Student seeks SGA funds to film Indian artists

by Beacon Staff • February 15, 2006

The piece is capped with acrobatic dancing, breathy vocals and precise drumming.,Six men's instruments resonate a sound unequaled by orchestras. A mad intoxication with spirit and earth is apparent in the Baul tribe's performance, which has been captured by senior film major Angshuman Ghosh in a 10-minute short film.

The piece is capped with acrobatic dancing, breathy vocals and precise drumming.

Ghosh plans to petition the Student Government Association (SGA) next week to seek sponsorship for a full-length documentary titled "Songs from the Little Road," based on the Baul, an Indian counter culture group of traveling minstrels.

Ghosh aims to garner financial support so he can make a full-length film this summer when he returns to his hometown of Calcutta, India, to follow the lives of its folk artist community, including the Baul.

The Crafts Council of West Bengal has pledged to help with transportation and other logistics, while the U.S.-based Indo-American Arts Council will aid in marketing and distribution advice. It is up to the students, Ghosh said, to raise the funds for its production.

Ghosh said he is seeking approximately $6,000 from the SGA, which he hopes will act as the primary sponsor of his project.

Fellow Emerson students who would accompany Ghosh to India to assist him in the project include junior film majors Zach Winick and Suzanne Levitch, senior Evan Lane, and junior audio/radio major Ronny Rose. The student filmmakers plan to live in villages with the Baul for about 20 days.

Ghosh said he is interested in seeing how the Western student filmmakers will be able to adapt to foreign Indian customs, which he said he believes would justify the extra cost of bringing a foreign crew overseas.

"The [Emerson students] have never been over there, and they have no idea how we live," Ghosh said.

A majority of the movie's shooting, Ghosh said, will be dedicated to the Baul and their musical tradition, sahajiya, translated as "the essence that emerges while being born."

Singing in a unique dialect understood by few, the Bauls strum on self-constructed stringed instruments, thump on drums and blow furiously on the clarinet.

There may be another aspect of the film that includes documenting the potential "cultural clash" between his fellow students and the Baul when they get to India, he said.

They will be filming the Baul, whose name literally means "frenzied," while the tribe roams cities and villages, performing folk music based on events depicted on scrolls painted by artists in the community.

The scrolls, which Ghosh described as intricately detailed and vibrantly colored, sometimes reach 20 feet long and can take three months to produce. They act as storyboards, depicting the various fables of Hindu mythology, upon which the Baul base their songs, according to Ghosh.

Dating back to ancient India, the Hindu art form was practiced before Islamic converts conquered parts of the region, according to Ghosh. Therefore, modern Hindu scrolls are produced by Muslim artists, and while they are are committed to both their craft and their religion, Ghosh said, this remains a highly controversial combination. He said that he sees the link between the scroll-painters and the Baul to be their embrace of both cultures in their storytelling.

While the contemporary religious conflict between Hindus and Muslims still looms violently in parts of India, Baul men enter into the tradition to discard religion, caste and creed, and become known only as Baul.

There are women involved in the tribe but they are a minority compared to their counterparts.

Ghosh was first exposed to the Baul at his mother's home in Calcutta. At 14 years old, he said he became so inexplicably moved by the tribe that he felt compelled to buy his first of many scrolls.

Last summer, Ghosh said he realized he should re-explore these men and their culture, he said.

"They have this intrinsic philosophy of naturalism and a life eternal for all," Ghosh said.