British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Surviving Chau

Synopsis
This documentary maps the evolution of the ancient ethnic dance form of Chau - an athletic dance of India done by men in masks - from an anthropological and sociological perspective. In addition to following the details of the entire ‘behind-the-scenes’ artistry, the film also interviews one of the Ustad dancers (leader of the Chau group) and observes the artists and performers in rehearsal and during the heated discussions which follow.

An intense level of artistry and performance is required of artists who work on the masks as well as the people who perform the dance. They each work independently then collaborate to form the dance form of Chau that still, to this day vibrates the culture of Purulia, the town of its origin. Since it is only performed by men due to the physical fitness required to carry off the difficult steps, they enact the women’s roles as well. The dance is structured in the form of a competition between two teams. Each team tells the same story in turn, carrying the competition through the night into the early morning. At sunrise, the team most popular with the audience is marked as the winning team.

The children are taught and disciplined in the art of Chau from a very young age, not as an occupation, but as an intrinsic part of their very being. Due to years of ethnic tradition, Chau dancers are simply born into the Chau Society, and from birth are taught to accept their vocation of dance as an unquestionable given. Every single part of their lives reflects in their art, since dance for them is not just a means of existence, it is the meaning of their life.

In the face of this tradition, they are very poorly equipped to survive by any other means; thus, they attempt to adapt to cultural change by replacing their ethnic instruments with modern day keyboards and replacing their old mythological stories with modern day events, such as "Bin Laden’s Downfall" and "The Kargil War." Due to the onslaught of cinema and Bollywood in the villages, Chau’s value as a performing art and mode of entertainment has decreased greatly. Villagers can now simply watch the performances on television with added special effects. This documentary endeavours to raise awareness and contribute to the survival of this struggling art form.


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Language
English
Year of release
2006
Year of production
2005
Uses
Students of film, theatre, music, religion and anthropology
Subjects
Anthropology; Dance; Development studies; Drama
Keywords
cultural evolution; dance plays; Indian drama; managing change; mask plays; performing arts

Online availability

URI
http://www.der.org/films/surviving-chau.html
Price
$19.95 (download) $9.95 (day pass)
Delivery
Streamed/Download

Credits

Director
Mainak Bhaumik

Distribution Formats

Type
DVD
Format
Region 1
Price
$195.00
Availability
Sale
Duration/Size
50 minutes
Year
2006

Distributor

Name

Documentary Educational Resources

Email
docued@der.org
Web
http://der.org/ External site opens in new window
Phone
+1 617 926 0491
Fax
+1 617 926 9519
Address
101 Morse Street
Watertown
MA 02472
USA
Notes
American company with an extensive catalogue of documentary films from around the world in the areas of ethnology, anthropology, world cultures, religion, women’s studies and human rights. Supplied on PAL/NTSC video and multi-region DVD, or download via the Reframe Collection (qv).

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