P Sheshadri is the man to watch in the world of Indian parallel cinema.This quiet and sincere man has been making films in Kannada for more than 10 years now and each film is better than the previous one.Astonishingly all his seven films have won national awards in deferent categories.
His last film Bharat Stores looked at foreign direct investment in the retail sector and raised important questions about the social and economic fall out of such a policy decision.The film was acquired for distribution for BJP before the elections and generated a fair bit of controversy.A classic example of how art can become a tool of propaganda which is a completely unintended fallout of its intrinsic merit.
December 1 is a film that is based on a real life scheme launched by the State Government of Karnataka in which the Chief Minister would stay at the home of a common man for a day to understand his problems.Very similar to what Rahul Gandhi did in UP sometime back.While its a simple and promising idea if implemented with sincerity, it ended up disrupting the life of the recipients of a CM sleepover honour.
As the film opens we meet the family that will host the CM.We see Mahadevappa(Santosh Upanna) who is a cripple and works in a flour mill.His wife Devakka (Nivedita) makes rotis and hawks them in local eateries.They live in a old house which is urgent need of repair.Much in their life needs attention like the torn shoes of their son and the eyes of Mahadevappa’s mother who need medical attention and without which she is unable to watch TV. She has to be content with listening secondhand to the happenings on Crime News, which she mispronounces as “Cream Noose,” in a scene of quiet humour.
Their small impoverished existence turns upside down when Mahadevappa is summoned one day to the District Collectors office and told that his house has been chosen by the Chief Minister to spend a night in.Overnight they are the cynosure of the whole village and petitions for the CM get piled up in their home.Suddenly Devakka’s roties are the toast of the town and literally flying off the oven. Modern amenities like a TV, Fridge, Fan and telephone magically appear in their house, supplied no doubt by the local administration.The skill with which these sequences are crafted bring a wistful smile to the viewers lips.
But by now we know that not much good will come of the CMs visit who flies into the village in a helicopter and spends the fate night of December 1 in their home.He has no time for them at all save to get photographed eating with them.The disappointment of the visit is only surpassed by the devastating impact of the news that the next mornings papers carry. Mahadevappa and Devanna have not been not chosen at random but there was a hidden agenda behind it.They are a stepping stone for the big man.As the film draws to a devastating end, the films turns the notion of government inaction on its head.Here instead of inaction, an insensitive intervention in the life of a common man destroys him and his family.
This film ran onto trouble with HD Kumaraswamy, former Chief Minister of Karnataka who started the programme(gram vastavya) of home stay by ministers.He claims that the film distorts his good work to win awards.He was afraid he will loose votes because of the film.Surely anybody who follows Karnataka politics knows fully well that he didn’t have too many votes left to loose.His reaction is typical of the Indian politician who has come to regard serious cinema with undue suspicion.Politicians are happiest when films provide mindless escapist entrainment to the viewer so that he does not have the time think about serious issues.Surely P Sheshari’s previous film Bharat Stores did not win many votes for the BJP who bought its distribution rights to use it against the Congress.While its tempting to think that cinema has that kind of power we have to understand that such films are a sensitive artists response to what is happening around him in society and the best he hopes for is to provoke debate and discussion.
Overall the film is very well crafted and considering its tiny budget a triumph of Mr.Sheshari’s craft.His screenplay is very consistently sensitive and won the National Award. My only reservation about the film is the lack of layers in the narrative which chugs seamlessly to its haunting end.This is a very accomplished film indeed and one hopes that Mr Sheshadri will continue to build on his body of work and gives us more formidable films in the future.