Film maker Shrenik Rao Behind the Headlines
SW Radio Africa journalist Lance Guma speaks to Indian filmmaker Shrenik Rao, who launched his documentary film “Mugabe’s Zimbabwe” in October 2010.
He says the film “is an enquiry into how Zimbabwe, from its successful independence 31 years ago, has collapsed dramatically. The film plots Mugabe’s three decades of bloodshed, terror and corruption and narrates how he turned hope into desolation.”
Interview broadcast 02 May 2011
Lance Guma: Hallo Zimbabwe and thank you for joining me on Behind the Headlines. My guest this week is Shrenik Rao the founder and creative director of Dolsun Media who launched a moving and insightful documentary “Mugabe’s Zimbabwe” sometime in October 2010.
Now this documentary, according to a description on its website “is an enquiry into how Zimbabwe, from its successful independence some 31 years ago, has collapsed dramatically. The film is a terrifying story plotting Mugabe’s three decades of bloodshed, terror and corruption and narrates how he turned hope into desolation.” Shrenik, thank you for joining us on the programme.
Shrenik Rao: Thank you for taking an interest in my film Lance.
Guma: Right, first things first Shrenik, what gave you the inspiration to tackle this project and say – this is what I want to do?
Rao: See, actually when I was very small, I remember reading a great deal about Robert Mugabe. He was great friends with Indira Gandhi; he was considered to be this great liberator who fought for freedom from white minority rule and he was considered to be a hero. Cut to 20, 25 years later, I hear a story that is drastically different, I heard stories that are drastically different from what I read of him and I was quite shocked.
When I started speaking to people, both from the government and also from people on the ground, I thought it would be an interesting story to tell about how power manifests itself, about how people change with power, about how situations change and the more I researched, the more I thought it was a good story to construct and narrate and so I started working on the film.
Guma: I see here you say you were intrigued by the way in which power manifests itself and from what you’d read and from what you had heard from the people, you thought Zimbabwe was the right place to test Michel Foucault’s hypothesis – Power Produces Resistance to Itself. Explain that a bit.
Rao: Yah so basically I find this is the best ground, political ground to test Michel Foucault’s hypothesis which is how to produce resistance to yourself. The moment you have power you start exercising it in an authoritarian way that it naturally and automatically produces resistance and that is exactly what is happening. And especially in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe is riding a tiger and it’s sort of becoming very difficult for him to distance himself from that power and that is exactly what is producing this resistance, in my opinion.
Guma: So it’s more or less Mugabe finds himself in a Catch 22 situation where he can’t exactly get off this tiger because this tiger will turn on and attack him and he has to remain where he is to feel safe.
Rao: That’s right and two, he’s not even able to manage the tiger; the tiger’s growing very impatient; he’s sitting on the tiger and he’s trying to whip it to keep it under control and he knows that if he gets off the tiger, he’s going to be eaten. And so it’s a very difficult situation for him to be able to manage, and what he did not do, like Nelson Mandela, was to gracefully exit from power, in my opinion and so that’s causing a lot of struggle, both internally and also externally for him.
Guma: Right and in the making of this documentary film, who did you speak to in Zimbabwe?
Rao: I spoke to a range of people; the film was shot in Zimbabwe, the film was shot in England, it was shot in Scotland and a lot of post production happened in India. So when I spoke to people in Zimbabwe, I spoke to Joyce Mujuru, the vice president, I spoke to Joseph Msika, the then vice president, he’s no more; I spoke to Gideon Gono, the most sought after man who’s known for, sort of, building up the economy or destroying the economy or whatever you might want to call it.
I spoke to Arthur Mutambara who was the leader of the MDC Mutambara faction, the deputy prime minister and I spoke to a political refugee, I spoke with Clare Short. I spoke to a range of people and I heard some very interesting perspectives. From there, I also spoke to people who are very much on the ground; people who were taxi drivers, people who were cab drivers in England, cab drivers in Scotland, cab drivers in Zimbabwe, basically cab drivers in England who were of Zimbabwean origin.
I spoke to a lot of people who were NGO sector workers in Zimbabwe and my effort was to sort of somehow make sense of it and be factually accurate about presenting all of this.
Guma: I see from the trailer, you have themes running through, like you write ‘liberator’, ‘tyrant’, ‘murderer’ – what are you trying to achieve there where you have all those words going through? Talk us through that.
Rao: See, the point was to try and present the various themes that Mugabe has been, the light in which Mugabe has been presented. There are opposites; Mugabe was a liberator and now he’s called a dictator. He’s the president and then he’s called a tyrant.
