Cobra Gypsies

53 minutes 8.5/10 based on 6 votes

Musician and filmmaker Raphael Treza journeys into the heart of Northern India to spend three months living among one of the country’s nomadic tribes: the gypsies of Rajasthan called Kalbelia. This group is made up of dancers and musicians and their name means ‘those who love snakes’.

Treza’s journey begins in Mumbai with a 15 hour train trip that takes him to the Thaar desert on the border of Pakistan. He sets up his base camp in Pushkar— a holy city with a hippie atmosphere that appeals to tourists. Travelers visit Pushkar to discover Indian culture and art like the Bollywood dance.

The people of Kalbelia make their living as nomadic agricultural workers and shepherds. They were considered ‘untouchable’ until the discriminatory Hindu practice was abolished in 1950.

Understandably some gypsies keep cobras as pets. When it’s handled, the cobra actually adopts a peaceful behavior. Usually its venom is extracted regularly, although its bite remains dangerous. Kalbelia gypsies have the cobras as a symbol and children learn to handle them as they dance from a very young age. Some sedentary Kalbelia catch cobras and sell them to neighboring villages to make some money. These men have a specific system for catching these venomous snakes, which includes poking a long stick into holes in the ground. These holes are the cobra nests.

Potentially dangerous snakes often cross the villages at all hours of day and night and the Kalbelia seem to be on call to catch them.

From making charcoal to camel rides, from music festivals dedicated to the god Krishna to hunting for lizards and snakes, this is a full adventure filled with flavors and colors.

Spending three months living among a group of people that had never seen a foreigner before certainly has its perks. Watch this interesting film now.

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Discuss This Documentary

  • Tamara Spagnola

    I would have enjoyed this more had there been more gypsy music and little to none of the rest of the music which I assume the film maker composed for the film. Worst collection of composed music for the soundtrack. It turned what could have been a beautiful film about beautiful people incorporating their musical tradition into a 53 minute promo for a mediocre composer. Unfortunate, makes it hard to recommend to people who would otherwise like it.

    • CassandraJ

      I loved it! I thought with the time he had, to be able to show their love for music that they made with their voices, which was amazing, and their love of dance, I think he gave us a very insightful view of how this people felt about great peek at a few of their gifts and talents. I also love the cultural info he was able to share. To me these are natural born entertainers who love the camera. Coincidentally, the camera loved them back. Beautiful people. Great documentary. Cudos to you for engulfing yourself into such an interesting culture for 3 months and thanks for sharing.

      • Tamara Spagnola

        I agree it was visually beautiful, but it was over run by his own music, and given the rich musical tradition inherent in gypsy culture I feel it was a disservice to them not to feature their music. For instance, he went to a music festival and showed none of that, only his entry and exit to the event accompanied by his music. I don’t get that. The movie Latcho Drom by Tony Gatlif opens with Indian gypsies, and did a much better job in the time allotted to them of sharing their musical culture and tradition.

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