Utpal Borpujari

November 12, 2013

NEthing, NEwhere….. AAP in Delhi is a reason for Déjà vu

EasternChronicleAAP271013

(Published in Eastern Chronicle, http://www.easternchronicle.net, on 27-10-2013)

By Utpal Borpujari

The same day that newspapers carried the information that 11 political parties from Northeast India had joined hands to form a regional grouping called the North-East Regional Political Front at the initiative of Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), my neighbourhood in Delhi saw a public meeting by renowned social scientist and now Aam Aadmi Party leader Yogendra Yadav. Yadav was addressing a motley crowd about how the usual political parties like Congress and BJP had failed the people and how AAP was the best and only option to set things right. In fact, the refrain of civil servant-turned-Magsaysay Award-winning social activist-turned-politician Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP has been that the ‘usual’ political parties are all irreversibly corrupt and only a new idea like AAP can turn the tide in favour of the common man.

Hearing the AAP refrain, and reading about the formation of the North East Progressive Alliance at the same time, gives quite a sense of déjà vu to someone like me, who grew up in Assam during the tumultuous years of early 1980s. If Delhiites are witnessing the birth of a new political party led by men of impeccably clean credentials such as Kejriwal, Yadav and Prashant Bhushan (no matter even if they got separated from others like Anna Hazare and Kiran Bedi who did not agree with the idea of converting the now-famous-but-dead people’s movement led by Hazare into a political formation), we, as young, impressionable minds, had seen not only the birth but also an unprecedented straight-from-university-hostels-to-the-State-Assembly march of a young brigade who had captured the imagination of Assam’s people like never before.

AAP is surely not going to achieve success of the scale that the Prafulla Mahanta-Bhrigu Phukan-led AGP had done in 1985. It at best will, going by the present pre-poll surveys, will emerge as a strong third force in Delhi Assembly elections, and play a major spoil sport to both Congress and BJP. Of course, the growth in fortunes of AAP, going by opinion polls held in August and October, if extrapolated, could show that AAP’s rise can even surprise the political pundits by the time the poll results come in on December 8. But then, given that AAP is going to emerge as an important player in its very first election itself, its leaders can have a look at how AGP squandered the immense goodwill of people, and how many of its leaders got mired in one allegation of corruption after another, before it went into oblivion within less than 30 years of its birth.

The formation of AAP is quite similar to that of AGP in that both parties got formed after huge public upheavals (the AASU-Asom Gana Sangram Parishad-led anti-illegal immigration movement was of course a much bigger people’s movement than the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement has been in terms of mass participation, though the latter got immense visibility thanks to the numerous television channels that exist today) over highly-important issues. It is now a historical fact that AGP not only failed in its avowed goal of freeing Assam from illegal migrants from Bangladesh, but its leaders lost all goodwill of the people – one just has to check the election results of recent years, including the recent Guwahati Municipal Corporation elections in which it could win just one ward, to visualize its downward spiral – through their various alleged acts of omissions and commissions. And in recent years, quite a few of its younger leaders have joined other parties, ostensibly disillusioned with the way the party was functioning.

AAP, whether or not it wins the majority in the Delhi elections as it is claiming it will, now has an image that the pre-1985 election AGP had – a pro-people party led by those who had the vision to change the society and whom people believed in. I am pretty sure – you may call it cynical – a few years down the line, once AAP tastes fruits of election results, the party will face the predicament of how its ‘clean’ MLAs (presuming it will win quite a few seats as is being predicted) have turned ‘unclean’, at least some of them. One hopes for the sake of those who will vote for the party’s candidates that it won’t happen, but the history of Indian political firmament shows that there is no party that has not got some of its members embroiled in cases of financial and/or moral corruption. Those who had voted for AGP (I too had as a first-time voter) in 1985 would tell you from experience that the Assamese adage “Lanka loi jieyi jai xiyei Ravan hoi” (whoever goes to Lanka becomes a Ravan) holds quite true when comes to politics. Or else, how would one explain that the student leaders, many of them from poor background, suddenly acquired immense wealth despite having no other sources of income, soon after they became ministers. Of course, now they are reaping as they sowed, having lost all goodwill of the people and ceding much of its space to BJP, which is led in the state by former AGP leader Sarbananda Sonowal.

Of course, given the predictions that AAP will at best emerge as a strong opposition, it faces less of this danger because opposition MLAs have less scope of turning corrupt! And that probably could be the solace for both the party and its supporters. One hopes that having been in the wilderness for so long, AGP’s leadership would turn a new leaf too with the formation of the regional front. It’s now a given fact that in Assam’s politics, AGP is not even among the top three, though political parties with a regional bent of politics are still strongly relevant in many parts of the country. The Northeast needs powerful political parties that can keep the ruling parties on their toes as far as developmental issues are concerned, and that they can do only if they are at least a strong opposition. Perhaps, just like AAP needs to draw a lesson from AGP’s rise and fall, AGP itself needs to do the same at a moment when it’s aspiring to unite the regional forces on Northeast. If you ask me frankly though, I would say fortunes are not going to be on the upswing for AGP unless they first change their fundamental flaws, which need not be elaborated here again. Its regional front leadership notwithstanding. Meanwhile, only time will tell if AAP will be an exception or if it will go the AGP way!

