IN THE TIMES OF COVID-19
By Damodar Mauzo
Last year when we rejoiced in the Golden Jubilee edition of IFFI, hardly anyone knew what was in store for the following year. The Corona virus that landed in India in January 2020 spread its wings in multiple directions and grew up in manifold proportions, leading to lockdowns and lockouts. All cultural activities came to a standstill, probably for the longest time in the world’s modern history. Cinema halls and theatres remained closed, film releases were postponed, festivals stood cancelled, and the films in the making came to a halt. Billions of dollars went down the drain. Given this situation, I least expected IFFI’s 51st edition to happen.
Last March, when I had put my right foot forward to leave for France, to participate in the Paris Book Fair, little did I know it was not to be. India was the Guest of Honour at the global event, and I was proud to be one among the few representing my country’s literary fraternity. End of February, I was back from Delhi after attending the Festival of Letters, unmindful of the forthcoming catastrophe. I became apprehensive only after knowing the rising rate of infections and death toll threatening the entire world. The cancellation of the event was announced by the host country just a few days before the proposed dates. In view of this experience, the ambiguity arising out of the pandemic condition kept me hopelessly guessing the fate of the 51st edition of IFFI, until the dates were announced.
Over the last ten months, the pandemic has taught me a few lessons. My backlog of reading and writing shrank. I began participating in literary events online, like many of my fellow writers. But I also learnt to choose a film of my choice.
I don’t know if I can call myself a film buff, but I haven’t missed a single edition of the IFFI ever since 2004, when it started being staged in Goa. I believe, watching movies has helped me imagine differently, and hone my writing skills. Last few months, with guidance from my grand-children, I have been using OTT platforms to self-curate films. This year, for the first time, the 51st IFFI is held in two segments to cope up with the Covid-19 situation. The physical one, like before, for a limited audience, and the virtual segment for those film enthusiasts who refrain from going in public. This will especially help the elderly folks, like me, to maintain the physical distance and yet enjoy the selected movies. Viva IFFI.
Whenever there has been a global catastrophe or a national disaster, it gradually, if not instantly, finds its way into art, literature and cinema. India has observed this scenario post- partition. Bhisham Sahani’s outstanding novel Tamas that was made into a film, stands testimony to this effect. As the new normal emerges, I am sure, plenty of new stories will erupt and many more will find their way into films. I understand, a few feature and short films have already been made and more are in the making. Undoubtedly, the year 2020 has provided plenty of fodder to creative minds.
The pandemic situation has given birth to many desirable and undesirable incidents. A large poverty stricken students’ community has been at the receiving end, unsure on how to cope up with online classes with no gadgets in hand. We always complained time was inadequate, but it suddenly became abundant, begging of you to make the best use of it.
While the slowed down pace of lifestyle benefitted a handful of entities like writers and artists, household violence recorded a phenomenal rise, especially spousal abuse. Patriarchy deeply rooted in Indian society has further aggravated the domestic violence. Cases of paranoia and xenophobia have sprung up, as if they were waiting in the wings for an opportunity to pounce upon the prey. A tsunami of hate engulfed many parts of the country and the world, leaving the marginalized at the mercy of the perpetrators. For instance, the George Floyd incident in US is smoldering even today. Sentiments against migrant labourers flared up as if they were the cause of the pandemic. In a few cases even the approach towards elderly people was dangerously sickening as some families felt that the older people were easily expendable. This tsunami of hate and abuse shamelessly flaunted violence, cruelty and neglect. How can we expect this to go undocumented?
The silver lining to this dark state of affairs is that the vaccination drive has started, thereby providing succor to the paranoid mind. Apparently, a new dawn is setting in bringing hope in the new year.