N​ilita Vachani

Eyes of Stone

REVIEWS: Excerpts

Visual Anthropology 
     "The ostensible subject of this impressive documentary film is spirit possession and religious healing in the Bhilwara district of Rajasthan, India; but it also constitutes a forceful commentary on the structural subordination and powerlessness of Rajasthani women. As a visual ethnography it skilfully documents the cultural constitution and psychosocial correlates of Indian spirit affliction through the medium of a single case study. The focus of the film is a young mother, Shanta, and the treatment of her illness by Bhankya Mata, a regional goddess. A powerful soundtrack consists in the voices of the characters and women's songs (subtitled in english) and the harsh, rhythmic sounds of the possessed and of worship at the Goddess's shrine…
     For those who are familiar with the character of possession and healing in Hindu culture, the ethnography of the therapeutic process is documented with satisfying thoroughness. Skillful editing ensures that each sequence is prefaced or followed by interviews or translated songs that explain the action…
     The film is both a compelling documentary and a remarkably comprehensive example of visual anthropology. Particularly in conjunction with appropriate written sources, it would provide highly effective teaching material for a wide variety of anthropological topics including popular Hinduism, medical anthropology, gender and ofcourse, possession. It also deserves to reach a wider general audience since it offers a sympathetic and revealing but wholly unpatronizing treatment of a classically "exotic" anthropological subject."

Helen Lambert, Vol 7 pp. 75-78

Le Monde
      "…Ce que touche le plus, en tous cas, c'est la douleur, l'isolement atroce de Shanta, la détresse de ses enfants, la présence et la patience indéfectibles d'Amanji, la tendresse résignée du père et du frère, l'insensibilité bornée et le machisme du mari…
     Contrairement aux apparences bien plus qu'un document ethnographique sur un cas de possession, c'est un film sur le mal de vivre de la femme dans la société indienne tradionelle… C'est cela que révèle avec force le très beau film de Nilita Vachani, celui du moins qu'on a pu voir en 1990 au Cinéma du Réel à Beaubourg et au Festival des Films de Femmes à Creteil."

Thérèse-Marie Deffontaines,  Juillet 13, 1991

Culture et Société 
     "Eyes of Stone est un documentaire indispensable de la réalisatrice indienne Nilita Vachani qui filme avec entêtement une jeune femme convaincue qu'un esprit malin s'est emparé d'elle. Marieé a dix ans, cette jeune femme qui en a aujourd'hui 19 a eu trois enfants. Ballottée entre sa famille et ses beaux parents, méprisée par un mari qui lui dit ouvertement qu'elle est bonne à rien, Shanta plonge régulièrement dans des crises d'envoûtement.
     Il faut voir ce document étonnant. Car dans ces lamentations, ces mélopées, ces cris incantatoires au temple de la déesse, se lit toute la misère d'une femme sacrifiée à l'ordre patriarcal indien. Et Nilita Vachani suit pas à pas cette jeune femme, sans s'apitoyer sur son sort, avec une rigueur et une précision documentaire remarquables."

France Lafuste, Juin 7, 1990

The Times of India 
"The narrative follows a smooth, sensitive and easy flowing strain as it cruises through the psyche of tortured souls, viewed more as victims of a convoluted social system than as good or bad individuals."
Nikhat Kazmi, March 18, 1990

The Pioneer
"So what's so special about this film apart from its being a maiden venture with thematic and technical maturity unexpected in one so young? It is a powerful film with stark shades of a gripping psychodrama. Possession is routinely looked on as a problem, something to be cured, some one to be exorcised. Its causative circumstances have rarely been explored, and for the very first time on celluloid in this film…"

Chitra Padmanabhan,  Feb 11, 1992

 

The Economic Times 
     "The striking feature of both her films is their interest in people as people, and not mere illustrations of some social phenomenon. There is an unmistakeable warmth in the way her subjects respond to her, and to her camera. We are able to relate to the subjects of the films with rare depth and intimacy and with no sense of participating in some form of cinematic exploitation, sensationalism or devaluation of the subjects. Respect for the subject is carried over into the cinematic language which chooses carefully how it shows what is shows."

Kavita Singh, "The Return of the Documentary",  June 26, 1993

The Statesman 
     "Nilita Vachani has not only a fascinating subject but also an outstanding cameraman and sound recordists. The film is edited very skilfully and produced and directed with instinctive sensitivity by Nilita Vachani…a most powerful film and I cannot wait to see it again..
     The film takes a leisurely pace and the interviews with Shanta, her mother and the rest are detailed and evoke audibly sympathetic, if awed, reactions in the audience. The auditorium of the French Embassy was bursting at the seams, but everyone watched and listened in rapt silence.
     Sorcery and the occult have always provided absorbing matter for films but there is no sensationalization in Ms. Vachani's film. She allows the camera, the sound and the dialogue full play and her direction and editing are as unobtrusive as possible. What is most interesting of all is how in this strange village where other possessed women also meet at the same temple and moan and thrash about on the ground, the passers-by take it in their stride and even the village dogs and children saunter by normally.
     Shanta herself is a wonderful study in tradition combined with startling emancipation. Even while she pulls the veil over her face in her in-laws' home and talks in whispers to her husband, in the more liberal atmosphere of her parents' home, she comes out with the most courageous home truths about male chauvinism and in particular the callousness of her husband."

Amita Malik, “The Possessed and the Innocent”, May 12, 1990

The Indian Express ​  
         "Nilita Vachani's 'Eyes of Stone' creates a depth of feeling, a poetry about human existence, out of its sharp close-up of one family's life in rural Keriya, at the far end of the great cultural divide.
'Eyes of Stone' starts off as a film where a sociologist probes into the rituals of possession by spirits in rural Rajasthan and the patterns of exorcism practiced by allegedly possessed women, through their prostrations at the twin shrines of the Bhankya Mata in the bush-deserts of Bhilwara.
However, what is remarkable about Nilita'a first-time is that it soon transcends from a specific subject study into a distinctly candid, incredibly honest portrayal of the tugs and pulls of everyday life for a 19-year-old mother of two, her parental household and her erratic truck driver husband.
        The stark intimacy of the family's dialogue with the camera and the subtle manner in which the dimensions of their world come together are a tribute both to the filmmakers and the honesty and openness with which Shanta and her family discuss their most personal relationships enabling the film to transcend from the commonness of a low-income household into the realm of a significant documentation about life as it is in one little corner of the world.
       I don't think there is anything yet to match this film in Indian cinema in terms of the real life portraiture of a rural family. Eyes of Stone is perhaps our best film in the Cinema Verité tradition. It is the intellectual intimacy between the filmmakers and their subjects, both Shanta's larger family and the anonymous mass of people congregating at the Bhankya Mata shrine that gives this film its human warmth, its major sociological insights and its brilliant cinematic quality.
For director Nilita Vachani and cinematographer, Vangelis Kalambakas, Eyes of Stone is a very impressive debut and it will be of tremendous interest both to sociologists studying traditional Indian exorcism of spirits and to those attempting to fathom the social fabric of rural India, specially in terms of the influences that a somewhat remote industrial society has on villagers."  

A.S., March 10, 1990