Saroj Dutta and His Times
Kasturi Basu, Mitali Biswas
India. 2018. 115 min
A communist poet and radical journalist, a secret State killing, an attempted revolution sparked in the village of Naxalbari at the Himalayan foothills. Setting out to tell the story of the slain revolutionary Saroj Dutta (lovingly known as comrade S.D.), the film gets drawn into a vortex of his tumultuous times, tracing turns and twists of the communist movement in India over three decades. A search by present-generation filmmakers, the film uses personal and public historical archives and conversations with rebels of the Naxalbari rebellion. Five decades later, the film holds a key to understanding the turbulent, audacious sixties and seventies in India and the world.
KASTURI BASU – MITALI BISWAS
Kasturi Basu is an independent documentary filmmaker, social activist, researcher, writer and editor based in Kolkata. She is a founder-member of the People’s Film Collective, and co-editor of ‘Pratirodher Cinema’, a Bengali journal on the documentary, cinema and counterculture. She has co-edited a volume ‘Toward’s a People’s Cinema: Independent Documentary and its Audience in India’ (2018) published by the Three Essays Collective, New Delhi. ‘S.D.: Saroj Dutta and His Times’ (2018) is her first feature-length documentary.
Mitali Biswas is a filmmaker, social activist and worked as a freelance journalist. In the year 2015, she directed and produced a documentary film titled ‘Identity Undisclosed’ on the theme of sexual violence against women. At present, she is in the editorial board of ‘Protibidhan’, a magazine dedicated to women’s movements.
The 1960s and 1970s marked a watershed period in the history of India, even as anti-State rebellion reverberated across the world. The Naxalbari peasant uprising in post-1947 India marked a point of departure in the Communist Movement in the country, bringing the question of agrarian revolution to the forefront. The large-scale killing and forced disappearances of thousands of mostly young revolutionaries marked forever the Indian State’s bloody legacy of crushing all attempts at a radical transformation of society. Saroj Dutta was a historical figure shaped by his times. Like Victor Jara and Federico Garcia Lorca, he too was killed for wielding his pen against the State’s bullets. This period also marked the hollowing out of lofty notions of “justice”, “democracy”, “civil rights” and “rule of law”, empty promises of a failed democracy.
It has always intrigued and disturbed us that no moving images of the Naxalbari movement exist, though written documents and literary works are a-plenty. As far as cinematic representation is concerned, the balance has been heavily tilted in romanticised depictions of valour and sacrifice of the urban middle-class student and youth challengers of the State, while at the same time almost erasing out the peasant question from memory.
This film began on the birth centenary year of Saroj Dutta and wrapped up, after four years, on the 50th year of the Naxalbari movement. In attempting to tell the story of Saroj Dutta, the story itself rolled out and painted its canvas to reflect the context, complexities, turbulences, audacious hopes and aborted promises of the times. Saroj Dutta’s life couldn’t be seen in isolation from the burning questions of his space-time, which still continue to speak to us.
Kasturi Basu : email@example.com