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Wall to Wall

Shashwati Talukdar’s film on 17th century murals from Garhwal region of Uttarakhand throws up nuggets of an alternate pre-colonial history.

Tulsiram,frozen in a self-portrait preserved in the Guru Ram Rai Darbar in Dehradun,comes alive in an animated form to tell the story of his land in Shashwati Talukdar’s Wall Stories. Like a comic book character accompanied by speech bubbles,the 17th century painter appears as a narrative device,a sort of sutradhar in a film that explores the murals in and around the religious shrines and homes of the Garhwal region. They throw up fascinating facts,that may have escaped history books,about a civilisation that had settled in the northern Himalayas.

“Life in 17th century Garhwal region was very different from that of the rest of India,” says Talukdar,an independent filmmaker and an academician,now based in New York. The film is a part of a research and documentation film project on the ‘Murals of Garhwal’ backed by Indian Foundation for Arts and it will be screened at Sakshi Gallery,Colaba,and Temperance,Bandra,on December 18 and 19 respectively.

The murals that Talukdar has explored from 2011 to 2013 not only portray life and society of the region of that time,but also suggest an alternate history of some popularly known facts. Mughal emperor Aurangzeb,for example,is not portrayed as “the grinning white-bearded evil religious fanatic of Amar Chitra Katha comics,but as benevolent,and a friend of Guru Ram Rai”.

“It’s a cliche,but this region was syncretic in terms of religion. There was more tolerance towards practising different ways of life,than from the rest of the country,” says 45-year-old Talukdar,who grew up in Dehradun,immersed in an atmosphere of fine arts,films and music. The Anglo-Indians,for that matter,were very different from the popular depiction of the community in cities like Bombay and Calcutta. They can be seen posing in a zamindari fashion,Indian mistress in tow,and sipping wine,but all with a distinct European touch. A hybrid culture existed in Garhwal,with foreign influences and indigenous practices coming together. “The region was populated by migrants from Mughals to Europeans,” says Talukdar.

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Through these ‘pre-colonial Facebook walls’,the filmmaker has tried to connect the region’s history with its cultural,sociological and political past. “The society then cared more about social issues than religious ones. Among other things that differentiated them from many other places in India,is the fact that they didn’t have a cash economy,” she says. In the film,she also finds traces of Hindi film traditions in Urdu plays of that time,a hybrid form of theatre,performed in Awadhi,which used nautanki traditions as a part of it. She calls it proto-Indian cinema.

As part of the project she is also submitting a paper which finds links between 19th century painting and photography. This apart,she is making another film which is about the box camera and its only living practitioner.

First published on: 16-12-2013 at 05:37 IST
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