Jai Bhim Comrade – Anand Patwardhan


JAN 10, 2012

Love Lane, Mazgaon

Anand Patwardhan’s latest story ‘Jai Bhim Comrade’ captures the most important among the thousands of conflicts in India, the fight for equality by the Dalits of Maharashtra and the attitude and the resulting actions of the rest.It was screened at the BITS Chawl, situated on Love Lane, Mazgaon, behind Byculla Police Station. The compound behind Byculla Station had a big crowd yesterday evening because there was a big Police Van with the pale skinned Bar Girls who were captured in raids last week waiting to go somewhere and everybody there was trying to see how white-white the Bar Girls are.

BITS Chawl, a relatively large chawl, is a short walk from the Police Station and is home to mostly working-class Marathi-speakers. It’s supposed to be associated with the Ambedkar movement and its followers but it’s infamous for troubles during the Hindu-Muslim riots. The official name of Love Lane is Sheth Moti Shah Marg.I had no clue about what the film was about and I was surprised by the powerful sound system that was being tuned in preparation for the screening. To avoid getting deaf in one ear, I found seat in the middle and that was the best decision of the evening. Because the film turned out to be a fabulous musical trip.Jai Bhim Comrade is the story of a Dalit poet-singer Vilas Ghogre, from a Mulund-East slum with a powerful voice, even more powerful words, and an excellent band with simple struments to whip up passions. Many of the words in his poetry, written in the 80s and early 90s are however about an ideal communist paradise which are unattainable.He committed suicide following the killing of 10 people from Ramabai Colony, adjoining the Eastern Express Highway in 1997 in police firing following the desecration of a Dr Ambedkar Statue. The film follows the case until the conviction of the Police Officer who ordered the firing. But what holds the film together and the attention of the audience are the songs. The poetry that rolls of the lips of ordinary but extraordinary people – the music of the people.

There are more than a few dozen stories in this documentary. You can pick up the threads of each one of them and follow them. The story of the singers, political movements, the Marathi language of the chawls and villages, the propaganda of the left, right and the dalits, the story of money in Mumbai and Maharashtra politics, the living conditions of the ghettos, the comparison of living in a chawl now and a decade back. The stories of individual politicians provide the comic relief. The story of the main caste groups in India and the many stories that are cultivated to mobilise people. The story of neo-buddhism. There’s a very interesting story of the Dalit Panther founder – Bhai Sangari using his speeches. There’s the story of the threat of godification of Dr Ambedkar caused by his devotees. And then there is the story of Pune’s Kabir Kala Manch and their singers. The Indian Rage Against Against The Machine and the odd thing is that they aren’t rebels or fighting for anarchy, they are fighting for democracy.

The film is 3 hours long and if you are interested in the subject, you would probably have to watch it another time to pick up the different threads you would’ve missed.

But the main story remains that of Vilas Ghogre who kills himself. He prefers to do so as a Dalit. You will have to see the film to know how he leaves that message. While the Ramabai Killings and the Dalit cause seems to be the trigger for his action, there are several layers to the story, his as well as the Dalit story, to make him take such an extreme step. Look out for the wedding shots of Vilas’ son, years after his death, to provide some of the reasons. And of the main reason for his act and an important story in this film is the story of Mumbai from the 50s to the present from a Dalit perspective.

Jai Bhim Comrade is also Jai Bhim Comrade Mumbaikar.