By José Sarmiento Hinojosa

Until recent years, the Santhali tribe of India did not have their own written language. Their stories and myths were preserved and passed on verbally through the generations. Each narration has a different form, much like the rocks of a nearby hill that come in various hues.
Prantik Narayan Basu

The sinuous forms in the floor, carefully drawn by the women in Bela, create a wonderful pattern of contours. This movement, carefully paced and produced as a celebration, serves as a preparation for the Chhau, a local traditional mask folk dance in the town. In the first moments of Bela, we see the men of the town, preparing for the dance, their movement sinuous also create contours in the air, a strange electricity captured by Indian director Prantik Narayan Basu. These two essential movements serve as parallel of the principal activities that happen amidst the quotidian in the town, the ritual which will culminate the preparations in town: grainy digital image gives the dancers at the beginning a sort of particular plasticity, their movements entrapped in an atmosphere that slows down time and creates silhouettes, the night capture as a way of evoking spirits from the dancing bodies.

The activities of men and women for preparation, can be seen as contingent (the assigned roles of male and female), but as also a dialectical effort of collectiveness in order to produce the ritual, the celebration. As Narayan Basu mentions, these “ambiguous thresholds” between the two sides, allow us to watch not only how are gender roles exercised in the town, but also how the dance is reserved only for the male part, hence creating a sort of labor division between the two. Men prepare frantically for the dance, and women pick up firewood, dry leaves, decorate the town and do other quotidian rituals of preparations.

What is particularly interesting in this view by the Indian filmmaker, is how he encapsulates the gender roles in the town as part of this act of labor: the ritual as part of daily duties of the people of Bela. This de-exoticized view which constructs a narrative from immense ellipsis -a two-year filming condensed in two days of celebration- is a way of reconstruction of time as reconstitution of ritualistic praxis and the day-to-day efforts in the village. Roles are seen through an inquisitive eye which tries to understand the complex dynamics of this final (and spectacular celebration) both as an homage and a critique, as a testimony and questioning, but specially as a way of inserting the role of the filmmaker in the role of the town in this dual ritual of labor and dance.

Prantik Narayan Basu has made a remarkable film, which enunciates clearly the power of observation and the possibilities of the narrative documentary through the construction of a fictional time dilation.

Director, camera: Prantik Narayan Basu
Cinematographer: Riju Das
Producer: Anjali Monteiro, K.P. Jayasankar,
Sound: Ananda Gupta
Cast, music: Manbhum Sramjibi Chhau Dance Group
India, 2021
Compétition Internationale Moyens et Courts Métrages