examines the interests and issues that guide the performance of different players-political parties, candidates, party workers and voters-in a competition for power. The film follows Imtiaz Khan, BJP candidate who finally stood third in the elections and Hemraj Saathi, a BJP worker. THE VOTE documents the nitty-gritty of elections in Siyana, an assembly constituency. The overall election process in Siyana forms the main structure, the matrix, of the film. The crucial subjects here are the voters, divided and categorized according to caste and community.

Several narrative strands are woven into the overall structure of the film. One strand follows the history of the political process in Uttar Pradesh, set against a background of national development. Local knowledge of this history is articulated in the discourses provided by the BJP worker, Hemraj Saathi. With his revolutionary ideas and a desire to eventually achieve a position of power in order to affect change, Saathi aspires to participation in the electoral process. It is his way of accessing the socio-political ladder through which he can transcend his subaltern status as a dalit. But Saathi has not been completely co-opted. He is able to comment with incisive wit and logic on the corruption and lack of vision that plagues Indian politics. He questions the basic tenets that guide the behavior and ideology of politicians and the ways in which the social worker, the backbone of the electoral process, is completely ignored in order to misguide and manipulate the voter.

Voter identity is the crucial dimension in the film and it is reinforced by the constant references to caste and community, a political 'language' that rules the behavior of civil society. Dialogue between the filmmaker and the public is marked by the homogeneity of the group being interviewed, rather than the diverse 'public' that one expects to find in a modern society. The vox pop reflects by default the caste-ist and communal composition of he electorate. The common man is ubiquitous and mostly a silent spectator in the film. Through interviews conducted in different villages, on the roadside and inside homes, the film documents the voice of the people, which is overwhelmed by the euphoria of different party campaigns and numbed by the frequency of elections in UP. Issues of internal security, war and communal violence are juxtaposed with unemployment and the rights of the underprivileged. State-sponsored propaganda films promoting the democratic ethic and the purpose of elections are contradicted by obvious violations of the same. The electorate is at the mercy of corrupt politicians who are motivated by the high stakes involved, and exploit the deep-rooted socio-economic inequalities that have reduced Indian elections to a game of numbers rather than issues. In this morbid and dispiriting scenario, there are few individuals who manage to preserve a commitment to democratic ideals and the professed goals of the Indian constitution, which promises but has failed to deliver liberty, equality and fraternity to all.

For the last fifty-five years, India has had a democracy that operates from above. Democracy in our country has functioned as a sop from the elite to the masses, rather than a system of good decentralized governance that the masses are able to create, sustain and exploit for the establishment of a common weal. The production of THE VOTE has been motivated by a need to bring the vital issues in Indian democracy to the fore, by revealing in a comprehensive and articulate manner, the failure of our society to meet even the most basic challenges of such a social and political system.

Competition Section--Fribourg-Mar'2003


Film Producer, Director, Cameraman and Editor of
(DV, 60 min, 2003 )

  • Competition Section--Fribourg-Mar'2003

Producer, Director, Cameraman and Editor of
(DV, 44 min, 2001)

  • Bronze Remi at Houston International Film Festival
  • Best Film---UNESCO MITIL Prize
  • Special jury award at Karachi film festival

Producer, Director and Editor of
(16mm, 76min, 1999)

  • Best Film: L'Alternativa, Barcelona
  • Special Jury Citation: Zanzibar Film Festival
  • National Award for Best Audiography, 1999
  • Screened at 36 international film festivals: Rotterdam, Visions Du Reel, Sydney, St. Petersburg, Brisbane, Kathmandu, Pusan, Cork, Yamagata, AFI Los Angeles, Hawaii, Nottam, Berlin, Mumbai, Munich, Berlin Ethno Filmfest, Fribourg, Big Muddy, Singapore, Sao Paulo, North Carolina, Minneapolis, Denver, Zanzibar, Palic-Yugoslavia, Nashville, Riga, and Calcutta.
  • Produced with financial support from the Hubert Bals Fund, Rotterdam and India Foundation for the Arts, Bangalore

Sunday, October 19th, 3-6 PM

Timken Theatre
California College of the Arts

1111 Eighth Street, San Francisco
directions & public transit info

Suggested Donation: $5. Proceeds benefit filmmaker honorarium.

Sponsored by EKTA, Freinds of South Asia, & Coalition Against Communalism.

Other Bay Area Screenings

Thurs., Oct 16th, 7PM, Northgate Hall 105, UC Berkeley
Sponsored by Center for South Asia Studies

Sat., Oct 18th, 6 PM, Namaste Hall, California Institute of Integral Studies
Sponsored by Dept. of Cultural & Social Anthropology
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