Red Ant Dream – A review

May 25, 2013

by Azaan Javaid


In the Islamic interpretation of dreams, to dream about insects means a weaker people organizing themselves to win something over.

Organization is both loved and loathed by a tyrannical entity. Loved, because enslaved people constitute profit generating labor. Loathed, because if the same organization is mobilized for a cause, which stands at loggerheads with the entity, the tyrants are bound to fall. If not materially then in the intangible world of morality. What does defeat mean though? Does defeat always signify a sense of loss? The answers are murky, but if there is something which literature has taught us, it’s that winning and victory are not the same. It’s in the backdrop of this notion that Sanjay Kak brings his audience to a world which has been heard of before but never witnessed with compassion. It’s a world filled with laughter, with revolutionary songs, with martyrdom and most importantly, with life. “Sometimes to live, we need to die first”. These are the words which are very central to the theme and concept of the film – Red Ant Dream.

In the Islamic interpretation of dreams, to dream (for some it can be a nightmare) about insects means a weaker people organizing themselves to win something over. One of the scenes, perhaps the most powerful scene of the entire film, is that of a female guerrilla who is practicing to fire a pistol without an actual gun in her hand. It’s the sheer defiance seen in her eyes, while practicing sight alignment, that sends shivers down the spines of many and at the same time can generate solidarity for a million others. Solidarity for the oppressed, the helpless, the wretched, for those who don’t have real guns to train and yet are fighting one of the largest military complexes of the world. The female guerrilla, even in her defeat would turn out to be the victorious one. The insects in the dream are red ants.

The Adivasis

In the 18th century, tribesmen belonging to the Santhal community offered armed resistance to occupying British forces and their local collaborators. This ensued into a war for days, with Advasis using their bows and arrows against a much sophisticated artillery of the British. Most of the resistance fighters were either killed or injured brutally until only few of them were left. A tale of heroism of the remaining Santhal rebels has been narrated by L S S O’Malley:

“They showed the most reckless courage, never knowing when they were beaten and refusing to surrender. On one occasion, forty-five Santhals took refuge in a mud hut which they held against the Sepoys. Volley after volley were fired into it …. Each time the Santhals replied with a discharge of arrows. At last, when their fire ceased, the Sepoys entered the hut and found only one old man was left alive. A Sepoy called on him to surrender, whereupon the old man rushed upon him and cut him down with his battle axe”.

Sanay Kak has managed to capture the same spirit which has been passed onto this generation of fighters. From the Santhal rebellion to Birsa Munda’s movement, these Adivasis have lived a life filled with resistance. The common thread among the Adivasis of central and southern India and that of the farmers of Punjab is the legacy of a cause, a fight for greater social justice.

Punjab, Bhagat Singh and Paash

As powerful as the images from the film are, the audio surpasses the quality of visuals. Revolutionary poems, interviews of CPI(Maoist) spokesperson Azad, slogans and revolutionary songs reverberate throughout the film, giving a tacit support to the imagery. The incorporation of Avtar Sandhu’s (Pen name Paash) poems is like a whole new world for those who don’t know of the Naxalite poet who was shot dead by militants of Khalistani Commando Force on 23rd March 1988, exactly 55 years after the hanging of Comrade Bhagat Singh from whom many leftists of contemporary times have drawn ideological support. The poetry and death of Paash presents a dilemma and a an ironical situation both in the film and in this world of different struggles. While Paash was shot dead on the pretext of being an anti-Khalistan Struggle activist, the BJP has been said to play an instrumental role in excluding some of Paash’s poems from the school curriculum. The appropriation of Bhagat Singh by Hindu right wing as well as centrist political parties, the appropriation of current Khalistani activists and the appropriation of the leftists, the revisionists is beautifully captured as a conflict of ideologies.

“Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” – Mark Twain

Stetson Kennedy in the 1940s, went undercover and joined the Ku Klux Klan in order to try to dismantle the terrorist organization. KKK, a white supremacist organization, had previously been using codes and rituals to carry out their operations against the African-American community in the US. Stetson was faced with a problem, the might of the Ku Klux Klan. They were everywhere – in the government, the diplomacy, the bureaucrats. The secrets of the organization only lay with the members and that’s where Stetson thought of delivering his first blow. But how could leaking secrets of a clandestine organization dismantle it? There might be a strategic retreat from the KKK but to dismantle it, there had to be a bigger plan.

