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August 20, 2019

Behind-The-Lens With The Co-Founders Of StoryLoom

Text by Rushmika Banerjee

Every picture tells a story. Cineastes Nidhi Kamath and Keya Vaswani share the stories behind their films that highlight India’s artisan community

“If we lose a craft, we will lose a culture,” co-founder Nidhi Kamath wrote in our last mail interaction. Preservation of craft, not only depends on passing on the relevant knowledge, but also on documentation via pictures, videos and texts. This sentiment is what pushes Indian Institute of Crafts and Design graduates, Nidhi Kamath and Keya Vaswani, to produce short videos that focus on the traditional heritage of India through their venture, StoryLoom films.

If you are a fashion week regular, then you must be acquainted with their body of work. Their videos represent the country’s decades-old craft communities and tell stories of the hardworking artisan, for whom craft is not merely a way to earn a living, but a lifestyle that they have adopted since decades, which inspires them, educates them and empowers them to move forward. Kamath and Vaswani have this unique way of presenting their short stories — they don’t look like an urbanised view of the Indian craft community. Their videos are an insider’s perspective of the craftsperson’s day-to-day life, something that they achieve by spending time with the community and its people.

We decided to delve deeper into this aspect of their film-making process and asked them about the stories behind their favourite videos.

People’s Archive of Rural India, 2015 (PARI)

What: An independent journalism digital platform, founded by Palagummi Sainath, PARI archives stories from rural India.

Project: Weaves of Maheshwar

Where: Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh

“This project is special as it was our first 30-minute documentary. It was part of our fellowship with People’s Archive of Rural India under the mentorship of renowned senior journalist Mr. P Sainath. We took 8-9 months to make this and went frequently to shoot at Maheshwar, a beautiful town in Madhya Pradesh. We met interesting people who were responsible for the craft revival. This project gave us a lot of hope as it was a conscious decision to film something optimistic. It was an answer to the problem of why we should save our handlooms and how they help in reviving and preserving our culture.

We learnt a lot from the leads of our own documentary. It helped us see how a woman leader can bring such a positive change. A change that ensures the craft is thriving, people are getting jobs, women are taken care of and the younger generation willingly wants to take this traditional work forward. Not only did we manage to create a great first documentary but ‘Weaves of Maheshwar’ also won a Rajat Kamal for Best Promotional Film at the 63rd National Film Awards — a life-changing and empowering moment for us.”

Good Earth, 2016

What: A luxury retail store that focuses on India’s craft and design heritage to create clothing, accessories and home furnishing products.

Project: Pehchaan – Chintz of Coromandel Coast

Where: Machilipatnam, Andhra Pradesh

“What we enjoyed the most during this project was shooting in various water bodies over a course of 12 days. For the Kalamkari process, once the motif is printed with natural dyes, it has to be washed in natural water. There are certain minerals in the water that help in oxidisation of the natural dye to get a certain colour. It does not pollute the river. The artisans in this shoot shared their knowledge in great detail, which helped us achieve our goal of making a good film. It involved getting up early in the morning for a month to see sunrises on different geographical locations in the same region such as beaches, farmlands, ports, lakes and ponds. It was breathtaking.”

Bodhi, 2017

What: Founded by Mala Pradeep Sinha in 1983, this is a sustainable textile design studio and printing workshop

Project: Bodhi

Where: Vadodra, Gujarat

“The main objective of this project was to film their sustainable practices. As environmentally-conscious filmmakers it was great to show how Bodhi — a print-based studio in Baroda — has made a system of canna plantation, sand and pebble to refine their water, which they use further for dyeing and washing. We spent around a month here. From rainwater harvesting to devising this unique canna plantation system of recycling and reusing water, the film captured how Bodhi made judicious use of their resources. It is always rewarding when you work on a project that aligns with your core beliefs. True sustainability lies in the hands of the designers who look beyond profits. After doing this project, we realised that we need to support more such designers and fashion labels that care for nature.”

L’affaire, 2017

What: A luxury concept store that centers around indigenous weaves and separates.

Project: Uppada — Jamdani of Andhra

Where: Uppada, Andhra Pradesh

“More than the craft, this project was about its people. One of the first things that we noticed in Upadda was our everyday commute of 10 km. On the right, we were surrounded by the sea and on our left, there were lush green fields. In that route, we would often find statues of gods facing the sea. We were quite surprised and later came to know that it was a native belief that god will save the coast from natural calamities like cyclones. Uppada as a craft was beautiful and it was amazing to see how it is practised in homes of artisans. To see a Jamdani being made so perfectly is in itself mesmerising. So many colours and threads (are involved in the process). The people were extremely helpful and made us feel at home. Every day we would eat at Satyanarayan Ji’s home (the businessman and the master craftsman). He treated us like his own. He’d feed us hand-plucked mangoes and chikoo (sapodilla) from his garden. It was the first time in this profession that we touched someone’s feet — as a gesture of gratitude – while bidding farewell to him and he reciprocated by gifting us a carton of mangoes.”

British Council’s Crafting Futures India programme, in collaboration with IMG Reliance and Fashion Revolution, 2018

What: A designer exchange programme that celebrates fashion as a positive influence while also scrutinises industry practices and raises awareness about the fashion industry’s most pressing issues.

Project: Risa — The Sacred Cloth

Where: Lefunga and Rangholpara village, Tripura

“This project was a part of our fellowship with British Council. We had to visit Tripura and film the lives of female artisans. This was one of our best films as we got the chance to explore Northeast India for the first time. We visited the villages of Tripura and got the chance to work with tribal communities and interact with different women weavers. I have never come across such independent women. We talk about living an independent life in metropolises however, in reality, we are so dependent. We are dependent on our helpers at home, on parents, friends, boyfriends and husbands. But these women do everything themselves. Right from getting up in the morning to preparing meals for the whole family, getting their kids ready for school, cleaning their households to weaving risa on the loom, helping in agricultural chores and taking care of their livestock. They primarily weave for the community and contribute to the sustenance of the craft. Beautiful stories of these amazingly hardworking women came out from this memorable trip to Tripura. The film was later screened at Lakmé Fashion Week in 2018.”

Aavaran, 2019

What: Started in 2008, this is a crafting studio for artisans who indulge in dabu block printing (mud resist printing)

Project: Untitled

Where: Udaipur, Rajasthan

“The process of Dabu printing – a form of resist dyeing – was incredibly fascinating. It was also an empowering experience for us to film their numerous units around Udaipur that provide employment to the local women. Their artisans are very jovial and cooperated with us during the shoot. We began with the storyboarding of the film, which helped us create a conceptual blueprint. The post-production was an amalgamation of the efforts of the music director, the voice over artist and scriptwriter. We spent around 12 days here. Not only we got to see how dabu printing is done, but we also realized and how easy it is for a brand to operate when they have all their units together under one roof.”

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