Documentary filmmaker and activist Saratchandran's filmography reads like a chronicle of the history of resistance in Kerala during the last few decades
For the various peoples' movements in Kerala, the passing away of Saratchandran, documentary filmmaker and activist, is a heart-wrenching loss of a dear comrade and relentless chronicler. He was an integral part of all the major popular struggles in the region during the last few decades. Right from the legendary Silent Valley movement and Mavoor struggle against Gwalior Rayons, to the popular protest at Plachimada against Coca Cola and the Chengara land rights struggle, he was there, rubbing shoulders with them, sharing their dreams and frustrations. Sarat's filmography literally reads like a chronicle of the history of resistance in Kerala during the last decades on major fronts – environment, anti-pollution, displacement, right to land and livelihood.
Documenting the world
For Sarat, filmmaking was a political act where cinema accomplished one of its most elemental of qualities: to ‘document' the world before it and to bring those images back to the people. Sarat was a virtual conduit of images between the world and Kerala, taking images of local resistance to the world and vice versa. The very process of filmmaking he adopted involved the people at all stages – from background research and shooting to distribution and exhibition. For him, filmmaking did not end with the making of a film; he travelled extensively to create a network of filmmakers, activist groups, and campuses in order to show films and open up new horizons for youngsters and activists alike. He was not averse to new technologies. As an activist involved in political and environmental issues, he sensed that video technology was more mobile, affordable and accessible than the celluloid.
He took on to the VHS format to make films such as ‘Save the Western Ghats March: The Kerala Experience' (1987), ‘No to Dams A Pooyamkutty Tale' (1988) and ‘Ellam Asthamikkum Munpe' (1989). These films dealt not only with issues and problems, but also with pro-active and affirmative action by various movements, in the process probing into some very vital areas of Kerala society, environment and politics.
After this brief but vibrant stint of activism in Kerala, he left for the Gulf to work as an Education Promotion Consultant for British Council. His aim was to earn enough money to buy necessary equipment to engage in independent filmmaking back home. His first major film was ‘Chaliyar: The Final Struggle' (1999), which he co-directed with P. Baburaj, about the peoples' struggle at Mavoor against the pollution caused by Gwalior Rayons factory.
The film earned Special Mention at the Mumbai International Film Festival 2000 and The Bronze Tree Award, Vatavaran 2002. It was followed by ‘Kanavu' (2001) on a tribal children's commune in Wayanad. In the coming years he made films in association with Baburaj at regular intervals: ‘The Bitter Drink' (2003) on the Plachimada struggle received international acclaim and was shown in various festivals in India and abroad. His next film was on the police firing against Adivasis at Muthanga titled ‘Evicted from Justice - a video report on Muthanga massacre' (2003).
‘Only An Axe Away' (2005) was about the Pathrakadavu project. This film won the Jury Prize, MIFF, 2008. His next film ‘1000 Days and A Dream' (2006), co-directed with Baburaj, returned to Plachimada to take stock of the people's resistance at Plachimada which was going on for more than three years. This film also received acclaim at the 10th MIFF.
Next was a video essay on his favourite film maker, John Abraham – ‘Your's Truly John' (2008), which was shot over several years and involved hundreds of people who were associated with John in various ways. During the next year he made another film about the struggle for land at Chengara ‘To die for land – the ultimate sacrifice.' Some of his projects are in different stages of completion: one is a follow up on the Mavoor struggle, ‘The River Which Flowed Back,' about Chaliyar river which was flowing back to its pre-pollution days. Another one was about the pollution caused by the gelatine factory near Chalakudy.
The touring festival of documentaries and short films that he organised on his own – Nottam – was a rare and pioneering one of its kind, a forerunner of the video festivals that were to follow later. The Vibgyor at Thrissur, an annual film festival that showcases films on socio-political issues, was, in fact, a more organised form of Nottam, and Sarat was the driving force behind it.
With the departure of Sarat, we have a lost a dear friend and comrade, companion and chronicler, who travelled with us yet gave us added dimensions to our strides and stumbles.