Kalakar – the Hindi word for ‘artist’. The genesis of art can be straight away linked to the genesis of human civilization. Hunting was an art, dancing after catching the hunt was an art and, painting the walls with natural colours in order to commemorate the hunting exercise was an art as well. In that era, art simply entertained human existence. It was a form of human expression. And it differentiated humans from any other living beings for it required creativity which, in a certain distinct form, was only possessed by humans.
After a few centuries, however, art was no longer restricted to being just a source of entertainment. It became a classified profession having a tangible value. Art was passed on from one generation to another and like other professions became a hereditary skill set. Rulers patronised artists and artists pampered the art they possessed. This linkage was a necessary one for the survival of art, in the absence of which it perished.
With the passage of time, so many art forms disappeared with their patrons. These art forms comprised of different painting styles, dance forms, theatres, and martial arts. With the disappearance of the characteristic art forms, the artists who earned their livelihood through them also diminished.
This short documentary film directed by Sheshank Kishore Mishra challenges our narrow understanding of an ‘artist’. The film reminds us that artists aren’t simply restricted to air-conditioned cineplexes or sophisticated theatres. In other words, there is more to art than the conventional art forms we see around us.
Occupying the central space in this eye-opening and well-scripted documentary is the plight of ‘band wallas’, who have been an eminent part of our celebrations for years. In Anurag Kashyap’s highly acclaimed “Gangs of Wasseypur”, they are also seen relieving the agony faced on the demise of a beloved.
Vakilu bhai, who owns a band in Ailum, a small town in Uttar Pradesh, narrates the story of his 25 years of servitude, struggle and, devotion. The film beautifully depicts the life of Vakilu bhai who claims to have chosen this profession for the survival of his family.
Those dark circles and wrinkles on his face easily speak for the hardships Vakilu bhai had to face for supporting and sustaining a family of eight.
The maturity of the script is palpable. It is filled with anecdotes revolving around the existence of band wallas as a community. For instance, Vakilu bhai sadly mentions the death of his elder brother due to lung failure, which he further regards as an occupational hazard common in their field.
Within a limited space, the film captures the future of band wallas. Vakilu bhai is convinced that his coming generations will not be clanging cymbals and blowing trumpets. Why would one work in a profession which does not get the respect it deserves, he argues succinctly.
In the background, the film tells us how in terms of living their art, band wallas are no different than people pursuing other art forms. They take their art as seriously as any other artist pursuing any other art. Why then, they ask, are band wallas not treated as kalakars and their art respected?
The filmmakers also reveal how there is a serious dearth of alternative means of livelihood for band wallas. During the off season, they hardly have anything to do to sustain their families. They are landless and have to rely on landed farmers for agricultural labour work.
In a nutshell, one should understand that engaging with short films is a tricky affair. They are supposed to be crisp, concise and clear, all together. The trio of Sheshank, Ehtisham and Preeti do a commendable work in this regard. What is worth noting is that the screenplay, cinematography and music are all in sync and complement each other. This characteristic allows the filmmakers to send the message loud and clear. One gets a feeling that the filmmakers knew what they were up to and in the end, they managed to deliver on their vision.