Gemma Creagh weaves her way into Pat Murphy’s Tana Bana, which screened as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.
‘Banarsi fabric is the life of a wedding. The chandari silk is handloom work…. there’s gold thread called zari in some of it, so its proper Banarsi sari. A wedding is not complete without Banarsi sari,’ states a wedding guest in Lucknow, India in a piece to camera.
Pat Murphy’s Tana Bana (The Warp and the Weft) is as vibrantly rich as the fabrics produced by her subject matter. The sold-out Lighthouse screening was introduced to a receptive audience by Murphy, alongside JDIFF’s director, Grainne Humphreys.
The film opens slowly, with measured shots and lingering pans introducing the world of the Moslem silk weavers in Uttar Pradesh. Over the past thousand years, Varanasi, an ancient city on the Ganges, has seen conflict between the Moslem population (the creators and weavers) and Hindus (the traders and merchants). Early on, we witness one weaver selling his wares to a haggling merchant, which, as the film unfolds, is revealed to be a metaphor for his struggling industry.
Subtly, and with as little interference as possible, Murphy examines each facet of production, from designers, dyers, spinners, weavers to the silver-tongued salesman. She focuses not only on the labour – it takes one month to make each hand woven sari – but on how political and economic shifts have affected the business. While many of the weavers are facing poverty, elsewhere their work is being sold for a small fortune. This issue is heightened by the onset of computerisation, embodied by the loud ominous clacking of the power loom. Using an automated machine means one man can work four looms at the same time, lowering the market value of hand-woven goods substantially.
The heart of the film, however, is rooted in community. Ahmed Tahir, a designer (nakshaband) describes this best when he says: ‘For us it is like this, if we can receive income from any profession, we must use it to take care of our children and our family. Their needs are my duty. For us, work is a form of prayer.’ Murphy emphasises the closeness and involvement of families in the weaving process, as well as the changing role of women and education. At one point the discussion amongst schoolgirls turn to weddings; they unanimously laugh at the idea of a ‘love marriage’ – as, of course, it’s doomed for failure.
Tana Bana is an immersive and significant piece of filmmaking. It documents the human side of a failing industry that, without preservation, could be lost forever.
Tana Bana screened on Friday, 27th March 2015 at the Light House Cinema as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.