The documentary movement in India (2023)

The narratives bring to the fore not only the history of documentary film-making in India, but also the various resistance struggles and movements for human rights, gender justice, ecology, right to land, and survival and identity.

AS far as literature on Indian cinema is concerned, the preferences and prejudices are pronounced: first comes Hindi cinema, which is considered “national cinema”; then comes the preoccupation with full-length feature films, followed by its major auteurs.

Although language films constitute the bulk of Indian cinema, only a few books have been written about them in English with a wider audience in mind. Only feature films and film-makers are considered worthy of attention; documentary films, film-makers and movements across the country rarely figure in historical and analytical narratives on films. Added to this lack of scholarly interest in documentaries and people’s cinema movements, which have a long and vibrant history in India, is the lack of documentary evidence. If at all they exist, they lie scattered in the form of brochures and booklets, pamphlets and “manifestos” written in different languages and produced in different parts of the country.

They have not been archived or documented in detail or studied in depth. This, despite the fact that they were and are very much part of various resistance movements and popular struggles in India in the last 50 years; and especially since the advent of digital technology, when the role of documentary films and film-makers became all the more crucial and instrumental in such movements.

Take any major social, political, gender or environmental movement in India, documentary films and film-makers have played a pivotal role in documenting them, and in the process, reached out to a wider audience and produced campaign material for the struggles. In fact, they have been a powerful political tool and documentary evidence that empowered civil society and activists to “talk back to power”.

(Video) India Independent - Documentary on the Independence Movement

Although a few scholarly works have come out on Indian documentary films recently, their focus has been more on charting the historical and thematic dimensions of documentary films in India in terms of major film-makers and their landmark films. In the process, many of the grass-roots attempts and diverse streams from the margins found only cursory mention in these writings.

Invaluable source of reference The reasons for the same are not far to seek. Prominent among them is the lack of documentation and archiving—a gap that can be filled only by willingness to listen to and learn from the margins and the marginalised. This is whatTowards a People’s Cinema: Independent Documentary and its Audience in India edited by Kasturi Basu and Dwaipayan Banerjee ventures to do. This book assumes great relevance as an invaluable and much-needed source of reference for film historians, scholars and students on the role of Indian documentaries in resistance movements in India.

The editors are also clear about the challenges before them and the significance of their intervention. According to them, the book is an attempt “to bring under one cover some of the diverse impulses and origins of mental conception, idealism, production motivation, circulation modality, and audience reception in the life of the independent documentary in India”.

This compilation has a threefold purpose in mind: to build a repository of journeys and experiences of collectives and individual practitioners who have created a body of political documentary; to place Indian documentary in historical and material context, and to map and explore spaces and platforms that are attempting to build a democratised practice where dialectical exchange is possible between film-makers, audiences and political-cultural activists.

The collection consists of four sections: Section I titled “History” attempts to delineate the historical and material context of the documentary genre in India from the colonial period to the present. It includes the historical and analytical accounts of Sanjay Kak and Biren Das Sharma, and an autobiographical account by Uma Chakravarthi.

(Video) How Britain Divided India | Indian Partition Documentary

Section II titled “Practice” consists of long conversations with some of the well-known documentary film-makers of the post-Independence era such as Tapan Bose, Anand Patwardhan, Ranjan Palit and Deepa Dhanraj about their life, work and vision.

Section III, “Collectives”, consists of first-person narratives of activist-film-makers and focusses on film movements and activist groups across the country.

The last section, “Legacy”, reproduces two important documents: Tapan Sen’s treatise on Chitra Chetana that elaborates on a radical film moment in the Indian documentary movement, where a collective of young film-makers used the Super-8 camera as a tool of political resistance in West Bengal immediately after the Emergency; and Anand Patwardhan’s thesis, “A Critique and a Case Study of ‘Waves of Revolution’”.

