On the Bandra-Mahim junction, there is a very famous statue with a quote by Dr V.V. Kamat- ‘A child gives birth to a mother’. The documentary, ‘A Rifle and A Bag’ by Arya Rothe, Cristina Hanes and Isabela Rinaldi amongst other things encapsulate the quote very beautifully. The film is an intimate portrayal of Somi, a former Naxalite who surrendered along with her husband with the hope to provide a better life for their two children. It is based in a camp in interior parts of Maharashtra set up by the government for former Naxalites.
Now, first of all, let me be clear, I know very little about the Naxalism in India but on a simple google search, I found that it is considered as a greater danger than terrorism by the establishment, as it is currently affecting around 22 states of our country. There are polarizing articles almost preaching Pro Naxal and Anti Naxal narratives. I am still trying to understand the various forms of oppression, the origin of it and their current state in our country. Nevertheless, what I think (in all my naivety) is the first step towards fighting any oppression is imparting education and Somi understands it more than we do. That’s what she fights for throughout the film.
But does anyone care, especially when you are on the wrong side of the margin. The powerful make laws and put in systems to pretend that they are helping. But in turn, what they are creating is a more complex maze that will leave the oppressed bewildered. Standing in ATM Lines, Standing in line to prove their identity or walking miles to reach home in a pandemic without adequate food, the biggest sufferers are always the marginalised.
Despite all this, this film rarely catches Somi in a vulnerable state. She sings songs of resilience around the fire every night to find the inner strength to keep up her fight. The silences between the family conversations tell more about the relationship of Somi and her husband (much younger to her) than words could ever express.
One of the most important aspects of a documentary film set up your relationship with the protagonist, both while making and watching. Kudos to the makers for making us believe that we are a part of Somi’s journey. The frames created by the makers also try to supplement what is going on in her mind. The frontal framing seems very deliberate so that Somi looks in control of the situation. Rarely, when she is anxious and uncertain, it is shot in the cramped and dingy space of the camp mostly at night. In the later moments of the film, when she opens up to her son a bit, it is shot in a wide landscape with a picturesque background.
All in all, A Rifle and A Bag somehow tries to break the pro-Naxalite and anti-Naxalite narrative often dangerously looming to the level of propaganda. It presents the problem in a humanistic and relatable manner by showcasing a mother’s journey trying to get the best life for his child.
The filmmakers Arya Roth from India, Isabella Rinaldi from Italy and Cristina Hanes from Romania graduated from the Doc Nomads Program and make films under the banner of ‘NoCut Film Collective’. Here’s hoping their camera remains this honest in their next project and inspire young filmmakers like us.
The online screening of this film is happening worldwide till 7th May on https://online.visionsdureel.ch/
PS: Thanks to Suyash Kamat for tweeting about it.