Review of SIKKIM, Ray’s banned movie!

Sikkim is a documentary film by Satyajit Ray, one that was never shown in India, courtesy the ban imposed on it by the Government of India. It was made almost 40 years ago in 1971 at the request of the Chogyal (king) of Sikkim, when Sikkim was an independent kingdom. However, when the film was completed, the Chogyal was upset about some of the candid reality portrayed in it. It included Sikkim’s poor alongside the grandeur of the royalty. In one of Ray’s shots, for instance, he showed the poor scrambling for leftover food dumped behind the palace after a grand royal dinner. Though Ray edited those shots, by the time the final cut emerged, Sikkim had been merged with India under rather controversial circumstances in 1975. Unsure of how the people of Sikkim would react to the controversial shots in the film, the Indian government decided to ban the film ‘Sikkim’.  All known prints of the film were subsequently destroyed. However, a print of the film was discovered in the archives of the British Film Academy in 2003. A digitally restored version of the film ‘Sikkim’ was screened in the year 2010 after the ban was lifted by the Ministry of External Affairs.

The film opens with the scene of the sun rising over Kanchenjunga and Ray’s voice leading us into the journey called ‘Sikkim’ and  further goes on to show the fascinating biodiversity of the land. Varieties of orchids, rhododendrons, bamboos, ferns growing wild alongside the river Tista, are shown in great detail. The cultural diversity of the people in northeast India is well known but not very well documented. Ray explores the ethnicity of Sikkim which comprises of Nepalese, Bhutias and Lepchas. Sikkim is a multi-lingual state where people of many communities are shown to reside harmoniously, and Nepali appears the common lingua-franca.

Ray brightens up the documentary by showing a group of giggling children on their way to school. He mentions that the government of Sikkim spends a whopping 25% of the state revenue on imparting free education.

The second half of the documentary focuses on the royal annual festival (involving a dance) that takes place in December. It is performed on the 10th month of the Tibetan Calendar, around December. The dance symbolizes the destruction of evil forces and peace and prosperity prevailing in Sikkim. The Chaam dancers are extremely popular.  Chaams are the monks who are accompanied by liturgical music and chanting. The solemn nature of the dance is interspersed with comic relief provided by the jesters. In these dances various stories from Buddhist mythology are enacted and it culminates with the burning of effigies made of flour, wood and paper.

Shrabani Dasgupta

Arundhati Dasgupta

Debashree Banerjee

(3rd November 2010)

2 Comments

  1. Susan
    Posted December 31, 2010 at 1:15 am | Permalink

    hello, i was browsing about sikkim when i finally landed to your page. I’m wondering could i get a copy, probably download link for this movie?i’d like to found out further about this place, since i’ve a growing interest for sikkim. Thanking you in advance.

  2. Posted January 2, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    Hi, unfortunately, we have no copy. The only screening(s) we’ve heard of are official ones, so presumably Doordarshan (the national tv people) may have copies. All the best with your search!

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