Long live formal content !!
Over the last few years some of us, in our honorary capacities, have off and on been involved in the selection, script and rough cut evaluation process at Films Division, India's prime organisation that makes documentary films. In this process we have been active witnesses to many a concept being turned into insipid movies. I mainly fear that this is primarily due to the fact that we have a default form of building up a documentary movie imbibed into our blood streams - the one that has a 'god's voice' of a narrator guiding us in a predetermined manner or off late the one that endlessly 'observers' and 'follows' the main characters at times to their death bed. Yet, a few of the documentaries commissioned by Films Division had stood out to me for their sheer brilliance of form, ie... the innovative way in which the content has been narrated.
I would mention a few made in the last two-three years that were experiential in nature; and have also broken new formal frontiers, vis-à-vis its content - Meera Dewan's 'Baba Farid' a documentary on the life, times and works of the Sufi mystic and the audio-visual treat that it is; Pradipta Bhattacharya's 'Shikoor' that is a fair representation of the perfomative mode of documentary film making as its dwells into the quest of the movie maker in his attempt to get a hold on his hybrid roots; Swati Dandekar's 'Neeli Raag' that dwells into a few indigenous natural indigo dye makers with a high degree of melancholy with a unique one of a kind structure and Saudamini's 'Nadi Smriti' that has flux as its core theme as it looks at how the concept of the word Sawaswati whose being represented the once concrete physical river got morphed into representing myth, music, learning, spirituality etc...
None of these films rich in content and innovative in form - are in the present version of MIFF (Mumbai International Film Festival for documentary, shorts and animation). There would have been a multi level process involved and in a particular scheme of things, these films didn't fit in. Maybe we still haven't flushed off the dominant documentary movie constructing mode out of our collective blood streams and thus our systems. It might not just be the politics of content that is keeping a few documentaries out of film festivals, the politics of their form too hardly seems to be cherished.