Mythology as a political tool

Independent filmmaker Kamal Swaroop talks about his fascination with mythology, Battle of Banaras, and the controversies around the latest edition of IFFI.


FILM director Kamal Swaroop, whose last project Battle of Banaras was blocked by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) in 2015, has returned with Pushkar Puran. It is the opening film of the Non-Feature section of Indian Panorama at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa. In an interview, Swaroop talks about his fascination with mythology, Battle of Banaras, and the controversies around the latest edition of IFFI.

Why did you decide to return to Pushkar again after your previous documentary on the Pushkar Mela?

I go to Pushkar every year, and shoot something everytime. While Image Meets the Shadow (2004) was about myths, and how people interact with them, Pushkar Puran is inspired by Italian writer Roberto Calasso’s Ka: Stories of the Mind and Gods of India. The film focuses on ‘the search for the fifth head of Bramha’, which Shiva had cut and carried away with him, and the Ashwamedh Yajna that happens there.

Since Om Dar Ba Dar (1988), you have been engaging with mythology. Where does this interest come from?

I grew up listening to myths. I’m also deeply interested in archaeology and its relation to mythology. In our country, people use mythology as a political tool. Myths are moulded to suit financial, social and political needs.

Battle of Banaras didn’t see an India release although it was appreciated abroad. This year, Pushkar Puran is opening the non-feature section of Indian Panorama at IFFI so your work is being recognised by the same political structure which blocked you in the past.

It’s a matter of chance. They thought that Battle of Banaras was an anti-government film; it isn’t true. But the CBFC must have thought of blocking it to safeguard the government. In fact, Pushkar Puran wasn’t submitted to the CBFC, before it was sent for IFFI. Now I have submitted it to them, and I am expecting trouble. They might say that it propagates or portrays wrong myths. They might even point out cruelty against animals.

Swaroop at his apartment in Mumbai.

As someone who has had a long association with Pushkar, how have you seen the town changing?

About 35-40 years ago, when I would visit Pushkar, there wasn’t much tourism there. Only the villagers would come to the mela to sell and buy animals. There was little employment. After tourists started coming in, it grew and became a prosperous town. That was also the time when the state government realised that Pushkar is a big tourist attraction. Nowadays, the government pours in money to create a spectacle. It’s become an event which is managed by several event management firms. Homes have turned into hotels and restaurants.

At IFFI this year, Nude by Ravi Jadhav and S Durga by Sanal Sasidharan have been dropped from the Indian Panorama section. How do you see this?

It’s everybody’s own fight. I didn’t get a CBFC certificate for Om Dar Ba Dar for two years, and it was rejected for the Indian Panorama section. Battle of Banaras was blocked from releasing in India. I didn’t shout about it. If it’s not working, it’s not working. I didn’t go crazy about people not accepting the films or blocking them. I just don’t think about these things.

How do you see the controversy of IFFI dropping films?

There’s no need to block or stop the films. Nobody can do much harm specially with films. There’s no need (for the government) to get touchy about it. If the jury has selected them, then respect the jury; their selection is like a judgement.

We hear you are returning to fiction after Om Dar Ba Dar?

Yes. The film is called Omniyam, based on The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien. It’s about a person who is dead but he doesn’t know it yet. It’s a comic-crime thriller.

You are also making a film about Kashmiri Pandits?

I’m shooting in Ujjain, Jaipur, Ajmer and Meerut, where my four sisters live. The film does not focus on the Kashmiri Pandit issue alone, nor on conflict and terrorism. It’s mostly about a family which left Kashmir in 1958, and whose members are now scattered in various cities. Their children don’t speak Kashmiri anymore. What the projects seeks to examine is the sense of belonging and the idea of home. Have they reconciled with their new identity? What happens to the Kashmiri identity when they become a part of the national mainstream?

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