The Kolkata People’s Film Collective is a social enterprise dedicated to spreading a people’s movement against exploitation, torture, abuse of power where the society is cleanly divided between the powerful and the powerless. It organises a Kolkata People’s Film Festival every year where films with a clear social and mass-targeted agenda: short films, long films, features and documentaries are screened without charging any entry fee.

Over the last few years, the KPFC has also been organising weekly talks, film screenings, discussions and debates to an audience sympathetic to their aims, objectives and aspirations. It also organises an annual one-day film festival from morning to night to celebrate India’s Independence Day, on August 15, 2023.

In the sixth edition of Frames of Freedom, an annual film festival organised by the People's Film Collective on August 15th since 2016, will screen five fiction films selected from the last ten years of KPFF. It promises to be a look back at socially-committed Indian fiction cinema from the past decade, taking us on an audiovisual journey through our Republic.

Alongside the films, KPFF would be hosting Arunabh Saikia, journalist, who has been consistently field-reporting from Manipur and the North East, to speak on what exactly is happening in rife-torn Manipur. His talk, titled "Manipur: Notes from ground zero" followed by a moderated conversation with the audience.

The films to be screened are: ‘Court’, directed by Chaitanya Tamhane, ‘Fandry’ (Pig) by Nagraj Manjule, ‘Jhini Bini Chadariya’ (The Brittle Thread) by Ritesh Sharma, ‘Aisee Hee’ a by Kisalay, and ‘Ghode ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon’ (Taking the Horse to Eat Jalebis).

The then-27-year-old Chaitanya Tamhane’s ‘Court’ flattens itself out in the cinematic narrative of an Indian court quite simply. But behind this ‘flatness’ of portraying the dull, boring and procrastinating pattern of the Indian court precincts, lie several social agendas.

It shows how the justice and legal system is biassed against a Dalit teacher-cum-singer of Dalit songs and also completely insensitive to the death by negligence of a manhole sweeper in the neighbourhood where the Dalit singer was singing songs. The treatment is beautiful and inspite of touches of the documentary, turns out to be a rich fictional film.

‘Fandry’ directed by Nagraj Manjule again attacks the caste system which runs like a time-chain through generations of low-caste workers for whom there is no escape. The central plot of the story is an unrequited love story at the intersection of caste between the protagonist Jabya (played by Somnath Avaghade) who belongs to the oppressed Kaikadi caste, and Shalu (Rajeshwari Kharat) who belongs to an ‘oppressor caste’ of Maharashtra.

The plot opens with Jabya and his school friend Pirya (Suraj Pawar) armed with a slingshot trying to catch a black sparrow that has a distinctive forked tail in the wilderness of Akolner. Manjule uses the myth of a black sparrow as a poetic metaphor, the interpretation of which is left to the audience.

Does the black sparrow really exist? Or does it mesmerise the thoughts of the growing boy Jabya who imagines a life of liberty from the ‘unbreakable’ chains of poverty and oppression from parents to children forever?

Ritesh Sharma’s ‘Jhini Bini Chadariya’ is a scathing attack on those who are considered “outsiders” in parts of Varanasi, that the tourists are not aware of. Says the director, “The two main characters of the story, Rani, a prostitute, and Shahdab, a Muslim weaver, were the bottom line to weave the story.

“The dancers/prostitutes performing near my village had always caught my attention as I was growing up, watching them dancing the whole night to entertain vulgar and disrespectful crowds for a smidgeon of what they deserve.

“Later, while meandering through the streets and narrow alleys of Varanasi, I found myself deeply in love with the process of weaving; the ancient art of producing sarees took me to the neighbourhoods of the Muslim handloom artisans, who, ironically, make sarees that are worn by Hindu women, and I witnessed their happiness and hardships.

“The story is my attempt to bring awareness to the conflicts and hatred, to give a voice to those no one hears, those that are invisible to the eyes of the government. While also praising the multicultural dimension of Varanasi and the whole country. This is the Varanasi that I saw and I wanted to show. A new Varanasi so I felt Varanasi is the perfect place for this story.”

‘Aise Hi’ (Just Like That) is a film by Kisalay. After 52 years of marriage, the newly widowed Mrs. Sharma (Mohini Sharma) has decided to start living for herself and not, as is expected, act like a ‘good widow’ and move in with her son Virendra (Harish Khanna) and his wife Sonia (Sadhna Singh).

She starts going out for ice cream, getting beauty treatments, learning the craft of doll-making with help from a local tailor and, most shockingly, controlling her own money by opening her first bank account.

“‘Just Like That’ is an intimate film that relies on understanding how Mrs. Sharma goes from feeling utterly liberated to feeling trapped all over again. In the lead, Sharma shoulders the burden of making those feelings real with grace, nimbly jumping between satisfied curiosity and resignation” wrote Elizabeth Kerr who wrote in ‘The Hollywood Reporter’ in October 2019 after watching the film at the Busan International Film Festival.

The average cinema viewer subconsciously tries to find some kind of identification with the film they are watching as more often than not, this places them in a comfort zone to get lost in the film’s narrative flow. But Anamika Haksar’s striking directorial debut, after more than 40 years in theatre, at the relatively young age of 59, ’Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Jaa Riya Hoon’, distances one from any kind of identification.

It opens the underbelly of an old world you may have heard of, but not really experienced its intricacies in real life. In ’Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Jaa Riya Hoon’, the glimpses of Shahjahanabad in Purani Dilli (Old Delhi), which forms the setting of the story shot entirely in real locations, are nowhere near what one has seen in Indian cinema for some time now.

The structure and treatment of the film is something one sees rarely. It is a mixture of non-linear fiction coupled with documentary-style cinematography and surreal, fantasy-filled animated visuals. Haksar cast 400 people from the neighbourhood, with the exception of a few professional actors drawn from theatre and cinema.

Characters that add meaning and dimension to the narrative, formed like a collage of stories, plots, images and dreams, include a pickpocket, an Urdu-speaking tour guide who calls himself Akash Jain; a loader and a street food hawker. Except the tour guide, the others sometimes flit and float through other occupations such as the pickpocket trying to conduct a tour in the ‘open sky shopping mall’ with unsuspecting foreign tourists, confusing them with his pidgin English.

The street food hawker keeps his sorrows to himself and sometimes becomes a band musician for a band. The loader has been thrown out of his job but often waves the red flag of the Left parties and no one really knows why.