Decoding the heart of the scenic Dehradun valley, Shashwati Talukdar travels home through her film, Wall Stories, unlocking the meaning in the name of her native place: Dera meaning camp and Dun signifying valley. An acclaimed filmmaker and academician, Shashwati Talukdar was prompted to survey wall paintings in the Garhwal region under the aegis of India Foundation of Arts’ research grant. Talukdar’s film -- to be screened over the next two days -- explores the space within homes and religious shrines with the aim to open up new perceptions about murals of the region.
Ramayana to Laila Majnu
An acknowledged art form, Pahari painting is regarded for its miniaturist style. Yet, in the context of Garhwal, Talukdar iterated on a wistful tone, “I am from Dehradun so I was curious about the region where I am from; besides, this region is woefully under studied. There is little good academic work done about the area, and what gets revealed is a very unique history and culture.” Guru Ram Rai Darbar, a well-known Gurudwara dedicated to the first-born of the seventh guru of Sikhs forms the core of Talukdar’s curiosity and Dehradun’s history.
Built in the late 17th century, the religious structure symbolises how Guru Ram Rai formed the ‘dera’ or the camp as he moved to the place, encouraging civilisation. “The Guru Ram Rai Durbar has the richest collection of paintings that have survived the ravages of time. Having been painted at different points over 300 years, they depict how painting styles, politics and culture changed over the time,” she explains. Her works have travelled from Busan Film Festival to Margaret Mead Film Festival.
New York-based Talukdar shares, “These paintings covered diverse subjects, from Ramayana and Mahabharata stories, there were paintings about Nath saints like Gopichand and Bhartari, Laila-Majnu’s story, pictures of Indar Sabha, and the first full-length Urdu play from 1856.” The holy place has unwittingly become a chronicle of the times, which is useful to lay people as they are “bursting with life and meaning”.
Live with art
“The Guru Ram Rai Durbar was interesting in expressing how the politics of the area changed with time; paintings from the 18th century are in Mughal style, with its Silk Route inspired patterns, and portraits. This later gave way to a more narrative style of painting including an amazing example of the Janamsakhi (birth stories of Guru Nanak), which is older than the one found in the Golden Temple. The later paintings show the arrival of the British and the rise of the indigenous bourgeoisie,” she informs. Talukdar hopes to share how these works of art are in actuality “lived experiences” for the people in the region.