Religion as the pulse, the arterial vein, that keeps the myriad cultures of India bound together was the recurring theme of the documentaries screened at the Prakriti Foundation's ‘One Billion Eyes' fest .
India is a nation of many faces, many layers; a dichotomy exists in thought and lifestyle that most of us have no clue about. Space age technology happens alongside animal sacrifices to appease goddesses and 10-year old girls being married off to 45-year-olds! Yes, religion is the pulse, the arterial vein, which keeps the myriad cultures bound together. That was the recurring theme of the documentaries that were screened as part of Prakriti Foundation's ‘One Billion Eyes' fest.
‘The Killer Field,' set in the lush ranges of Garhwal, Uttarakhand shows people killing thousands of buffaloes and goats every year to propitiate Goddess Bhunklal Devi, a form of Shakti. The hapless buffaloes and goats struggle as their heads are severed but the gory sight moves none! The short made by Sanjoy Roy and Manoj Kumar is raw and makes you shudder.
In contrast is the award-winning ‘Almoriana' by Vasudha Joshi, in neighbouring Almora, where Dusserah is celebrated by making and burning papier mache effigies of Ravana and the other demons. The task of making the effigies consumes the simple residents for over two months. The camaraderie and the joyous spirit project another face of India.
Equally fascinating is ‘The Holy Duels of Hola Mohalla' by Vani Subramanian, set in Punjab's Anandpur Sahib. It focusses on the Nihangs, the last warring monks of the Sikh faith. Mounted on their horses, their long spears in position, the Nihangs showcase their athletic skill and martial arts during the festival to mark the establishment of the Khalsa Panth by Guru Gobind Singh. Will Gen Next follow the tradition?
‘Calcutta Pride March' on the landmark Pride parade, a historic event pertaining to the LGBT movement in India, was interesting. Equally riveting was Amitava Roy's ‘In Search of Durga,' a docu-drama where British poet Joe Winter goes to Kolkata during Durga Puja. Slowly it turns into a spiritual journey for him!
Three poignant films of Chennai-based R.V. Ramani were featured at the fest. ‘The Voyeur' captures behind-the-scene moments at The Other Festival in 1999. ‘City Stories' is on the Katha Utsav in Delhi and the theme of urban vs. rural. Ramani and Monisha Baldawa capture a slice of the famous Pooram festival at Nammara Vallangi, Kerala, in ‘Is This How Craters Were Formed on the Moon.'
‘Altar' by Leena Manimekalai is about the Kambalathu Naicker community in central Tamil Nadu and child marriages and victimisation of women. In ‘Kelai Draupadi' by S. Sasikanth, the spotlight is on the 200 villages in Tamil Nadu where the Mahabharata is performed as a festival. The colourful chariot festival, an important cultural event in Chennai's calendar, is what Mohan Das Vadakara's ‘Mylapore Theru' is all about. ‘A Story of a Goddess and Three Gods' by R. Vaidyanathan is a short on Panguni Tiruvizha, a post-harvest festival celebrated in Alanganallur, near Madurai. The local artisans (members of Vellalar community) make huge terracotta idols of the three Gods and a Goddess and these are worshipped during this festival. What makes this event special is that people from different communities come together.
The films hope to sensitise us about the unseen India. But how many of us watch them?
(Almorania and The Holy Duels of Hola Mohalla took home the prizes.)