DER Documentary

Singing Pictures

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by Lina Fruzzetti, Ákos Östör, Aditi Nath Sarkar
color, 40 min, 2005
Bengali w/ English subtitles


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For generations, Patua (Chitrakar) communities of West Bengal, India have been painters and singers of stories depicted in scrolls. The Patuas tell the stories of Muslim saints (pirs and fakirs) as well as Hindu Gods and Goddesses, and offer devotion to saints at Muslim shrines. In the past they used to wander from village to village, receiving rice, vegetables and coins for their recital. They would unroll a scroll, a frame at a time, and sing their own compositions. But competition from other media eroded this way of life and now the Patuas are trying to adapt to changing conditions.

In response to this cultural crisis and as a means to make extra money, recently a group of women from Naya village near Calcutta formed a scroll painters' collaborative. The film follows their daily lives as they paint, sing, cook, tend to their children and meet with the cooperative. They discuss the problems and rewards of practicing their art, and speak freely about the social, religious, and political changes in the village and the world beyond. Their wisdom, artistry, and good humor amidst many difficulties illuminate the lives around them.

Scrolls cover a variety of themes: mythological and religious, social and especially women's issues, contemporary local and world news. The more recent themes are communal (Hindu Muslim) harmony, Joy Bangla (the birth of Bangladesh as a country), the battle of Kargil (Kashmir conflict), and the September 11 events in New York. Women painters have also developed the figure of Satya Pir (revered by Muslim and Hindu alike) demonstrating how two communities can live in religious harmony despite mounting tensions in the rest of the country.

The women candidly discuss issues of Islam and birth control, victimization of women, female education, poverty and work, religious tolerance and intolerance, and depict some of these ideas in the scrolls themselves. Women painters want to tell their own stories in songs and pictures, illustrating their lives of hardship and endurance. These stories attest to what it means to be a woman in Bengal and India today, demonstrating how a small group of determined women can empower themselves by adapting an ancient art to new conditions.

"Highly Recommended."— Educational Media Reviews Online

An more in-depth ethnography of the scroll singers of Naya by Ákos Östör and Lina Fruzetti can be found at the Wesleyan Learning Objects website.

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Material Culture and Archaeology Prize, International Ethnographic Film Festival of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 2005
Athens International Film & Video Festival, Ohio, 2006
Society for Visual Anthropology/American Anthropological Association Conference, San Jose, California, 2006
Jury Award, International Festival of Ethnological Film, Serbia, 2006, Documentary and Ethnographic Film Festival, Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 2006
Best Documentary Independent Short, New England Film & Video Festival, Boston, 2006
Sponsor Award, Eyes & Lenses IV - Competition of Ethnographic and Anthropologic Films, Poland, 2007
Parnü: International Film Festival, Estonia, 2007
"Mikolajki Folkowe" Festival, Lublin, Poland, 2007
India International Women Film Festival, New Delhi, 2007
Dialektus Film Festival, Budapest, Hungary, 2008

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