DIR/WRI: Pat Murphy
In the Indian city of Banaras, located on the river Ganges, silk-weaving is as intricately woven into the community’s culture as the threads on their looms. However, globalisation has had the inevitable effect on the trade, with technology out-performing the hand-weavers at every turn- in quantity at least, if not quality. Pat Murphy’s documentary does its best to examine all aspects of the dying-out tradition, from the social to the economic influences, resulting in a luscious and informative film.
As one would imagine for a documentary about silk-weavers, viewers are treated to a visual feast of colours and textures – and that’s just the cinematography. Murphy succeeds in creating an interesting juxtaposition between the film’s dream-like aesthetic and its factual narrative. The lives of the weavers and their families are presented as is (for better or for worse) making it easier for the viewer to engage with the film’s subjects.
The art of silk-weaving is inherited by one generation from the predeceasing one, with weavers starting at the loom from a very young age. But with the demand for artisan silk wraps rapidly declining, the trade that once seemed so secure is no longer a legitimate career option for the upcoming generation. All areas of the weaving industry, from the wool dyers to the motif designers, are being hit hard but the pride they take in their work remains happily undiminished.
Questions of gender relations and education are also examined within the context of the weaving community. During one scene in the film, a teacher asks a classroom full of schoolgirls if they think a non-arranged, or ‘love’, marriage is something worth aspiring to. The response is unanimous: ‘love’ marriages lead to nothing but trouble, according to films and TV, so an arranged marriage is a girl’s safest bet. The fact that most of these girls have probably been promised in marriage from an early age anyway remains all but unsaid. The pressures being placed on these girls and their inevitable marriages is a subject worthy of its own documentary, but Murphy’s inclusion of this is handled smartly enough that it adds another dimension to the film rather than taking away from it. The world is moving forward at a rapid pace but the weaving community are not yet sure if they can to catch up to it. As threatened as their way of life is, silk-weavers remain wary of utilising their daughter’s talents to aid the family’s fortunes.
Tana Bana is more than just a treat for the senses. The film also acts as an important document to a vital part of Banaras’ culture that is beginning to disappear. While the future of the silk-weaving community remains uncertain, the skill and devotion the artists bring to their work is parallel to none. An intriguing insight into a specific people during a specific point in our history.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Tana Bana is released 9th October 2015