While filming Bombay: Our City (Hamara Sahar) in 1985, Anand Patwardhan met Vilas Ghogre, a Dalit activist and a singer who performed revolutionary songs in the chawls of Mumbai. Ghogre committed suicide in July 1997, in protest after the Ramabai Ambedkar incident, having lost all hope in the system.
On the morning of July 11th 1997, the Ambedkar statue in Ramabai Nagar in Ghatkopar, Mumbai, had a garland of footwear around it. It was an insult directly aimed at Dalits, for whom Ambedkar is one of the most important leaders, and who term themselves “Ambedkarites”.
The angry Dalits gathered in a peaceful protest. But soon, the police arrived and opened fire on the crowd, killing 10 people and injuring 26 others. This inhumane discrimination pushed Ghogre to end his life, saying, “This country is not worth fighting for anymore”.
Having worked with the bard, Ghogre’s death motivated Patwardhan to give voice to those who had been unheard for thousands of years in India.
Jai Bhim Comrade has been shot over a period of 14 years, and is 200 minutes long. The documentary covers a series of events after Ghogre’s death, including the Ramatai case in Gujarat, the Khairlanji massacre in Maharashtra, and the death in 1999 of Bhai Sangare, a Dalit Panther leader who believed in voicing his cause.
The film opens the eyes of those living in denial about the condition of the Dalits in India, and reminds viewers of these long forgotten atrocities that have continued unabated and ignored by the public.
Regardless of the duration of the documentary, it has made a mark in minds of audiences. It follows the music of the repressed. It is a musical with the magnificent works, the songs and poems of Ghogre, Gaddar and the Kabir Kala Manch, an underground group of musicians, who are inspired by Ghogre, intertwining Ambedkarism and radical leftism. Considering the State is already insecure on Maoism and Naxalism, the group has been declared an anti-state Naxal-sponsored group. The filmmaker has stated in many interviews that this was one of his few films to get clearance from the censor board without any objection.
Jai Bhim Comrade was released in 2011, and has received much attention and appreciation in a short period of time, from both the critics and the public. It won the National Film Award under the Special Jury category in 2012, and the Best film/Video at the Mumbai International Film Festival the same year. It also gained international recognition, receiving Bartok Prize at the Jean Rouch International Film Festival in 2012, and the Best Documentary at the Hongkong International Film Festival, also in 2012.
A free entry documentary screening of Jai Bhim Comrade is scheduled at The Bandra Fort Amphitheatre on 20th January at 6.30pm.