Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Post-Colonial agenda for IFFI 2010: Pointing the significance and relevance of 2010 to a peoples’ history

A couple of days ago, Dr. Nandkumar Kamat, from the Goa University, made a rather interesting suggestion via email to the Chief Minister of Goa. Rather than be an occasion to mindlessly spend huge amounts of state revenue, he has suggested that the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), now held annually in Goa, be themed for the year 2010 to commemorate “Colonialism and peoples’ struggles / movements across the world”. To this already interesting proposition he adds one more laudable suggestion; rather than invite an actor or actress from Bombay, who as he says leave no ideas behind, why not invite Arundhati Roy to inaugurate the festival? Roy, he suggests, could also be asked to speak on “Colonialism down 500 years a topic which would be suitable considering the completion of 500 years of Goa's conquest by Afonso de Albuquerque, on 25th November 2010 and foundation of colonial rule in Asia”.

This is perhaps one of the more incredible suggestions that have been made regarding the IFFI and perhaps in the intellectual and cultural life of the State. Subsequent to his email to the Chief Minister Dr. Kamat has requested public support for this suggestion and it is incumbent on all of us to support this suggestion and ensure that it gets converted from an idea to solid fact. This column today, seeks to be not just a public show of support for Dr. Kamat’s stellar suggestion, but a request to all those who may read this column to send emails of support to the Chief Minister’s email id and ensure that the proposal is converted to reality.

There are a number of reasons why this proposal must be supported wholeheartedly.
The organization of recent IFFI has been disappointing to say the least. Rather than an occasion to reflect on the messages that film can and do generate, the focus seems to be on creating a hedonistic bubble where movie stars can be feted. Where a number of Goans believed that the arrival of IFFI would contribute to the intellectual and cultural life of ordinary Goans, we have been disappointed to see that rather that critical world cinema, it is Hindi potboilers that have been dished out to the Goan public as a part of the festival. To theme the IFFI in the manner Dr. Kamat suggests would perhaps reorient the Entertainment Society of Goa (ESG), the local organizers of the IFFI to ensure it contributes to an enhancing the referents for local cultural articulations.

But Dr. Kamat’s suggestion has value beyond the limited scope of a renewal of the possibilities of the IFFI. Some weeks ago a Coimbra based researcher remarked that there was an almost eerie silence, both in Portugal and in Goa as regards the fact that the year 2010 marks 500 years since the formal establishment of the Portuguese State in Goa. Kamat seems to underscore this fact and points that this event that inaugurated the long durĂ©e of colonialism in Asia deserves some reflection. Kamat’s suggestion is wonderfully nuanced in that is skips over the polemics that often govern this field to nudge us in the direction of recognizing that colonialism and the struggles that challenge it did not end with formal decolonization. The colonial relationship has been continued, if not renewed, under the aegis of the national states that were left behind by the colonial regimes. It is because these national states fail to mirror the desires of substantial sections of its people that popular movements of discontent plague these post-colonial states across the world. India is but one of those states.

Dr. Kamat further nuances our appreciation of the moment of 2010 and i
ts possible commemoration by pointing out the double significance of the year, a century since 1910 when formal citizenship rights were definitively extended and claimed by a wide variety of Goans. In doing so, he once more eases us out of nationalist jingoism, to make sure our focus is on the rights of peoples, rather than some nationalist one-upmanship. The point of the commemoration of 2010 is not about Portugal, or India, it is about focusing on the need for the recognition of the rights of people.

Dr. Kamat’s suggestion is rather daring in that it challenges both the Goan and Indian state to display its true commitment to democracy. By inviting Arundhati Roy he argues, ‘the government and state of Goa would be able to demonstrate that the most dissenting voice is given a public platform in this state and we're not a ‘failed democracy’. In so doing, Kamat rightly points out that democracy is sustained not by quinquennial elections, but in fact only by ‘our own willingness to welcome dissent and dissenters’.

As wonderful as his suggestion is however, it is possible that it has come a little too late in the day for the IFFI 2010. This should however not dampen our spirits. By a queer twist of history, the year 2010 melts into the year 2011, the latter marking fifty years of the end of the Portuguese State in India. If 1510 opened a new chapter in global history, and 1910 opened new possibilities for the Goan, then so did 1961. If we cannot get the IFFI to
focus on colonialism and peoples’ struggles in 2010, then 2011 would be just as well. If however the organizers of the IFFI refuse to comply, then there is nothing that should stop the people of Goa from organizing their own festival in which they could commemorate the dates that are significant not just to their own history, but the global history of colonialism and peoples’ rights. There is a precedent here in the actions of the Ganv Ghor Rakhon Manch who in 2008 organized parallel to the IFFI, the Goan Peoples’ Film Festival. Organized in a remarkably short time, the festival managed to attract some attention and international support. There is no reason why this story should not be repeated, with Arundhati in attendance, in 2010. One hopes however that the Goan government will take Dr. Kamat’s suggestion seriously. In doing so it would redress the unjustified silence in marking 2010, it would reorient the IFFI to make it more meaningful than just a bash for national and international film stars. In this latter aspect, this reorientation would only add to the prestige of the IFFI, and simultaneously enrich the cultural lives of the Goan people, which is the primary reason why some of us welcome the IFFI in Goa.

Thank you Dr. Kamat, and all power to your suggestion. As for you dear Reader, remember your emails to the Chief Minister!

(First published in the Gomantak Times, 23 June 2010)

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