Kashmir Doordarshan Film: Ethnographic Documentary on Papier Mache Industry
Director: Shahid Rasool
Duration: 00:16:43; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 257.222; Saturation: 0.026; Lightness: 0.360; Volume: 0.173; Cuts per Minute: 180.586; Words per Minute: 58.780
Summary: A few years ago while visiting the media department at Kashmir University my colleague collected a few films that had been funded by the department and screened on Doordarshan during the early 90s. During conversation it emerged that, apart from stock images of Kashmir, a large portion of these films had actually been shot in Delhi masquerading as Kashmir. Shooting, especially outdoor shooting, was impossible during the early 90s. Muzaffar Ali's film 'Zooni' remained incomplete and Bollywood returned later only to represent high altitude terrorism. Mani Ratnam's 'Roja', which was released in 1993 in Tamil was shot in Himachal Pradesh. The production and memory of such films gesture towards a time when Kashmir was largely inaccessible, yet the 'national' desire to maintain the veneer of control resulted in continued production of state funded ethnographic films which presented the seemingly timeless quality of Kashmir. Between these extremely opposed representations: one, a rather romantic one of the Kashmiri man as timeless, ordinary artisan and the other as the Muslim terrorist, the Kashmiri as a subject continued to elude the mainstream apparatus of representation and understanding. The extreme close-up shots of the artisans' hands, reminiscent of 19th century romantic photography in Kashmir of the carpet weaver or perhaps even a much fetishized Shashi Kapoor as the naive Kashmiri boatman in 'Jab Jab phool Khile' (1965) indicate perhaps that this is an inherited and problematic legacy.
Paradise on earth, the valley of Kashmir, leaves lasting impressions of its scenic beauty, serene lakes, sky-high waterfalls, rushing streamlets and snow covered peaks on everyone that happens to visit this valley. The artists and the craftsman having a keen sense for the details born in the valley cannot remain unimpressed by their surroundings. Kashmiri craftsmen, therefore, produce very exquisite and intricate designs on carpets, __, shawls, walnut wood and products of papier mache.
The film begins with familiar scenic/exotic shots of Kashmiri landscape: lakes, streams and mountains. A santoor provides accompanying music to the visuals. Images of artisans and Dal lake appear juxtaposed until the focus is overtaken by a saffron flower. Similar images of fine cultural objects such as walnut wood carved screens, carpets, shawls appear in quick succession. Objects, images and landscapes all symbolic of fine beauty of Kashmir, interweave into a complex of fetishization within the film.
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Next to agriculture, handicraft is the biggest employer in the valley, contributes a lot to the economy and earns a considerable amount of foreign exchange for the nation. Many of the Kashmiri crafts like wood carving, carpet making, shawl weaving and papier mache have touched the peaks of global fame. This film deals with the oldest cottage industry of Kashmir, that is, the art of papier mache. Papier Mache is actually re-pulped paper, mixed with some glue or paste so that it can be moulded. This art of making beautifully decorated and handsomely lacquered articles was known in the east centuries before its introduction in Europe.
The film continues to showcase the handicraft industry in Kashmir, which is said to make significant contribution to the economy in terms of foreign exchange. The film claims that the papier mache industry is one of the oldest industries in Kashmir. Carpet making and shawl weaving are also about as old, if not older. The shawl weaving industry has an interesting history and has been the subject of much research. Shawl weavers were heavily taxed and worked under cramped and inhospitable conditions in the 19th century. It has also been noted that the development of photography in 19th century Kashmir developed in tandem with the search for alternate trade routes for the shawl industry. There is a far greater romance associated with the shawl weaver (as well as the carpet maker) within the photographic tradition (note Baker's photograph of the shawl weaver as well Mahatta). The shawl weaver is sometimes a significant figure within the discourse of oppression within Kashmir.
Apart from bangles and jewellery boxes, the papier mache products include a vast array of candlesticks, cigarette boxes, ashtrays, table-lamps, powder boxes and many other show-piece items. Before we actually see how these items are made and processed, let us trace its origin and history in Kashmir.
Presenter: The art of papier mache is believed to have been brought into Kashmir from Samarkand and Iran in early 14th century, but the records of its origin do not lead to any exclusive evidence. However, the fact remains that during the Sultanate period between 1328 AD to 1586 AD a few kings of Kashmir, particularly Zain-ul-abdin not only patronized Kashmiri fine arts but also called craftsmen from Central Asian states to improve the original design. The cross-currence of central Asian culture with Kashmir culture have resulted in the perfection of this age-old art. You must've heard of the famous Kashmiri king, Yusuf Shah Chak - well he was a great fan of papier mache and employed hundreds of craftsmen for the production of hundreds of designs for the courtiers. It is also known beyond a doubt that many of these papier mache craftsmen came to Kashmir from Iran and settled down here. This industry saw a number of ups and downs but it withstood all the shocks and jolts and lived in the state till the dawn of freedom.
