Malavika Talukder

Communication Design
Department of Video

National Institute of Design (NID, Ahmedabad)


This project is in association with the Centre for Cooperative Research in Social Sciences (CCRSS, Pune) and is part of the ongoing project "Unfettered Voices" which they are conducting in collaboration with Centre de Sciences Humaines (CSH, New Delhi).

"Unfettered voices" is a project to extensively document the specific forms of expression and communication peculiar to women in rural areas of Maharashtra. While doing extensive documentation, social animators felt the need to come back to a few individuals who seem to be different within their society. These persons seem to be eager to pass on their personal experience, something that is not very easy within their existing social structure. So far the process of collection of these songs has been through recording groups of women grinding and the transcription of their words. Among these are women who hold a larger repertory of grindmill songs and these sessions do not do them justice.

The project "Autobiographies" is a partial response to this need. It takes advantage of the accuracy and reflexivity of audiovisual media; at the same time, paradoxically, it is an outsider's view of an intimate expression of this society.

The project attempts to be a representation of an individual's motivations, vision of life and patterns of communication. It also portrays the various social forces and events in the individual daily existence that appear as messages in their songs.

This could go deeper and provide new information about the emergence of female identity and individuality in a rural society.


The methodology for dealing with this theme is video and sound recordings in which various patterns of communication may be observed.

Some audio and visual materials had already been collected in different contexts and lent themselves to editing for this purpose. The challenge lied in making the film more transparent, autobiographical -- where the situation is naturally catalysed and not prompted or engineered. This involved close interaction with the social animators and the characters involved.

The film

The film "Autobiographies" became my diploma project at NID under the guidance of Akhil Succena and consultancy of Tridip Suhrud. Shooting was done in Spring 1997, using Hi-8 video format, and the final editing was realised in Beta format during the rest of the year.

The information and anecdotes available were well organised under women's issues, gender studies, of persons and their poetry, the grindmill and Bhakti, the peasant women and their songs. My curiosity was aroused by the women themselves. What has brought on this poetry, the pain? How did they live, what were they all about? This developed into the idea of doing portraits of these peasant women. Perhaps autobiographical of women who could speak about their lives and the various social forces and events in their daily existence, that appear as messages in their songs.

My curiosity was aroused by these strong, resilient women who seem almost invisible in the texts of their songs. The film attempts to portray two women from Parbhani district (Marathwada) who seem to be different within their society.

The approach was to capture some of the various social forces and events in their daily existence that appear as messages in their songs.

Firstly, Gangubai the leper lady, a poet and a singer with an exceptional voice, from village Tadkalas.

Ambore Gangu (photo Andréine Bel)

Listen to voice

I take your name, God,
Every morning and evening,
And forget myself.

Secondly, Dharubai and Parobai, two sisters from Savargaon who fought for centre stage when Bernard Bel was shooting a session in 1996. They started singing their own songs and forced a group of young women to silence.

However Parobai could not be included, since she had left her village and was in hiding due to domestic violence.

That left Dharubai and Gangubai.

Jagatap Dhura "Dharubai" (photo Andréine Bel)

My initial assumption of portraying the two women, who were different yet marginalised in their society, was proved incorrect as I went on. Dharubai is very much part of the social hierarchy as a dai (traditional midwife), money-lender and land owner. Gangubai, too is not shunned and well integrated into her community by her melodious voice and repertoire songs influenced by the Bhakti cult.

As I got to know them better, both these women, though physically so apart, shared a zeal to keep the tradition of grindmill songs alive.

New Delhi, December 1997

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