So there are opposites of Mugabe’s personality, there are opposites that represent Mugabe in a very, in a manner which is very disjunct and it is very hard for me to make, for me or for anybody, for a liberator, for a hero to be seen as a dictator, as a tyrant but those are the two elements which I tried to juxtapose. You know, you juxtapose a great hero against a dictator; you juxtapose the president to a tyrant. So that’s the juxtaposition which I wanted to bring out when I was making the trailer.
Guma: Without giving too much away Shrenik, obviously we want people to watch this documentary film, but from talking to people like the Reserve Bank governor and former vice president Joseph Msika, and even the vice president Joyce Mujuru, what is their point of view? How did they defend themselves against what is happening?
Rao: Gideon Gono had an interesting perspective; he said that his problems were caused because, or the Zimbabwean economy was because of the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe and that was the theme, take that even Joseph Msika and Joyce Mujuru had taken. In fact that is reflected in my documentary.
And the point that Gideon Gono had to say was that the economy was sliding not because of the way he was managing it but because of purely external forces, because of the IMF and the sanctions that have been imposed upon Zimbabwe and so on. So that was their point of defense.
Guma: Well I see obviously you spoke to the Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, what was his take on the matter?
Rao: I did not speak to Morgan Tsvangirai, I spoke to Arthur Mutambara.
Guma: OK and what was Mutambara saying?
Rao: Arthur Mutambara said that Zimbabwe was a mismanaged nation, Zimbabwe was under the influence of Robert Mugabe and that he felt there was grave abuse of human rights in Zimbabwe and he felt that Robert Mugabe was a dictator who needed to be immediately replaced and that people in Zimbabwe deserved a democratic government, a constitution orientated government and a government which was a lot more focused on people and policies rather than on personalities.
Guma: Interesting interview. I take it you also spoke to former (UK) International Development Secretary, Clare Short?
Guma: What was her take on the matter?
Rao: Clare Short felt that there was a grave abuse of human rights in Zimbabwe and she felt that Robert Mugabe was somebody who was trying to save himself from getting out of power and she felt that Zimbabwe’s problems are because it was mismanaged by the government and not because of any external force or pressure and that was her take on it.
Guma: Now this documentary film, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, how would you gauge the reaction to it and where have you been having it screened?
Rao: Right, it was originally screened at Harvard University in 2006 and this was a follow-up and now this one has been screened at Cannes in France and it has been taken up by TBS International for distribution and my distributors would be better people to talk about where it’s going to be distributed and how it’s going to be distributed and when it’s going to go on air.
Guma: As someone from India, Shrenik, would you say people outside have a very good idea of what’s happening in Zimbabwe, or sometimes things get lost in propaganda?
Rao: Do people have…can you come again with the question Lance?
Guma: Do people understand what is happening in Zimbabwe or sometimes because there’s a lot of propaganda going back and forth, people outside a country generally do not get what is happening? Do you think for example, people in India know what’s happening in Zimbabwe?
Rao: Yes and no. There are always people who choose to remain ignorant because they choose entertainment over world affairs or issues and there are people who choose to know about what is happening around the world. And for those who choose to know what is happening around the world, I think they do know about what is happening in Zimbabwe.
They do know the various aspects that are happening, the various points of view that Zimbabweans express, both the democratic and the undemocratic. But at the same time in this part of the world, many people are aware of what happened in Zimbabwe, but perhaps in the UK and the States, or those other countries, there’s a lot of exposure to what happened in Zimbabwe. I hope that answers your question.
Guma: And final question for you Shrenik – we know how difficult is for a journalist to work in Zimbabwe or operate in Zimbabwe – how difficult was it for you to secure some of these interviews in Zimbabwe with some of the people you spoke to?
Rao: It took a lot of patience and perseverance on my behalf to keep requesting for interviews. It was not very easy and with the camera on there were not many people who were willing to talk to me on camera. What they said off camera was completely different from what people said on camera.
Whether it was at a hotel or whether it was at a press meet or whether it was anywhere, it was not very easy first off and, but I’m glad that I’ve had inroads into Zimbabwe to learn about the issues that are happening in Zimbabwe and to be able to speak about them, to have a platform to be able to talk about them.
Guma: Well Zimbabwe, that’s Shrenik Rao the founder and creative director of Dolsun Media who launched a moving and insightful documentary “Mugabe’s Zimbabwe” sometime back in October 2010. Those of you who want to watch a trailer of the documentary, you can go on You Tube, you’ll definitely see that, just typing in “Mugabe’s Zimbabwe”. Shrenik, thank you for joining us on the programme this week.
Rao: Thank you very much Lance, thanks for taking an interest in my film.
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