RAJULA SHAH’s film, Word Within the Word, quietly and gently goes to the core of spirituality in everyday life. Painting broad strokes through her camera, her cuts and her conversations, she seeks meaning in Kabir as sung and interpreted by a farmer, a vegetable-seller, a halwai, a petty shopkeeper. There could not be a more damning document of organised religion and its keepers.
The 70-minute film constantly seeks the sublime in the ordinary, in ‘the wretched of the earth.’ Rajula does not dwell on the devastation of the landscapes she films and shuns any attempt at romaticising them either. Instead, she engages with conversations that gesture towards very difficult lives lived with profound grace and wisdom. “My daily rounds fetch me supper. Wandering you eat, tethered you starve, says He,” quotes the vegetable-seller as he sets out. At a distance, a farmer cajoles his pair of bullocks to plough the earth. The camera stays still as the trio enters the frame and exits, then re-enter and re-exit, again and again, until the soil in the foreground has been turned over. With the same meditative rigour, the farmer tunes his musical instrument in the next shot to sing, “…I have been to the immortal land, Why do you stray here and there, All sacred lands, find here, He is within, don’t seek without.”
To relegate the Kabir panthis into a sub-culture worthy of being recorded and archived is typical and a damaging impulse that belongs to a narrow ‘secular’ imagination. Kabir sits high in the pantheon of secular thinkers. But his spiritualism and the quest for the esoteric stick out inconveniently in the imagination of the flag-bearers of secularism. Rajula is not bothered with these constructed polarities.
She collects small details in a nondescript urban setting, the space that she belongs to, concrete columns framing daybreak, smoke above a row of water tanks, a TV remote and a tea cup on a ledge, a wire, a patch of sun. This is the space that is transformed into the spectacular by following clouds heavy with rain. Kumar Gandharva’s voice fills the frame as he sings Kabir, “Clouds burst in the west, Raindrops fall to a rhythm, O wise one go tend your fields…” An opening of a remarkable film.