A Film Recap by Justin Brown
On Monday, November 17, 2014, we watched the film “In God’s Land”, made by Pankaj Rishi Kumar. The film, as Pankaj told all of us before the film started, was based on the conflict between a large temple, a small village, and an economic zone near the village. Pankaj also explained how he used animation in his film in order to experiment with different documentary techniques. When he finished giving us background for the film, it was safe to say we were all excited to see Pankaj’s film.
At the start of the film, we were introduced to both the SEZ (Special Economic Zone) and some of the villagers in a nearby town. The first part of the film really outlined the conflict and history of the town and zone very well, and we soon learned that the SEZ was taking over part of the villagers’ agricultural space, which the government has claimed is dry and arid land. Additionally, the SEZ highlighted a conflict between the nearby temple and the villagers. Whenever the temple was asked to give land for the SEZ, they willingly gave vast swaths of land, since they are the primary owners of the land in the first place. This was done, at least according to the villagers, without any input from them. This upset the villagers because they claim that their village is set on ancestral land, given to them long ago.
As the conflict continued, it was clear that this was both an inter-caste and an educational difference argument. Many of the villagers claimed that when the SEZ was fully operational, they would be stuck with menial labor jobs while the more educated people would continue to earn large salaries. There were also villagers who commented that once their children retired, they would have no place to come back to if their land was taken by the government and the SEZ.
The religious aspect of this film was also extremely interesting. In response to the nearby temple’s control over their land, the villagers chose to worship their own god, named Sudalai Swami. This god contrasted in every way possible with the god housed in the nearby temple, with one villager commenting on how Sudalai Swami would accept any offering made by any individuals, instead of larger offerings desired by the temple god nearby. All in all, Sudalai Swami was the village’s way of religiously rebelling against the larger temple god nearby.
After the film ended, Pankaj was available to answer a few questions posed by the audience. One that really stuck out to me was when someone asked if he got any criticism from India for “exposing” what was going on in the government of Tamil Nadu. Pankaj laughed and said that the state of India was the one who funded and helped promote his film, with the film even going on national television! He further explained that everyone knew what was going on there and he wasn’t doing anything extremely investigative, but that it was a “silent issue”.
Overall, the film was a wonderful way to experience Tamil Nadu before we leave for our trip. Pankaj was extremely helpful in understanding some of the background to the film and for answering some questions afterwards. And I’m sure Amy enjoyed hearing the interviewees speak Tamil too!