Once upon a time, there was a king who oppressed his subjects. A century and another king later, nothing changed. One young peasant decided to oppose the king's tyranny, but was killed by the king's men. The onlooking angry subjects began an armed revolt. Several decades of toil and oppression finally kicked off the throne. Democracy set in, and the people lived happily ever after. Almost.
This incomplete fairytale is that of Nepal, and portraying its colourful history since the time of Prithvi Narain Shah's rule in 1770, is Anand Swaroop Verma's documentary film Flames Of The Snow. The film depicts the chain of events and circumstances that led to the people's movement under the leadership of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). What's interesting is that unlike the gory images of ideological violence in our country that pepper the news channels' prime time, this film details the ideological basis of the revolution. It also includes an interview of Maoist supremo Prachanda, describing the genesis of the armed movement in 1996. As Verma puts it, "The revolution was under threat as there was enough international funding to douse the fire. There was only a distorted image of the struggle. Being a journalist who had covered the revolution since its inception in the 90s, I knew that there was a different truth which had to be shown to the world." Until last year, Verma was writing for the Hindi daily Jansatta.
Verma's book Rongpa Se Dolpa Tak was one of the first voices of the movement — it documented the genesis of the movement in Rongpa, and how it evolved by the time it reached Dolpa. Understandably, his name was not new for Nepalese households and the crew got access to shoot in the thickest jungles infested by Maoists.
Wouldn't it have been simpler for a filmmaker rather than a journalist to make this film? Director and editor Ashish Shrivastava presents a contemporary analogy: "The media sporadically gives us statistics about the growing number of farmer suicides, but does not delve deeper into the reasons. Verma was clear in his head about the reasons why the Maoist revolution had such a strong support base among the working class in Nepal. In fact, when we went there to shoot, everyone from the waiter to the hotel's bellboy was a Maoist. The essence of the film is the ideology, and not the violence." Both Verma and Shrivastava are sure that they may not be able to make a similar film about the current Red revolution in India.
It was at Shrivastava's behest that Verma scripted the film. Not surprisingly, interviews with historians and activists dot the 125-minute movie. But as Shrivastava puts it, "Not a single scene is longer that four seconds at a stretch. I was sure about Verma's thorough groundwork. My only concern was the narrative. The film had to look interesting. After all, we were dealing with a very interesting subject. And certain events have been dramatised." A unique feature of the revolution, which has been captured in the film, is that women comprised 40 per cent of Maoist cadres.
Filmed over a period of three years, Flames Of The Snow was banned by the Indian Censor Board in June this year.
Their reason? "Any justification or romanticisation of the Maoist ideology of extremism or of violence, coercion, intimidation in achieving its objectives would not be in the public interest, particularly keeping in view the recent Maoist violence in some parts of the country." Eventually, the ban was lifted last month by a Revising Committee of the Censor Board, without any deletions, but with a disclaimer added that the substance of the film had been compiled from various media publications.
Ironically, a scene from the film showing the burning of Israeli and American flags by Palestinians was deleted during its screening in Nepal, as the Nepal government's foreign policy is to maintain good relations with all nations.
The big question: Will Flames Of The Snow impact the revolution in India? "The Nepalese had to fight the monarchy. Indian Maoists are fighting the illegal grabbing of natural resources by MNCs. But it is tough to talk about the influence of the Nepal experiment in India," says Verma, choosing his words carefully. He knows that the film will be watched in India widely —if not among the masses, then surely among the IB, which keeps a tab on every person who may utter the 'red' word. Till then, Verma is confident that he will be able to reply to any query from any audience which has been taught to believe that Maoists are terrorists.
Flames Of The Snow will be screened on Aug 30 at Prithvi
House at 6 pm and on Sept 1 at TISS (old campus) at 6.15 pm