The Hindu Arts » Cinema August 25, 2011
Anjali Monteiro and K.P. Jayasankar make documentaries that complement their social concern, academics, and passion for filmmaking.
Introducing Anjali Monteiro and K.P. Jayasankar as documentary filmmakers with a long innings is really not saying everything that this pair has accomplished in their other areas of interest – media research, cultural studies and as faculty at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
In Thiruvananthapuram with their latest documentary ‘So Heddan, So Hoddan’ on the Fakirani Jat community of Kutch, Monteiro and Jayasankar take you through their body of work and share their experiences as filmmakers and keen observers of the “terrain that is constantly changing.”
“Digital technology has changed things considerably. There is a blurring of the divide between production and consumption vis-à-vis filmmaking because it is no longer a space solely for the filmmaker, but has been embraced by communities, individual identities, students, and activists. But, now more than ever, the documentary maker faces the censorship of the state as well as a censorship of the market,” is how Anjali describes the present scene.
Adds Jayasankar: “Every documentary presents a struggle. In fact, what we experience now is a strange paradox: production has gone up but venues have not seen an exponential increase. There is a reduction of space in mainstream media where the documentary viewing culture is not cultivated and the international scene does not give a revenue model.”
An interesting element in most of their documentaries is that they locate the marginalised herdsman (‘Do Din Ka Mela’ and ‘So Heddan, So Hoddan’), the non-conformist woman celebrating womanhood through her poetry (‘She Write’), tribal people such as the Warlis (‘Kahankar: Ahankar’), transgender, the normal and deviant (‘Our Family’), and creativity among prisoners in Yerawarda jail and their social isolation (‘YCP’), and so on as the subjects.
There is a great degree of archiving which gets clubbed with their filmmaking, as in the case of ‘So Heddan, So Heddon,’ where the focus is on the Fakirani Jat community, which lives in the Rann of Kutch who use the Surando, a stringed instrument to accompany the verses that are recited. By way of documenting the community, Monteiro-Jayasankar have also recorded for posterity the music of the lone surviving Surando in the region.
They see documentaries as a collaborative experience with people, and there is a lot of protest in stories of the subaltern: the diverse voices of the marginalised, be it the Warlis, or Dharavi slums; it is a powerful expression rooted in traditional wisdom and normally ignored by mainstream media.
As self-taught filmmakers who strayed from academics to filmmaking, the pair see their areas of specialisation, media research, cultural studies, and filmmaking – as complementary.
As media researchers there is one question that cannot remain unasked of Monteiro-Jayasankar: Is the media really paying heed to the findings from studies on audience, content and reception analysis?
“With the coming of the Internet the audience is part producer and part consumer when you engage in uploading on the YouTube or blogging. Further, with emerging diasporic audiences, revenue models are changing. A fragmentation of audience is inevitable because even the ‘self’ is so fragmented now. Market researchers are open to redefine their approach, the media is in a fix, audiences are playful with advertisements, and finally, even the non-literate has access and uses technology,” concludes Anjali.
For the duo who have won 22 national and international awards for their films, an integration of their academic and filmmaking energies translate into meaningful journeys as documentary filmmakers, researchers on media consumption, marketing and audience responses, as well.
Neither here nor there
A documentary on the Fakirani Jatts of Kachchh tries to record on celluloid their mystic traditions which are fast disappearing, writes Kareena N Gianani
Kareena N Gianani February 12, 2012
Filmmakers Anjali Monteiro, 56, and KP Jayasankar, 59, say they will not be too surprised if the audience gets a tad restless at first during the screening of their Kachchhi documentary, So Heddan So Hoddan (Like Here Like There) at the NCPA in Mumbai this week.
The film moves at a pace most would consider leisurely, much like its subject, the Fakirani Jatt community in Kachchh, Gujarat. The documentary has 20-second-long-shots, for instance, of a bullock cart crossing the desert or a cicada flitting over a log of wood in the water.“To capture the mysticism of the Fakirani Jatts, we too shed the usual ‘quick bites’ habit and just let things flow,” says Monteiro. “To film their rhythm, we needed to hold that thought, and our camera too,” adds Jayasankar, sitting beside Monteiro at their Deonar home in suburban Mumbai. Before Partition, the Maldhari (pastoral) Fakirani Jatts could move freely across the Great Rann, shuttling between Sindh (which became a part of Pakistan) and Kachchh. Now, the Jatts have been forced to settle and take up other professions. They make a livelihood from farming, driving trucks or working in power looms. But when they find time, they can be seen reminiscing about the teachings of the 17th century Sufi philosopher, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, or playing their traditional musical instrument, the surando.