(http://www.easternchronicle.net/index.php?archive=27.10.2013&city=2 – once the page opens, go to Page 7)

August 1, 2012

Drapchi: More Felt than Watched

By Utpal Borpujari

Drapchi. For the uninitiated, a lyrical-sounding word. But for those who have been inside it, Drapchi is one of the most-dreaded places on the earth. Drapchi is the name of Lhasa’s Prison No. 1, the largest in Tibet. Converted from a Tibetan military garrison into a prison following the 1959 Tibetan uprising (officially it was made into a prison in 1965) and the flight of the Dalai Lama to India, it is where most of the political prisoners of Tibet are incarcerated. Tibetan exile groups have often alleged brutal excesses committed by the Chinese jail personnel on the inmates.

But now, the word Drapchi has another meaning too. It is the name of a new movie directed by indie filmmaker Arvind Iyer, and starring famous Tibetan singer Namgyal Lhamo. The 77-minute movie is an interesting experiment at filmmaking. It uses the format of a docu-fiction, with the characters barely speaking to each other and the narrative taken forward by a gruff voice, a voice that the film’s end reveals to belong to a former espionage officer from another country. The officer is not identified in this fictional story where the real and the fictional merge seamlessly, but it is believed that he is a real-life Army man from a Western country who spent nearly a decade inside Drapchi after having been caught for alleged spying in Tibet.

It’s a film that has fictional characters who can be real Tibetan refugees fleeing their homeland. In fact, if one had not been told that the lead character of Yiga Gyalnang has been played by the Netherlands-based Lhamo, and had it not for portions where the characters briefly speak with one another, one could have easily termed this film as in intensely personal documentary where the protagonist symbolises the quiet suffering of thousands of Tibetans who trudge across the Himalayas to seek political refuge in another country.

Iyer, a noted designer who has worked with the likes of Santosh Sivan, has eschewed the path of a normal narrative in his first feature film. He has not even spelt out clearly that Yiga, a noted traditional Tibetan opera singer, is an escapee from Drapchi. These are information that one can either guess about or find indications about in the film. For Iyer the director, these things are not overtly important in the course of the narrative, as it is already quite well-known that the Tibetans who flee their homeland are almost always political refugees, victims of persecution in their homeland.

Rather, the film, with a quiet dignity that is carried on her shoulders by Lhamo, tries to explore the inner turmoil in all those Tibetans who leave their homeland knowing fully well that perhaps they would never see it again in their lifetime. The emotional turmoil in Yiga comes through in the film through Yiga’s melancholic demeanour, and through some superb compositions that form the background score.

The film opens at a point when Yiga and a few other Tibetans are walking across a bridge over the Kosi river in Nepal, the point where the 16-km no-man’s land between Tibet and Nepal ends. It is the same place where Yiga returns to from Kathmandu towards the end of the film, before she flies off to Europe to seek an unknown future as an important political refugee. Or is it her spirit that visits the place in her dream, yearning to return home? In the interregnum, Yiga has been befriended by a British rocker named Jack Cassady, played by Chris Constantinou, a relationship which does not follow the expected path of the two falling in love, and also by a young monk Tashi with whom she develops sort of a spiritual bonding. We hear the story of Yiga from the narrator mostly, but when it is time for the finale, one does not need words to understand the turmoil in Yiga’s mind as she longingly looks at the mountains across the bridge, where her homeland lies. She knows it is as elusive as the mountain goat whose brief glimpse she gets. She also knows she cannot return to that homeland again, unlike the pack of geese flying across the mountains for whom man-made political boundaries are meaningless. She philosophically accepts her fate and continues with her voice of protest through her powerful songs that make her popular in Europe.

Even though Lhamo herself had got her training in music at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) in Dharamshala before migrating to Europe, one gets the feeling while watching Drapchi that Yiga is her alter ego. In fact, at many places during the course of the film, it is hard to separate the real from the reel. Iyer must be given credit for the courage shown in not treading the usual path of narrative storytelling. In the tradition of true indie filmmaking, he seeks to create a world of solitude, silence and sound of music in Drapchi. And he succeeds to a great extent in his effort. Yes, Drapchi is not your usual fare on the big screen. It is experimental, and unapologetically so. It’s not a film for everyone, but those who like moody, philosophical cinema, Drapchi, which was screened at the recent Stuttgart Indian Film Festival and will have its Indian premiere at the 12th Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival in Delhi, offers several layers of thought pointers. To her credit, scriptwriter Pooja Ladha Surti, who wrote Sriram Raghavan’s Ek Hasina Thi, Johnny Gaddar and the recent Agent Vinod, has completely been able to leave her Bollywood baggage behind to create something that is beyond the ordinary. The film has some amazing cinematography by Trevor Tweeten, and for those who have heard and loved Lhamo’s music, it offers several treats in the background score. It is a film is more felt than watched.

(Published in http://www.dearcinema.com, 30-07-2012)

http://dearcinema.com/review/osians-cinefan-2012-review-arvind-iyers-drapchi/4402#.UBjuT2GICqM

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.