MUDIT SINGHAL: EXPOSING DISCRIMINATORY PRACTICESby Vinta Nanda October 4 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins, 25 secs
‘Yes Sir’ is among the best of South Asian films selected for screening at the Tasveer South Asian Film Festival, to be held in Seattle from the 12th October 2023 onwards, reports Vinta Nanda.
'Yes Sir!' is a short film based on caste issues that still are a blot on our society. It's a comedy based on a short story by Prof. (Dr) Ajay Navaria, a Professor of Hindi Literature at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
The story goes that Tiwari, a Brahmin (dominant caste in India), is a peon in a government undertaking, where a Dalit has risen to become a big officer. Tiwari resents this. The officer’s bathroom’s drain has choked. This story is about how Tiwari's hierarchical status socially, and his prejudice towards the officer, counterbalance each other to solve the problem of the choked drain.
When I asked Mudit Singhal, the director of the film, what it was that compelled him to make a short-film on this story, he said, “The notion of caste that Dr Ambedkar wanted to annihilate, unfortunately, still prevails in India (and the subcontinent), and we are very much still caged inside it. My film is an attempt to show this in a lighter vein, as it is a story where the typical roles of an officer and a peon are reversed - a Brahmin serving as a peon to a Dalit, a senior officer at a government undertaking - and how this reversed hierarchy creates an awkward, and funny situation for the peon when a mundane problem that needs to be dealt with, almost like how the issue of caste needs to be fixed”.
Fascinated by the spectrum of issues that the 83 films being showcased this year have dealt with, my curiosity led me to approach some of them to explore more.
Over to Mudit then…
Where are you from and what drives you to be a filmmaker?
I was born in Saharanpur in UP, and have had my schooling in various small towns of Uttarakhand (then UP) since my father used to work in the Hydro-power projects of the UP State Electricity Board. I did my engineering from Punjab Engineering College Chandigarh, where I was active in theatre and where I had my first stint of acting and direction.
I then did my Post Graduate Diploma in Communications Management from MICA, Ahmedabad, where I was exposed for the first time to World Cinema, something that gave me an entirely new perspective of cinema different from what Hollywood and Indian cinema had so far given to me. For the first time I felt that cinema was the directors’ expression of their worldviews. I found that cinema wasn’t just a means of entertainment for the audience, but something that can drive change - social, economic, political or legal - through stories that evoke empathy, curiosity, introspection, hope, and reason.
I used to be a shy person during my growing up years, but through theatre and cinema, I found a way to express myself and my worldview. I’ve been deeply inspired by the cinema of Kieslowski, Kubrick, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Shyam Benegal, Vishal Bharadwaj, and also documentaries of Joshua Oppenheimer and Anand Patwardhan. Every time I see any film by these filmmakers and others, I am motivated and inspired to make films.
My interests in films and screenwriting persuaded me to leave the corporate world, attend a Film Appreciation course at FTII Pune, attend screenwriting workshops, assist in a diploma film at FTII again. I have since then made 3 short films, the latest of which is ‘Yes Sir!’ in 2023. I had also written two feature-length film scripts, the stories of which had been shortlisted in the first round of Cinestaan Script Writing contests in 2018 and 2019.
Your thoughts about the caste system in India and what are the measures that should be taken to end it?
As Dr Ambedkar had said, destruction of caste needs a notional change. But this change is difficult to initiate and implement, because it’s a matter of the beliefs that have been deeply ingrained through religion. However, I believe that if we keep raising questions about these incorrect beliefs and practices through the medium of art, like quite a few films and works of art in the last decade have done, a beginning towards that change can be made.
Inter-caste marriages need to be encouraged to eliminate caste from an anthropological perspective. From the point of view of providing opportunities to the marginalised castes, the system of reservations is already in place.
So, what I think is the most important and yet a tough way to achieve this notional change is the right education. It's only through correct and liberal education that the privileged will be exposed to centuries of discriminatory practices. I seriously feel reading Ambedkar’s works should be made part of the curriculum mandatorily. Humanities should be made compulsory in technology and management education so that we don’t just create a crop of machinic individuals but well-rounded citizens who are aware of social inequalities in our system and lead the change for the future in business and industry with an inclusive mindset.
Where are you headed from here?
‘Yes Sir!’ is currently making its festival run. Meanwhile, I have another short film script that’s ready with me, though it may need some redrafts before I take it to the floor.
I have just started working on a feature length film idea, which is a love story and has a caste angle. Since I am active in theatre too, I’m working on staging a play called Gandhi-Ambedkar originally written by Premanand Gajvee.
Message to fellow filmmakers of Tasveer!
Tasveer Film Festival has provided South Asian filmmakers a wonderful platform to showcase their works, and the Oscar-qualification has elevated its status even further. I’m honoured to have our film in the company of some great films at this year’s festival. I’m eagerly looking forward to watching these films. My message to the fellow filmmakers is: keep expressing without fear, keep telling us great stories, and let’s support each other to keep the spirit of independent filmmaking alive.
Follow the link below for more information – the film is available to see virtually on TasveerTV from the 16th October 2023 for three days: