Painting and singing stories told in scrolls (patas in Bengali) goes back to ancient times in India. For generations hereditary painter-singers (Patuas or Chitrakars) have been practicing their craft in the Midnapur district of West Bengal. This website introduces the viewer to the village of Naya, 3 hours from Calcutta, where many Chitrakar women have recently taken up the Patua craft.
Patuas are Muslims, and they tell the stories of Muslim saints (pirs and fakirs) as well as Hindu Gods and Goddesses, and offer devotion to saints at Muslim shrines. In the past they used to wander from village to village, receiving rice, vegetables and coins for their recital. They would unroll a scroll, a frame at a time, and sing their own compositions. But competition from other media eroded this way of life and nowadays the Patuas are trying to adapt to changing conditions.
Recently the Chitrakar women of Naya village formed a scroll painters’ cooperative. Anthropologists/filmmakers Lina Fruzzetti, Akos Ostor and Aditi Nath Sarkar have directed a film Singing Pictures about the women artists lives and work.
The film follows their daily lives as they paint, sing, cook, tend to their children, and meet with the cooperative. They discuss the problems and rewards of practicing their art, and speak freely about the social, religious, political changes in the village and the world beyond. Their wisdom, artistry, and good humor amidst many difficulties illuminate the lives around them.The website is built around the protagonists and themes of the film, providing additional materials that cannot be accommodated by cinematic form.