The sections Practice and Collectives make scintillating and informative reading; if the first recounts the experiences of veterans in the field, the second consists of “reports from the field”. They are notes and first-person accounts of film-makers and activists such as Deepu, Meghnath, Sanjay Joshi, Manoj Kumar Singh, Subrat Kumar Sahu, Rinchin and Maheen of Ektara Collective, and Pulkit Phillip and Mohammed Ghani of Jan Cinema. They reminisce about cinema as a medium for political articulation, intervention and agitation, their evolution in both political and cinematic terms, their changing relationship with the audience, and the challenges they faced and are facing now.

As these narratives have not yet been systematically chronicled so far, they provide interesting insights into the points of intersection between documentary film-making and political action, and about the specific challenges—political and aesthetic, organisational and ideological—faced by different movements, and the evolution of personal styles and regional genres.

(Video) BBC Documentary 2017 - British Occupation Of India In Color - Full Documentary

Interestingly, even while addressing “local” issues and fighting local battles, they all connect at a pan-Indian level as they share the same concerns and fight the same enemies, though in different guises. Together, all these documentaries and film-makers constitute a grand coalition of artists and movements across the country arguing and fighting for freedom, secularism, democracy and justice.

The story unfolds in the form of personal narratives that give a kind of insider’s account of documentary movements in remote regions, and despite severe limitations of financial resources, lack of public and media support, lack of access to technology and expertise, and, most importantly, in the face of brutal state oppression.

This is the story of how Indian documentaries, monopolised for ages by statist propaganda churned out by the Films Division of India in rigid formats, evolved into a vibrant people’s movement that voiced and imaged the protests, aspirations and demands of the oppressed, facilitating and empowering them to interrogate and critique institutions, programmes, “development” projects and policies of both the oppressive state and the rapacious corporate bodies.

For each film-maker, it is a personal journey of discovery, both about politics and about aesthetics. For instance, this is how Surya Shankar Dash from Odisha describes his experience of filming while standing with the people: “When you are surrounded by nothing less than thousands of policemen (Odisha Military Police, Greyhounds, COBRA, Central Reserve Police Force, India Reserve Battalion, Indo-Tibetan Border Force, Special Police Officers) armed to the teeth (bullet-proof vests, helmets, visors, fiber glass shields, riot gear, etc.) and aiming guns at you (soft guns, non-fatal pellet guns, real guns, .303s tear gas) and no sign of Indian democracy (district administration is cheering the police on loudspeaker), you are most unlikely to stand there and aim your video camera at them and start filming…. If you know that you have committed no wrong, you are standing on your own land, and the police will shoot you even if you run, you might actually do that, so somehow reality is not obfuscated by propaganda” (Repression Diary).

These film-maker-activists come from different social and economic backgrounds: many of them like Deepu (“politically-confused post-globalised youth” as his peers described him), Surabhi Sharma and Manojkumar Singh come from cities and towns, while many others are from remote villages and tribal communities.

(Video) Mahatma Gandhi – dying for freedom | DW Documentary

While the cinema journeys of some of them began with film festivals and film society screenings, for others, it was an extension of their political activity, and a process of learning by doing, where their subject—people fighting injustice—became their guides and mentors.

Unlike “festival circuit film-makers”, the challenges here are in finance, production, aesthetics and technology, and in reaching out to people, who are the subject as well as the creators of the film. For many film-makers, it was a journey of self-realisation—that film-making was not merely about self-expression, but also, or more, about giving body and voice, evidence and tools, to people struggling for justice.

So, if some film-makers discovered the aesthetics of politics, others found in it a reinvention of the politics of aesthetics.

These narratives bring to the fore not only the history of documentary film-making in India, but also the various resistance struggles and movements for human rights, gender justice, ecology, the right to land, and survival and identity.

An ongoing project The book covers only the documentary movements from northern India. Glaringly missing are documentary film-makers, movements and collectives from the south, especially initiatives such as the Odessa collective, and film-makers such as K.P. Sasi, C. Sarathchandran, P. Baburaj, Ramani, R.P. Amudhan and Chalam Bennurakar. The editors admit that this is an ongoing project that needs to be expanded and enriched to include similar experiences, experiments and initiatives from other parts of the country. In spite of these limitations, the book is a great achievement and a significant contribution to the documentary movement.

