Where the masks unveil a culture

Where the masks unveil a culture

Before COVID-19 invaded our imaginations, people often referred to masks as a device to hide our true feeling and identity. Even though it is metaphorically true, some Indian dance forms flourish with a notion, different from what a mask generally symbolises. These forms use the mask not to veil, but to elaborate the subtleties of expressions in characters being portrayed. 'Where the Mask Speaks the Mind' brings out this very aspect of our traditional culture with finesse.

In his quest to delve into the indigenous practise of expressions, Malay Dasgupta, an independent documentary filmmaker from Kolkata studied the Chhau dance of Seraikella in great detail. Along with the exponents of the dance form, Dasgupta's camera focused on the ideas that go behind the making of masks there.

'Where the Mask Speaks the Mind' features quite many dances in the picturesque natural settings of Jharkhand choreographed in rhythms with classical base. The maker uses the veracious depth and grace of these performances as punctuations to substantiate the inherent thoughts of the master mask-makers like late Kanhaialal Maharana and other veterans. In the process to lend authenticity to his film, Dasgupta lingers on his subject despite the risk of reprising the crucial role of the masks in Seraikella Chhau dance.

The film, with 66 minutes of running time, flows like the river in Seraikella with lasting images of the local nature. In order to establish the intrinsic value of nature in the Chhau performances, Dasgupta successfully added a new dimension to his film – the rhythm and colours of the natural environment thus become extensions of the performances depicted in the film.

Dasgupta's intention to document the vibrant Seraikaella Chhau dance, therefore, turned out to be a meditative study of masks and their makers working in their own environment. With this intent, he retained the observant spirit of filming by preferring to static long and mid-shots to pick up the details of the performative surroundings. His intent to bring out the local rhythm goes in tandem with the slow-paced editing, which will help the audience to get immersed in this lesser-known domain of Seraikella Chhau dance.

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