Sufi wisdom Monteiro and Jayasankar, both professors at the Centre for Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, have won 22 national and international awards for their documentaries over the past 25 years. In their earlier works, the duo have worked with another marginalised Kachchhi community (Do Din Ka Mela), an iconoclastic woman celebrating her womanhood through poems (She Write), transgenders (Our Family) and the creativity of the Yerwada jail prisoners (YCP).
So Heddan… opens with Haji Umar Suleiman, 55, the eldest of three cousins, speaking about his love for the Sufi philosopher Bhitai. Haji remembers how he approached an elderly man at his school and begged him to teach him Bhitai’s Rissalo (his teachings consisting of 36 melodies). “Haji’s wisdom soothes anyone who’ll care to listen. Here is a man, removed from what we call is a civilised world, who doesn’t understand the politics of Partition, but fully well understands suffering, the beauty of diversity and transience,” says Jayasankar.
Monteiro and Jayasankar first heard about the Fakirani Jatt community in 2008 from friends who work at the Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan, a Gujarat-based NGO. One of KMVS’s radio shows featured Haji’s cousins, Mustafa Ali Jat and Usman Sonu Jat, who sing and play their 100-year-old peacock-shaped, five-stringed surando. “We fell in love with their folk tales, and decided to explore a life that is so removed from the industrialised, modern Gujarat we know,” says Jayasankar.
The community had mixed feelings about being filmed by Monteiro and Jayasankar when they first went to their village, cameras and sound equipment in tow. The documentary has a scene where Mustafa and his wife, Rahima bai, are preparing lunch and Mustafa speaks of the surando and its heritage. Suddenly, Rahima bai asks Mustafa (in Kachchhi) about the cameras. “These cameras are easily worth Rs50,000, are they not? And these people want to spend all this money just filming us? Where will this go? How will we ever know in what light they will present us to the world outside?” demands Rahima bai.
Jayasankar says the community’s concerns were not unreasonable. A few years ago, according to Haji, a Fakirani Jatt went to a city in Gujarat and saw photographs of a woman from the community on a tourism brochure. “Someone had probably taken the photograph and sold it to a tourism company as the ‘face of Gujarat’. The Fakirani Jatts are very particular about how their women are portrayed, and didn’t take it too well,” says Jayasankar.
Between past and present The Jatts gradually became comfortable with Monteiro and Jayasankar when they realised that the documentary was meant to archive their lives — the way they are. “We were quite overwhelmed by the manner in which the community faces drought and disaster with grace and dignity, not as victims. May be it is the vast, barren landscape that makes them humbler and equanimous,” feels Monteiro. Through the documentary, the filmmaker duo want to explore the paradox in the lives of the community. The Fakirani Jatts are somewhere in the middle of their glorious past and a present they are coming to terms with. But there is a marginalisation of their tradition, which is apparent everywhere. Primary schools in their neighbourhood teach their children bhajans in Gujarati, not Kachchhi, says Monteiro. All posters put up in the school promote a ‘normal way to be’ which is removed from the Fakirani Jatt way of life. The teachers have a fixed agenda to ‘civilise’ the community’s children and shun the idea of incorporating their traditions into their present.
Monteiro and Jayasankar want people to know how the pastoralists are losing many battles — sometimes against the mushrooming power plants, and then against the government who planted the weed, gaando baawal, that destroys their grasslands and their livelihood. And then, in their homes, there is a struggle wherein their children will never go back to the surando and Bhitai’s wisdom, among other things, says Monteiro. firstname.lastname@example.org
(So Heddan So Hoddan will be screened at the Tata Theatre, NCPA, Mumbai, on Friday, February 17 at 7pm)
Shades of Kutch viewed through the lens
S. Anandan August 26, 2011 http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-kerala/article2398870.ece
As academics, K. P. Jayasankar and Anjali Monteiro know for sure that ethnographic filmmaking is largely a predatory exercise. So, when they set about making films on marginalised ethnic groups, they don’t ‘train’ the camera on their ‘subjects’. Nor do they film for a ‘target’ audience. For this noted filmmaking duo, documentary making is largely a participatory activity.
At Nanappa Art Gallery in Kochi recently to screen their latest documentary So Heddan So Hoddan (Like here like there), the second in a series of three films on life in Gujarat’s Kutch region, Jayasankar and Anjali, faculty members at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), sought to dispel a few notions of filmmaking, contending why it was important to deconstruct some customary binary depictions. Look how aptly Jean Rouch has described anthropology as the eldest daughter of colonialism, says Anjali. Typically, the gaze of the camera is akin to colonial gaze, the filmmakers argue.
