Of giant robots and journeys to mars

  • Riddhi Doshi, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jul 12, 2015 14:37 IST
Filmmaker Anand Tharaney is making a documentary on the subculture of automatons, such as the one seen above right, in Ganesh Chaturthi festivities.

At 52, a Delhi-based father and corporate vice-president is willing to abandon everything — family, home and friends — to settle on Mars.

For him, it’s the only way to explore a long-held belief that there is a special connection between humans and extra-terrestrial beings. He calls it the ultimate human quest.

This is one of the conversations that will make up artists Sahej Rahal, 27, and Pallavi Paul’s, 28, documentary on the Indian applicants to the Mars One Project, which was launched by a Dutch company in 2013 with the aim of eventually colonising the Red Planet.

“We are really keen to understand and explore what it takes to make a decision of this sort,” says Mumbai-based Rahal.

Their film, tentatively set for release in December 2016, is one of four projects that have received prestigious India Foundation for the Arts grants.

The other three projects are a film on the popular subculture of automatons or chalachitras displayed during the Ganesh Chaturthi festival in Mumbai. This project, by filmmaker Anand Tharaney, 42, will culminate in a documentary exploring the mythologies around these religious displays, and the low-tech automaton industry that powers them.

Pune-based filmmaker Rajula Shah, 41, meanwhile is chronicling the annual pilgrimage of Maharashtra’s Warkari sect, focusing on poetry, people and walking as pilgrimage. She plans to map their annual 250-km yatra from Alandi to Pandharpur online, linking various points on the route to textual material describing the journey.


And Mumbai-based curator Nida Ghouse’s research project is based on the arrival of sound recording technology and the changes it wrought in society.

Bangalore’s IFA is a cultural institute that has been awarding grants to unique art and research projects since 1995.

“The idea is to raise relevant contemporary questions through art, and promote cutting-edge art practices,” says IFA executive director Arundhati Ghosh. “We select projects that promise critical art practice and research, with a strong but unique methodology and a plan to share the results with the public.”

Tharaney’s documentary, for instance, attempts to trace the origins of Mumbai’s chalachitras, which are essentially moving dioramas installed in public pandals during the 11-day Ganesh Chaturthi festival. These fibreglass statues have moving limbs and come with sound systems, and are usually created by Ganesha idol-makers in rudimentary workshops across the city.

“These mechanical dioramas of deities were introduced in Mumbai in the early 1980s and have facilitated a greater interaction between people and their gods,” says Tharaney. “In fact, they have democratised Gods.”

Tentatively titled Gods and Robots, the documentary will be released this December.

Shah’s documentary, Nomad’s Land: A Pilgrimage, is a long-held dream of hers. “The project is set within the larger framework of how the idea of pilgrimage resonates in the 21st century,” she says. “Working on the film has been an unlearning exercise. It has helped me explore and realise the importance of poetry and bhajans in our philosophy and psychology.”

Ghouse’s project, Acoustic Matters, also focuses on sound, but in an entirely different manner.

“In 1876-77, a phonograph, one of the first sound-recording devices, was marketed as a means to hear the dead,” she says.

The impact of the phonograph is still visible, if you know where to look, she adds. The long songs that were once performed live in movie theatres, for instance, were shrunk to three minutes because that was as long as the recording machine would allow. “Most songs in movies are still three minutes long. It’s become the norm,” Ghouse says.

Ghouse is collaborating on the project with UK-based artist Abu Hamdan. Their research will be presented as sound essays across India next year.


Filmmaker Rajula Shah is mapping the annual Warkari yatra online, focusing on poetry, people and walking as pilgrimage.

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