The film opens with yards of printed and dyed cloth being let down from the roofs to dry. Camera is down; looking up and the cloth simply float over the lens, one after the other. The Camera zooms into a print near the borders and it dissolves into the same pattern being printed with a block. We see a hand, the fabric, the block and the colour. The motion is fast and the block seems to run across the cloth. As it nears the end of the length of the cloth, the hand moves out of frame, the camera focuses on the print.
This 25 minute film captures the essence of the block printing as it happens in Bagru, Rajasthan, as it has been happening for generations. Though seen through the eyes of one master crafts person, RK Derawala, it is the story of a craft. Visually, the film stays in the present but the narrative moves between the past and the present, building the story. The film traces the different stages of how a plain cloth gets transformed. Shot sequentially, it remains linear in parts and yet moves back and forth between the stages. As the story progresses, the links are provided by interview bytes, explaining some of the more detailed nuances that cannot be visually shown.
The narrative gives information about the traditional methods of block printing and the modifications that have come about, due to the change in today’s landscape. An example of this is the use of indigo dyes and some pigment colours or the distinctiveness of some prints and its use, then and now, or even the use of a mechanical dryer unlike traditional sun drying. We see how the motifs and colour palette of indigo, iron black, green, madder continues to follow tradition and the role chemical formulations play today while the traditional process of mordanting and resist remains the same as do the dying stages and the methodology.
The film also steps out of single location, into the chippa Mohalla. It explores the essence of the life there and the people whose lives and livelihoods are intrinsically bound to the art of block printing, block making, colours and its various techniques. The film captures the old Bagru village, the older buildings, the traditional role of men and women, the old ways of printing etc. and weaves it within the present story.
Though it is about a craft, the human element is always present to add a connection. The use of colours and motifs is paramount in this film. Almost every frame has some layer either in the background or foreground and the music has traditional elements put together in a modern arrangement.
Rhythm of the Blocks gives a vibrant view into the world of Block Printing in Bagru .