The Many Lives Of K.P.Sasi

KP Sasi 2

K P Sasi also bids adieu.  On the Christmas of 2022, he breathed his last at 4 pm in a Private hospice in Thrissur. It was the last of an epoch historically significant and politically charged.  All his works, his writings, cartoons, movies – brought into light a world once kept away from the discourses or even consideration of mainstream cinema or cultural sphere. All the while, Sasi who was well aware that his works also would meet with the same fate as that of its subjects – the fate of being pushed to the margins – went on undaunted. He gathered a motley crowd as he went long. Being constantly agitated, he would talk about his fears of imminent calamities and misfortunes that might come over the land, the sea and environment even to a child before him. And most of the time these were more like premonitions that became true later.

Art expressions that constantly question irresponsible development do not have many enthusiasts. But this was of little consequence to Sasi just as it never bothered C Saratchandran who left us in 2010. It never stopped them from indulging in issue-based artistic expressions. After Satheesh K, better known as Chakli among his friends, and C Saratchandran who walked the earth with two burnt feet, as if determined to spend not even a single day without doing something for the times and space that they lived in, Sasi also is finally laid to rest.

K P Sasi was one of the pioneers who took documentary films on people’s struggles and development disasters. A student of German language in the much-renowned J N U, Delhi, Sasi was more interested and involved in the students’ protests and people’s resistance movements. When the students of JNU took to the streets against the discriminatory measures taken by the authorities against the Iranian students in the campus, Sasi was in the forefront with his posters and he was arrested and sent to Tihar Jail with the other students for that. Following such activism slowly his political cartoons started appearing in Delhi newspapers. After a while he moved to Mumbai and joined The Free Press Journal as cartoonist. This gave him exposure to a more vast and wider world of activist discussions and documentary movies. Sasi was initiated into the world of Anand Patwardhan and his documentaries. Sasi himself had confessed that it was Anand who inspired him to start his long journey of companionship with the camera.

In Sasi’s words (from excerpt of my interview with him in 2004 for the Malayalam Magazine Keraleeyam) : “ When I started with my first documentary in 1982, very few people like Anand Patwardhan and Tapan Bose were there in that realm. I was greatly influenced by their movies. In fact it was the movies of these two that gave me an insight about the political potential of documentaries.”

That was the beginning of his long journey with an 8 mm camera into the unquiet spaces of the marginalized people. Sasi has more than thirty documentary, short and feature films as well as a few music videos to his credit. Documentaries like Rope that called for the necessity of collective action, In the Name of Medicine produced in 1988  that exposed the dangerous, banned drugs marketed in India, A Valley Refuses to Die of 1990 that discussed the environmental and social impact of large dams in River Narmada, the short film Ek Chingari ki Khoj Mein that challenged the dowry system prevalent in India are to name a few. But these make only a very small part of the volume of his work as compared to the various other activities that he had been involved in. America America the four-minute-long anti-war music video made during America’s attack of Iraq became extremely popular. This work of satire was later translated into various other languages and many other countries made their own versions of it in anti-war campaigns.

Gaon Chodab Nahin is another  5 minute music video widely celebrated for its rustic candor. This video shows the resistance movement of the tribals displaced in large numbers in the name of development.  Sasi’s debut feature film Ilayum Mullum(1993) was discussed for its strong statement against the atrocities against women in Kerala. This is easily one of the first feminist films in the Sate and it has a splendid line of star cast with Santhikrishna, Pallavi Joshi, Thilakan, Nedumudi Venu etc. Ilayum Mullum was selected to Indian Panorama, IFFI and also prestigious international film festivals like Montreal Film Festival, Venice International film Festival,  Festival of Three Continents –Nantes, Toronto International Film Festival, Sidney International Film Festival etc. Ilayum Mullum was followed by his next feature film Ek Alag Mausam (2000). This Hindi movie talked about the social stigma and human rights violations faced by the HIV patients of India. With an impressive star cast of Nandita Das, Rajit Kapoor, Anupam Kher, Renuka Shahane as well as Bharat Gopi, the movie was a part of many film festivals.

