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Raag Sarkari

Back in November of 2009, I heard from a young filmmaker who planned to make a short film set in Emergency era of Indira Gandhi. From what he told me, it seemed a very interesting plot. For an independent film, it was certainly brave and ambition. While researching for his film he came across my blog and wrote in to ask if I could  help out. What followed was conversations spread over next couple of months. I posted interesting snippets of these conversations here: Indira's Emergency and India's film.

As days went by I almost forgot about it, thinking maybe the film never got made, after all it's not easy to make films in India.

A couple of days back I heard back from Vinay Shukla. Despite various problem, he had finally managed to finish his film. He was gracious enough to send me a DVD of his short film called Raag Sarkari/Bureaucracy Sonata.

The film walks us through four days in the life of a Jailor in charge of a school-turned-jail housing prisoners of Emergency. We all know that the prisons were full during emergency but our Jailor's prison is full of people who have voluntarily courted arrest hoping to be granted 'Freedom Fighter Pension' by opposition at the end of Indira's rule. And then besides these prisoners there are prisoners of Emergency. Among these prisoners is a prisoner, a classical singer with whom our Jailor is locked in a beautiful game. Every evening at a fixed time the singer sings a Raag and our Jailor tries to guess the Raag but always failing miserable only to be snubbed by the singer. This musical game is somehow bringing order to the Jailor's life and perhaps to the prison. But then the order is suddenly in danger of disruption when the Freedom Pensioners decide to walk out of the jail just when Sanjay Gandhi is about to visit the nearby city, on the day of D.P Dhar's first death anniversary. What follows is a set of darkly humorous events in which Jailor tries to avert the impending tragedy, or an embarrassment or a bureaucratic inconvenience by pleading, by threat and by dis-information. This is Raag Sarkari.

The film ingeniously not only uses the famous relics from the era - the  newspapers and their use of  blank spaces as mark of protest , the radio from Nepal as the source of real news, the telephone as its role in spread of information and disinformation- but weaves their usage right into the plot. In that sense, the film is also about the nature of information or dis-information, about what you know and how you don't know. In that the film brings down the narrative of Emergency to an identifiable level. In a present context, you can try to guess the nature of information in the age 'social media' and how it may similarly be moving the cycle of revolutions in today's world. The disconnect between what you may see of ground and how it may get written in the pages of history.

It's one thing to read an idea for a film or talk about an idea that can be a film but entirely another thing, another magical thing to see ideas roll-out of screen. It was quite an experience for me to watch this wonderful short film and in a small way to be associated with.


A big thanks to Vinay Shukla for including me in the credits, a first for me :)



  1. Reminds me of a movie by the name of "Kissa Kursi Ka". It is said that then congress govt. fought tooth & nail to burn down every print of the movie active curtosy by then I&B minister V.C. Shukla.

  2. Yeah I have written about the film. And I have some old articles about it.

  3. Vinay tells me that the Film has made it to the final lineup for IFFI this year.

  4. Some more awesome news on the film.

    It came 1st at the 0110 International Digital Film Fest, New Delhi last month [news report]and is now going to be playing at Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.

  5. Raag Sarkari is going to be running "In Competition" at SAIFF, New York. More details here:

    1. Chosen 'Best Competition Short' by the Grand Jury of the 2012 South Asian International Film Festival.

  6. The plot sounds terrific. Good enough for a full-length film actually. What is the duration here? I hope it's not anything less than 30-mins. Looking forward to catching it soon. Is there a way I can do it now?

  7. It's a short film. Duration is around 26 min. Right now it's not available in public. But Vinay say's that after this festival, it will be available on youtube.


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