When Filmmaker Sreecheta Das Met Kolkata’s Only Woman Idolmaker Chaina Pal

Posted: February 8, 2018

Chaina Pal does not even know she is breaking stereotypes – a woman idol maker in a traditionally all men bastion – filmmaker Sreecheta Das.

Ma Durga is worshipped as a symbol of woman’s universal power. But, what happens when the idol of the deity is crafted by a woman? What are her struggles? How does society view her? Sreecheta Das’s documentary ‘Chaina Pal: Kolkata’s Sole Female Idolmaker’ brings to light the unputdownable passion and unsung struggles of the woman whose name ‘Chaina’ means unwanted in the Bengali language.

The homecoming and four days’ stay of the dearest daughter Durga on earth washes away the monotone of daily life of the Bengalis, no matter which part of the world they reside in. Their love for Ma Durga can be seen on a visit to Kolkata during the auspicious occasion of Durga Pujo. You will see well decorated pandals with decorative illuminations everywhere.

The benign look of the goddess is the creation of the artisans at Kumortuli, the traditional potters’ quarter in northern Kolkata. Here, idol-making is a business which is passed on as a tradition from one generation to another, and it has always been a men-only exclusive. Even today, it is very unlikely to find a woman creating the idols of the goddess there. Two decades ago, Chaina Pal silently broke into the male bastion and has brought about a quiet revolution in Kumortuli since then.

The awe-inspiring journey of Chaina Pal came to daylight through the eyes of another woman, budding filmmaker Sreecheta Das. Currently, a student of Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Sreecheta Das was associated with esteemed dailies such as Indian Express and The Telegraph in the past. Women and marginalised communities are some of the recurring themes in her work. It was her desire to tell stories of real India that led her into journalism, and now into filmmaking.

Initially, Chaina Pal stepped into this idol-making venture in order to keep her father’s legacy alive after his demise. Moreover, she mastered the art of idol-making on her own due to the fact that it was considered a sacrilege to learn the artistry if you were a woman. “The fact that it’s 2017 and we have to make a film or write an article about the fact that she is an exception is really ironical when there is so much talks regarding women empowerment, remarks Sreecheta Das.

Being the youngest sister amongst seven children, Chaina Pal never received much love and warmth from her family. Hence, named ‘Chaina’ meaning unwanted. Her workers are now what define family to her. At present, idol-making is her identity, the identity of a sole woman artisan who broke into a domain ‘reserved’ only for the men and succeeding thereafter.

“Our take on feminism is so limited actually. Chaina Pal does not know what feminism is. She is a feminist activist of a different order; she doesn’t even know that what she has done is path breaking,’ conveyed Sreecheta Das over telephone. Chaina Pal is absolutely unaware of the fact that she is the flagbearer of feminism in Kumortuli. In fact, she crafted idols for the Durga Pujo of the transgender community without any hesitation but with much ease.

The first time Sreecheta heard of Chaina Pal was when she was a trainee journalist with Indian Express. Since then she had in her mind to someday tell the story of this ‘very sweet woman’ as described by Sreecheta Das.

Sreecheta who decided to study film-making at the age of twenty-five says, “Everyone has their own appetite. My speed is slow. When I watch a film, I read up about it for two nights. Maybe I would take another two days to assimilate it in my mind. Then, on the fouth or fifth day I watch another film. One need to decide one’s pace. Reading is also required.” Besides this, she also opines that film-making is not only about images but the politics that you carry as a person to the literature you read; film-making is everything you are.

Sreecheta Das’s 12 minutes documentary on Chaina Pal was selected for ‘Gender Bender 2017’ organised by Sandbox Collective and the Goethe-Institut Bangalore, supported by The Ladies Finger. She wishes to make a longer film in the future on the intriguing life-story of the phenomenal woman that Chaina Pal was yesterday, is today, and will remain tomorrow.

Image source: YouTube

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I'm a Political Science student from St.Xavier's College, Kolkata. Biryani and F.

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