Sasi was perpetually pre-occupied with the agonies of the minority communities like the Adivasi and the fisher folk who constantly get displaced. He was forever devising plans to strengthen and support their resistance movements. He derived immense energy from these creative contemplations. Sasi used to say that more than film-making, giving creative support to such movements of resistance gave him a powerful surge of inner strength. He never hesitated to share this with anyone and everyone around him, regardless of the person’s stature in society, linguistic/geographic orientation, caste, colour or creed. He was a ceaseless source of inspiration for the voiceless to raise their voices of dissent for the sake of their land, water and lives. Lack of respite or non-existent financial resources never deterred him. He would pick up his flute or guitar and break into a song so that at the end of it the listener would end up resonating with his political convictions.

It was interesting to watch this man with a zero balance in his account go on endless journeys without any constrains. On any platform, however “lofty” it might be, you can watch Sasi becoming the voice of the voiceless whose cries have been echoing in his mind. He would talk about the people involved in the movement; if possible he would introduce one of their representatives to those gathered.

When we say that Sasi directed the movie Voices from the Ruins- Kandhamal in Search of Justice on the atrocities perpetrated by Sangh Parivar  against the Dalit Christians of Kandhamal in Orissa, it also necessarily implies that Sasi stood by the survivors through all their hardships till his end. He empowered them to fight for the appropriate compensation entitled to them, proper rehabilitation and justice. For this he would rope in other activist film makers, social workers and other human rights movements. Thus Sasi did an amazing work of amalgamation – of making movies on human rights violations, of using these movies as platforms to connect others to it and of finally making a mass community movement of it. It is no surprise that ordinary people from various struggles and movements all over the country lamented Sasi’s death. For them, Sasi found their sense of identity for them, he was their source of strength to survive, he meant much more to them.

The documentary movie Resisting Coastal Invasion, based on the massive displacement of fisher folk from the coastal line, was instrumental in uniting and strengthening the fishing community’s resistance movement across the land.  When Tsunami hit the shores of India, the fishing community was evacuated to temporary sheds. But when the rehabilitation programmes of the State failed to make any headway, these people were at a loss, having lost their lives and livelihoods at one go. At that point Sasi went into the midst of lakhs of the fisher folk community with his camera. All their miseries, indignations and human rights violations were brought into the limelight and subjected to discussion. He tenaciously stood with them and saw to it that a people’s tribunal was set up to listen to the grievances of the Tsunami survivors of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. Time After Tsunami, If It Rains Again, and Tsunami Rehabilitaion – An Unifinished Business were the movies Sasi had made for this purpose. True to his nature, Sasi continued to be an integral part of all activism and activities connected to the fishing community.

Apart from being an activist film maker, cartoonist or writer in India, Sasi was more of a strong, dependable, brave activist or friend for many. Born to the Marxian theoretician, writer and one of the pioneers of Communist movement in India – K Damodaran, Sasi marked his own times through political activism in his own way, on his own terms. His politics was not one of the main stream politics of electoral power. His was an activism that did not aim at any vote bank, but for the marginalised people anywhere and everywhere. I am sure that at least a few of the new generation might have got introduced to K Damodaran through Sasi.  I have witnessed a lot such instances during many of my travels with him.

Death, we all know, is a certainty for everyone. But the only hitch in Sasi’s case was that death claimed him slightly early. He was 64 when his body surrendered to death. Even while tied to the sick bed for about two months, his brows were still furrowed not for his own failing health, but for those at the many people’s resistance movements across the country. Sasi’s death is a big loss – for alternate movies, thoughts and activism.

K P Sasi is one of the unsung names of Indian parallel movie movement. Sasi could be remembered by posterity for the many movies, cartoons and writings he has left behind. Sasi should be remembered, for he has done a lot in his untiring short life time.

Mustafa Desamangalam is a film maker.

Translated from Malayalam by Uma K.P

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