What I liked about Does Your House Have Lions is that it tries to be a documentary without being a documentary, it tries to be with its people rather than show its people. The people in the film, vqueeram, Dhiren, and Devangana, are living through extraordinary times, documentary-worthy times, but rather than pull back and explain a national narrative, the film resolutely remains on their lives, their friendships. These are conversations taking place in their livingrooms, their bedrooms, that we manage, through the camera, to be present for.
The rise of fascism across the globe has been rightly discussed at length, but one nation which has been underrepresented in discussions is India. I think because, from here, we recognise fascism from its use of white supremacist iconography, and can therefore link up different national movements that share Nazi swastikas or American Confederate flags or Nordic runes. But India’s Hindu nationalism falls outside this, so the emotional punch of recognising the repeated signature that signposts the route to fascism is largely absent for those observing from outside the nation. Modi has definitely been able to use this to his advantage, as the political violence he has incited has went unnamed abroad, and without being named as fascism it cannot be tackled as fascism.
vqueeram, Dhiren and their friends are queer university activists in Dehli. Vishal, the co-director with vqueeram, an American from the Indian diaspora, is present on screen, in discussions, is heard over the phone, or seen setting up shots. There is a definite intent to be as transparent as possible, of showing the artifice of trying to light a shot while at the same time capturing the naturalness of conversation taking place. Sometimes vqueeram will explain things to Vishal that he was not aware of, that happened while he was out the country or which didn’t get attention on the news. There is not a presumption of an omniscient documentary-maker, this is very much a space for listening.
What I liked was that it showed how political movements function mostly through social bonds. When people scoff at left-leaning or anti-authoritarian politics, there is usually the question asked rhetorically of how folk would get anything done, anything organised? I always find it funny when this gets asked because most relationships in our lives are not boss/subordinate or police/prisoner. Most relationships that we have with friends, neighbours, lovers, and co-workers strive, despite power structures, towards an equalitarian nature. Empathy is the currency of our interactions far more than dominance. Yet most documentaries like to show political conflict as two opposing structures, two hierarchical organisations vying for control. It is harder to capture what a lot of activism really is, which is checking in to see if someone’s doing alright, knowing who is struggling just now, phoning someone’s loved ones to give them information and support. What builds a movement and keeps it functioning is what is shown in Does Your House Have Lions, conversations in livingrooms, holding your friend’s hand while he tells you about something that happened to him, sitting on the porch and processing the fallouts of protests.
Both in what is shown and how it is shown, there is an attempt to make a film which eschews the norms and formats of a documentary film, and co-authors a recorded piece of people’s lives, lives which are inherently political, not just when on the streets or in a rally, but every day in their homes, their kitchens, their hearths.