Indo-Swiss filmmaker Kamal Musale has been critically acclaimed internationally for documentaries on contemporary Indian issues — gender inequality, love marriage and socio-economics of the rich-poor divide. His latest Millions Can Walk (MCW), jointly made with Christoph Schaub, highlights the power of non-violence. After a January 20 premiere at the Switzerland film festival, MCW is being screened at MIFF 2014. dna’s Yogesh Pawar caught up with Musale for a chat. Excerpts:
How did the idea for a film on the 400km march from Gwalior to Delhi by 50,000-plus adivasis for their rights in 2012 come about?
The subject chose me and not the other way round, you see. I know the Swiss producer. When the chosen Swiss director couldn’t come down for the shooting, I was asked to co-produce and direct the film. Having said that, the Swiss funding organisation had already thought of filming the landless farmers and adivasis’ march ever since Ekta Parishad began planning it nearly three years before the actual march.
Give us a sense of the legwork involved before the actual filming.
The recce and research took over four months. With accessibility in mind, we chose villages where Ekta Parishad is already working. There were considerations like ease of approach, finding powerful case studies and people who were relatively less camera-shy.
The narrative in the film moves back and forth between the march and case studies being shot in their native backgrounds. Was that conscious?
Yes. While reading about the march is interesting, there is only so much it lends itself to visually, especially considering that the march moved between 9am and 2pm, when the light is at its harshest. Though we couldn’t envisage exactly what we’d find on the shoot, establishing how large-scale exploitation of mineral resources and construction of huge infrastructure projects has resulted in indigenous people being driven from homes and robbed of a sustainable and peaceful existence wouldn’t have been possible without it.
As a filmmaker in India for seven years, do you find the near-deafening silence in the local media on the worst and most widespread uprooting of people by mining corporations in cahoots with corrupt authorities shocking?
I’m baffled by the media’s blanking of hardcore grass-roots issues. There were trace elements of such coverage when I came to India, but now it’s all vanished. One can’t say if this is to do with less free journalists, muzzling of media organisations or their corporatisation. While these ills plague media globally, nowhere is disregard for problems staring one in the face so blatant.
When you look back, what was the biggest challenge while filming?
The biggest challenge was before filming began. Despite all the written permissions, the local authorities would keep stalling the shoot, especially in the interior villages.
What do you say to the criticism that your engagement with the issue may not go beyond the film?
As a docu-filmmaker I need to be neutral and non-partisan. But, after exposure to realities of India, how can one ignore gross injustices, exploitation, poor implementation of laws and much of the other inexplicable s**t that happens? I don’t want to just shoot something, become the toast of festivals worldwide while people are forgotten. I want to continue to engage with the subject by creating Hindi, Tamil, Oriya, Bhojpuri and other language translations and screen MCW across the country. I’m hoping it inspires the fight for rights like an advocacy tool.