“Over the years, I have filmed the people who come to Chaitybhumi that stands on the little piece of land in Mumbai where Babasaheb Ambedkar was cremated. Many particularly go there from December 1 to 6 (his death anniversary, which is also remembered as Mahaparinirvan Din). I wanted to understand the many meanings of the site for people; the politics of this space,” filmmaker Somanth Waghmare tells TNM. Chaitybhumi, situated in Mumbai’s Dadar area, draws crowds of people every year, especially during the days leading to Mahaparinirvan Din. Somnath is making a documentary around this space.
Somnath says that his film, Chaitybhumi, captures the pull that this important site has for those who believe in the ideals of Dr BR Ambedkar. Chaitybhumi also features conversations with people across generations, including those old enough to have witnessed the cremation of Dr Ambedkar on December 6, 1951.
Asked how the collaboration with director Pa Ranjith’s Neelam Productions came about, Somnath says that Mumbai doesn’t have any such similar organisation dedicated to anti-caste thinking and promoting young filmmakers. “I met Pa Ranjith in 2018 when I was in Chennai for some film screenings. He doesn’t make himself inaccessible like people in Bollywood, it was easy to approach him. I talked to him about the film. The pandemic has slowed things down, but I hope to see it released when the situation settles down a bit,” Somnath tells us.
Neelam Productions will play the role of “presenter”, meaning they will be looking after the post-production side including helping with the film’s release and screenings, says Somnath.
Somanath Waghmare is widely known for his The Battle of Bhima Koregaon: An Unending Journey that documents the role of the 500 Mahar (a Dalit caste) soldiers in securing victory for the East India Company against the Brahmin Peshawa rulers in 1818. The victory, which incidentally falls on January 2, today, remains historically significant as the triumph of a Dalit army against Brahminical supremacy. He also documented Ambedkarite songs from 2021 to 22 and is currently working on the biopic of anti-caste activist and sociologist Gail Omvedt who passed away on August 25, 2021. Waghmare is pursuing his PhD in caste and the cultural politics of Marathi cinema at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).