Dear friends, Jai Bhim. Finally, my documentary film on Bhima Koregaon has been completed with your kind support. In the last six months of my filmmaking journey, I have had a lot of good and bad experiences. A lot of friends on Facebook and elsewhere ask me one question: why am I making a history film on the battle of Bhima Koregaon? And why does the film have a long name like ‘The Battle of Bhima Koregaon: An Unending Journey’?
My close friends know about my personal life. I completed my graduation in sociology, first class, while staying in a small village, a very casteist one. In the last eight years, ten caste atrocities have happened in my village. In my college days, I was active in student movements. In 2012, I completed my Master’s in Media Studies in the Pune University campus and joined an archaeology course in Deccan College in Pune, but I faced caste discrimination and social boycott and lost one academic year. That’s why I have dedicated this film to our brother Rohith Vemula, because I know the pain of hostel suspension. After one year, I got a contract job in FTII and I feel I learnt cinema there.
My film journey of making the Bhima Koregaon documentary also started in that institute. If you were born in a Maharashtrian Buddhist family, you hear some common social stories in your childhood. One is about Ambedkar’s life and struggle. Another is of the Bhima Koregaon battle – how our 500 brave Mahar soldiers ended the Peshwai by defeating their army of 25,000 soldiers in 1818, which is also a significant event in the military history of the world. Another thing we also hear is about the cruelty of the Indian caste system and how Brahmins have exploited our social life.
Last year, an incident happened when I was working in a so-called progressive leftist institute like FTII, when one genetically corrupt Brahmin discussed with me the history of the Peshwai and tried to tell me how they were great. He spoke about the Bhima Koregaon battle and said if 500 Mahars joined the British army and ended the Peshwai, that work is anti-national. Mahars were gaddar or traitors. At that time, I didn’t say anything, but I was very disturbed the whole day. The next day, I visited Bhima Koregaon and decided I would make a documentary film on this historical battle and tell the whole world how the Peshwas were casteist, how they oversaw untouchability in their empire and how it was actually the 500 Mahars who were great in ending the Peshwai.
This one incident was the start of my documentary film. I think Brahminism works in every section of our life. Our Indian cinema is also Brahminical. Indian forward caste filmmakers keep trying to glorify Brahminical culture, but they don’t open their mouths on caste issues. For example, how the ‘great’ filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali glorified the Peshwai in his film. I am not inspired by filmmakers like Ray, Phadke, Kulkarni or any Patvardhan. I am inspired by Nagraj Manjule, Pa. Ranjeet, Neeraj Ghayvan and Abbas Kiarostami. But when I started working on the Bhima Koregaon film, there were not any good films and very few media reports about it. Forward caste filmmakers, media and historians all ignore the history of Bhima Koregaon. They think Dalits’ lives are only about caste atrocities and reservations. Even now they feel there is no positive history in Dalits’ lives. Even though 30 lakh people visit the village of Bhima Koregaon every year on 1st January and remake this history, still the news media does not cover it at all. 1st January 2018 will be the 200th anniversary of the battle.
About the film name, mostly people ask me why I use the words ‘Unending Journey’. Hasn’t our fight against Brahminical caste system ended? The answer is no. That is why this is an unending journey. When I started this filmmaking work I didn’t have any equipment (camera, laptop, hard disk) and not a large amount of money. But I started working on the film anyway. When I completed pre-production and was working in Bangalore for an apprenticeship, I told Dr. Karthik Navayan Battula who was also at that organisation that I did not have money for post production. He helped me to collect donations. We appealed to people and in less than one week we collected money. (Mostly from the Ambedkar Association of North America and some individuals – all names I acknowledged in the film’s thanks list.)
In this filmmaking journey, two casteist experiences also happened with me. When I met a person for an interview, his wife asked me directly, “What is your caste?” I feel women were also untouchable according to the law of Manusmriti but got all the rights they have today because of Ambedkar’s Constitution. Yet why are women also so casteist? The second incident was after January 1, when I visited Bhima Koregaon for an extra shoot near the memorial pillar. There was a house nearby that I now feel was not a Dalit home, but probably a so-called forward caste home because when I asked for water, that family refused and said they did not have any water even though the house was right next to the river. I grew up in a village and I know that it is very normal for people to give water to anyone who asks for it. Only those who are very casteist do not give water to anyone outside their caste.
These two experiences give an answer of how nowadays caste works in Indian society. In return for so many thousands of years of caste slavery, this country has given us only reservations, and yet they have so much hatred and they protest against giving us even this. They do not understand the pain of caste discrimination.
But there are some good experiences also in this filmmaking journey. One person was always with me, Mridula Chari. Last year, she wrote an article on Bhima Koregaon and she helped and supported me everywhere. There were also Shiva Shankar and Deepu. Shiva Shankar is a friend of Dr. Karthik Navayan Battula and he gifted me a camera and said that this camera would show the world how caste discrimination still takes place in India. Deepu (Pradeep K.P.) is a documentary filmmaker who runs Pedestrian Pictures in Bangalore. Deepu supports new documentary filmmakers and with Pedestrian Pictures has helped me a lot with post-production. Without Mridula and Deepu’s support, I feel I could not have completed the film.
Friends, I am not making this film to earn money or for film festivals. I am making this film for the reformation of our Indian society. I request you all to please organise film screenings in your university and college campuses, local organisations, villages and any other place you can. If possible, I will try to come personally or I will send you a film DVD for screening. This history of the Bhima Koregaon battle is an important part of our struggle for social change, at a time when our democratically elected government itself is spreading Brahminical ideology. Thank you.