There are times when you begin to wonder about what it means to do what you do, even if you are deeply involved with your work. Report, write poetry, dance, cook, make films - when will it really start to matter?
One of the times I can remember thinking - actually starting to use my mind and heart and conscience - about where I was headed was in college. P. Sainath had come in for a guest lecture and began talking even as he rolled up his sleeves (quite literally) and began to unburden the class of its collective ignorance about India.
The more I listened to him, the more I questioned my world, the vapid predictability of my ambitions, and the sweet lies we allow ourselves under the guise of media.
Knowledge is a powerful thing. And the point of media is to disseminate knowledge. 'Mass media' is to reach out to the masses. Through newspapers, television, films, radio - this is what we do. Help people gain the tools that they can use to chart their lives. But why do we sign up for mass media? Why do millions of youngsters feel driven towards media courses? Why are people lobbying to get media included even at the pre-graduate levels of study as a specialisation?
I am reasonably certain that they are not driven to do what Sainath does. Or what a small handful of others do whenever they find a media vehicle that allows them a voice. Or those who get up and do something that seems important even if they cannot find a media vehicle that will let them reach out to the masses. One such venture is Nero's Guests, made by Deepa Bhatia, who works as an editor for mainstream Hindi films.
The film is well-made, of course. But it is more than just a good documentary. The word that springs to my mind is 'important'. It is more important than any recent film which purports to be propped up on the rockbed of social conscience. It tells a powerful story of inequality and strange truths that pass for justice and freedom in our country. Through Sainath's work, the film tells us about ourselves.
I think it should be watched and not because it needs a pat on the back from approving, socially aware citizens. The film doesn't need us. We need the film. And we don't need the film to apologize for us, to make us feel that we're somehow more responsible because we showed up to watch a 'different' film. We need it to recover a small part of ourselves that used to be honest and believed in justice.