For Stetson, it was comedy. He along with his friend, a radio host, began to air talk shows about the KKK rituals and secrets, more importantly they used satire. The funny sounding codes, the outrageous symbols were ripped apart, coupled with giving away of future plans of the KKK. The result was that people began to mock the KKK and out of curiosity went to the KKK rallies only to enjoy the freak show. The fear amongst the people had disappeared, so did the lynching. Sanjay Kak, in his film, gives the same treatment to Counter Terrorism Forces operating in Bastar, Chattishgarh. He employs several methods in doing so, for example the Salva Judum recruitment drive, a horrific and brutal exercise, appears to look like few loons blackmailing the poor with sub-standard methods. By the time the Army General appears in the film, giving serious briefing to his jawans, the audience can’t help but laugh at the tragedy of the whole thing and at the General himself (as brutal as he is in his life, in the film he reduces himself to a bad comedian. A comedian whom people don’t laugh with, but laugh at). Do not dare to compare him with Charlie Chaplin. The army as an institution is not targeted exclusively, but is seen as a manifestation of the capitalist structures, only there to protect the rich, the powerful and their relatively poor collaborators. A very intriguing scene in the film is when Sanjay Kak incorporates a Maoist video footage of a burnt, looted home and the female wailing which is immediately followed by the aggressive guerrilla training of the CRPF forces who proudly yell at Commandos while jumping off trees.

Of Bombs and Explosions

In the 2008 film, The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger played the role of an unhinged anarchist (Joker). The role got so popular that it overshadowed each and every character, not only of the film, but previous grey characters. The politics of Joker became overwhelmingly dominative and Heath Ledger’s death, immortalized his character. The next in line of the Batman trilogy was alleged to be a pro-captalist and anti-occupy movement film. After the bombings in Boston, a modified version of a dialogue of the Joker was shared by thousands of people on facebook and twitter shows the popularity of the Joker’s ideology. The original dialogue from the film goes:

“If tomorrow I tell the press that, like a gangbanger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all part of the plan. But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds”

The internet version was:

“15 people died today in a car bombing in the Middle East, but nobody cared because that’s all just part of the plan. Two people die in Boston and everyone goes crazy”.

This was a response to the bombings which took place in Iraq on the same day as that of the Boston bombings. As tragic as the Boston Bombings were, there is no denial that the outrage over the Iraq bombings was nowhere close to that of the US. This is not hypocrisy but a complex reaction which is a direct result of propaganda mechanism which forces people to value certain lives over others. This dehumanization of the people of Middle East, of Palestine, the African countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Chechnya and Kashmir is a product of the biased reportage and so called political analysis by the powerful. This relation between the oppressed, the oppressors and the neutral parties is very well captured by Sanjay Kak. The Adivasis have been at the forefront of the suffering caused by the mass media propaganda and the so called civilized people. If you are not civilized as per the standards of the elite, you are siding with the uncivilized.

Sanjay Kak’s film familiarizes his audiences with the revolutionary forces within South Asia. The moment when people realize that they are slaves, is the exact moment when they are liberated. Red Ant Dream is about that moment. It’s also about love and romanticism, and no revolution is possible without a tinge of romance in it.

(Azaan Javaid is a Kashmiri journalist based in New Delhi. He is the author of Social media in Kashmir [2012])


3 Responses to “Red Ant Dream – A review”

  1. srinivas bodduluri Says:
    June 14th, 2013 at 13:13

    The reviewer is so knowledgeable that the review has more things interpolated into it distracting from the subject of the review. A bit irritating.

  2. m.a. Says:
    June 14th, 2013 at 23:39

    very nicely tied together! thanks!

  3. mohan shekhar Says:
    July 23rd, 2013 at 10:36

    this is an interesting review though it lacks in giving more information about the movie. this piece definately demonstrates author’s knowledge but never becomes a source of annoyance rather makes it interesting.

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