Documentary filmmaker K. P. Sasi, who used his craft to highlight people’s struggles across the country over the past four decades, passed away in Thrissur on December 25. He was 64.
One of the earliest to adopt documentary filmmaking in the country, and a scathing critic of the development model being followed by the Indian state, he has given a voice to the oppressed from Narmada valley to Kashipur.
Though he is the son of K.P. Damodaran, one of the founders of the Communist Party of India in Kerala, he was not swayed by politics until his late teens when he read his father’s works and was influenced by the wave of post-emergency activism. Starting out as a cartoonist, he realised that documentary was a more powerful medium for political expression after watching Anand Patwardhan’s 1978 documentary Prisoners of Conscience, based on the emergency and Tapan Bose’s An Indian story based on the Bhagalpur blinding incident.
His grounding in cartooning meant that satire was one of the main tools in his films. The biting sarcasm in his music video ‘America America’ in protest against the Afghanistan and Iraq wars (which according to him offended Indian Americans than Native Americans) is testimony to that.
“Documentary activists use a lot of pain and anger. Satire is more powerful and cannot be confronted easily. It is yet to be properly explored as a medium of political activism,” Sasi told The Hindu in an interview in 2012.
Over the years, he has documented Manipuri people’s struggle against AFSPA (Redefining peace), issues of water privatisation (Source of life for sale), displacement of tribals in Odisha (Development at gun point), Narmada issue (A valley refuses to die), climate change and many other pertinent issues of our time. His music video Gaon Chodab Nahin became one of the anthems of defiance for the natives of Kashipur in their struggle against the mining giants.
His feature films were also built around pertinent issues with Ilayum Mullum becoming a document on the everyday violence faced by women and Ek Alag Mausam highlighting the travails of those affected by HIV AIDS.
For him, documentary film-making was about studying an issue, clarifying questions and telling the truth to the world, something which he had found increasingly hard to do with the rising expenses in a ‘growth-oriented’ economy. He made his first film at Rs. 2000, an abysmally low sum unimaginable in today’s circumstances, but he continued to soldier on with his camera, even under trying circumstances.