‘The Colour of Darkness’ raises vital issues

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By Urvish Kothari

(Translated from Gujarati by Neesha Parikh Sanghvi)

While editing a film-special issue of ‘Dalitshakti’ magazine—a Gujarati monthly dedicated to Dalit issues, I found a glaring absence of heartfelt movies based on caste discrimination. Of course, there are movies right from ‘Acchut Kanya’(1935), ‘Acchut’(1940) to ‘Aarakshan’ (2011), but they are more focused on sympathy than talking about rights or equality. How would a film portraying the bitter reality and wide sweep of caste discrimination look? I could not find the answer.

Nick Clooney (Hollywood actor George Clooney’s Dad, a noted journalist) must have faced a similar predicament while writing ‘The Movies That Changed Us’. He could not find a single film doing complete justice to the discrimination faced by the Blacks in the US. Clooney included many films and discussed its social impact in the book. Then he wrote a chapter called “The Film That Was Never Made”, to stress absence of a genuine movie depicting evil of racism.

I am not sure about Clooney, but for me, I found the answer in Girish Makwana`s ‘The Colour of Darkness’. This film brings two issues – racism and casteism in one fold, in one story. This is probably the first film to link both kinds of discrimination, and portray a nuanced reality. For this very reason, it can be called The Film That Was Never Made.

Girish Makwana (Music, Writer, Director) himself was a fighter from a young age. He not only fought casteism but also polio, to be where he is today. He possesses a distinct personality which sticks in your mind after just one meeting. He is classically trained to play tabla and his hair falls like that of Ustad Zakir Hussain. He always has a scarf-like gamchha around his neck and a distinct way of talking. His first impression might be filmy but that is far from reality. As soon as you get to know him, you realize how grounded and talented he is. Warmth and happiness reflected in personal interaction with him. He can swiftly and easily switch between Australian English and Charotari Gujarati.

In 2009, when attacks on Indian students happened in Melbourne, Girish was there. The Indian media was calling Australia a racist country but Girish himself wasn’t quite sure. While he condemned the attacks, he himself had rarely faced racism in all the years he had stayed in Australia. Besides, Girish thought who were Indians really to call anyone racist? A system as old and as atrocious as the caste system doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. With due apologies to Gujarati poet Khabardar who wrote “Wherever a Gujarati lives, there is one Gujarat there”, and only a little exaggeration, I can say that – anywhere an Indian lives, the caste system also lives there. Indians practice the idea of casteism wherever they live. Even when they migrate overseas, they carry it with them. And then, they complain about racism. Doesn’t anyone else see the irony in this?

This is the central idea of the movie. Girish developed the story with this as its core theme. He has studied in Australia taking his Masters degree in Film and Television, so directing was not an issue but production was! Budget requirements were in dollars which was a problem because there were so few and his resources were so limited. But how can something like money stop Girish! He was determined to make this movie, and on his own terms. He started the journey to make this film and met people of different kinds from all across the globe who believed in his story, his vision.

Girish Makwana
Girish is patient, hardworking and talented which made possible to work on meager funds. He found his biggest support in Lorraine Grigg. In spite of not being a producer, or having spare money, she agreed to produce this movie. Like Lorraine, Girish found other supporters who invested in his passion. But before all of this capital rolled in, Girish had cashed out his five-digit credit limit on all his credit cards and started shooting the movie in India.

The Indian part of the movie is shot in Gujarati and the rest in English. (A Hindi edition of the film was also made). The music of the film draws your attention almost immediately and then holds it throughout the film. It is embedded in the story and becomes part of the storytelling process. The songs, which are composed by Girish, stay in your mind even after the movie is over. When this film was released in India, Ravish Kumar (NDTV’s top Hindi news anchor) did an interview with Girish and made a special mention of its music.

While watching the film, it is impossible to know that it was made on such a limited budget, or the know efforts made to make all the ends meet. (According to imdb, the movie is made on budget of approx. 30 Lakh AUD). The movie feels like it has been produced by an experienced production house (in terms of production value). The English part of the film holds attention through vividness, performance, and scenes. There are some issues with dialogue and acting in Gujarati part but they are somewhat necessary for the story to be told as they reflect a time of past and village life.

For novelists it is said, the first few novels were written are a reflection of their personal life and life history. This film as well is a reflection of Girish’s life. The Gujarat part of the film is inspired by the life experience of Girish’s father, Kantibhai Makwana. We can also see Girish himself twice in this film (one is a long shot of him play tabla in a concert performance and the other as the hero’s roommate) but his subtle presence can be felt in many places – from the hero’s dressing style, which is similar to Girish in real life, to the real name of the village in Gujarat, Tundel. The hero of the film is also called Giriraj and called Giri in the film. Sahil Saluja, who plays Giri displays good acting skills while Vidya Makan looks very comfortable and impressive in her performance.

This film aims to make its audience think to consider issues of racism and casteism and its success lies in the fact that it does achieve that.

I congratulate Girish Makwana, Lorriane Grigg and all others associated with this film for a well-made, balanced and visually spectacular film on such distinct topic. The movie has been released and we now have to wait for its DVD to come out. I recommend everyone to watch this film on DVD whenever it comes out.

(Original blog post in Gujarati)

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