Nick Broad and Belle Crawford shoot members of Magic Wallrush performing in south Calcutta. Picture by Aranya Sen
Different people react to street performances in different ways. Some dismiss them as a form of begging, some think of them as free entertainment, some pity the performers for not getting that big break. Few, however, devote much time to street shows.
Not Nick Broad, Chris Smith and Belle Crawford. Broad, 28, and Smith, 28, from the UK and Crawford, 32, from the US are travelling the globe to interview, photograph, film and discover street artistes.
As part of what they have named The Busking Project (busking is the practice of earning money through street performances), the trio plan to cover 40 cities in 10 months. London was the first stop in early March. They have also toured Portugal, Morocco, Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey before landing in India. After spending a few days in Jaipur, they are now in Calcutta.
“I used to live in New York with my grandmother, who died last March. She left me some money to go to film school. I opted for this project instead,” said Broad, who is in love with Calcutta but is a little disappointed because he could not find any snake charmers here.
The three filmed a dance performance by a city-based group called Magic Wallrush, which often performs on the streets. But the main reason they came to Bengal was to see bauls, for which they made a one-day trip to Bolpur.
“A baul we met through a common friend took us to his home. We filmed him performing on the train. We also saw some bohurupis at a village called Guskara, a 40-minute drive from Bolpur. One of the bohurupis dressed up as the monkey god and it was interesting because we were filming while he was going around the village and the entire village seemed to be following us,” said Broad.
Explaining what prompted them to take up this project, Broad, who is the founder of The Busking Project, said it was about “the freedom of culture”, which was different from the freedom of expression. “People usually view street performers as people without jobs. But they are also real people with real jobs and doing real art,” said Smith.
“A violinist, who used to perform on the streets, lived with me and my grandmother. A couple of times when I went to shoot him, I saw people had tears in their eyes when he played. But he faced a lot of difficulty just because he performed on the streets. There have been times when people spat at him and police wanted to arrest him. All he was trying to do was play the violin,” said Broad.
On their website, www.thebuskingproject.com, where they upload articles, pictures and videos regularly, the members mention that intend to help the performers they meet. “We give them whatever publicity we can and there have been instances when it has benefited the performers. Some have told us they were being called for more shows,” said Broad.
Once the tour ends, the trio plan to write a book and make a DVD. Smith and Broad said they might come back to Calcutta to write the book. “We still don’t know where we want to live. We love the city. The food is amazing, the people are friendly, and the cost of living is low. So we might as well come here,” said Chris.