This innovative ethnographic documentary by renowned filmmaker Judith MacDougall provides a new way of exploring the complex social life surrounding material objects. The film follows the life history of an important cultural object through the everyday experiences of the people who make, sell, and use it.
A diya is a small terracotta oil lamp used throughout India in religious ceremonies. The film begins with a family of potters as they make diyas in the increasingly frantic days before Diwali, the “Festival of Lights.” The lamps are produced on a potter’s wheel, are taken to be sold in the bazaar, and are then used in the Diwali puja ceremonies. Afterwards, they are discarded and return to the earth.
Although the potters are proud of their work, they often wish for a different and less arduous existence for their children. In a postscript, the film returns to the potter family and the unexpected revelation that these children will remain in school, ending seven generations of their family’s life as potters.
This beautiful film is keenly observed and richly infused with the sights and sounds that make the lives of diya potters distinctive and meaningful. “Diya” will stimulate discussion and reflection in a variety of classes in social and cultural anthropology, Asian and Indian studies, and visual anthropology. In Hindi, with English subtitles.