15th IDSFFK: The Land Of Hidden Treasures (2022): The dying art of terracotta pottery

Aug 9, 2023 - 14:27
Aug 9, 2023 - 14:29
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15th IDSFFK: The Land Of Hidden Treasures (2022): The dying art of terracotta pottery
Image: Film Still

            Dipankar Sarkar, a noted Indian film critic and an alumnus of FTII, Pune, reviews the documentary, The Land of Hidden Treasures by Sonatan Karmakar.

Sonatan Karmakar’s documentary, The Land of Hidden Treasures, delves into the terracotta artist's personal journey, exploring their inspirations, struggles, and the evolution of their artistic style. Terracotta, a form of pottery made from clay, has been a significant part of Asharikandi, a village in Assam’s Dhubri district, and its cultural heritage for generations.  It is a 150-year-old tradition that is friendly to the environment. The intricate designs and craftsmanship of the terracotta products have garnered attention from art enthusiasts and collectors alike. Many families that previously relied on this craft for their livelihood have now made other career choices. However, with the younger generation opting for modern professions and the lack of support for traditional crafts, the future of this ancient tradition hangs in the balance. The dwindling number of skilled artisans and the lack of interest among younger generations to pursue this labour-intensive profession further contribute to its decline. If immediate steps are not taken to preserve and promote terracotta in Asharikandi, this unique cultural practice faces a bleak future and is probably slowly disappearing.

Cloaking around fourteen minutes informs us that the bulk of the population in Asharikandi is fisherman by profession, but Dhiren Paul opted to become a terracotta artist. He had learned the art of pottery from his parents and believed in honouring his guru. So, when the president's award was announced to him, he nominated the name of his mother. He was deprived of a job by the government because they considered it important for him to follow the path of pottery in order to save the culture and tradition of this art form. He made the right decision because this profession has allowed him to make a global contribution. Mahadeb Paul,  another terracotta artist, reveals that now, with inflation, the clay carried from the reservoir by a boat has become too expensive to afford. Moreover, earlier, pots, pitchers, water containers, and kitchen utensils made of clay were used by people for their daily needs. He further reveals that the demand for this craft has decreased over the years as more and more people prefer to use the clay products as tubs. Paul is also worried that after his demise, the responsibility will be on the succeeding generation to preserve this traditional art form. So, he conducted training classes in Delhi, Nalbari, Rangia, and Guwahati Kalakshetra. But was dismayed to discover that no one showed interest in learning or continuing the practice.

The Land of Hidden Treasures is a filmmaker's attempt to document the creative process that goes into producing the terracotta artwork and provides a perceptive exploration of the relationship between the life and art of artists surviving in a rural region of northeastern India. Through interviews with the artists and a close examination of their work, the documentary delves into the inspirations and experiences that shape their creations. It offers a captivating glimpse into the intricate process of terracotta sculpting, showcasing how the artist's personal journey intertwines with their artistic expression.

The Land Of Hidden Treasures has been selected in the category of focus short documentary and the 15th International Documentary and Short Film Film Festival of Kerala, 2023.

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