This film tells the tale of a disappearing community of folk singers and dancers around Punjab and Rajasthan. Through the life of one family, it narrates how the so-called progress and development of society has commodified our lives and impoverished those on the margins. What is lost or gained in the process cannot be easily counted, defined, or measured,” says Mohali-based filmmaker Sukhwinder Singh, about his new feature film Desi Bands, which has won the Award of Recognition at the 2019 IndieFEST Film Awards, California.
Singh, whose family originally belongs to Amritsar, travelled across the country with his father, who was an assistant commandant in the BSF, and since childhood was involved in theatre and music, with a keen interest in films. “While my father wanted me to be a doctor, I decided to follow my heart and move to Mumbai after college in 1991, to explore films as a full-time career. To survive, my friend and I took up small jobs in Thane, as we struggled in the industry. After more than three years, I got my first break in a television serial, and also worked with the theatre group Yatri in Mumbai. I assisted film directors B Subhash, Neeraj Vora, Ashok Pandit and also worked with various Punjabi channels and learnt a lot about the many aspects and dimensions of the art of filmmaking,” says the 49-year-old.
Singh, who has written, directed and produced Desi Bands, says the film is set in Punjab and Rajasthan, and the idea of the film came to him in 2001, when folk artistes from these states were part of his wedding and he was absolutely struck by their work. Singh says he wanted to make a realistic, meaningful and musical film on the life and art of these folk artistes, who hardly have any platforms to showcase their talent or earn a decent livelihood.
He wrote both the script and songs of the film after years of research and spending a lot of time with folk artists in both the states, but finding a producer to fund the film was proving to be a challenge. “The history of their art forms, their present position in society, social struggle and how they carry forward their legacy against all odds is part of the film. Sadly, weddings and functions now have stage for popular dance and music performances and not these artistes,” adds Singh. The filmmaker studied and spent a lot of time with communities like the Mirasi, Bhatt, Dhadi and Bhaand to write a script that may be fictional, but is inspired by their lives, art, music and rich traditions. “It is real to life, replete with music, colour and emotions,” he remarks.
The film, which is doing the festival circuits and will also be screened at the upcoming Shimla International Festival in October, is a story of three generations. It shows the conflict between a father and son, as the father wants the son to take forward the tradition of their art, but the son, under pressure from various external situations, wants to change his profession. “Society is oblivious to their struggle, pain, life and the dying art forms,” Singh says, adding that the film has rich music from composer Ismail Azad Maliya of the Mirasi community, with songs shot in Bikaner.
“Most actors are from the theatre background and the film is a collective effort of the entire unit. We did not let the shortage of funds affect our work and quality of the film, as we believed in the project,” he says.