90 million indigenous people live in India. They call themselves "Adivasi", meaning original / first inhabitants. Warli is the name of a large indigenous group based in the forests of the Sahyadri mountains of Thane district of Maharashtra, West India. Indigenous communities built their civilisation centred round nature's bounty, a balance reflected in the non-appropriative, non accumulative, subsistence economy, a relationship with the land and the forest that seeks not to own but to belong, not to extract but to access, not to aggress but to share equitably.
Over the centuries, wave upon wave of outsiders from the Indo-Aryans to British colonials moved across their lands and the indigenous people slowly transformed. Still the Warlis celebrate nature, and the forest, to be worshipped as the entity that sustains all life, including theirs. But contemporary reality implies different levels of transformation: a tradition which has always been in the hands of women is now opening to men: the creation of mural paintings as part of a wedding ritual, seeking communication among themselves and with the outside world to invoke the power of the Gods.
Jivya Soma Mashe is the first man in his tribe who has been able to make a break with his tradition and yet carry it forward. Since the '70 his artwork has been shown in museums and galleries in Paris, London, Germany, Italy, Japan...
The film begins with an interview with Jivya Soma Mashe who rose to fame in the '70s as the first male warli painter, passionately dedicating himself to painting on a daily basis thereby breaking with the female ritual tradition. The primary questions for human beings are very simple: "where does happiness come from?", "where does unhappiness come from?", "is there anything permanent in this planet?".
English, Maharati and Warli interweave in an attempt to sketch a portrait of the man who has developed his individual imaginative vision while still remaining in touch with the cosmology of his tribe. During the interview we meet Jivya's family: his wife and his son Sadhashiv, a painter himself. Sadhashiv helped us communicate with his father and introduced us to the villagers. We met the tribe thanks to a special occurrence: the forthcoming celebration of a wedding. According to tradition a painting must be carried out on one of the hut's inside walls of the goddess Palghat, the mother goddess of fertility, surrounded by scenes of daily village life. Without the presence of Palghat, without this painting, no Warli wedding can be celebrated. Thus, next to the four women led by the savashini - a woman whose husband is still alive - today this village is where the students of Jivya Soma Mashe and his son, Sadhashiv, meet. Following a long ritual the women collect the rice in a navel-cavity in the hut. using decorated sticks they beat it into flour. the following day, using rice paste and bamboo sticks, they begin to paint. The painters participate using contemporary utensils: fine brushes and white acrylic, a personal style and body language. The children watch and participate. The painting takes shape before our eyes like a mirror reflecting different ways of seeing and representing the same world, the worshipping of Palghat, the Sun, the Moon, the God of rain, the Tiger god.
The celebration of nature's manifold expressions is a description of the unity and the essence of things rather than a naturalistic portrait of reality. Female and male painting develop side by side each according to their origins, the tools adopted and the ensuing gestures, generating rhythms connecting in space. It tells the story of the continuity of an experience in which past, present and future are not distinguished. the painting created in one day appears like a window onto the realm of magic, introduced by the women's ritual chanting and the trance whereby the individual's vision becomes part of the vision of the group.