Redefining Ayodhya: Group uses cinema to relate untold stories

New Delhi: For almost two decades, the memories of one of the worst communal flare ups witnessed by India have overshadowed the true culture and spirit of the ancient city of Ayodhya.

But for six years now, a group of locals who take pride in their shared heritage and what they call as their 'Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb' are trying to reinvent the city's image through a film festival that talks about the people and relates the untold stories of common Indians.

The people behind the festival are residents of Ayodhya and Faizabad who love the medium of cinema and practice it to give a voice to the people whose stories and struggles go unheard or are deliberately ignored.

Beginning every year from December 19, the day when revolutionary Ashfaquallah Khan was hanged in a jail in Faizabad and his comrade-in-arms Ram Prasad Bismil was executed elsewhere in 1927, the three-day festival in a way also marks the close friendship of the two freedom fighters.

"The mandir-masjid episode of the 90's pushed many issues to the margins -- the issues that find greater resonance among the common people, the smaller movements that are going on in the country," says Shah Alam, one of the brains behind the Ayodhya Film Society that holds the festival every winter.

"Through our film and dramatics gathering that is accompanied by detailed discussions with the audience, we try to bring the less talked issues to the forefront of public consciousness," he says.

The concept of what they call the 'Awam ka cinema' emerged in 2004 when Alam, then a student, got together with a bunch of like-minded people to start the screenings of documentaries and films on social issues in the twin cities of Ayodhya and Faizabad.

In 2006, the group formed their society, which has so far held similar film festivals in Delhi, Mau, Jaipur, Auriya and Kashmir. Ayodhya and Faizabad, however, remains the centre of their activities.