Film on Gujarat riots bags awards at Berlin festival

A documentary film on the aftermath of the bloody Gujarat riots in 2002 has won two awards at the 54th Berlin international film festival.

"Final Solution" bagged the honours at Berlinale 2004 Sunday night.

According to information received from the film's director Rakesh Sharma in Berlin, the documentary won the Wolfgang Staudte award. The award is presented in memory of noted German film director Wolfgang Staudte (1906-1984) and carries a cash prize of 10,000 euros.

"Final Solution" is the first Indian film to win this award that was instituted in 1990.

It also won the Special Jury Award by the NETPAC jury comprising Garin Nugroho (Indonesia), Dorothea Holloway (Germany) and Fang Yu (China).

The jury said in its citation: "The award goes to 'Final Solution' for its clarification of issues that spawned hate and violence between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat, its analysis of propaganda mechanisms for political purposes, and its measured voice to seek a final solution to the conflict."

Five Indian films were invited to the festival at the International Forum of New Cinema section. These were "Hazaaron Khwahishen Aisi" by Sudhir Mishra, "Maqbool" by Vishal Bhardwaj, "Kal Ho Naa Ho" by Nikhil Advani, "Hava Aaney De" by Partho Sengupta and "Final Solution" by Sharma.

Incidentally, "Final Solution" was refused permission for screening at the Mumbai international film festival. The decision was panned by critics who called it an attempt by the Bharatiya Janata Party government to suppress criticism of the government in Gujarat.

The 140-minute long feature was shot following the riots that rocked Gujarat after a train carrying volunteers of a Hindu radical group was set on fire in February 2002.

The subsequent violence largely orchestrated by the Hindu rightwing groups claimed the lives of over 1,000 people, mainly Muslims.

Weaving alternatively through the lives of the Hindus who lost their dear ones in the train tragedy and Muslims who were affected by the subsequent riots, Sharma documents a society that continues to be polarised on communal lines more than a year after the riots.

"Final Solution" also probes the systematic efforts made by the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its radical affiliates like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal to penetrate the interiors of Gujarat over the past two decades.

Unlike other filmmakers, Sharma scored by getting some of the VHP leaders to open up on record.

For instance, a middle-aged college teacher turned VHP preacher, Prahlad Shastri, tells on camera that Pavagad town in Gujarat has been made completely free of Muslims.

Similarly, Kalubhai Maliwad, who was accused of leading a mob that burned 67 Muslims, and his lawyer were among those who gave long interviews in the documentary.

"My impression is that the VHP people were not approached by the secular media," feels Sharma. He himself made it clear to all parties that the documentary aimed to look at the long-term impact of the riots on Gujarat.