Battle of Banaras

Battle of Banaras/ Dance of Democracy by Kamal Swaroop @ FD Zone, Pune on 13th June 2015/4pm

Duration: 120 min

Screening followed by discussion with the Director.


On May 26th, 2014, Narendra Modi, the son of a roadside tea vendor, became the 15th Prime Minister of India. Revered and reviled, celebrated and bemoaned, Modi is one of the most polarizing public figures of the modern era. The documentary attempts to provide an insight into the complex political structure of India, the world’s largest democracy, by examining the election in Modi’s parliamentary constituency – the historic city of Banaras.

Dance for Democracy tracks the fight for power in the ancient city to which some come to discover the meaning of life and others to die. The 120-minute documentary has the rhythm and energy of a television news special programme, but without the melodramatic shooting and editing patterns. Its familiar elements include interviews with representatives of various political parties, the historical context of voting patterns, conversations with locals and community groups, and footage of speeches and rallies.

Kamal Swaroop’s Dance for Democracy is a record of the campaign for the Varanasi parliamentary constituency in April and May last year. Modi chose Varanasi as the seat from which he would catapult himself into the country’s prime ministership (as he eventually did on May 16), while Aam Aamdi Party co-founder Arvind Kejriwal threw his white cap into the ring to play the spoiler. Modi polled over half of the total 10.28 lakh votes cast, while Kejriwal managed close to 1.8 lakh votes.

The main contest is between the self-declared white knight and the loose cannon, but Swaroop also passes around the microphone to other parties in the fray, including the Communists, Samajwadi Party supporters, Congress Party aides and at least one eunuch group that promises to give Modi a better measure of a 56-inch chest. Modi’s arrival in Varanasi is built up gradually through the documentary. He appears only in the fifty-ninth minute of the two-hour film, and remains a spectral but unmistakable presence. In a memorable sequence shot before the votes have been cast, the future emperor of India is anointed on the ghats, which are bathed in the amber of light and the saffron of the BJP’s flags and symbols.

Swaroop’s initial point of inquiry was German Nobel laureate Elias Cannetti’s non-fiction study Crowds and Power. The 62 year-old filmmaker wanted to see how Cannetti’s analysis of the relationship between authority figures and the masses in whose name they rule were playing out in Varanasi. “Cannetti talks about crowds, the fear of being touched in public, how crowds tend to become one organism,” Swaroop said. “He talks about the disruption and domestication of crowds, their attitudes and rhythms. He talks about a larger crowd within which there is a smaller group that becomes the so-called sugar crystal that the bigger group gets attracted to.”

Swaroop wanted to explore these interlocking ideas through the election in Varanasi, a city he has visited several times over the years as an assistant director on Mani Kaul’s documentaries Mati Manas and Siddheshwari as well for his own projects on film pioneer Dhundiraj Govind Phalke. American producer Manu Kumaran, the founder and then Chief Executive Officer of Medient Studios, got interested in the project and raised the seed capital through his company. The film was called Crowds and Power after Cannetti’s 1960 publication, but a potential copyright problem resulted in a second title, Battle for Benares.

It eventually became Dance for Democracy. The film was initially meant to be an inspirational account of a David and Goliath struggle between Kejriwal and Modi, but Swaroop says he wasn’t interested in making a campaign film about Kejriwal . “My interest was in the movement of the crowds, the vibrancy and the sounds of the election,” Swaroop said. “We focused on the graphic nature of the campaign, the use of symbols and icons, of an imagined shared ancestry of the invisible crowds, rather than what people were actually saying.”

He noticed how all the candidates started mirroring each other – another insight from Cannetti – as the power struggle intensified. Kejriwal, for instance, opened his speeches in Varanasi with the Hindu slogan “Har Har Mahadev”, just like the BJP leaders. “Everybody was speaking the same language, using the same abuses and making the same promises,” Swaroop said. “It had become a homogenous crowd.”

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Posted by on June 8, 2015. Filed under Breaking News,Documentary,MEDIA,What's on. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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