While the Auroville Film Festival progressed in full swing, in a corner of the Town Hall building stood five television sets placed on pedestals, each of them playing video footage on loop. ‘Tribute to the Soiled Hands and Feet’, a video installation by filmmakers Richa and Rrivu, was one of the art installations that complemented the festival, and brought together video shot across four decades in Auroville.

Richa and Rrivu moved into Auroville’s Pitchandikulam Forest in April when they met Joss, steward of the forest, who gave them access to his studio. They unearthed over 100 hours of video footage covering four decades of Auroville’s history. “It was when Joss gave access to his studio that we got to know the wealth of recorded memories that we were laying hands on. We then realised that it deserved to be brought into the open,” Richa says.

The footage also made them realise that the story of Auroville is multi-layered and can’t be woven together into a single narrative. Each of these fragments being disconnected from each other, they can’t be strung together into a narrative film, says Rrivu. It was at this moment that they hit upon the idea of an installation, wherein each of these videos can be watched independently.

On their own, the video clips contain precious glimpses of Auroville from a time when it hadn’t yet evolved yet into the international township it now is, like a bicycle race from the late 80s, people gathering around a bonfire in soiled clothes, and a woman performing gymnastic stunts before an open crowd. The idea, Rrivu says, is to watch these clips devoid of any narrative shape or context, and just meditating on each individual clip.

The initial idea was to put up 100 television sets so that they could fit in a greater amount of footage, but they’ve decided to set up a pilot version of their project. Richa adds, “What these videos give us is an idea of the toil that went into making Auroville what it is now. This is our way of expressing gratitude for the work people have put into building this town.”

Nikhil Jayakrishnan for Auroville Film Festival