As the world watches the latest set of Oscar awards, we look at some documentary films in India that have been created by experts and novices alike. Watching these films actually changes the perspective of viewers and broadens our horizon of thought. With their thought-provoking punches and content, these low-budget films ensure that viewers are left wondering by the end of each film, after being exposed to such harsh reality about the society that we are a part of.
The main objective of a documentary film is to show the real life, deglamorized and denuded to just the truth. However, not all documentaries are made to make you cringe. Some are made on a lighter note, like Supermen of Malegaon. Following is a compilation of the top few documentary films made in India by Indian filmmakers, which has a combination of genres of documentaries from very serious to light hearted.
Supermen of Malegaon
Set in the small town of Malegaon in Maharashtra, ‘Supermen of Malegaon’ is the story of a novice filmmaker who aspires to create spoofs of Bollywood films. This documentary ventures into his team’s attempts at making a local-level spoof of Hollywood’s Superman. Instead of a well-built Christopher Reeves or Henry Cavill, we have here ultra-lean and lanky Shafique Shaikh with a bony appearance in a superman costume that makes you laugh the moment he makes an appearance.
The documentary for most part is funny yet contemplative. It shows the dreams of a small town guy becoming a star through the eyes of Shafique Shaikh, as well as the will of the film’s team to break away from the monotony and do something creative, even when they have no experience. Many aspects of the society are brought out into the open, while making this quirky and low-budget action hero film. These issues are so subtly addressed without implying any seriousness, which shows the optimistic nature of the film. Faiza Ahmad Khan, the director of the film, has done a great job with it and did justice to Malegaon ka Superman.
Father, Son and Holy War
While making a documentary, a director always tries to ensure complete objectivity, i.e. the absence of any personal point of view. Sometimes a bias is not created by distorting the content shot or faking the clips; it is involuntarily done. What a filmmaker chooses to show and hide in order to suit his script decides the objectivity of a documentary film.
Anand Patwardhan’s ‘Father, Son and Holy War’ is said to have achieved that objectivity to a very high extent. With the two thought provoking parts of the film (‘Trial by Fire’ and ‘Hero Pharmacy’), Patwardhan has raised the issues of Hindu-Muslim riots, the fundamentalist thinking in both the sects and the dominance of men in the society.
Patwardhan goes to the extent of bringing in talks about men’s virility to create an analogy between the machismo of the violent extremists and their potency. Nowhere does he mock their opinions about non violence being equivalent to impotency, but this preposterous notion when seen in his film makes one wonder at their warped minds. “Rampant machismo is never a pretty sight, and this two-part video contains a lot of excruciating imagery and some brutal truths: these are not pretty pictures…” says Gail Minault, Journal of Asian Studies.
“Kumbh ke mele mein bichhad gaye” was a hackneyed dialogue among many Bollywood films of the previous era. Although the dialogue looked unrealistic, the phenomenon is very much real in Kumbh Melas, which are the largest gatherings of humans on Earth. This high-budget documentary explores the city of Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh where the event takes place every 12 years. Director Pan Nalin has tried to show the lesser known aspects of the Kumbh Mela.
This film isn’t an information video log about how millions of people come to take a dip in the holy waters. It rather shows a Hatha Yogi Baba who adopts and nurtures an abandoned child; and how the hermit finds himself becoming a part of the world around him again and a runaway kid, whose parents’ status is unknown to all. Where thousands of people get lost, director Nalin finds a weary couple in search of their lost child. With some extremely beautiful camerawork and editing, Faith Connections makes a compelling case. The film binds its viewers and appeals to their emotional side, showing grey shades of the Kumbh.
A five-year old girl, Pinki Sonkar, from a village in one of the poorest parts of India, is ostracized and is not allowed to attend the local school because of the deformity that she bears; a cleft lip. “Smile Pinki” is an Oscar award-winning documentary, showing the challenges faced by innocent children born with cleft lips in India and the role played by G.S. Memorial Plastic Surgery Hospital in Banaras in providing free plastic surgeries to all such children. Thousands of Pinkies in India face similar or worse reactions from family and society. A common notion among believers is that children with a cleft lip were born under a curse.
Director Megan Mylan follows social worker Pankaj who tries to convince people in villages of Uttar Pradesh to get their children operated for free from the G S Memorial Hospital, Varanasi. The film follows Pinki and a 11-year old boy, Ghuntaru, to their surgical points after which they look completely normal and healed. It is a welcome reminder that making the world a better place doesn’t require miracles but a merely a series of small, simple steps.