Shabnam Virmani, maker of the award-winning film on Kabir, says the saint-poet taught us to explore the margins of reality
Six hundred years after his time, Kabir is found occupying places most unanticipated, both sacred and secular. Kabira Khada Bazaar Mein, a documentary film by Shabnam Virmani on the poet-saint as part of her Kabir Project, has won the Special Jury Prize at the 58th National Awards. As she puts it, the film “interweaves his deification by the Kabir Panth sect with his secular appropriation by the social activist group Eklavya”. Shabnam speaks:
Do you feel vindicated by the National Award?
I find it deeply ironic and amusing that the Government has seen fit to give the National Award to a film that they first tried to censor out of existence. Kabira Khada Bazaar Mein was first denied a censor certificate on the grounds that it could “hurt the religious sentiments” of the Kabir Panth sect that features in the crux of the debate that unfolds in the film. We had to fight for the censor certificate. Yes, it is true that a smaller minority from within the Kabir Panth reacted with great hostility towards this film and its main protagonist, the Malwi folk singer Prahlad Tipanya, whose life choices pose a challenge to certain orthodox practices within certain sections of the Kabir Panth. It is nice to get a National Award, but I think my true vindication derives more from the appreciative audiences and Kabir Panthis who are in touch with us and who are actively using this to generate a critical debate amongst themselves about the meanings we make of Kabir in our social and spiritual worlds.
I think I am vindicated in far deeper and profound ways to see the maturity and wisdom inherent in the public, whose “sentiments” are not as easily ruffled as our knee-jerk over-reactive censoring authorities would have it.
How did Kabir come about in your life?
Perhaps I was searching for a way of making peace in the world outside and also within myself. Kabir began to show me some clues towards that.
Working out of Yelahanka is like working from the margins. However, it has strong historical connections.
I know very little about Yelahanka or its history. But I like being on the margins; I thrive there. I thrive on the margins of the institution Srishti School of Design. I thrive in the oft-considered marginal form of the documentary film. Kabir himself relentlessly pushes us to the margins — to the spaces that exist between centred, fixed notions of ourselves and reality. Margins pose a challenge. It's a great place to be.
Keywords: National Awards