Rajula Shah completed her diploma in Film Direction from FTII, Pune. She holds a masters degree in English Literature. She has made documentaries on various themes.
Filmmaker Rajula’s interest in pottery goes back to the early 1980s and was largely triggered by Bharat Bhavan, the multi-arts complex in Bhopal, which was perhaps one of the first spaces of its kind in India to seriously attempt connecting the different arts. She developed an admiration for the work of two traditional women potters, Neelmani Devi from Manipur and Sara Ibrahim from Kutchh, who, in their own unique ways, have carved out an identity for themselves as artists. Their struggle to find an idiom that worked around the taboo of the potter’s wheel inspired Rajula to make them the protagonists of her film.
However, ‘Beyond the Wheel’ is a film that deals with much more than the lives and practices of the two potters. The film explores the taboo barring traditional women potters from the potter’s wheel. Structured as a search for roots of a contemporary ceramic artist, Shampa Shah, who is also the filmmaker’s sister, the film chronicles the personal and artistic histories of the two traditional potters as they negotiate the taboo of the potter’s wheel and create an artistic idiom for themselves. Shampa, the sutradhar of the film, is also the confidante to whom both Neelmani and Sara narrate the stories of their own journeys as artists.
The film addresses the dialogue between tradition and modernity within the context of pottery. The decision to make Shampa, the contemporary potter, the sutradhar who holds the threads of the narrative, was to enable the film to weave back and forth between personal histories and the theme of ‘Tradition and Taboo in Indian Pottery’.
Neelmani is a 63 year old woman potter belonging to Thongjao in Manipur. A quick learner, her pots have been popular in the local bazaars and have always fetched higher prices. However, despite the fact that the art of pottery was practiced exclusively by women in her region, the taboo of the wheel was strictly adhered to. Similarly, Sara Ben, who lives in the village of Khavda, Gujarat, learnt the art of pottery as a child. In keeping with the tradition in Gujarat, the wheel is a forbidden space for Sara. However she specialises in making platters of various sizes, and the tavdi and the tapti used as cooking vessels. Rajula chose these two potters because they share an uncanny sense of balance and eye for detail
It is through the process of interviewing, photographing and documenting the work of the two women potters, as well as observing, recording and chronicling their personal histories that the film reflects on tradition and modernity.