Bunkar – The Last of the Varanasi Weavers, is a documentary that focuses on the lives of the weavers’ of Varanasi. It highlights the various nuances of the handloom sector in Varanasi, what makes it stand out from other handloom products and the issues that plague its artisans.
The weaving traditions of Varanasi can be traced back to the Vedic times and have since been handed down from generation to generation. Not a skill that can be taught in any institution, weaving is an art that takes a lifetime of dedication to master. The weavers of Varanasi, pride themselves in being able to weave with precision almost anything that the human mind can imagine. But, an art of this prominence comes at a price. Aspirant artisans start their training at the age of 10 and often even sacrifice all forms of formal education so they can perfect their talents.
With cheap powerloom fabrics rapidly making their way into our wardrobes, the weavers and their families stand at a cross roads. As they shoulder the responsibility of safeguarding centuries of tradition, they also crave the benefaction from society that they once enjoyed. Having to compete on cost, without willing to compromise on the quality of their art, the preservers of our heritage are struggling to hold on to their vocation and dignity. Bunkar is an attempt to awaken society to the reality of the life of a weaver and the price he pays so that our Indian legacy lives for one more day.
While celebrating the weaves of Varanasi and their creators, the documentary compels us to rethink the role each one of us can play in making a difference to their lives. For every time that art has played its role in shaping society, today an art is calling out to us. If we do not step up now, we may lose it forever.
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Varanasi is known to have been, and continues to be, one of the world’s finest weaving centers for luxury textiles. The problems plaguing the Varanasi handloom sector and the recent efforts to revive it are also not unknown to anyone. But during one of my visits to Varanasi, a year ago, my personal observation was that the problem was not as unidimensional as the media has me believing. Curiosity made me dig deeper. What I found was the compelling story of an art that has thrived for thousands of years but today, is finding itself at the doorstep of ruin. Artists are feeling compelled to make unending sacrifices just so their art can live one day more. To be part of that generation which watches in silence as we lose a heritage of this magnitude would be very tragic and so instinctively I knew I had to play my part and help these weavers.
The problems these weavers face are deep rooted and multifaceted and it is hard to imagine that government intervention alone can solve them. As I see it, the issue is not that people and society will not step up to help preserve this art, the problem is simply that not enough people know about the issue or its complexity! The only way to ensure a real resolution is to create a wider awareness of the problem. Awareness alone can sensitize society to be more conscious consumers.
Since what I know is how to make films, I chose to use that as a medium to spread awareness about the Bunkars of Varanasi. But, this art of handloom weaving belongs to all of us. It is every Indian’s legacy as much as mine and so the responsibility to safeguard it is also equally every ones. Like it is said in the film too, art needs society, as much as society needs its art, and I have complete faith that anyone who hears their story will feel as compelled as I did to play their part in helping them.
If this film can make its viewer a more sensitized handloom consumer, I would have achieved my objective.