Reclaiming lost music

Film screening

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.”

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