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May 14, 2018
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An enchanting view of another world

Karachi

May 14, 2018

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The Alliance Francaise in town on Saturday were host to a very enchanting movie about concentric worlds, a world within a world, an antique world of a people with whom so many romantic tales and ways are associated, a world, though centuries old, continues to exist in a superlatively modern high-tech world, preserving its ancient crafts and lifestyle despite the push and pressures of modernity.

Titled Latcho Drom, the movie highlights the centuries-old lifestyle of the Romani nomadic people spread across the globe. The movie featuring members of the Romani community of India, Egypt, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, France, Slovakia, and Spain tells the story of these communities through their music.

There’s hardly any dialogue in there. It’s the music that vividly tells the tales of their common origin, their lifestyle and their ways. The movie opens with scenes of these nomads from the subcontinent, the way they move for miles and miles looking for viable camping grounds along with their cattle and domesticated animals like cats and dogs.

Most interesting to see is the affinity between man and beast, the way their cattle and pets march along with them through the most inhospitable of terrain, with bullock carts, and household items like pitchers and personal belongings.

The locale ostensibly is Rajasthan, with its typical arid landscape and parched countryside. Despite all the hardships the long trek may have, the people are a really happy, merry band and seem to drive away the rigours of the march through dance and song.

Whether children, or the young, or the elderly, music seems to be a major distraction from the tough journey for them. And, they all have musical talent. Their percussion instruments are most rustic, like spoons, fire tongs, and pitchers that seem to serve as Dholaks (drums). As they continue on their arduous march, they sing and shed their exertion away. Their devotion to song and dance is so marked especially when considered in a society where values and codes of behaviour for the genders are enforced and there is such a moralistic code of conduct.

Their lifestyle is marked by a total absence of inhibitions. Their style of singing is very subcontinental, often very high-pitched and dragging of notes, which is the way people sing in the subcontinent. The language, interestingly enough, is the same.

At a certain juncture, a man asks a little girl, ostensibly his daughter, who is almost fainting with heat exhaustion, “Pani Peena?” Then the scene moves over to the Middle East, presumably Egypt, At once, the attire of the people changes. From the rugged, ragamuffin clothes of the subcontinental gypsies, we see gypsies in better clothing, with different, often Greco-Roman features.

The common point here is music. The rhythm is typically Middle Eastern with the same percussion instruments which they play with all the gusto and dance, and sing. The beat is typically Middle Eastern, then on to Europe across what was once referred to as Eastern Europe like Romania and Slovakia and then on to France and Spain.

Here, even though gypsies, they are dressed in sophisticated trousers and jackets, and, invariably, bowler hats. Unlike the gypsies of the subcontinent, their musical instruments are the violin, clarinet and the accordion.

Though from different geographical locales, the commonality among all of them is the overwhelming devotion to music. Music really seems to shape their lives and values. It is interesting to see how, in present-day Europe which is the epitome of modernity, they still take their horse-drawn caravans and set up encampments amid the high-rises of towns with all the signs of a modern automated, push-button world.

Whether in Spain or India, the commonality is the pivotal devotion to music and the affinity between man and beast. Director of the movie Tony Gatliff has certainly done a good job documenting the lifestyle of this vanishing breed of humans.

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