Can the community’s songs help him save his love from being cut down?
For over a decade, Nayyar has been researching the role of songs and other vocal traditions in navigating relationships between humans and other/more than humans in the villages of Bihar. ‘A Serious Wedding’ (JCB Ravanva) is the result of his long-term collaboration with Bihar-based traditional singer Aaji and members of her village community. He dedicated the film to his grandmother.
“After I completed my PhD fieldwork in December 2021, community members expressed interest in creating a film about deforestation in their village. Meanwhile, Aaji told me about a local tradition in which community members marry young men and women to non-humans (such as trees, ponds, wells, etc.) so they become fully responsible for their care. She shared with me many songs and stories that highlight these traditions, and together, we collaboratively developed the film concept through ethnographic research,” said Nayyar.
After that, his team worked on this community-based experiment using the ethno-fiction filmmaking approach. This involved working on the script, songs and dialogues with many community members, collaborating with amazing sound artist Nithin Shams on recording, mixing and mastering the film sounds, and creating with the super talented Shreya Bhatia posters inspired by old Hindi and Bhojpuri popular films.
Some community members played themselves, while others who worked in factories, construction and carpentry took a short leave from work to play their role of a romantic activist, a lawyer and a District Magistrate. The resultant film is an unconventional eco-activist ethno-fiction that highlights the Bhojpuri vocal traditions performed during weddings between humans and trees. It features the marriage of a young man and a tree, a union that successfully thwarts the state government’s plans to construct a highway which would otherwise destroy numerous trees in the area. Through songs, rituals and fiction filmmaking, the participants are able to reimagine future scenarios and stage their everyday environmental activism.
Rajat Nayyar is an anthropologist and filmmaker who is currently a SSHRC Vanier Scholar and a PhD Candidate in Theatre at York University. He works at the intersection of film and future-making with rural communities in Bihar, drawing heavily on his training in audiovisual ethnography, theatre and performance studies. He is the co-founder of Emergent Futures CoLab through which he curates Talking Uncertainty, an online talk series that features future-focused scholars and artists from around the world. Rajat recently curated the ‘Filming Futures’ program at Freiburger Filmforum in Germany, where he showcased films that center radical hope and build upon the playfulness of ‘ciné-provocation’
Nayyar received support from the following to make the film a reality: Bourses Vanier Scholarships, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), York’s School of the School of Arts, Media, Performance and Design, Emergent Futures CoLab, and the York Centre for Asian Research.