Saturday, the third day of the excellent South Asian Film Festival here in Seattle, had a rather interesting session. This one was dedicated to education themed films, and there were two movies, both striking in their own way.
The first was a charming little short film from Nepal, called Suk Bahadur class IV. This was about an eighty something year old gentleman, Suk Bahadur, who lives in a remote village in Nepal, who wanted to learn. He’d spent a lifetime in India, working as a driver (and drove Meena Kumari herself around, if his anecdotes are to be believed), and now came back to his birth-village up in the mountains to retire. He now wants to study and become literate, and so goes to school faithfully every day, with his little granddaughter.
You see him doing morning drills with the little kids, and then cramming lessons in classes, to come back home and do his homework (while being scolded by his seven year old granddaughter for not reading words correctly). And, like most garrulous old men, Suk Bahadur is never short of stories, or reasons why Nepal remains backward.
When the documentary maker finally shows the movie to Suk Bahadur, he only has these profound words to say;
”Main hero nahin, super-hero ban gaya. Sunil Dutt aur Ashok Kumar say bhi bada”
(I’ve become a super hero, bigger than Sunil Dutt and Ashok Kumar……doesn’t quite translate as well).
The second movie was the simply outstanding "The great Indian School show". Set in the Mahatma Gandhi High School in Nagpur, the documentary chronicles events at this school, which has installed close-circuit cameras in all classrooms, corridors, the playground and all exits.
Yes, you read that correct. 185 closed-circuit cameras at every point in school. And all cameras lead to an array of monitors placed in the principal’s office.
The principal, an unctuous Mr. Bajaj, with gold rings in all fingers, a gold bracelet adorning the wrist, and killer dark glasses (henceforth to be referred to as Pimp Daddy B) goes on to explain the rationale behind such a necessary use of resources.
He says, now with the cameras he can monitor what is happening in every corner of school. He knows if there is the slightest indiscipline. He can see what each teacher is teaching in class. If he thinks the teacher isn't teaching well, he has video proof, and can fire him/her. This technology also comes with a direct speakerphone to each classroom.
He demonstrates, by zoning in to some random class, and his voice booms across the room.
The moment the students hear HIS voice, they all stand up, and the teacher too gets up from her bench!
He then asks the teacher how many students were failing in that subject. The poor sods have to stand up (in full view of the camera), and he asks the teacher to send him the list.
“See”, he turns to tell us, “how efficient the running of the school is.” And then he beams, and I almost expect to see gold teeth.
Pimp daddy, it seems, runs a tight ship. All the teachers sing endless praises of the cameras and mikes in every room. And here are some select pearls of wisdom they come up with.
“Thanks to this, the discipline is very high in the school”, muses teacher X.
“This is a co-ed school. Both boys and girls study here. So, things might happen. Therefore, these cameras are necessary”, philosophizes another erudite lady.
“Not just in this school, but we should have this in all schools, colleges, and offices. Only then will people work properly”, chastises sycophant teacher number three.
Some students are asked what they think, and they immediately sing praises of Pimp Daddy B. Other students march down the corridor, flourishing military style salutes.
And we, the audience, watch this movie in utter and total incredulity. Now this, truly, will make India the land of great free thinkers, and a hotbed of creativity.
Mahatma Gandhi, I’m sure, would have been proud of this school.
(My post for Gandhi jayanti).