Aural memory must, without doubt, affect our responses to specific situations and perhaps that is why we associate different sounds with pleasant or unpleasant experiences from the past. For me, the sound of the dhak is quite indelibly linked with the festivities and rituals that mark the celebration of Durga Puja. One of the countless drums found in India, the dhak is a big two-sided drum that is played by traditional drummers, usually from Bengal, called dhakis. Despite rapidly changing times, when recorded music often replaces live drumming and music, dhakis remain an integral part of Durga Puja festivities. But this time, I am writing neither about the drum itself, nor the drumming, but about a little animation project I saw several years ago, rather pragmatically titled Dhak. Only about 3 minutes and 8 seconds in duration, Dhak by Rajesh Chakraborty was his student film made while he studied at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. You can find it on YouTube. The accompanying comments inform me that it was made in 2002, and yet nine years down the line, it remains as charming and riveting as it was when I first saw it.
It is the minute details that make the film really special for me. Take, for example, the sequence where the dhakis prepare to hoist the drums on their shoulders before they start playing; a segment that includes details that make it a visual treat but also share with you minutiae that many of us may have never noticed while listening to the heady beat of the dhak. From the tightening of the skin top to tune the drums, to the swishing sound of the drummer’s hand on the skin as he checks its tautness, or the strip of cloth that the dhakis wind around the drum sticks to make a grip, or even the one last thump with which one of the drummers checks the sound of his drum, each step has been observed with an eye for fine detail. Better still, each detail has been drawn, sketched and animated so tastefully that the viewer actually waits almost impatiently for the drumming to begin. When the drumming in the film finally begins, with the bare-bodied dhakis clad in white dhotis dancing to their own drumming, the plumed bird feathers that festoon their drums gaily bobbing up and down, it is nothing short of a “wah” moment ! Or call it a “wow” moment, if you will.
Festive beat: Dhakis with their feather-decorated drums. (Bikas Das/AP)
As the drumming continues, a series of stunning dissolves and morphs bring you vignettes from Durga Puja that could make even the most hard-hearted turn gooey-eyed—the beautiful image of the goddess looming above the devotees who gather around to worship, lovely women in saris with red borders elegantly covering their heads, a dhunuchi dancer swirling the flaming incense burners above his head, the brass gong or kanshi keeping time with the dhakis, and lots more. There is almost a sense of disappointment when the film ends, which is fortunately avoided in the nick of time by the appearance of a little boy merrily trying to imitate the dhakis with his own toy drum. Finally, when the film ends, I almost invariably end up wondering if we can’t all somehow persuade Rajesh Chakraborty to give us more such stunning work.
Write to Shubha at firstname.lastname@example.org