Editor's note: From Tuesday, 22 November 2016, Firstpost has been carrying Rupleena Bose's daily dispatches from the ongoing International Film Festival of India (Iffi), in Goa. Read parts one, two, three, four and five.
Imagine a wall that you reach every day, standing in the way of your rights as a citizen. A wall that doesn’t hear you or see you but you must cut your way through — just to survive.
The 'wall' is bureaucracy and almost all of us, like Daniel Blake, have stood in front of it. We hit our heads against the wall waiting to be acknowledged as people towards whom the state is responsible.
Bureaucracy and state benefits form the subject of Ken Loach’s latest film I,Daniel Blake which won the Palm d’Or at Cannes this year. There is a Dickensian approach to Ken Loach’s film; it is about a man who must perish in order to justify his case in front of a system. Daniel Blake is an honest man with over 40 years of experience as a skilled carpenter, but to the state he is irrelevant. Set in the gray and indifferent landscape of Newcastle, Daniel and Katie are both at the receiving end of the welfare schemes set up for citizens in need. Humanity is absent from the offices they visit for their job seekers' allowance and till the end, they only have each other for support.
Daniel Blake, a man picking up the pieces of his life following his wife’s death and his own heart attack, must now learn to negotiate yet another faceless wall, the computer. He makes endless trips to fill an online form in the new world bereft of any human interface, the internet; of which he understands nothing. For him to be eligible and appeal for income support he must humiliate himself in front of officials and ‘decision makers’ hiding behind a deaf system.
Katie, a resilient single mother with two children, has to choose between a cold apartment and feeding her children till she breaks down hungry and desperate at the Foodbank that politely allots limited provisions for the large number of waiting citizens. They come together and become friends because of their humanity for each other but mostly they are alone, angry and fighting to survive with dignity.
The film has obvious resonances to our current reality even though welfare state has become an unknown philosophy in India.
I saw this film the same day as Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson and that was the last day of full screenings at Iffi. The aesthetics of the closing ceremony of the festival was coloured in bureaucracy where the awards were announced. Iranian film Daughter by Reza Mirkarimi won the Golden Peacock for the best film. Farhad Aslani for the same film, Daughter (I wrote about the film in an earlier post) won the award for best actor (male) for his portrayal of the father.
With the festival over, the stretch to Miramar has resumed its football matches with furious energy. There is even a hint of Christmas in the air. The festival venues are slowly being stripped of the posters and on way out I meet a bunch of volunteers in gold and white saris waiting for their official ride back home to Verem. Shalujha, Alka and Rupam are three sisters, all in high school, who volunteer at Kala Academy every year. They had missed a few days of school and were now waiting to get back to their studies. Alka was already dreading her pre-boards and the three of them hurried back to their last VIP duty of the day before they left. The other bunch of girls sitting by the gate, were making movie plans before schoolwork takes over their lives again. They were going to watch Dear Zindagi the next day when Inox resumes its usual commercial screenings. Did they watch anything they liked at the festival I ask them?
‘We did. But we don’t enjoy films with subtitles as much’.
I paused thinking of my own doomed situation of reading and noticing subtitles. Of loving films in unknown languages, which can only be watched with subtitles. For the like of us, only the next film festival can help.
The writer is assistant professor at the department of English at Sri Venkateswara College