(Video) India Pakistan Partition Documentary BBC

For, it not merely chronicles events but provides an inspiring account of a movement of national scale. By affirming the critical mass that Indian documentaries have achieved both in terms of numbers and in terms of political experience, this book can trigger informed debates and a search for common strategies for collective action.

As Anand Patwardhan articulates in the book: “[A] multiplier effect needs to happen. The films have to be used by community groups, movements and established parties that actually believe in democracy and the politics of reason. Unless they take up cultural resistance as a primary form of the expansion of progressive politics, it won’t happen.”

FAQs

What is documentary movement in India? ›

This is the story of how Indian documentaries, monopolised for ages by statist propaganda churned out by the Films Division of India in rigid formats, evolved into a vibrant people's movement that voiced and imaged the protests, aspirations and demands of the oppressed, facilitating and empowering them to interrogate ...

Which was the first documentary in India? ›

In 1888 a short film of wrestlers Pundalik Dada and Krishna Navi at Bombay's Hanging Gardens was filmed by Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatwadekar. This was the first recorded documentary film in India.

Who is the father of Indian documentary? ›

Anand Patwardhan (born 18 February 1950) is an Indian documentary filmmaker known for his socio-political, human rights-oriented films. Some of his films explore the rise of religious fundamentalism, sectarianism and casteism in India, while others investigate nuclear nationalism and unsustainable development.

What is the purpose of the documentary? ›

The main purpose of a documentary is to inform and educate. Despite their differences, both feature films and documentaries use cinematography and follow a script.

Who made the first documentary? ›

Nanook of the North - by American filmmaker, Robert Flaherty (1922) - Considered the first "original" documentary, this film profiles the lives of a real Eskimo family. 1926 - the first recorded mention of the term "documentary" (by Scottish-born filmmaker John Grierson) to describe a non-fiction film.

What are 4 functions of documentaries? ›

Renov (1993) in his theorizing about documentary forms makes a distinction between four fundamental functions of documentary films: to record, reveal, and preserve; to persuade or promote; to analyze and interrogate; and to express.

What is the first known documentary? ›

The 1922 movie "Nanook of the North" follows a charismatic real character in a distant land. Though in truth filmmaker Robert Flaherty fudged a few facts, and staged a few scenes, it's generally considered the world's first documentary.

What do you mean by documentary? ›

a film or television or radio program that gives information about a subject and is based on facts: a documentary on animal communication. documentary. adjective [ not gradable ]

When was documentary first used? ›

The word "documentary" was coined by Scottish documentary filmmaker John Grierson in his review of Robert Flaherty's film Moana (1926), published in the New York Sun on 8 February 1926, written by "The Moviegoer" (a pen name for Grierson).

Who is called father of documentary? ›

Robert Flaherty, in full Robert Joseph Flaherty, (born February 16, 1884, Iron Mountain, Michigan, U.S.—died July 23, 1951, Dummerston, Vermont), American explorer and filmmaker, called the father of the documentary film.

Who is the father of modern documentary? ›

While the two Griersons sometimes collaborated, their conflicting ideas led to clashes. Decades later, only one sibling would be widely remembered. Today John Grierson is widely regarded as the father of documentary, a name familiar to film students around the world.

Who made documentaries on Gandhiji? ›

Mahatma: Life of Gandhi, 1869–1948 is a 1968 documentary biography film, detailing the life of Mahatma Gandhi. The film was produced by The Gandhi National Memorial Fund in cooperation with the Films Division of the Government of India, and was directed and scripted by Vithalbhai Jhaveri.

Why is it called documentary? ›

A documentary is a broad term to describe a non-fiction movie that in some way "documents" or captures reality.

What are the 3 types of documentary? ›

In this VOD we examine 3 different types of documentaries: Observational, Expository and Participatory. You will see examples of films that have used each of the 3 types of genre successfully.

How many types of documentaries are there? ›

What are the 6 types of documentaries? Poetic, expository, participatory, observational, reflexive, performative.

