AFTER working on several subjects related to food issues in her 30-year-long documentary filmmaking career from a 1996 film Amrit Beej that showed womens role in agricultural farming to launching anti-hunger campaigns and public service message ads Meera Dewan was done with showing the poverty-stricken side of it. While she was researching on the history of famine,she discovered a new,cheerier side to it of how people across the world dealt and coped with hunger. It formed the basis of her new documentary,Gur Prasad: The Grace of Food that documents the langar tradition of community food sharing in Punjab. I had an example in my own community where an 80-year-old woman is willing to come to the kitchen everyday from home to serve people, she says.
To capture the true spirit of the langar,Dewan avoided the cities and set her documentary solely in the gurudwaras of rural Punjab instead. There,she believed,the sanctity of the tradition is still untouched. It is not just about sharing food,or charity. Its also about treating everyone with equality where people from all classes sit together and share a meal, says the 63-year-old filmmaker,who has won national and international awards for her anti-dowry film Gift of Love (1982),made in association with Films Division,Mumbai.
Dewans films have always been steeped in her social surroundings. In Gur Prasad,it resonates with an issue as universal as food whose relevance hasnt lessened from the time langar started as a radical concept in the caste-divided society of 16th century India led by the first Sikh Guru Nanak. Its a fact that it is known to be one of the most effective models to combat widespread hunger. But,despite that and having a Prime Minister who knows deeply about it,it didnt pass the recent Food Security Bill, says the filmmaker.
She is firmly rooted in factual relevance,but Dewan doesnt let it dominate her films. She infuses necessary lyricism by using effective photography and music that guides the film in the absence of commentary. For instance,Amrit Beej,uses Indian traditional music composed by Shubha Mudgal,who bagged the National Award for Best Music Direction in a Non-Feature film for this.
In Gur Prasad,she uses the sacred songs of gurbani,sung by rural raagis that plays along with the images. While looking into the gurbani,I found out that there are songs especially on the essence of langar, she says. The 52-minute film has been shot across five locations in Punjab,including the chai ka langar on the highways,and the oldest langar in the world in Khadur Sahib.The film,produced by the National Film Division Corporation,was recently screened in Delhi and its screening in other cities,including Mumbai,will take place soon.