Ramchandra PN: Fighting for the critical freedom of expression

Jun 18, 2017, 13:39 IST | Jane Borges

Ramchandra PN on why he is moving the High Court against the ban on his documentary on Rohith Vemula

Radhika, mother of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula, sits in on a protest held in March last year. PIC/GETTY IMAGES
Radhika, mother of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula, sits in on a protest held in March last year. PIC/GETTY IMAGES

Until last month, Ramchandra PN was quite excited about screening his documentary on Rohith Vemula at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK). Like most independent filmmaker's seeking a platform to showcase their works, Mumbai-based Ramchandra recalls readying for the big-day, when he received a call from the festival organisers informing that his film was among two others, that had been denied a certificate by the information and broadcast ministry. When this writer reached out to the documentarian, his lawyer had just filed a writ petition at the Delhi high court against the ban. "I am not giving up," says the 51-year-old, adding, "By and large, I am fighting for the critical freedom of expression."

Ramchandra's 45-minute film, The Unbearable Being of Lightness, which takes inspiration for its title from Czech writer Milan Kundera's 1984 novel, traces moments in the aftermath of the suicide of PhD student and Dalit activist Vemula's suicide and the protests at the University of Hyderabad, where he studied. "I was invited to conduct a workshop for students of mass communication in January last year. But, due to the strikes following Vemula's suicide, the workshop was postponed. In February, the strikes had ended, but protests hadn't. Meanwhile, Rohith's letter had also surfaced. At that time, I knew I had to react to it," he says. The best way to go about it was documenting the workshop, says the filmmaker.


During the workshop, the students were taken to the shopping area of the university, popularly known as Shopcom, where the protests were taking place.

He shot the entire film on a palm camera. "In terms of form, I wanted to break away from the observatory style and try the reflective mode," says Ramchandra of the approach he used while shooting the self-funded experimental film.

Ramchandra faced a fair share of criticism for the project after it had been screened at the Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF) festival. "A lot of people told me that the documentary didn't do enough for Vemula. They thought that I should have gone into the nitty-gritties of his death and who was actually responsible for it. But, I thought I was asking difficult questions, and getting people to look within themselves. That's what probably disturbed me while making the film," says the filmmaker, who has been making shorts and independent films for over two decades now.

Many even described the film as being "anti-government". "But, the topic is sensitive and if it happens to be volatile, there's nothing you can do about it. Honestly, I thought that non-state actors would oppose the film first, but surprisingly it was the ministry," he says. That the movie had been cleared for the KIFF, but didn't get the nod for the festival in Kerala meant that the move was well thought out and planned beforehand, says Ramchandra. But, that's not stopping the documentarian. He recently shared the film on his blog and is encouraging people to share it on other platforms. We need to spearhead change, he says.

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