The audience broke into applause when B R Ambedkar, after facing years of caste discrimination, finally dipped his cup into an earthen pot and drank while his upper caste fellow lecturers watched in horror. This was among the many scenes that evoked reaction from people watching Jabbar Patel’s award-winning film ‘Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’ at Siri Fort Auditorium Monday afternoon.
The three-hour screening drew an attentive audience to the life and times of the Father of the Indian Constitution and his fight to eradicate caste system in Indian society.
“I came out of curiosity. Unlike (Mahatma) Gandhi, on whose life so many movies are made, books are written, and lessons are taught in school, Ambedkar is absent from popular culture in India,” said Debashis Paul, a film enthusiast and marketing head at a private company.
“This movie is not only brilliant, but also very bold and important, especially at this time when people are getting swayed into resorting to violence easily at the behest of the so-called Hindutva brigade,” added Paul, referring to recent attacks on Dalits.
Priyanka Bhatti, a JNU student, said, “I came to watch the movie because I want to know more about Ambedkar. Everyone wants to appropriate him for narrow political means, while they are just not ready to accommodate the point of view of others, without realising that Ambedkar was much more than caste. He was for democracy and he made the Constitution. Why should a Dalit see him as a figure of emancipation for Dalits only, why not study him as a freedom fighter?”
The audience comprised students, movie buffs, businessmen, children and the elderly. The film was screened as a part of the week-long Independence Day Film Festival inaugurated by Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu on August 12.
Many admitted they had come for the movie because “it is a holiday” and some said they were assessing if the movies being screened are true to history or more fiction than fact. Many, however, were left feeling shortchanged when they realised ‘Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’ was in English. “The brochure said all the movies were to be screened in Hindi with subtitles in English. This movie was in English all through.
But I sat through it because I liked the look of it. I had come because I wanted to know more about Ambedkar, our freedom fighter,” said Koppu (45), who works as a domestic help in south Delhi.
Organisers said the Ambedkar biopic would be screened again in Hindi in a few days to make up for the inconvenience caused. “The festival will showcase a mixed bag – of modern films such as Chak De! India and Lagaan as well as classics such as Shaheed and Gandhi. It is meant to show films to a broader audience on freedom fighters like Veer Savarkar and Udham Singh, whom few people know about,” said an I&B Ministry official.