In Alibag, a small town south of Bombay, we interviewed in Marathi several characters whose lives and perspectives will give an idea of what the Bene Israel lifestyle has been for centuries: Jacob Dandekar, the old chazzan who prays alone three times a day; Levi Wakrulkar, who is in charge of slaughtering animals according to the kashrut rules; the owner of the butchery where he does it; his son Aadiel, the youngest Bene Israel of the Konkan region; Aadiel’s friends, after a cricket game.
In Bombay we conducted interviews (or filmed scenes) in English with our Bene Israel characters and their non-Jewish friends: Sharon and Sharona, in their early thirties, who are preparing their move to Israel – they are our main characters; Dev, Sharon’s best friend, a social worker helping kids from the slums; Natasha Joseph, a graduate in Literature and Psychology and young employee of the Jewish Community Center; her three friends (one Christian, two Hindus) Namrata, Ketaki and Priya, who are strongly attached to India; Natasha’s parents; JCC Director Leora Ezekiel; JCC volunteers Adir and Meirah Bhastekar; the secretary of the Jewish Agency in Bombay, Daniel Samuel.
We have shot scenes of daily life and religious practices: people at work, at home, taking the bus, praying in the synagogue, preparing and celebrating Purim, slaughtering a chicken, playing cricket, etc.
Last but not least we have shot Bombay and the Konkan region through various angles, trying to capture both the beauty and brutality of the gigantic city, and the overwhelming mix of old and new.
The night of our departure, after an exhausting, intensive month of shooting, we were satisfied to realize we captured almost everything we were hoping to get. The two first night of Pessah (Passover) are the only event we couldn’t have, because we learnt that the religious law doesn’t permit to shoot on these days.
Before flying to France we were feeling immensly grateful. The wonderful human, professional and spiritual experience we had could have only happened thanks to the generous people we met. These individuals and families opened the doors of their homes and their hearts to us, agreed to answer heavy questions, share painful truths also hopes and dreams in front of the camera of two young westerners. We hope to bring back a film that will allow the audience to live these moments, diners, discussions, which resonated so wonderfully in our souls.
The satisfaction of this trip also came from our fruitful collaboration with Savitri, our partner from India, who understood the spirit of the project since the very beginning, adding her smartness and efficiency to it. and from our familiarizing with a great environment, where everyone, from the chaï maker to the employees of our guest house, welcomed us so warmly.
For the last two weeks we have been working on two unavoidable and lengthy steps: capturing the 75 hours of footage on hard drives and doing the transcription of the interviews in English. This fastidious process makes us study the material in depth and helps us in selecting the most poignant parts. Within ten days we’ll start extracting the usable footage from the whole, and from that we’ll select the best portions. Only then will we start figuring out the structure of the film and the sequence arrangement.
Going through these interviews also reminds us how lucky we were to meet our characters. It was far from being easy to find, out of 4000 people, the few ones whose lives carry the contemporary problematic of the community. We have eventually chosen individuals who are active, dedicated to the Bene Israel fate, and who are struggling with contradictory goals.
Finally, this diversity of perspectives and images gives us the material to make a movie that will cover three main themes:
• The nature of Judaism, the uniqueness of a people scattered around the globe and the relation to Israel
• The equation between the spiritual relation to the creator and the love one can have for one or several lands
• The transformations of India, a fascinating country for both its traditions and its way of embracing the 21st century
We would like to conclude this post by thanking all the people who have supported us both financially and morally for the last five months. Thanks to the many donations and messages of encouragement we have received while we were in India this project could happen and our enthusiasm was always boosted.
Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.