Directed by Parviz Batada | Review by Prarthana Mitra
[dropcap]P[/dropcap]arviz Batada’s short film Jawaab La-Jawaab is a testimony to what can be achieved by an amateur filmmaker who has a clear vision and a penchant for telling stories. With no prior experience in film direction, this short film based on Mahatma Gandhi’s life and teachings followed a short foundational course in the cinematic craft that Batada took under the Ahmedabad Management Association. Considering this as Batada’s first attempt at visual narration, the film recreates a fairly accurate picture of India during the freedom struggle.
The plot deals ostensibly with Gandhiji’s outlook on caste- and class-based segregation in the Indian railways, and his attempts at bringing about a change in public perception. A Wonderful Reply, as the film’s English name goes, deftly extrapolates this story as Batada remembers being told in his childhood, and his own faith in Gandhi’s teachings of austerity and simplicity.
This is reflected particularly in the tender and dignified treatment of the principal character, played by Deepak Antani, who depicts the larger-than-life figure in essence and spirit, commanding screen presence with his stately yet calm delivery.
The film, however, opens in a contemporary Indian household, where Baapu inevitably comes up as a talking point, be it at the dinner table or in history textbooks, to this day. A mother and her daughter soon turn into narrators who take the story forward and we enter a second visual space. This is where the primary plot, concerning Gandhi’s innocuous and eponymous reply, begins.
The film gets its name from Gandhi’s response to two visitors who enquired him about his unwavering principle when it came to traveling by railway. The reason he eventually provides for commuting only by second class, when most politicians and statesmen preferred the first, goes on to show that Gandhi was among the rare breed who actually practiced what he preached. It also sheds important light on the role he played in empowering the marginalized at a time when most powerful figures in the country ignored their interests, rights and limits.
Music plays a very crucial role in Gandhi’s ashram at Sabarmati, Gujarat, as it does in Batada’s film. A considerable portion of the film is spent in one such ‘sabha’ which begins with devotional music and captures the message of the film even before the visitors arrive.
After the two young interlocutors ask him the question which ultimately leads to the titular reply, the film’s resemblance with a period film or historical documentary is complete. According to the director, this reply sums up the entire Gandhian philosophy. At the same time, it also marks a seminal moment in the countrywide battle against casteism, discrimination and economic disparity that shaped the era’s politics immediately before and after independence.
There is a good balance between indoor and outdoor shots, pans and static takes, although the art design in the opening scenes along with the delivery could have been infinitely better. Having said that, by basing his debut project on a popular anecdote from Gandhiji’s life, Batada has rightly settled for a subject that he feels comfortable with and confident of.
Prarthana is presently in between odd jobs and obtaining her master’s degree in literature. She loves modern poetry and meditative cinema. Based out of Calcutta, Prarthana observes people, football, films and enjoys writing about all three. Of late, she relates to Frank Ocean’s music. Her writing experience consists of writing for various sites such as Try Cinema, The Indian Economist, Doing The Rondo, Saintbrush and various academic journals.