What is an example of documentary film? ›

Documentary Films - Examples. Berlin: Symphony of a Big City (1927, Ger.) Finnis Terrae (1929, Fr.) Las Hurdes (aka Land Without Bread) (1932, Sp.)

What are the main features of a documentary? ›

Generally, documentaries are about something specific and factual and concern public matters rather than private ones. The people, places, and events in them are actual and usually contemporary. The second aspect--purpose/point of view/approach--is what the filmmakers are trying to say about the subjects of their film.

What are the advantages of documentaries? ›

  • Documentaries Offer a Unique Perspective That Can Change the Way We Think About the World.
  • They Can Educate Us About Issues We Might Not Otherwise Have Known About.
  • They Can Help Us Connect With People From All Walks of Life.
  • They Can Inspire Us to Take Action on Important Issues.
7 Jun 2022

What are the 6 modes of documentary? ›

Nichols (1991, 2017) identifies six modes of representation in documentary films. They are the expository, participatory, observational, performative, reflexive and poetic modes.

What is the source of documentaries? ›

Documentary sources are sometimes described as life stories because they are the accounts of the lives of individuals, families, or other social groups. They include diaries, letters, memoirs, photographs, even shopping lists and random jottings.

Who is the most famous documentary narrator? ›

Sir David Attenborough

Attenborough is most well-known for presenting both the Life and Planet Earth series, a nine-part natural history documentary series that spanned decades.

Why are documentaries popular? ›

Unique Narrative Experiences. Documentaries are a unique art form, a unique creative medium that brings glimpses of real life directly into the audience's consciousness. This is because in documentary storytelling real life is put into a dramatic or narrative form to work as a film.

What are the 4 types of documentaries? ›

In 1991, American film critic and theoretician Bill Nichols proposed that there were six different modes of documentary—poetic, expository, reflexive, observational, performative, and participatory—each containing its own specific characteristics.

What is the best example of a documentary? ›

Best documentaries of all time
  • Shoah (1985) ...
  • Sans Soleil (1983) ...
  • The Thin Blue Line (1988) ...
  • Night and Fog (1955) ...
  • Harlan County U.S.A. (1976) ...
  • Dont Look Back (1967) ...
  • The War Game (1965) ...
  • Nanook of the North (1922)
12 Oct 2022

What is documentary method? ›

Documentary-methods are the techniques used to categorise, investigate, interpret and identify the limitations of physical sources, most commonly written documents, whether in the private or public domain (personal papers, commercial records, or state archives, communications or legislation).

Why documentary is a primary source? ›

A documentary can be either primary or secondary depending on the context. If you are directly analyzing some aspect of the movie itself – for example, the cinematography, narrative techniques, or social context – the movie is a primary source.

How do documentaries start? ›

Key Steps to Making Documentaries:
  • Tell a story you care about. Start with a subject that excites you. ...
  • Research. Learn everything you can about your documentary subject. ...
  • Make a Plan. Create an outline. ...
  • Create a Shot List. ...
  • Start Shooting. ...
  • Write a Script. ...
  • Begin Editing. ...
  • Check Legal and Copyright Issues.

Who first used the word documentary? ›

John Grierson, a Scottish educator who had studied mass communication in the United States, adapted the term in the mid-1920s from the French word documentaire.

What is the main character of a documentary called? ›

I agree with the other answer saying you should use main subject. You could probably also use protagonist in this context.

What is the main person in a documentary called? ›

Documentarian Definition & Meaning - Merriam-Webster.

Is Modern Family a documentary? ›

Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan conceived the series while sharing stories of their own "modern families." Modern Family employs an ensemble cast and is presented in a mockumentary style, with the characters frequently speaking directly to the camera in confessional interview segments.

What is a film movement? ›

Throughout the history of cinema, groups of filmmakers, critics, and/or theorists formed ideas about how films could be made, and the theories they generated, along with the films produced according to those theories, are called movements.

