March 15, 2017

In a world which is hooked on to the tunes of Honey Singh and star-studded masala films, Vikalp brings to us a breath of fresh air.

Vikalp, 'a vibrant community of documentary enthusiasts', was the product of the perseverance of people who have broken free from the herd and pursued their passion.

Documentary film maker Sandhya Kumar is one of the founders of Vikalp Bengaluru.

Documentary films are a niche genre of movies which gives us a factual representation of instances that have already taken place. "I love the freedom of expression that I get in documentary films; commercial cinema is too restricting," says Sandhya Kumar, one of the founding members of Vikalp Bengaluru.

The liberty to express themselves freely is what drives the documentary film makers and film festivals are one of the few avenues to screen such films. While the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) does not interfere with the selection of films, this norm was broken at the Eighth Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF). All the documentaries focusing on the 2002 Gujarat riots and other such 'politically incorrect' issues were removed by the CBFC. This gave rise to a lot of angst amidst the filmmakers. Around 250 independent documentary filmmakers boycotted the MIFF that year and organised campaigns against censorship. This led to the formation of Vikalp, a parallel event to screen the rejected films.

For years after that, Vikalp members organised groups in cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru and continued screening their work. The Vikalp Bengaluru group was primarily formed by Swati Dandekar, Sushma Veerappa and Gautam Sonti, and they were later joined by Sunanda Bhat and Sandhya Kumar.

Everest Talkies is the go-to place for aficionados of documentary films.

The Everest Talkies, a single screen theatre in Frazer town, has been their major supporter.

Kumar says, "Yogi Kshatriya, the owner of Everest Talkies, was open to the idea of screening documentaries but only on the last Thursday of every month." Over 200 documentaries have been screened at Everest including Gulabi Gang, Fireflies in the Abyss, Iran's Arrow and Sabin Alun (The Broken Song).

Nishtha Jain's 'Gulabi Gang' is a documentary on the women activists of Bundelkhand.

'Sabin Alun', directed by Altaf Majid, revolves around the oral singing tradition of Ram Lakhon's ballad.

Shahin Amin and Sohrab Daryabandari's film documented the rise and fall of Paykan - Iran's version of the Indian Ambassador car.

Chandrashekhar Reddy's 'Fireflies in the Abyss' captures the plight of northeastern boys forced into coal mining.

"Vikalp paved the way for single screens to evolve into community spaces", Ameet Bhuvan.

The response has been phenomenal so far, the viewers even stay back after the screenings to indulge in discussing their love for films. "In the times we live in, where homogenisation is being forced upon us from all corners, alternate cinema that focuses on our roots, our diversity, our uniqueness, is vital. Documentary films that tell these one-of-a-kind stories and spaces that can have this cinema and an audience, however small, that sees it, discusses it or just goes back home with a thought, are vital," says Ameet Bhuvan, a theatre actor who is also a frequent visitor at the Vikalp screenings.

We agree. Groups like Vikalp and theatres like Everest are essential to ensure parallel views are heard.

Text by Ankita Sarkar

Photo Credits 

Gulabi GangFireflies in the AbyssShabin AlunIran's Arrow