Going to India as a Western filmmaker is easily one of the most exciting things you can do. Wherever you point your camera you are able to capture beautiful colours, intriguing contrasts, interesting people and captivating situations.
In late 2017 my father Arne Weidemann and I came up with the idea for a three-week-long journey through Rajasthan with the goal to create an interesting video and photography project. Apart from the awesome opportunity to go to India alongside someone who has travelled there extensively, I was also very excited about the prospect of spending some time with my father whom I had not seen very often during the past years. My father's friendship with Ramnarayan Choudhary and his family, that goes back almost 30 years, gave us the idea to dedicate our project to the traditional and artisan Rajasthani textile production since Ram has strong ties to that business. This, of course, would give us the ability to create an interesting narrative for the videos and photos while also providing greater value to the project.
In the following months, we were really interested in the idea of going to India together but it proved difficult to find a sufficiently overlapping time frame that allowed both of us to spend three whole weeks there. Everything less than those three weeks seemed insufficient as we intended to dive deep enough into the subject matter and not only scratch the surface. The whole project, as we imagined it, also relied heavily on Ram's availability and that it would be possible to witness all the different production processes during that time.
Around summer 2018 we were at last able to finalize our respective schedules and book our flights to Rajasthan. That was also the moment that my friend Fabio Marciano decided to accompany us. In November 2018 the three of us flew to New-Delhi and our journey began.
A gruelling taxi ride took us directly from the airport to Jaipur where we intended to spend a few days to organize ourselves and get a feel for the place. Especially we wanted to meet up with Ram quickly in order to get started on our project. But not without some breakfast and a few hours sleep, first! We had just fallen asleep, though, filled up with parathas, omelette, chai, and anticipation, when the hotel manager rang and said there was a friend sitting downstairs, eager to see us, and whether we would come down. Of course, we would! Though groggy with sleep (or rather the lack of it), we immediately stumbled downstairs where we were enthusiastically greeted by Ram and some more cups of strong chai. A lot of catching-up (Arne and Ram) and getting to know each other (the rest of us)! And then, before we knew it, we were already seated in Ram’s car and on our way to Bagru (one of Rajasthan’s block printing centers, situated some 20 km West of Jaipur). Ram wanted us to meet the block printers with whom he did business, and suggested we start checking out the places where we might shoot the following days. Thus, we met up with the proprietor of one of the larger printing manufacturers, Mr Sataynarayan Nagar, and his son Nikhil Nagar who showed us around their workshop and promised all the help we might need. Nikhil then accompanied us around the village to introduce us to the woodcarvers and to show us the place where the printed cloth is dried.
Early next morning we went to Bagru again, this time taking our equipment along, and after a short ride, we arrived at the small and pretty dirty but somehow charming village. In Bagru we had the chance to see and film the woodcarvers design and produce the wooden blocks used for printing and we were also invited to shoot at some of the workshops where the raw fabric is printed and dyed. Mr Sataynarayan Nagar and his son Nikhil Nagar, as well as their staff, were extremely helpful throughout and I want to thank them deeply for all their support and hospitality! They not only showed us all the processes involved and explained everything, but also organized our stay in Bagru so that we would not miss any important aspect of the production process.
A block printer at work in Bagru
A wooden hand carved block
Thus, a big part of the process depicted in this video took place in Bagru: the block carving, the printing, the dyeing and the drying of the fabric. But this was only possible thanks to some luck and Ram’s enthusiastic help. After spending nearly a week in Jaipur and Bagru we travelled on to Pushkar, a sacred town in the heart of Rajasthan. Our main objective was not the beauty of the enchanted desert town, though. At Pushkar, Ram’s family had started manufacturing ethnic clothes, bedsheets etc. from traditionally produced block printed materials some 25 years ago. And now we wanted to follow the fabric printed at Bagru to the production facilities owned and run by Ram’s nephews Rajendra, Jitendra and Mahindra Neel to see (and film) how the printed and dyed cloth was cut, stitched and transformed into high-quality shirts and dresses for export.Some value of my video “Fabric of Rajasthan”, in my opinion, comes from being able to follow the whole production process from start to finish. This is the reason why we decided to go on a day trip to Junia where Abdul Matin and his family spin raw cotton and hand weave the cloth (i.e. Kadi) that the artisans in Bagru use for block printing. Sadly, on the only day that we were able to visit Junia, they were not producing Kadi but weaving Dhurries, colourful traditional Rajasthani rag carpets. Anyway, as the setting was visually stunning, and the general process does not differ too much between the different cloths we were really happy about this opportunity and left with some useful material.
By then, we had witnessed all the central steps in the production of block-printed textiles: spinning, weaving, block carving, printing, dyeing, drying, cutting and stitching. All the people that we have met were incredibly nice and excited about being filmed and it was great watching them while they skillfully performed their craft!
It is absolutely due to them that we saw so much more than I would have thought possible in such a short time, and I am extremely grateful and happy for this experience. I hope that this video shows the respect we felt for the artisans and their beautiful craft and gives a little bit back to them for their help! My father, who documented the whole process photographically, and I plan to create a separate website with more detailed information about this project and the different production steps in the future. Once it is online, I will link to it here.
The result of a long and complex journey
When we initially came to India my goal was to only create a little “documentary” about a small part of the artisan Rajasthani textile production. But once we arrived more and more opportunities opened up. In addition to this rather “straight forward” video I was able to gather some incredible material with Ram, his wife and daughters, and my father that I will use to create a second, more narrative and “artistic”, short film.
Stay tuned for more and in the meantime enjoy “Fabric of Rajasthan”!
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