Brief life of insects – A documentary you must check out!

Review appeared first here –

Tarun Bhartiya recently showcased his documentary Brief Life Of Insects at the Mumbai International Film Festival. The film has been produced by Meghalaya government’s Art & Culture Department. One look at this 22 minute journey through the lives of the community living in Umpohwin, (a Bhoi village on the Assam-Meghalaya border) would tell you why it won the best sound award and why you should catch it at the next opportunity you get. The film is a part of his Songs To Live By series, which will has a total of six documentaries about People of Khasi, Jaintia & Garo hills.

Filmed during the threshing of paddy, music is at the heart of the documentary. The silence of their surroundings is not something the residents enjoy as much as we would like to believe. We are introduced to Hos Shadap and Albinus Kharkongor who are farmers and fabulous singers as well. The quiet of the forest and the daily grind of making ends meet with impossibly low means, is probably what makes them sing. When they are singing, they are a whole, if someone misses a word, someone else picks it up and so on. There is an obvious underlying commentary on the life and state of this community. Watching the lives of these ‘farm-artists’, you become a part of the setting owing to the excellent sound of the film. Even something as basic as a shot of hitting the nail on a plank has a rhythmic murmur to it.

The lyrics, as these artists insist, are totally spontaneous and the contents vary from their limited means and the lack of loving the men receive from their womenfolk, to the ‘curfew like’ situation during the period when there is no paying work to meet the basic need for survival. The severity of their state of living actually shakes you up, but you somehow watch in disbelief as the quick witted Albinus remarks ‘it is farmer’s life’. You would smile when you see him trying hard (while rolling a joint), to recollect the song that the makers of the documentary recorded in his own voice a couple of months ago. The ‘Yemaha’ strings along with other instruments in the gathering are just about good enough to play their part as the community recollects a funny song about their teacher who used to punish them by making them stand on the bench. All this, while working in the field or sitting in the evening where the whole village sits and sings.

In the field, threshing has an obvious rhythm to it and you will not be able to hold your smile when someone asks the others, ‘Why don’t we sing?’ (because why let music go unaccompanied?) You should hear the accompanying workers who are naturally placing their ‘woo hoo’ perfectly as Albinus sings, mentioning the passing cars and these gawking men with cameras and how threshing should continue because time is running out and they have to reach home, where they don’t get what they deserve.

Much is spoken and documented about the north east being the rock capital of the country and I don’t doubt it one bit. However such communities, who have their own songs to sing, should get their own share of limelight. There are limited means to get authentic sounds and wouldn’t it be a poetic justice of sorts to see the ‘connoisseurs’ satiating their hunger for good music by giving these artists a stage to present their melodies and get something important, something more than a word of encouragement, that could even out their constant struggle to survive?

“That’s what I want from the song, to sing away my troubles”, says Hos Shadap. Shouldn’t we try to make this a reality for him and many others like him? I would love to write at length about how lovely the documentary is, but what’s the use of telling you everything in prose when you can experience it for yourself?

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