FILM: THE SALT STORIES
DIRECTOR: LALIT VACHANI
FILMMAKER LALIT Vachani makes a journey from Sabarmati to Dandi tracing the route Gandhi followed on his salt march in 1930. But to uncover that grand heritage, he must first plough through recent legacies — Godhra, its aftermath and a development policy that condemns the poor.
Under the iconic Ellis Bridge, an old man wails into the camera begging his slum hutment be allowed to remain. In Dabhan, the guest house Gandhi rested in is now rented out for weddings — to the upper castes only, because “lowcaste people behave like animals”, explains the caretaker. In Surat, where Bapu held his meeting on salt tax, middle-class citizens run a Gandhi laughing club. None of them have heard about the meeting. In Dharasana, where the battle against the tax was won, an ageing Dayabhai is one of the only remaining salt farmers. He earns Rs. 42 for 100 kg. In Dandi, the government is illegally acquiring lands of farmers to build a five-star hotel. The roads that link these sites are strewn with abandoned, bolted temples to the man who shunned deification.
Vachani finds himself arguing with people who justify the carnage of Muslims in stopover dhabas. This is Modi’s Gujarat — culturally and politically crass, as if trying to undo Gandhi’s vision and life with a vengeance. Vachani’s camera offers no hope, but it finds solace in what has not been undone — yet. In Napa, a Muslim majority village, there is perfect communal harmony. A woman at a tea stall talks about talking to Gandhi in her dreams and a 102-year-old Gandhian recalls the march with great zeal. Three days later, he died all alone, Vachani says. All the stories end with similar hopelessness and Modi is jubilant in the state again — his brainwashed supporters brandishing his masks, oblivious of the irony of their portrait in it.
VACHANI’S CAMERA OFFERS NO HOPE, BUT IT FINDS SOLACE IN WHAT HAS NOT BEEN UNDONE — YET
Vachani’s frames are emphatic but honest. The process of filming is a part of the narrative, layering it with its own complexities, but the structure and scheme of the film are clean and clear, so that the heart of the story remains in focus. Gandhi’s last moments play out as we witness the real death of Bapu — the death of his ideas.
Originally published in Tehelka.