The film continues to focus on beautiful objects such as bangles, vases and jewellery boxes. Sultan Zain-ul-Abdin is credited to have introduced and patronized the arts. These arts were transmitted from Smakarkand and Iran and flourished within the valley. The language employed by the film is peculiar in its mention of Yusuf Shah Chak (the last indigenous ruler of Kashmir) and the term freedom within close proximity of each other.
The narrator tells us that papier mache products are exported to countries across the world and value of export stood at Rs. 2.5 crores in 1992.
Today, the articles of papier mache are exported to many countries like USA, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, France and a few Gulf countries. The value of export of papier mache has gone up from 1.31 crore Rupees in 1974 to Rs 2.5 crores in 1992.
Made literally from the waste, the customary way of making papier mache is laborious and time consuming. The process starts with the soaking of old paper shavings, useless cardboard. The soaked paper is then taken out and squeezed properly, thereafter it is pounded in a stone motor till a fine pupl pf uniform consistency is achieved. Rice flour or some glue agent is added to the pulp at this stage to give it some added strength.
We are then witness to a demonstration of how papier mache is made. A man soaks shreds of paper in water and then pounds the soaked paper to a pulp. The camera tends to focus on his hands, sometimes registering his face. The film is reminiscent of other such ethnographic documentaries commissioned by the public broadcast agency Doordarshan .It is therefore not surprising that none of the craftsmen ever speak within the film nor are their names given mention.
In the meantime, the artist designs the shape of the piece and prepares a mould. In case of wooden or mud moulds, which are to be removed later, a carpenter or a __ is ordered to prepare a mould. These moulds are made slightly smaller than the original piece to be produced. The pulp is now applied evenly on the mould. The wooden or mud moulds are wrapped in thin paper before applying pulp on them. This avoids sticking of pulp to the mould. The covered mould is then allowed to dry in the sun. When the pulp is dried hard, it is cut into two or more pieces, according to shape. The dried up pieces are removed from the mould carefully and are again glued together.
We see similar shots as the camera zooms to focus on artisan's hands as he prepares the mould. The pulp is then applied to the mould and shaped gradually. The santoor continues to play in the background, accentuating the ethnographic mood of the film. We continue to see the artisan work with the mould
In certain objects like ashtrays the moulds are not removed. The dried surface is coated with glue, mixed with lime: the process is called gachch, then rubbed with a piece of brick called carrot. For extra smoothness and strength, the surface is covered with thin butter paper strips and rubbed again. Afterwards the smooth surface is coated with lead powder mixed with paste. The dried surface is ready for painting now.
We see close-up shots of glue being applied to a mould attached to a vase and later being scrubbed with a stone. Later butter paper strips are used to rub the surface and finally its surface coated with lead and paste until dry.
One is really fascinated to watch the free-hand work of artists commonly known as Naqaash who makes exquisite designs, without the aid of any geometrical instruments. The paintings can be made on a separate sheet and later transferred onto articles of papier mache. But the beauty of the article lies in the free-hand artistry of the naqaash. Like other cottage industries and crafts, papier mache has come down from generation to generation and often several family members are engaged in the work. The younger ones learn when the elders work. After the artist paints flowery scenes or birds and animals or scenes from Mughal court on the object, a senior member of the family adds minute details and gives finer touches to the whole work.
We are then told that the Naqaash paints the surface of the article. Like other crafts, papier mache too is handed from generation to generation. These ethnographic details are represented again with shots of a man who appears to be slightly older juxtaposed with other shots of children pooling in to help. Both appear to be seated on the floor in non-descript rooms. Like others who have been shot within the documentary their gaze is focused on the object in hand, and never towards the camera.
The narrator reminds us that papier mache is a highly laborious art. And while earlier objects were powdered with semi-precious stones, in present times the use of synthetic colours results in objects losing their lustre. Not much is said of current consumer trends or market. Although,
The objects are now varnished with cobalt or amber powder in linseed oil. Gold ornamentation is added at this stage. The complete article is now rubbed with a jade stone is order to brighten the colours and the gold. Papier mache is highly laborious and painstaking art. In good olden days, papier mache was powdered with semi-precious stones, used to take hours to grind and remained fresh for hundreds of years. But now, it is mostly being done with synthetic colours, which easily look bright and beautiful but fade with time. Despite hard work, day in and day out the creator of these beautifully decorated pieces of art lives from hand to mouth. Due to our faulty marketing system where the real workers get very little; but still, they are happy and contented.
the urban artisan