Friendship Synergies: The Yugantar Collective


TAMBAKU CHAAKILA OOB ALI (Tobacco Embers), Yugantar, India 1982, Digital file, OV/EnS, 25 min
SUDESHA, Yugantar, India 1983, Digital file, OV/EnS, 33 min
Sep 4, 2021 14:00 Arsenal Cinema, from 5.9. on arsenal 3

From 1981 through 1983 Yugantar, India’s first feminist film collective, developed four projects together with existing or ensuing women’s groups around the country. These included films with domestic workers in Pune (MOLKARIN, 1981), with women factory workers in Nipani (TAMBAKU CHAAKILA OOB ALI), with Sri Shakhti Sanghatana, a feminist research and activist collective in Hyderabad (IDHI KATHA MATRAMENA [Is This Just a Story?], 1983), and with members of the Chipko environmental movement (SUDESHA). Rich synergies between their activist and creative practices mark Yugantar’s films as a potent chapter of feminist filmmaking, inspiring reflections on political friendship and other modes of contemporary co-existence. Following a screening of TAMBAKU CHAAKILA OOB ALI and the premiere of their recently digitally restored film SUDESHA, Yugantar members Abha Bhaiya and Deepa Dhanraj will participate in a discussion with scholar and curator Nicole Wolf.

TAMBAKU CHAAKILA OOB ALI documents, re-enacts, and takes forward one of the largest movements of unorganized labor of its time and context, which sparked unionizing processes across India throughout the 1980s. In the spirit of mobilizing for the leftist labor and the women’s movements the Yugantar collective spent four months with female tobacco factory workers in Nipani, Karnataka in India, listening to their accounts of exploitative working conditions, discussing strategies for unionizing and steps to broaden solidarities for strike actions, and filming previously unseen circumstances inside the factories. The team followed the workers’ leads as to what, where, and how their actions should be recorded, and developed a loose script through the workers’ narratives. Yugantar’s commitment to the complexity of political friendships and how to ‘stand with’ provoked a then pioneering collaborative filmmaking practice embodied in large scale reenactments, a voice-over as pluriverse testimony, and the production of the first screen presence of working-class women ‘speaking to power’. A powerful example of a feminist third cinema, now available to be revisited and to spread its film/political energies. (Nicole Wolf)

SUDESHA tells the story of a woman living in a village in the lower Himalayas. In this area, people depend entirely on the forest for their daily needs of firewood, food and water. But the forests have been destroyed by powerful timber traders. And along with the forest, the livelihood of the people has been greatly altered. The women of this region played an active role in the "Chipkow Movement." Sudesha was imprisoned for her protest.