The documentary 'Who is Baul?' – a collaboration between three-time Grammy composer , historian Vikram Sampath and Rajib Sarma and directed by well-known filmmaker Sairam Sagiraju – released on YouTube this week.
Bauls are a nonconformist sect having gurus (mentors) but no dogmas, rituals, religious institutions or scriptures. The documentary features the 1,000-year-old mystic music traditions of the Bauls, the singers from rural West Bengal. Declared as an Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, the Bauls of Bengal have kept their philosophies alive for all these years, but modern demands threaten their simple, enlightened lifestyles.
Beyond folk music, the documentary perfectly captures the profound that the Bauls live by. The documentary tries to unravel the modern pressures that threaten their lifestyles and seeks to address the various misconceptions recently associated with this community. Bauls today, as the film depicts, wander through villages, sing on trains and tea shops, live on alms, or get a day job as rickshaw-walas.
The 54-min-long includes several popular Baul songs beautifully sung by Lakshman Das Baul, Gautam Das Baul, and many others. Purna Das Baul, who was recognised as Baul Samrat ("King of the Bauls") by the then president of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad, in 1967, features prominently in this documentary.
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The film also brings together 'Sufism', the Fakirs, and the folk singers of in this context. The essence of urban Kolkata comes alive palpably in this film with various collages from the city and through the voice of Bengali Band singer Sidharth Sankar (Sidhu) Ray.
It's commendable that documentaries like this are coming up about life and stories of forgotten cultures and their ethos. And kudos must be given to filmmakers of such statures to have thought about this almost forgotten community giving them exposure on national and international platforms.
The beautifully narrated documentary, with , makes for a welcome change amid news of global turbulences.
The film had its premiere at the London Indian Film Festival (LIFF) 2022 and has since enjoyed a successful streaming run. Now, with its YouTube release, it is set to attract millions more viewers and also greater exposure of this elusive art form.