An Interview with Rakesh Sharma (Director)
To Convey the Truth To as Many People as Possible
Q: Muslims and Hindus, people in antagonistic positions, appear one after another in the film. What was your own position when you did the filming?
RS: To the best of my ability, I was aiming to film with impartiality, from a neutral position. After all, the victims and the aggressors each have their own side of the story to tell, and both Muslims and Hindus have been brainwashed for the elections. But I think they answered my questions with the understanding that I don’t belong to their political parties, and that my name, Rakesh Sharma, would let them know that I am Hindu. When it comes to the tragedy that happened in the state of Gujarat, I think outsiders have a more impartial perspective than people within. I’d say the problem is that all the media is being obstructed by Hindu right-wing influence. At first I too had stones hurled at me, and I was on the verge of being arrested on numerous occasions by the police and information bureau because of a political rally. But we have no option but to forge on ahead, regardless of the obstructions that arise.
Q: Were you ever tempted to voice your opinions on people’s political madness?
RS: I don’t approach filming from the outset by agreeing with the other person’s opinion. The most important thing for me as a filmmaker is to shoot the actual situation chronologically, just as it happens. Second, I give weight to history and the individual’s personality. For example, if there’s a murderer, I approach the interview by asking them what they actually did, even if I know that they committed murder. With political things as well, you can’t find the truth unless you pursue it always with a dispassionate stance.
Q: I got the impression that religion is deeply imbedded in the lives of people in the region.
RS: The antagonism in this region is not caused by religion. I think the problem is politics, when political intentions are inserted into people’s lives. After all, this is a region where Muslims and Hindus have lived together for over a thousand years. If you order tali, a full Indian meal, at a restaurant, the potato and chili have come from Portugal, and the spices and pickles are Muslim. Even though the existence of food like that is such incontrovertible proof, various political forces started drawing lines and dividing people. Particularly in the 1990s the Hindi right-wing forces got political power and tried to parade their ideas in a lot of different areas, like police uniforms and school education. As a result, the top Muslim students had to move into Hindu neighborhoods, and economic violence was committed against Muslims there. A big motivation for this film production was asking whether this kind of “ghettoization” was happening in other areas.
Q: I understand that you’ve taken an unconventional approach to screening the film, like distributing mass quantities of DVDs. What are your intentions?
RS: It was mainly a campaign to get screening permission from the censor board of India, but it took too long—two years in court to get permission to screen the film. So I made ten thousand copies and said people could freely make their own copies, and gave them away for free to as many people as possible, including cable TV stations, political reviews, NGOs, telephone operators, and university students. In total around 200,000 copies circulated in India. I did it to convey the film to the so-called masses, so they could become aware of the issues—a strata of people who until now hadn’t been interested in documentary film, in particular people who do not have access to enough facts and information because they are underprivileged in terms of education or income.
(Compiled by Sato Hiroaki)
Interviewers: Sato Hiroaki, Ishii Rei / Interpreter: Kawashima Emiko
Photography: Sato Akari / Video: Saito Kenta / 2005-10-12