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It is said you can sometimes get a better idea of what you are about by stepping outside the fray. If that's the case, then Shruti Bhardwaj has the ideal vantage point.
A Kenyan-born British-Indian, Bhardwaj is director, producer and scriptwriter of Post Military Trip (aka PMT), a documentary that delves into the seemingly enduring love affair between young Israelis and trance music. The film has already been broadcast by the BBC - to a global viewing audience of 60 million - and has had several high profile screenings around the world, including two earlier this week at the cinematheques in Jerusalem and Haifa, with a third scheduled for 9:45 this evening at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.
Bhardwaj says the project has been a labor of love, and has provided her both with a sense of achievement and some degree of personal closure. In fact, her own story is not that different from that of many Israelis.
"I was in India three years ago, on a sort back-to-my-roots trip," the director recalls. "I was just backpacking around the country, keeping away from relatives and trying to get a handle on where I come from culturally." She made it to Goa where she came across a large number of post-military service Israelis enjoy an extended chill out and, primarily, letting it all hang out at any number of trance parties. "I was amazed to see so many Israelis there," says Bhardwaj, "and I became curious about trance music."
One thing duly led to another and the road to this part of the world shortened appreciably. "The Israelis opened up a door to me. I'd heard about the music and I wanted to go to Israel. In fact, the music encouraged Israelis to go to Goa, and it encouraged me to go to Israel."
Bhardwaj subsequently made a brief trip here. "I only managed five days in the country back then," she said in a conversation from her Tel Aviv hotel, "but it left a very strong impression on me. I saw so many young people here going to trance parties. You'd get a thousand people dancing together, and thousands going to festivals where there'd be trance music. That's very powerful."
The impression was so strong that, in fact, Bhardwaj decided to go back to Goa and make a documentary about the trance scene there and how it ties in with the Israeli psyche and life in the Middle East. Having studied scriptwriting at UCLA in Los Angeles, and gaining on set experience with Hollywood professionals, Bhardwaj was the ideal person to make such a film. She also believes there is a considerable common denominator between her and the subjects of the documentary. "A lot of Israelis come from conservative, traditional backgrounds. I do too. It was considered vary daring, and almost taboo, for me, as an Indian woman, to backpack around India on my own."
Bhardwaj sees a direct correlation to the conditions of life here and the pull of trance music for young Israelis. "Young people here live with such tension the whole time. I come from the outside and I see the reality and insanity of war - soldiers, guns, jeeps, for me as a foreigner, was quite scary. When I came here the first time I felt I was in a war. In Tel Aviv I didn't feel it much but, in Jerusalem, I felt it strongly."
Being here, and experiencing the atmosphere during the second Intifada, gave Bhardwaj a sense of what the hypnotic beats of trance music mean to young Israelis. "There I was in Jerusalem, with all that tension, and five minutes later I was in the middle of a wild trance party. I don't which is more normal. I'm still working that out."
In PMT Bhardwaj enlists the help of several personalities and young professionals to help fathom the correlation. Veteran musician Kobi Oshrat and feted chef and restaurateur Israel Aharoni air their thoughts on the matter, as do a whole host of DJs, trance party organizers and Israelis in Goa.
Unwittingly, PMT also provides Israel with some positive PR services. "The world had heard of Israelis going to India after their military service but they had never put the backpackers and trance music together before," says Bhardwaj. "The world had never seen Israel in this way...There is a lot of ignorance about the trance scene and people associate it with drugs. Part of my message is that this isn't about drugs. I have received so much love and respect in Israel. I'm glad I could get the message across."