Director Santhosh Gopal is baffled, there is no documentary on the pro-Jallikattu demonstrations that swept Chennai in January. It began as minor agitations in Tamil Nadu against the refusal of the Supreme Court to receive requests challenging its ban on traditional bullfighting in 2014 and quickly became an unprecedented gathering of 1,000 rupees in Marina Beach in the capital of Tamil Nadu.
Gopal, who began his career as an assistant to filmmaker PC Sreeram, documenting the riots, which lasted for several days, was the most obvious response as a director. “It was a historic event filled with material that begged to be fired,” he told Scroll.in.
The documentary Gopal Jallikattu is in the post-production phase. A summary has already been discussed at the United Nations office in Nairobi. Produced by wife Nirupama, the film also has Anurag Kashyap as executive producer.
When did you decide to shoot pro-Jallikattu events?
On January 17, I received a text message that asked me to join a protest on Marina Beach by a group of people in favor of Jallikattu. I went there without my camera because I wanted to see what was happening. Around 4000 people gathered in the afternoon before Vivekananda Mandapam. As the night faded into the night, the police and the media arrived. Then I asked my driver to pick up my camera. I had no idea that the protest will continue for a week. I just wanted to record something to upload to YouTube.
It was a very different protest. The police asked the crowd what their demands are. No one knew what to say. I noticed that very few in the congregation had been in a rally before. Later, when the police commissioner asked a representative to file, no one has gone. And yet there was a sense of unified rebellion, an unprecedented type.
Throughout the night, police turn off all the lights on the beach. I had a camera with me. In the middle of the crowd, I saw a man come out of his cell phone and turn on the torches of the lamp. Another man followed, and little by little the beach looked like the stars had descended on the shore of the sea. As a visual, it was fascinating. I spent the night and the next week and filmed everything I saw. I had no writing in mind, no narrative.
People brought banners that said ‘Occupy Marina’ and immediately my mind recalled anti-consumer events in New York in 2011, Occupy Wall Street. I thought there were many similarities between the two movements. The next day, I saw Tamilagam / Tamilandam flags. It was at that moment that I learned that the protest had begun to focus on a single issue and was a single region.
I have identified five protagonists of the beach, each of a different context, and I began to follow their histories. I wanted to know what drove everyone to the beach and through them to understand the anatomy of the protest.
I have used a variety of instruments, unmanned film cameras for phone cameras. An unmanned aircraft was used to capture almost 16 lakh people in a single take. In the end, he had more than 200 hours of film. It was a challenge, of course. But it surprises me that no one else has thought of taking the case as a subject for his film.