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Mahasweta Devi and the Pulse of Writing and the Clap of Filming

When Mahasweta Devi took over the literary magazine ‘Bartika’ (Lantern), which her father was managing earlier, there was a major decision that the editor in Didi (Mahasweta Devi) had taken – that poetry has been banned in the magazine from the next issue onwards! On the other hand, peasants, rickshaw pullers, social workers and many others started writing notes from their lives for the magazine, as prompted by the editor, which got regularly published in ‘Bartika’, of course with some editing and trimming. Some of them continued writing while a few others assumed new roles in life in the passage of time.
It is quite possible this was how the writer in Mahasweta always journeyed into the diametrically opposite poles of life and maintained her life and writings as powerful as ever. U.R. Ananthamurthy used to tell about the two kinds of debates on Ramayana held at the courtyard and the backyard of his house. The Ramayana that his father and his friends used to discuss and the one that his mother and her companions used to debate at the kitchen were poles apart, but that was what tempted him and it was travelling through this gulf in the views and visions that he became a writer, he said.
However, whenever Didi was asked about literature, her expression with a simple smile was, as if it was by accident that she became a writer and you may kindly forgive her! When she listened to the analysis about her world, made by her longtime companion G.N. Devy, at Tejgadh in Gujarat, for a project by me, Didi sat as if she was abashed while listening to it, at the same time engrossed in thought. G.N. Devy said it is the distance between the reality and imagination that creates ripples in her works, and when the story ends the reader is thrown into a serene world, in a state of uncertainty, as to what is real and what is imagination, and here lies the quintessence of her writings. Hearing this, Didi was more abashed and stole a look at me and the camera.
What gives immense possibility for the literature is that one could express such feelings in words and share it with the readers. In the wink of an eye it takes wings to the infinite skies. Writing does not need long runways to takeoff; it just flies high. The difference between a toddler and its father who drinks is that the toddler would go back to sleeping peacefully after being breastfed but to bring this idea into a film, we have to emancipate cinema from the literal ways of thinking.
Probably that is the reason why writers who have found place in the collection of documentary films in the archives of the Sahitya Akademi, are trapped in the styles reminding the data in the ledger books, which ultimately made the films look like mahassar reports, following which the writers, yielding before the arch lights, took the heavenly abode!
When we narrate the life of a writer-activist like Didi, it would be utterly childish and even embarrassing to let her walk down memory lane making her sit at her house. It was with this feeling which nagged me that I had the first clap of the film ‘Mahasweta Devi – Close-up’. On that day, I reached her place with the aim of capturing the rare moments of Didi meeting her longtime associate and colleague from Ranchi, Meghnath, after a gap of around 25 years. The light that flowed through the windows on either side of the room created such an ambience that the face of Didi tempted me like a macro close-up. If the camera focused on her, and her alone, Didi herself could become a mirror, I felt. Thus, through the sound tracks of the films that presented Didi before the world, her long and recurrent close-ups, the innocent expressions while watching Abbas Kiarostami’s ‘Five’, the wakeup call of the song that ‘Gao Chodab Nahin’ that Meghnath sang, the bombastic speeches of Rajeev Merhothra, the poignant voice of Navin Kishore… it was this way the celluloid experiment evolved moving forward and backward in time… through film and literature.
Didi watched this movie when she was in Kerala, sitting in the house of poet VM Girija. While going back, when the wheelchair rolled into Nedumbassary airport, she kissed me on my head to express the appreciation about this film. Then she laughed, reminding me about the commentary I made in the film that ‘I had to run to catch up with her when she walked along saying that now it’s up to you as to whatever you wanted to do’.
Didi… when all the vents to move forward are closed, when I run back to you (and you only), now in this 2020 Corona times, you are on the film screen, once again. When I see you in the new film, ‘Walking over water’, when the siren of the ambulances decide as to who is running forward and who is running backward, we are standing in the sun with the possibility of the abrupt ending, which is not at all artistic, looming over our head.

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