BENGALURU: Music may serve as a source of entertainment to some, while being a means of livelihood for others. And according to historian and author Vikram Sampath, many musical traditions are now endangered and struggling to sustain themselves due to lack of awareness. And in order to do his part in preventing this from happening, Sampath has teamed up with filmmaker Sairam Sagiraju and Grammy winning musician Ricky Kej to bring out a documentary called Who Is Baul, which sheds a light on a dying form of music. Settled in parts of West Bengal, the Bauls are a community of non-conformists who believe that music is the only way to seek divinity.
The documentary was screened last week at Bangalore International Centre and the team is planning to submit the film to international film festivals in the coming days. “This project was initially meant for just archiving videos of indigenous musical tribes in the North East. But when we researched extensively about Bauls, we wanted to work on a documentary that focuses on conserving their indigenous musical forms,” says Sampath, who along with Kej, has produced the documentary, while Sagiraju directed it.
According to Sampath, Baul is not just an artistic concept, but also a ‘sadhana’ or a tantric way of composing and performing music. The team’s research also found that the community believes in an “inner divine being” instead of any religion. “The word ‘Baul’ literally translates to insanity, like those who are possessed with spirits. The community spends their time visiting villages and singing to earn their livelihoods,” adds Sampath, who is currently in Kolkata to screen the film.
The documentary also describes the different categories of Bauls who have transformed the artform into a commercial setup. For example, Parvathy Baul is an artiste who does not traditionally come from the community but performs the artform in auditoria and commercial events. Similarly, one can also find sanyasi bauls, urban bauls and performing artiste bauls, who merely subscribe to the philosophy of Baul, without traditionally coming from the community.
Getting the community’s cooperation for the documentary, however, was a challenge. Sampath recalls instances when the Bauls refused to talk to the team and turned them away multiple times. Kej, who besides producing has also composed the music for the documentary, says, “It is very difficult to shoot such subjects because the Bauls always wander from one place to another. Since it is 1,000-year-old tradition and they have passed on these songs for generations, we had to approach them sensitively.”
Agrees Sampath, who adds, “It is not possible to capture a 1,000-year-old ancient tradition in an hour-long film. The idea is also to crowdsource several other compositions from indigenous tribes from different parts of India. Karnataka itself has so many such groups. This documentary is just a teaser into archiving further documentation.”