Text and pix by Harsha Udayakantha Peiris
THE maiden screening of “Gandhi's Children,” a documentary feature film, directed, edited, narrated and filmed by Vishnu Vasu, a Sri Lankan cinematographer and a popular 'Ghatum' musician, took place on 23rd February 2011 at the open arena of the Goethe Institute in Colombo.
Being a visually stunning story that is so powerful and engaging, 'Gandhi's Children' is Visnu Vasu's personal journey across India that captures the stories of marginalized, powerless and oppressed living in dire conditions while the country is fully geared to emerge as a super power economy by 2020.
Speaking on his latest cinematic creation, Vishnu Vasu states that the film is also the story of destiny of any community who does not like to empower themselves towards prosperity. "Though I was born in Sri Lanka it was India that shaped my future. In my early days, I always dreamt of going to America. I dreamt of studying films at the New York Film Academy, and of dinning with Robin Williams, and so on. I tried zillion times but failed. Frustrated to the very atom I finally left for India. India changed everything; my outlook to life, my very solitary American dream and above all my very soul. There onwards, I learnt my life from India and I learnt my film from Indians," he says.
In the film 'Gandhi's Children', the director narrates four very powerful stories woven around earth, fire and wind and water that bring out the discriminative manner in which untouchables and tribal groups are treated.
“In my long journey through many forgotten landscapes in India, I was able to converse in broken Hindi, where I heard hundreds of stories, sometimes mythical and sometimes realistic. But they all contained one message and it was nothing but their struggle to survive. Many told that Gandhi did teach them nothing new but he was not afraid to disclose himself. Once Gandhi even asked the politicians to go back to villages and start social work as it was far more important than all other political issues to empower people socially and economically which was highly helpful in developing the country," Vishnu Vasu comments.
The film also talks of the disaster certain multi-national companies committed upon the rural masses in India. The director has carefully added comments by various recognized personalities in the country where they comment the importance of land and its utilization for human existence, in India. The strong dialogues of these personages narrate that the importance of land has absorbed deep in the roots of their civilizations as it is called the mother earth. “How can the child be separated from his mother?" the documentary questions.
"In India, 'Paada Yaathra' or peaceful march is a highly valued concept of mobilization of faith in a non-violent manner. It was strongly adhered to by Mahatma Gandhi as well. And today, this active no-violence has a stronger power in this digital world. But until education becomes universal in its utmost reality, eradication of poverty, specially from the marginalized communities such as I have spoken in my film, is only a thing that merely show cases the political ambiguity," the director says.
After revealing many appalling stories, including a community that eat rats for survival, the film ends up adding hope by featuring 100,000 marginalized tribal citizens preparing to stage a non-violent foot march covering 340 kilometres over a period of one month, demanding land rights in the year 2012.
"Actually speaking, this film is an accident. Financially, I had to collect rupee by rupee for its entire production. Camera, editing, dubbing, music and finalizing, they all cost for larger expenses. I started with US $4700 which was only Rs.109,000 in Indian currency. I landed in Chennai in January 2010 with small money but big intentions. I traveled by train to Varanasi which was a 36 hour journey. Ever since I traveled across India in coach class railway compartments, dined from wayside boutiques, slept in ashrams and skipped a meal here and there, and filled my stomach with water. I walked into deep forests, crossed rivers, roamed around slums and got freezed in winter. It was two and half months of walk in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Kerala and Orissa. When the filming was over, I spent many restless months for its edit. But finally, I was able to finish that in one go," says Vishnu Vasu the maker of 'Gandhi's Children' on his untiring effort to make this cinematic creation a success of 55 minutes of uninterrupted running time.
'Gandhi's Children' is not merely an isolated episode of marginalized communities in India. It is also the story of many social sectors forgotten by the regimes and their set-ups throughout the world. The documentary reminds the urgency of empowering such communities towards sufficiency to fulfill the dream of sustainability of universal harmony and peaceful living in this one world where we all have to share.
'Gandhi's Children' will be screened in New Delhi in India on 3 March at the International Conference on Non-Violent Economics and again on 7 March at the summit of nearly 12,500 marginalized and tribal group leaders'. It will also be screened at the Tokyo University in Japan on the 18th March 2011.