Depicting the culture of rice farming in Thailand, the documentary Songs of Rice found itself resonating highly amongst the Indian audience when it was screened at the Thai Film Festival recently held at the National Film Archive of India (NFAI). The film is directed by Uruphong Raksasad who was present at the festival.
The viewer lives vicariously through the people shown in the film. It introduces its audience to the importance of rice farming in Thailand. We get to see the process right from the sowing till the harvesting. “I am the son of a farmer. My parents did not let me become a farmer. I studied cinema instead.
They didn’t teach us much about rice farming either but it was all around me while I grew up. When I studied cinema, this was the topic I was keen on exploring,” explains Raksasand who adds that Terminator was the first film he watched on television when he was very young and later watched the Apu trilogy by Satyajit Ray and realised the importance of cinema in telling stories about different lives, countries and cultures.
Raksasand made Songs of Rice as the last part of a rice trilogy that showed rice culture and its influence on different parts of Thailand. The visuals are bright and colourful, giving a glimpse into every aspect of life with rice. Buddhist as well as animist practices are used by farmers to pray to the rice goddess Mae Posop, who ensures a good harvest and prosperity. “Farmers need something to believe in. In the modern world, they are a minority. They do not have much financial means. They need Buddhism to believe that they can become better. Also, fear is another reason why they continue with the rituals and traditions.”
For the documentary, the 40-year-old filmmaker conducted his research by going through several books on Thailand’s rice farming history. The rice festivals that happen during the time of the crop harvest act as a way to bring the farming community together. It is a way for the people to sing folk songs, dance and have fun. “In the books, I found so many traditions and rituals that have now vanished. Rice farming as an occupation is not very profitable anymore. There is too much rice farming in Thailand and the soil is not fit for any other grain to grow. The situation of farmers is not very good. They lose a lot of money in rice farming.”
The documentary won the FIPRESCI award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, Netherlands. It also won the Best Documentary 2015 at Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival. Raksasand speaks of how the film was received in his country, “In my country, people liked the film because they are my people. It is predictable. But, it was not a commercial hit. Thai films playing in the cinemas are not very good and there is not enough funding either. Now, there is a boom in television series. But, I am still proud of the fact that it won many international awards. This is the first time I have shown Songs of Rice in India.”
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