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Reviewed by:
  • Colours of Earth
  • Edward O. Henry (bio)
Colours of Earth. Shefali Bhushan, camera, narration, editing & direction. New Delhi: Folk Music India. 2003. One DVD, 64 minutes (main film with credits) plus assorted supplements. ISBN 8-23208-20019-1. $17.99/Rs 359.

This DVD shows bits of over twenty performances from the Himalayas to West Bengal, all interesting, some very compelling, all in authentic settings, videoed in the field from 2000– 2003. Some of the types, such as the Bauls and Ram Lila, are well-known, and we see three different groups of biraha singers. Others, e.g. bhara in Kumao and dhobi git in Uttar Pradesh, are fading/faded and captured here in the nick of time. All are well recorded. Lead singers wear a lapel mic and we see a boom mic at one point. Two cameras were used and there is variety in the shots with powerful close-ups and beautiful scenery. Subtitles show the places of most of the performances and the names of most of the leader/lead singers, as well as, in some cases, English translations of some of the lyrics being sung. The six "bonus tracks" seem to be different edits of what we see in the film.

The video has several apparent aims: entertainment, an introduction to northern Indian folk music, a warning about its fragile condition, a tribute to its remaining performers, and, perhaps, even documentation of different types. Although not primarily intended for scholars, it will be of some use to them in that it introduces some performance types not well known and provides comparative data for those that are. The narration, in English, is poetical, rarely difficult to understand, and generally accurate, though we could wish for more factual information (and I don't believe the dholak is played in southern India).

Many of the performances are just sampled. A good-sounding group toward the end—two men strumming lutes and tapping drums simultaneously, accompanied by two women—is unidentified, as is what is apparently the arti portion of a temple worship rite, with accelerating tempo par excellence. But performances of banna in Rajasthan (with a driving algoza accompaniment), rasiya in Braj by a biraha group, a dramatic Alha singer in U.P., dhobi git in eastern UP, nirgun bhajan by a biraha group in Varanasi, biraha in Kumaon and an unnamed type in Himachal Pradesh by a man playing a shawm between verses sung by his wife accompanying herself on a frame drum, get more time and information, including translations of some of the lyrics. (The dhobi git performance includes a persuasive imitation of vilap, the ritual wailing of the [End Page 162] region performed by women.) Not to discredit the importance of surveys such as this, future efforts could concentrate to good effect on one or a few genres, pre senting complete performances of one or more songs, with translations and more complete information about such things as the social occasion of the performance, recruitment of performers, remuneration, and change.

The film also documents modern adaptations of folk music, showing an urban folksinger in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, with classical Hindustani instrumental accompaniment, and the ingratiating folk-pop singer Manoj Tiwari singing one of his risqué songs to the tune of an old kajali (monsoon season song).

The insertion of seemingly unrelated video over the music audio is at times confusing. For example, visual footage from what is apparently a session of unnamed women singers is inserted without explanation over the singing of urban folksinger Urmilla Srivastav. This may have been done to suggest the original context of the song. A similar example is the insertion of footage distantly related to the lyrics of the song being performed, as in a song in which a girl is pleading with the father not to cut down a neem tree being illustrated with footage of a young woman in a tree chopping off branches for firewood. At the end, scenes from a riotous dye-throwing holi celebration are mixed with scenes from a large circle dance with people hitting each other's sticks.

A surprising omission was the group singing of untrained village women, which occurs...


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