Voices from the Fringe – Lecture at Rietveld

12th November 16.00 hours

‘Studium Generale’
Transdisciplinary Lecture Programme/
Gerrit Rietveld Academie

Lakshmi - The Funeral Singer

This lecture presentation will look at three individuals who are at the very bottom of the social and economic hierarchy in South India through excerpts from documentary films. Each has a voice with which to speak out. With all three individuals, this occurs in a ritual context, where the individual takes on a form greater or other than human to make it possible to transcend the role that society has forced them into in the course of their daily lives. The first is a maid in Mumbai and works for the filmmaker. The personal story reflects the hierarchy between the two until a dramatic moment in the narrative turns the maid into a goddess. The second is a lower caste woman who lives alone in a village in Tamil Nadu, a funeral singer who has articulated a language that others pay her money to hear. These two films have been made recently in India. The third is a man of a lower caste in a village in Kerala. In the course of the ritual, he acquires divine powers qualifying him to bless those in the hierarchy above him. The question we ask is: Are these traditional voices from the fringes essential towards the maintenance of the social order even in today?s fast altering fabric of India?

Voices from the Fringe – Documentary Film Festival-14th to 23rd Nov. 2008


Nandini Bedi, Festival Director

The idea is to focus on Indian documentary films from the geographical, economic, cultural, religious and political fringes of a society that has global economic and political aspirations. These voices are as varied as they are fresh and articulate. They are counterpoints to the more visible and audible side of the new emerging India. They are connected, touched by and changed by the India with the global aspirations. In turn, how do they connect, change and contribute to the India we see in the spotlight?

This Film Festival is supported by the HIVOS-NCDO Cultuurfonds.


Twenty Seven films will be screened at the Balie, in Amsterdam along with discussions and debates with filmmakers from India in attendance. Nandini’s film‘Notes on Man Capture’ is also on the program followed by another film ‘Tales from the Margins’ and a discussion on Northeast India.

See page ‘Notes on Man Capture’

Whither Jhum Cultivation ? by PARVINDER SINGH

India International Centre Diary
India International Centre Diary

FILM: Ambi Jiji’s Retirement by Nandini Bedi
Collaboration: Public Service Broadcasting
Trust, July 24

In this age of meta-discourses of the environment, even a neutral depiction of shifting or jhum cultivation can be condemned to preconceived judgements. After all, there is no dearth of mainstream academic notions of what is damaging to the environment, but Nandini Bedi?s short film, Ambi Jiji’s Retirement, is a heart-rending caution against a two-dimensional view of community-based social and economic systems that once thrived in varied ecological systems.

The film that bagged the top award at this year?s Jeevika Film Festival, captures the life of Ambi Jiji, an 80-year- old resident of the West Garo Hills in Meghalaya, as she witnesses, in the very act of her children and grandchildren buying food from the market, the death of a centuries-old tradition of claiming from cleared forest lands everything that was needed for a life of dignity.

The story details a shift from a community-run jhum cultivation to emergence of permanent plantation, which reduces availability of land for regeneration and multi-crop cultivation, in the very life span of the protagonist.

Some of Ambi Jiji?s descendents have accepted the market-driven change, while others are losing the independence and food security to become agricultural labourers. These changes are creating social ruptures in a close- knit community, and the old lady is shown trying to put up a fight to save the traditional notions of ownership that are being undermined by private registration of land.

There is no attempt to preach a solution, but there is a desire to draw home glimpses of a disintegrating community life that existed in harmony with nature, till it lost out on the definition of local versus global and ecologically sound versus bad.

As the director herself said, it poses a question: ?Are we witnessing more generally known global phenomena in a remote village in Meghalaya??


See page Ambi Jiji’s Retirement