A certain mystique with undertones of racism has been attached to the Roma. This can be attributed to their itinerant lifestyle, refusal to integrate with the local population, and the jealous guarding of their distinct culture and traditions. The peculiar position they occupied in European society has been immortalized in Bizet’s 19th century opera based on Prosper Merimee’s novella Carmen, written in the same period. The storyline is of a soldier’s love and passion for the gypsy girl that ends tragically. The underlying message is about the dangers of getting involved with a gypsy, their seductive charms notwithstanding.
The documentary is in French with English subtitles, and transports the viewers from the stunning visuals of the Rajasthan desert to Egypt (the origin of the name gypsy), Turkey and onto Eastern Europe. The faces and music undergo change with the varying landscape, but the common thread is of a people constantly on the move, although the mode of transport undergoes a change from a bullock cart in Rajasthan to caravans pulled by horses, and then by train. The documentary, which has very little dialogue, records the joyous music and dancing of the tribes in Thar, how it acquires shades of belly dancing as it reaches Egypt, and the singing becomes throaty and soulful, reflecting their experience of isolation and persecution since their arrival in Europe in the 14th century. The documentary ends with a spontaneous performance of flamenco, a dance and music form that the Roma brought to Andalucia, enriching Spanish culture.
A study published in the leading scientific journal Nature, has established that that the Roma were originally Indians of a lower caste, who began their westward migration between 1000 and 1026. Their language too has many Sanskrit words, establishing the origin of the group to India. They are now the largest single minority in Europe. Associated with dancing and music, fortune telling and metal workers, their marginalized existence did not satisfy the Nazis who sent them to gas chambers in hundreds of thousands, while the communists in Eastern Europe carried out their forced assimilation. Ironically, they still remain outsiders in the present day European society, and their plight continues to be a cause for human rights activists.
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