Who is known as the king of modern editing? ›

Considered one of the most influential figures in the history of the motion picture, he pioneered many aspects of film editing and expanded the art of the narrative film.
...
D. W. Griffith
OccupationDirector producer screenwriter
Years active1908–1931
7 more rows

Who made documentaries on Gandhiji between 1909 72? ›

Dinanath Gopal Tendulkar (1909–1972) was an Indian writer and documentary film maker. He is most well known as the author of an eight-volume biography of Mahatma Gandhi, titled Mahatma: Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

Is Gandhi a documentary? ›

Gandhi is a 1982 period biographical film based on the life of Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of nonviolent non-cooperative Indian independence movement against the British Empire during the 20th century.

Which was the first newspaper of Gandhiji? ›

Mahatma Gandhi Launched the Newspaper Indian Opinion on June 4, 1903 - This Day in History.

What are the rules of documentary? ›

10 Rules Of Documentary Filmmaking
  • Don't film if you can live without filming.
  • Don't film if you want to say something – just say it or write it. ...
  • Don't film if you already knew your message before filming – just become a teacher. ...
  • Don't film something you just hate.

What are the two types of documentary sources? ›

Documentary Sources can be further categorized based on their information contents and physical form as follows: Documentary Sources (By Content) Documentary Sources (By Form)

What is the structure of a documentary? ›

The best documentary scripts have a beginning, the middle, and end, main characters, antagonist, protagonist, character development, climax, dénouement—all of these things work on us. Documentary storytelling also follows these laws.

How do you name a documentary? ›

When choosing your title, choose words that are memorable, unique and catchy, not generic and vague. For example, the words "disease" and "health" are vague. "Generation Rx" is catchy. Once you choose a title that clicks with you, check the internet and make sure no one else is using it.

What is the meaning of documentary history? ›

NHD documentaries present information about an event, person, place or idea from the past through a ten-minute presentation that showcases documents, images, photographs, and actual footage of the topic you are researching.

What is the short form of documentary? ›

DOCU
AcronymDefinition
DOCUDocumentary (film)

What type of word is documentary? ›

Documentary can be a noun or an adjective.

Why are they called documentaries? ›

A documentary film or documentary is a non-fictional motion-picture intended to "document reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction, education or maintaining a historical record".

Why are documentaries important to history? ›

Documentaries can preserve important events or parts of history – sometimes stories or archival footage that other people would rather bury. This gives the world not only a better understanding of events in the past but also a glimpse of what we might face in the future.

Who gave the term documentary? ›

John Grierson, a Scottish educator who had studied mass communication in the United States, adapted the term in the mid-1920s from the French word documentaire. The documentary-style film, though, had been popular from the earliest days of filmmaking.

What are documentary methods? ›

Documentary-methods are the techniques used to categorise, investigate, interpret and identify the limitations of physical sources, most commonly written documents, whether in the private or public domain (personal papers, commercial records, or state archives, communications or legislation).

What are the sources of documentary? ›

Documentary sources are sometimes described as life stories because they are the accounts of the lives of individuals, families, or other social groups. They include diaries, letters, memoirs, photographs, even shopping lists and random jottings.

Videos

1. Documentary | Why Bastar's Adivasis Resist Security Forces | The Quint
(The Quint)
2. Gravitas Plus: What is the Khalistan movement?
(WION)
3. Channel 4 Documentary - India 1947: Partition in Colour (Part 2/2)
(Ryan Lam)
4. History of Documentary Films in India
(Listen & Learn)
5. elephant herd in India - elephant family - elephant video for kids
(Elephant Herd)
6. India: An emerging superpower - Democracy, development, displacement (1/2) | DW Documentary
(DW Documentary)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Catherine Tremblay

Last Updated: 03/23/2023

Views: 5942

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (67 voted)

Reviews: 90% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Catherine Tremblay

Birthday: 1999-09-23

Address: Suite 461 73643 Sherril Loaf, Dickinsonland, AZ 47941-2379

Phone: +2678139151039

Job: International Administration Supervisor

Hobby: Dowsing, Snowboarding, Rowing, Beekeeping, Calligraphy, Shooting, Air sports

Introduction: My name is Catherine Tremblay, I am a precious, perfect, tasty, enthusiastic, inexpensive, vast, kind person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.