Filmmaker Gopal Menon says documentary films have an edge over new media

Gopal Menon’s parents wouldn’t let him go to a film school, hence he had to pursue other subjects. “So I went to law school but dropped out of it and then went on to do management. Even though I completed it, I never put my management degree to use. This was also the time I used to explore my filmmaking urge. My first film was made when I was in my second year of graduation,” says Gopal Menon who was in the city to screen his latest documentary, Killing Fields of Muzaffarnagar, at the University of Hyderabad. Gopal also had a group discussion with the students followed by the screening to an open audience.

The film with English and Hindi subtitles has already been screened in several centres and earned critical appreciation from the audiences. “Killings fields of Muzzafarnagar has ‘real’ footage of what happened as a well doctored event in Western UP last year. The amount of violence that took place in Muzzafarnagar wasn’t witnessed even during the time of partition. Even during the Babri Masjid demolition, Hindus and Muslims in Muzaffarnagar were untouched by communal riots. Not to forget the gender violence that took place this time,” adds Menon.

The real footage, he says came from what couldn’t be aired by some news channels. “So in a way documentary filmmaking has an edge over new media,” he asserts.

Menon has started his film career with a documentary on the destruction of tropical evergreen forests in the Nilgiri biosphere. While still a student of Business Administration, he started working with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) on the organised violence on Muslims in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, and the subsequent bomb blasts in the city.

Following this, he documented the Naga and Kashmiri political movements since 1998. “Two films have evolved from this — Naga Story: The Other Side of Silence (on the Naga struggle) and PAPA 2 (on enforced disappearances in Kashmir). My film Hey Ram!! Genocide in the Land of Gandhi, on the Gujarat riots, was the first on the subject, and was widely used to raise awareness about the riots,” he says, tracking his body of work.

Are his topics and method of story-telling lucrative enough? “In terms of opening minds and showing the truth it is. But financially the struggle remains. But I am not giving up. So saying, with the 48-minute documentary ‘Killing fields…. I am also working on five other projects which are near completion. Even though money is hard to come, the passion to show something true isn’t dying,” smiles Gopal.