The Kalbeliyas are a highly spirited people; ebullient in their celebration of life and colorful custom. Although many of them have never before met a foreigner prior to Treza’s arrival at their camps, the tribes-people seem unguarded in their enthusiasms to share their culture.
The tribe is shown in comfort with the oftentimes inhospitable environment which surrounds them. In the midst of bee swarms and venomous lizards, they search for one of the most dominant symbols of their tribe – the cobra. In one particularly illuminating segment of the film, Treza is taken on an excursion to hunt the cobras, which are widespread inhabitants of the region. Once the cobras are caught, they are largely depleted of their deadly venom. Sometimes they are placed on public display for money. Gypsies also learn to handle the reptiles from an early age, and incorporate them into their ceremonial dances.
Music plays an integral role in defining the culture of the Kalbeliyas as well. Treza’s camera captures the festivities at an annual two-day music festival, during which hundreds of families celebrate the name of Krishna through uninhibited dance from nightfall to sunrise. Vivid and pulsating beats permeate the entirety of the film, and help to characterize the thriving spirit of the community it documents. The camps are scored by the buoyant sounds of perpetual song.
Marriages are arranged from an early age, and the couple remains bonded until death. We observe the ritualistic beauty of a Kalbeliyas wedding, where the groom is covered in the eye-popping primary colors of plants and spices, guests descend upon the bride’s house led by a mobile disc jockey, and dancing proceeds well into the night.
Cobra Gypsies allows viewers an opportunity to witness behaviors and customs that have never before been captured on camera. The filmmaker’s point of view is unobtrusive, and we benefit from the sense of having lived in the presence of the Kalbeliyas for a brief, but glorious period of time.
I was led to this film by watching the Raphael Treza’s fascinating earlier films Hallucinogen Honey Hunters:
and Night Ghat, a delightful musical prequel to Cobra Gypsies:
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