Supriyo Sen’s documentary Let There Be Light is among the more absorbing Public Service Broadcasting Trust productions at the Open Frame festival (September 16-20) in Delhi. The annual roll-out includes documentaries on wide-ranging subjects, from ecological conservation to gender. Sen’s film, which has been evocatively shot by Mrinmay Mondal, looks at the decorative lighting industry in Chandannagar in Bengal. Here, dazzling and multi-coloured mechanical creations in various shapes, sizes and themes are an important part of the attractions at the annual Jagaddhatri festival. As Sen discovers, the light makers are constantly coming up with new ideas and technological innovations to reflect tradition as well as keep step with the present.
The festival doubles up as a marketplace for buyers who drop in to pick up designs that can be used at religious festivals, cultural events and fairgrounds across the country. They have a lot to choose from every year. The combination of “motion, circuitry and artistry”, as one of the suppliers puts it, includes eye-popping displays of giant clowns, rockets, dinosaurs, and various animals and birds. The themes include the armed forces, recreations of monuments, sporting achievements (there’s a display on gymnast Dipa Karmakar) and short narratives based on folk tales and mythology. The light makers, who trace their craft to the post-independence period, are not only mindful of impressing the hordes that throng the festival with their basic animatronic skills. They also compete in an annual competition, described as “cut-throat”.
The creations often comment on current events, but ever so often, a manufacturer will stick his neck out. In 1999, Kashinath Neogy made a 17 foot-long giant frog rather than marking the Kargil war, as was the fashion at the time. The frog did service for 12 years and was used in several other places, Neogy said.
The inevitable move from fluorescent bulbs to LED lighting to cut down on high power consumption initially did not go down well. The mini bulbs were pleasant to look at, while LED hurts the eyes, one artist complained. The popularity of LED lights also affected local employment. The several tiny bulbs that made up a single unit were previously wrapped in coloured paper by hand, whereas the new lights are imported from China. Here too, the innovative streak that characterises Chandannagar’s homegrown industry comes to the rescue: one artist orders several small LED lights in the shape of fluorescent bulbs for his creation – a true Make in India moment.
The Open Frame festival programme includes documentaries on travel, local history, literature and current issues, such as Sibtain Shahidi’s Baba-E-Dakan: Burhanpur, about the legacy of the Madhya Pradesh town. Anupama Chandra and Uma Tanuku profile Urvashi Butalia and Ritu Menon, the co-founders of the feminist publishing company Kali For Women, in The Books We Made.
In Stopover, Collin D’Cunha interviews four Indian immigrants in Dubai, including a construction worker and an airhostess. Avijit Mukul Kishore’s Electric Shadows examines contrasting film cultures in India and China. Shweta Ghosh’s Steeped and Stirred provides a snappy history of tea consumption in India. Lipika Singh Darai’s Some Stories Around Witches is an investigation into the persecution of women and men accused of occult practices in Orissa.
Several productions focus on the ecology and conservation efforts. In The Pangti Story, Sesino Yhoshu looks at the conservation programme in Nagaland that led to the preservation of the Amur falcons. Saving the Wild, by Rita Banerji, follows the efforts of the Centre for Wild Life Rehabilitation and Conservation in Kaziranga.
Srinivasa Ramanjunan: The Mathematician and his Legacy is a biographical documentary by Nandan Kudhyadi. Anirban Dutta’s The Tale of Stamps is a short history of philately in India. Anurag Singh’s Loktantra Ki Ek Kahani profiles the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan in rural Rajasthan.
As is the practice, older PSBT productions will also be shown at Open Frame, such as Pankaj H Gupta’s Apna Aloo Bazaar Becha, about a village in Garhwal that adjusts to changes in the economy, and Malgorzata Skiba’s Eco Dharma, about the Bishnoi community in Rajasthan.
The festival will pay tribute to Altaf Mazid, the Assamese filmmaker who died April 13, 2016, by screening his documentary Sabin Alun, on the interpretation of the Ramayana epic by the Karbi community in Assam.