When Malayali journalist and filmmaker Sanu Kummil decided to screen his documentary on demonetisation at the Kerala Club in Delhi, he didn’t expect the film to evoke the sharp reaction it did from the right-wing.
The screening, to be hosted in association with Clone Cinema Alternative on Monday evening (September 23), was called off after threats from members of the BJP and RSS. It was meant to be followed by a discussion on the economic crisis.
“DeMo (demonetisation) and tea do not mix easily in Delhi,” Kummil wrote on Facebook later as he shared news articles covering the cancelled event.
Kummil’s documentary Oru Chaayakadakarante Mann ki Baat (Mind Matter of a Tea Vendor) follows the story of 70-year-old tea vendor Yahiya, a native of Kerala’s Kadakkal, and the effect demonetisation had on his life. Yahiya’s experience had made headlines in 2016 when he shaved off half his head in protest. The tea vendor stood in line for two days and nearly collapsed as he waited to deposit money in banks. Dejected after several attempts, he came back home and burnt his savings — demonetised notes worth Rs 23,000.
Kummil’s film’s title literally translates to ‘The Mann ki Baat of a tea seller’, a direct nod to Modi’s monthly radio address and his background.
“I wrote a story on him (Yahiya). But he is a particular kind of man with much to say and I thought it was not enough to say it in print, it needed to be shown visually. It’s his life. That’s how I decided to make the documentary,” Kummil told HuffPost India.
The documentary, made in 2018, first screened at the 11th International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala in June where it won Best Short Documentary and prize money of Rs 1 lakh.
From the prize money, Kummil said he gave back Yahiya the money he had lost in 2016.
“I returned the money he lost because of the central government using the state government’s prize money,” he said.
Kummil said the film has since been screened in all districts of Kerala as well as at Kolkata’s People Film Festival and in Andhra Pradesh’s Godavari district.
“There have been people who watched the film and criticised it, even in Kerala, and I have responded to them. But it has always been in the form of an open discussion. I did not expect it would become an extreme issue here (in Delhi),” he said.
Following the threats directed at Kerala Club, Kummil found support from various quarters, including former CPIM MP and special representative government of Kerala in Delhi, A Sampath, and the Delhi Union of Journalists (DJU). On Wednesday, DJU hosted a private screening of the film, in association with Clone Cinema Alternative, inaugurated by Sampath.
“It was a story of struggle and more struggles by him and his family, which could be the story of many, but humanistically portrayed,” DUJ said on Facebook.
Kummil is now working on screening his next documentary titled ‘Six Feet Under’. Yahiya, he says, has not been well and is bed-ridden but the tea vendor’s political stand remains unchanged.
“I vow to grow it (hair) back only when PM Modiji, the man who, in a jiffy, burnt all my hard work and savings into ashes, is voted out of power and this country is saved,” the tea vendor had said in 2016.