Jai Bhim Comrade:
tales of oppression and songs of resistance

by Catherine Bernier

Part one: a visual essay

The film opens by introducing the caste system. Introduced through archival images, the revolutionary poet-singer Vilas Ghogre (see glossary) calls for workers’ rule in Bombay Our City. (see glossary) His comrades sing passionately to their brothers and sisters, hoping to bring about workers' rule so that workers will have adequate food and clothing.  A fixed shot of the newspapers of July 5th 1997 covered with bold headlines and a disturbing picture of Vilas' face and inert body show that the poet-singer has put an end to his life.
Film title, “Hail, Bhim, Comrade” refers to Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar (1891-1956) who inspired the Ambedkarite Dalit movement. (see bio) The spectators see inside family homes, important settings of the film, where memories of loved ones are enshrined in photos that hang on the walls. ... ... Vilas’ last words, “Long live Ambedkarite unity,” are written on the green wall of his home.This particular image presents Vilas’ family and wife. She highlights the sacrifices made by her late husband. The film goes back in time in order to find out what has happened in Ramabai in 1997. Television reporting clips narrate the events through “official” representations that show footage of agitation and police actions…
…actions detailed by Patwardhan's camera. Interspersed, Patwardhan's footage shows scenes of tragedy, like this group of women who grieve. The documentation of the Ramabai events starts with interviews with witnesses to the shooting, victims, and families of the victims who tell what happened to them. We begin to understand the tragic events as the film gives us access to witness testimonies. The director uses these testimonies to build and defend a case.
The mother tells us about her young son... .... who died with his skull shattered. The “tanker theory” of the incident put forward by the police is this: Some of the participants in the agitated mob tried to put fire to a tanker. That led to the police opening gunfire on a crowd of people.
“No single shot connects the police actions on the left to the tankers on the right,” according to a citizen videographer's footage. “No bodies were found next to the tanker. They were all found outside Buddha Vihar and in that adjacent playground,” says a Ramabai victims’ defender at a Human Rights Tribunal. Later on in the film, an eye-witness monk explains where the incident happened ... … whereas the tanker was over there.
Singers and musicians commerate him ... ... His wife joins in the commemoration, as do … ... his followers and comrades. Shots of the crowd are interspersed with close-ups of meditative followers who came to pay their homage.
“Long Live Ambedkarite Unity,” are Vilas Ghogre’s last words and a slogan used in Republican Party of India rallies. ... … “But it doesn't mean he has accepted RPI politics,” his comrade says later in regard to Vilas’ blue Dalit headband. A section on Bhim Ambedkar is introduced by a picture of him and captions explaining his history. (see bio) Dr. Ambedkar is represented through photographs, painted images, and statues in museums and in markets.
The Ramabai victims are presented through recurring shots of their photographs used in remembrance celebrations. The garlanded photographs are important images in the film, and they are often presented sitting on chairs. Having seen them in homes before, the spectators can connect the martyrs to their family stories. Sambhaji Bhagat, Vilas' comrade, is introduced in his home. As he explains what probably happened to his friend Vilas, his narrative is interspersed and illustrated with ... ... tragic archival images conveying what Vilas may have seen before he committed suicide.
Gurbir Singh is another comrade who explains the different political groups and their relationship to Vilas... ... including certain deviations in parliamentary politics that disturbed Vilas even though he was sometimes participating in RPI meetings to earn money for his family, notably for his son Milind. “In this land of plenty, why is food is so unaffordable?” sings Vilas’ friend and comrade revolutionary poet-singer Gadar, in his traditional make-up.
Symbols of class and caste struggles are emphasized in the mise-en-scene and contribute to portraying Vilas' activism and vision. A martyr is followed to the garbage disposal site... ... where the union book presents his work profile.
A song explaining the story of Raghu is interspersed by workers' testimonies. Scenes of quotidian working life graphically visualize these musical intermissions. As we see workers at a dump heap with their feet sunk in garbage mud try to pull a truck out of it, the song calls for revolution to break the chains that bind them to the contractor. The Gundewar commission, meant to investigate the Ramabai shooting, concludes that the tanker theory was false, the incidents were unprovoked, ... .... and some of the evidence was manipulated by the police.

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