Curator: Shohini Ghosh
Name artist: AJK Mass Communication Research Centre
Title of the work you have chosen: The Song of the `Other’ Firefly
English title: The Song of the `Other’ Firefly
Year of production: 2014
Format: DVC Pro HD
The film was as a final project for the Masters in Mass Communication, at the AJK Mass Communication Research Centre at Jamia Millia Islamia, a Central University in New Delhi. The names (in alphabetical order)of the students who made the film are: Abhijeet Bhatt, Abhishekh Anid Dutta, Meghna Talwar, Nagma Sahi Ansari,
About the curator
Name: Shohini Ghosh
Your work: Professor, AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia
What is your main interest: My areas of interest and study are documentary films, popular cinema, contemporary media, censorship and sexuality studies.
Short resume: Shohini Ghosh is Sajjad Zaheer Professor at the AJK Mass Communication Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, (Central University) New Delhi, India. She is the director of Tales of the Nightfairies (2002) a documentary about the sex workers Rights movement in Calcutta and the author Fire: A Queer Classic (2010) published by Arsenal Pulp Press, Canada and Orient Publishing in India. Ghosh has been Visiting Professor at a number of universities within and outside India and has had a long association with the Sexuality, Gender and Rights Institute. Ghosh writes on contemporary media, speech and censorship, popular cinema, documentary and issues of gender and sexuality. Her current work is titled Violence and the Spectral Muslim: Action, Affect and Bombay Cinema at the Turn of the 20th Century.
About the film and the filmmakers:
What can you tell about this film?
A young woman, her hair flying in the breeze, stands on an elevation looking at the city of Delhi. She can hear voices. Cavalier comments by men about the violence that women face. They comment on her clothing, behaviour, movement, appearance and how she frequently invites trouble upon herself. “Boys make mistakes” says one speaker about rape. Joining the cacophony is the voice of a leading woman politician who declares that a raped woman is only as good as a living corpse. The young protagonist has heard enough. She shuts out the swirl of voices with her earphones and as the soundtrack fills with the sound of a Jugni song, begins her journey.
Jugni, the Punjabi word for a `female firefly, is an idea, a spirit and a provocation. The robust tradition of Jugni songs, immortalized on both of the India-Pakistan border, is a confluence of folk and mystical traditions. Moving away from the observational mode, the Song of the `Other’ Firefly is a poetic assertion of women’s independence, a feminist reclamation and a musical journey that celebrates the living legacy of Jugni songs. This rebellious road movie joins the public outcry that followed the brutal gang-rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey, a 23 year old physiotherapist in Delhi on December 16, 2012. The savage crime brought people pouring out onto the streets in protest.
An embodiment of female transgressive energy, Jugni is constantly on the move, seeking, observing and speaking. Embodying this idea, the film moves through time and space collecting vignettes from past and present histories and collating, as it were, the many renditions of Jugni songs. As the lyrics demonstrate, Jugni effortlessly crosses all borders – of geography, religion, ethnicity, gender and nation-states – that come her way. Moving between confinement and freedom, stillness and mobility, the protagonist eventually realizes that Jugni is never on the outside but always inside those who seek her. The search for Jugni is one of self-discovery but one for which women must travel distances both literally and metaphorically.
The Song of the `Other’ Firefly is a celebration of all women but a special homage to Jyoti Singh who galvanized the public through her courage in the face of savage violence. The climax of the film is preceded by an animation sequence in which the protagonist walks through the streets of Delhi, passing famous landmarks, braving good weather and bad. She reaches the Munirka bus stop, from where Jyoti had alighted on the bus that fateful evening. She stops to look before resuming her walk. As she moves ahead, the camera continues to look at the bus stop; the new and unforgettable memorial that has now been added to the cityscape of Delhi.
How does this film relates to the theme ‘politics and poetry’ in your opinion?
The Song of the `Other’ Firefly is a dissident text but instead of protesting through an activist mode of filmmaking, that has a long tradition in India, the film chooses the path of poetry and lyricism. Like poetry, the film does not separate form from content.
Are politics and poetry (or politics and arts) two separate worlds according to you? Why / why not?
Poetry can be as political and incendiary as the pamphlet. The combination of art and politics has always been a threat to oppressive governments. Let me quote one instance from India. For the last two years, members of an artists’ platform called Kabir Kala Manch (hereafter, KKM) have been arrested and incarcerated without trial under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). The KKM poets and artists had been forced to go into hiding in 2011 following the arrest and torture of two of their members by the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS). While no evidence has been produced against them, they continue to be imprisoned without bail because they are seen to be ideologically affiliated to Maoists. Poetry in defence of the powerless has had a long history of suppression. Renowned poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Pablo Neruda, Fredrico Garcia Lorca, Nazim Hikmet have been imprisoned for their poetry. In India, artist and writers have come under regular attack.
There are a lot of political tensions and changes in the world right now. Do you (already) notice any changes in the focus and/or ideas and work of artists because of these developments? Do you have examples?
In an era of suppression and terrible violence, it is heartening that art and poetry continue to survive and inspire. I am inspired by the art, literature and poetry that emerge from Kashmir in India that has, over the last twenty years, suffered and survived the most repressive and brutal violence unleashed by the state.
In addition to the theme of ‘Politics and poetry’, are there any other comparisons between this artist and Ivens according to you?
I personally think that Joris Ivens would have approved of the style and treatment of the film and the filmmakers decision to not rely on the indexical power of the camera alone but to use it to express a strong subjectivity thereby forging a strong link with poetry.