Places + Locations | 1960 | Sound | Colour
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A brief look at the life of a Nepali shaman.
The film begins with the credits rolling over various shots of the foothills of the Himalayas. We move to a small village where we see two women carrying a variety of sacks and baskets, small thatched huts can be seen in the background. A close up of a cloth satchel hanging on a post. The camera pulls back, to the left of the satchel there is a clothes-line made of long, thin branches with a dog sitting underneath. A man walks past and collects the satchel. He looks back at a boy--his son?--who squats on the floor and sharpens a knife on a whetstone. The man picks up a stick and makes his way into the woods. Shot of the sunlight breaking through the forest canopy and glistening on the leaves below. An extreme close up of a spider on its web. We return to the man as he climbs over a fence. We then see several shots which follow the man's progress through the woods, he passes other villagers on his way some of whom are accompanied by animals such as dogs or cows. We see a scenic shots that looks across a valley to the wooded slopes on the other side.
The man finally arrives at another village. A woman sits on the floor carving a piece of wood with a large knife. Meanwhile, the voiceover starts and we learn that the man we have been following is a shaman or healer and his name is Indrajit. He walks to a clearing in the village where a man lies on a mat on the floor; as Indrajit approaches the man sits up. We see some of the other villagers who are gathered together under a kind of awning with a thatched roof. Indrajit sits down beside the man who has just woken up and holds both of his hands in turn: he is taking the sick man's pulse. There are close ups of the two men as they talk. The shaman is then handed a leaf which holds wood ash. He casts a spell over the ash, takes a small pinch, and then blows it at his sick friend.
We see Indrajit at work carving something out of a piece of wood. The voiceover explains that he earns about one fifth of his income from his curing, the rest comes from his small farm and a pension which he receives from the British army--worth around $25 a year. The pension is for his service in the Ghurkhas. Meanwhile there are close ups of his wife and two young children, the voiceover mentions that Indrajit is in fact the head of a family of nine. A woman in black dress and a white headscarf enters the clearing in front of Indrajit's hut. We see the two of them talking in the shade while one of Indrajit's young sons stands between them, staring at the camera.
The two continue to talk and the child moves away and begins playing with a piece of wood and a large knife. Once again Indrajit takes his patient's hands and feels the pulse. We return to another shot of the child playing with his stick and knife. We see our shaman opening a bag containing a variety of vials and bottles. The voiceover says that Indrajit places more importance on medicines than most shamans because of the time he has spent in hospitals when he was in the army. We see an extended close up of his hands as he prepares a medicine in a small silver cup. Indrajit's patient has brought several items with her which will serve as payment: a bottle of home distilled alcohol; a pound of rice; and a live chicken, whose blood is an important ingredient in the medicine that Indrajit is making. He cuts the chicken's head off and ads its blood to his mixture. As he stirs the potion he mutters a spell. He then gives the concoction to his patient who drinks it down in one gulp.
In the next shot Indrajit is chatting and laughing with a neighbour who has come to visit because a member of his family is sick. Indrajit begins preparations for a séance by placing some leaves in a bowl of rice. Several other members of Indrajit's family present to help him carry out the séance, his neighbour and the sick relative--who lies on the floor-- are also present. Incense is burnt and spells are said to protect the group from evil spirits. A circle of chicken blood is laid on the floor around the group, this too is to ward off evil spirits. Indrajit says a spell into some beads which he then places around his neck. He is given a bunch of leaves which he binds together, he then begins to shake the leaves and chant. As the ritual continues the shaman starts shaking himself, his chants become louder and the shaking more pronounced. The ritual continues for some time and at one point one of the other members of the group also starts to chant something. Eventually they stop and Indrajit mops his perspiring brow and removes the beads from around his neck. After this he tells the others what he has learned from the spirits.
Indrajit and his eldest son sit together talking, the voiceover says that Indrajit's son is interested in following his father's example and becoming a shaman. Finally we see Indrajit's wife sweeping the area outside their hut with a handful of twigs and branches. Indrajit, meanwhile, collects his satchel and heads off into the woods, this time with his eldest son following close behind.
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