“Every Farmer Counts, Every Child Dreams”
By Geeta Goindi
Every once in a while, a film comes which sears your soul. ‘A Little Revolution’ is just that kind of film!
Set in the rural villages of Punjab, India, it is a profoundly moving documentary by director Harpreet Kaur and producer Manmeet Singh on the issue of farmer suicides which has escalated to an epidemic. This short film, true to life, focuses on the plight of those children left behind whose fathers, in some cases both parents, have committed suicide out of sheer desperation, driven by debt!
The statistics are alarming: every 32 minutes, a peasant farmer commits suicide in India. Much to our consternation, Harpreet informed us that this figure is under-stated. “We are making an all-India statement, but we have focused on Punjab because we are from there and are familiar with the area”, she said. “We did research for three years”. Their efforts paid off and ‘A Little Revolution’ won an award for the ‘Best Documentary’ at the United Nations Global Wake-Up Film Festival.
Given that the underlying issue is farmer suicides, the film could very well have been melancholic and melodramatic. It is not! It is moving and motivating; it spurs you to act and aid.
“No child should sleep hungry, be deprived of an education or be robbed of their childhood”, Harpreet told us. “That’s why the slogan in my film is: Every farmer counts and every child dreams”!
This eye-opening documentary was screened at the first DC South Asian Film Festival adroitly organized by Manoj Singh and Sangeeta Anand of Ceasar Productions, on the campus of the Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville, and drew a near capacity crowd. On hand, were acclaimed artistes of the Indian film industry such as actresses Deepti Naval and Manisha Koirala, actors Rajit Kapur and Suneil Anand, together with director Ketan Mehta.
There could not have been a more well deserved response to the film and its makers than the standing ovation from the audience whose members were clearly affected by what they saw. Harpreet has bared her case and cause in the form of a personal narrative which is character-driven. Perhaps, that’s the reason the film is so compelling!
The viewers are led on a journey, with her and twelve kids, all the way from the rural regions of Punjab to the powers-that-be in Delhi. You rejoice when scores of people join the march in India’s capital city conveying and chanting the slogan of the film, “Every farmer counts, every child dreams”. And you are disillusioned by the apathy of the government, in this case the Ministry of Agriculture, to an issue of such import.
Sharing her thoughts with the audience, post the screening, Harpreet said: When we met these kids, it was very difficult emotionally. This was a very difficult film for me. But, we had faith in these kids; these kids had faith in us. People often talk about changing the world, saving the world. It’s much easier to save a life”.
We couldn’t help being struck by the irony of the title. The film is called ‘A Little Revolution’, but when you think about the magnitude of what these children did, it is not ‘little’ by any standards!
Harpreet herself adheres to the view, “I am only one, but still I am one. I can’t do everything, but I still can do something and because I can’t do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do”.
When the protagonists arrived in Delhi, they had no clue how many people would show up to support, and march alongside, them. They spared no efforts, meeting with leaders of organizations and heads of schools, sending e-mail messages. “No one gave us an assurance that they would show up”, said Harpreet. The tremendous turnout exceeded all expectations. “So, when we went there, we ran out of tee-shirts”, disclosed the director.
In the film, popular Punjabi singer and actor, Gurdas Mann, is shown encouraging and supporting the cause of the farmers and these children, something dear to his own heart! He stands in marked contrast to the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Sharad Pawar, who barely lends them an ear. The children are shown arriving at his office each day well before the appointed time, only to return disillusioned. Finally, on the third day, they are allowed an off-the-record meeting.
“The kids were hurt”, revealed Manmeet Singh. “They had no self-esteem. You could just slap them and they would take it which never happened in Punjab. We fought the Mughals, we fought the Afghans. That was where the borderline was created and we gave protection to the rest of the country”. And here, the kids were being defeated by their very own!
“Even before leaving Punjab, I told these kids, it is just the twelve of us”, Harpreet said. “We will march”! Quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “Faith is taking the first step. We don’t see the whole staircase”, Harpreet told the audience, “that’s what we taught these children”.
We caught up with the celebrities after the screening. About the film, Deepti Naval gushed, “it is wonderful, very moving, very significant. I think it should be shown everywhere. People must become aware of the situation of the farmer suicides”, she emphasized.
Ketan Mehta professed, “I loved the film. It has a wonderful spirit. Hats off to both of them (Harpreet Kaur and Manmeet Singh). Mehta noted, “apart from the basic issue itself, there is a real, sincere concern that comes across in the film. It’s more than just a film. It reaches out and touches your heart and that is so wonderful about the film”.
Suneil Anand, son of legendary actor Dev Anand, believed the documentary is “an eye-opener. I knew about farmer suicides, but I didn’t know they are on such a big scale”, he said. “The film will start a little movement. That’s for sure. This maybe the beginning of something good for the farmers and people who plough the land”.
We questioned him about the apathy on the part of the powers-that-be in Delhi to the issue of farmer suicides and the toll they are taking on family members left behind. “The Indian government should definitely address this problem because it is a serious problem”, he said. Agriculture must always be supported, not only in India, but the world over! It’s time for the government to wake up and do something concrete. It’s time for the government to take some precautionary measures so that this kind of thing is not repeated”.
Even one suicide by a farmer anywhere in India is one death too many!
Mehta, affirmed, “this kind of a knock on the door will have to continue (in the film, the door is the Ministry of Agriculture). Governments are callous. Many more knocks will be necessary”, he stressed.
About farmer suicides, Manisha Koirala told us: “This has been a really grave issue. A couple of my friends have already made a documentary on farmer suicides. This is a really powerful film. These (film-makers) have done fabulous work. I think we should all support them”. She gushed, “I loved the film”!
We asked her, what was it about the documentary that touched her the most? She replied: “I really liked the director’s passion to get out of the comfort zone, go there, meet the children, give them enough courage to speak for their rights. I think that is commendable. I love the inspiration that she gave to the children. That’s phenomenal”!
Manisha believed, it is “great” that Harpreet put the children up front to convey her message. “When we see films like this, we will talk about it”, she said. “Lots of people are already moved by the film. There is going to be a movement and that’s how problems get solved. It is a great way to introduce a problem to people. It touches people’s hearts and motivates them to do something about it”!
About farmer suicides, Manmeet Singh said, “It is not a sexy issue. It does not attract stardom”. He noted that, in the film, Dr. Vandana Shiva, environmental activist, points out that food costs one dollar, so why should we care about something that costs so little?
“When you feed your children rice or wheat, just stop to think whether those grains came from far away at the cost of children whose fathers had committed suicide”, Manmeet told the audience. “All the rice and wheat which comes into this country should not be from the farmlands in India where farmers are committing suicide”, he said, to much applause. “We are trying to create a movement, letting people know that farmers are committing suicide. Let’s stop it and there will be an end to it”!
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