While you wouldn’t dare videograph a celebrity without permission, the basic right to have a dignified existence and portrayal is denied to these marginalised people and in most cases, the documentary filmmaker manipulates their image at will.
Jayasankar and Anjali have made many memorable trips to Kutch in the past three years. If their first film documented the rich folk music of the region, So Heddan… foregrounds the levels of intense separation and grief in the songs of medieval Sufi poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, a legendary Sindhi/ Kutchi cultural figure, as experienced by three cousins of Kutch’s Fakirani Jat community.
Humility is what best describes these filmmakers. Even as they document fading communities with resistant cultural practices, they make sure that the community is involved in the process of filmmaking.
So Heddan… will shortly be telecast on Doordarshan. Anjali and Jayasankar have already begun work on the third film in the Kutch series on a strong-willed woman — a brilliant maker of ethnic artefacts. S. Anandan
Wednesday 21 September 2011
Reclaiming lost music
DHNS The Bangalore premiere of the film So Heddan So Hoddan, which literally translates to ‘Like Here Like There’, was held recently.
The one-hour documentary has been made by internationally acclaimed directors Anjali Monteiro and K P Jayasankar, and revolves around the stories of the Maldhari Jatts, a pastoralist tribe.It is also based on the life of the medieval Sufi poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, whose poems are a great favourite amongst the Sindhi-speaking Maldhari Jatts.Speaking about the movie, K P Jayasankar said, “It is set in a pastoralist community that used to move between India and Pakistan, and the difficulties that they face now due to which their movement is restricted. It also talks about the verses of Bhitai, a poet who wrote about love stories — especially of separated lovers.He used this as a metaphor to talk about distance, such as the distance between one and one’s self, and the individual and God.”The documentary was shot from the point of view of three cousins: Umar Haji Suleiman, a self-taught Sufi scholar from Abdasa, Kutch; Mustafa, who loves singing the bheths of Bhitai, and his cousin, Usman Jatt. Each speak about their love for Bhitai, and in the process allow the viewer a quick glimpse into their own families and lives.The documentary also narrated some of the stories of Bhitai, the most prominent being that of Marui and King Umar. Marui was a girl from Maleer, located in the Thar Desert, who was abducted by a king of a foreign land. When the king tries to tempt her with all kinds of luxuries, she refuses, saying that all she yearns for is her homeland. Talking about this story, Umar Suleiman says, “Bhitai sometimes portrays King Umar as being more than one man. But with Marui, this isn’t so. She is always one.”Special attention has also been paid to the skill with which Bhitai used to compose his verses. In one anecdote related by Umar, he talks about how his lines were so poignant. In the film, while quoting Bhitai, Umar says, “Even if a person spent a lifetime trying to interpret my works, it would still be incomplete.”The documentary also focussed briefly on the issue of Partition. Umar says, “Partition happened the year I was born, but the borders were completely closed only about 20 years back.” He goes on to talk about the many tragedies of that time with children being orphaned and whole families split up.Shot in Kutch, Gujarat, the documentary brilliantly captured the essence of this desolate land, from depicting the landscapes dotted with windmills to portraying life in the villages.Anjali Monteiro, one of the directors of the documentary, said, “It’s a part of some work that we’ve been doing for the last three years in Kutch, where we have been trying to reclaim the traditional music which is fast being eroded. This is the second documentary that we’ve made on this subject.”
Arts and Reviews
Raising the Stakes (Excerpts)
By SNIGDHA POONAM
1 October 2011
[…] The pain of forced separation also haunts the songs that run through So Heddan So Hoddan (Like Here Like There, 2011), an anthropological investigation by Anjali Monteiro and KP Jayasankar of the music and life of the Fakirani Jats, a community of pastoral Muslims also from the border between India and Pakistan—but, in this case, in the state of Gujarat, where they wander the margins of the salt marshes known as the Great Rann of Kutch.
Many of Kutch’s nomadic communities are traditionally musicians, and their songbook is Shah Jo Risalo, a collection of poems written by Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, a medieval Sindhi Sufi. Before Partition, the Fakirani Jats moved freely across the salt flats that separate Sindh (now in Pakistan) and Kutch. Today, that pastoral lifestyle is doomed—not just by borders, but also by economic development. As the Fakirani Jats turn away from their traditional occupations, some among the older generation struggle to at least preserve the syncretic tradition of the Shah Jo Risalo. In So Heddan So Hoddan, we meet three such: the cousins Umar Haji Suleiman, Mustafa Jatt and Usman Jatt.
So Heddan follows the three men, their families and their rituals persistently, creating a bond with its subjects that shows the ease with which they go about their daily routines, almost unmindful of the camera. Paradoxically, if unsurprisingly, it is this film in particular that highlights the old concern about the extent to which, due to the very nature of the craft, documentaries alter reality. You can drift into thinking that people forget you are there, that they forget the camera, the microphone—but they never do so completely. Some time into So Heddon, after the film has followed its subjects for a while, we are startled when Usman Jatt’s wife, who is cutting vegetables to make lunch, asks him in Kutchi: “Why do they keep filming us? Why are they wasting so much money? The camera itself must cost 500,000… I think they want to show our lives and tradition to the world outside.”
‘Like Here, Like There’
Published on: November 30, 2011 – 23:33
Anjali Monteiro and K P Jayashankar, professors of Centre for Media and Cultural Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai are in Goa for the screening their documentary, ‘So Heddan So Hoddan’ in the Indian Panorama section, at the 42nd IFFI. In a conversation with NT BUZZ they spoke about their film, Sufism and why they would like to make a film about Goa
BY ARTI DAS | NT BUZZ
Borders can divide land, but it is hard to divide hearts. Even though we may belong to different countries our emotions remain the same. This is the strong message being depicted in the documentary, ‘So Heddan So Hoddan’ which is part of the Indian Panorama section of the 42nd IFFI, Goa.
‘So Heddan So Hoddan’, which literally means ‘Like Here, Like There’ in Kutchi, is a 52-minute documentary on the pastoral tribe of the Kutch area in Gujarat, who are brought up on the poetry and philosophy of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, a medieval Sufi poet. He is an integral part of the cultural history of Sindh.
“Bhitai was a poet like Kabir who lived in 17th century and was a wanderer. He also believed in various philosophies of different religions. Many of his poems draw on the eternal love stories of Umar-Marui and Sasui-Punhu, among others. These songs speak of the pain of parting, of the inevitability of loss and of deep grief. But, they were used as a metaphor for the distance between our inner self and us, us and god and also between two people. ‘So Heddan So Hoddan’ is actually one of the lines from his poem,” says K P Jayashankar, who has made this documentary along with Anjali Monteiro.
For this documentary they shot in the wide terrain of Kutch area, which is nearer to the coast. “Actually we are working in this area for more than three years now along with a NGO that deals with community radio project, which is called Kutch Mahila Vikas Sanghatan,” says Anjali, who has her roots in Goa.
The documentary speaks through the words of Sufi scholar, Umar Haji Suleiman and Usman Jatt, a truck driver, who plays the rare musical instrument, Surando. The Surando is a peacock shaped, five-stringed instrument from Sindh.
This documentary not only speaks about the spiritual poet but also deals with various issues related to these types of communities. “It speaks about the cultural diversity of Kutch, which is not rich in materialistic resources. It is about the pastorals who have a tradition of storytelling and who are of nomadic culture,” adds Jayashankar.
He also brought out the fact that due to partition the movement of this tribe is restricted. “First they used to roam from Sindh to Kutch but now Sindh is in Pakistan, so their movement is restricted,” he informed.
This film, which is strongly based on Sufism, is being showcased in times where Sufi music is gaining momentum. On this point Anjali pointed out that it is the genuine response of the people around.
“Sufi culture is beyond borders. It questions the fixed identities and dogmatic religious practices. Now there is a re-discovery of Sufism and people are taking interest in poets like Rumi and Kabir. I don’t think it is about a trend. It is our genuine response as there are so many conflicts based on harder or strict identities. Sufism has a secular tradition and mutual respect,” added Anjali.
She also mentioned that this film is also showcasing the wisdom of the marginalised people.
This film is the second of the series of documentaries based in Kutch. “Our first documentary is called ‘Do Din Ka Mela’, which is about a Dalit community and about a singer who plays a flute. Our third documentary will be on a woman who makes interesting hand embroidery and also about their tradition of decorating their homes with interesting designs,” informs Anjali.
With these documentaries they believe that they are contributing in documenting such communities, which may vanish in the times to come. “Yes, there is a threat to these communities due to industrialisation, SEZ (Special Economic Zone). Also due to hazardous industries there is an ecological threat to these regions,” observed Jayashankar.
Anjali and Jayashankar, who have made around 35 documentaries right from the 1980s, are open to do documentaries on Goa. “I have my roots here and I do come down to Goa often. It is a fast changing region. Also there are many lives affected due to mining and which has hampered traditional occupations. So, we would be liked to make documentaries related to Goa,” concluded Anjali.