Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Song of the road- a year in the life of an Indian cinephile



When I started the blog about a year back, I didn’t know I would manage to maintain consistency, because all my previous efforts were eventually a letdown. I realized it was the easiest thing in the world to start a blog, but the hardest thing to maintain one. However, over the course of the year, the blog helped me get assignments under various publications. Yet, with every passing month, rather everyday, there is something more to learn and something more to improve & work upon. And I can see the difference when I look back at the articles I wrote months back.

All I can say that the coming year, things are going to be more exciting than this year. As for my favorite films in 2008, I have only included those films that had an official screening at a film festival or theatrical release in the country.

So folks, have a great holiday. See you people in 2009. Here are my favorite films, music and moments from the year and thank you for reading and feedback. It definitely helped a lot.


Favorite FILMS


5) Naalu Pennungal(Four women)- Adoor Gopalakrishnan

Four Women is a special film in all disciplines of the cinematic art form, whether you watch the film as an onlooker who is mere witness to the incident; a passer-by who hears about the incident; or an active participant( who takes a stand by looking into the incident( the mise-en-scene), each and every form would in turn be special, because the universal appeal this film holds. Not only expressing the nature regarding the treatment of women, but also how we humans behave, whether we stay in Kerala, New York or Paris. But the only difference is the slides of liberation and the mind set of the civilization, which though separates our linguistics and cognition, yet keeps us made of the same substance- earth, water, fire and air. Read Further


4) . Tokyo Sonata- Kiyoshi Kurosawa

For me, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Bright Future, has one of the most beautiful endings in cinema. The camera(lateral/high) follows a group of Japanese youth who are aimlessly kicking boxes on the road, and the camera follows them for awhile before title card appears on the image, followed by a Japanese pop track. It's precisely at that moment I feel in love with the films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa. The journey from then on got only weirder, but also helped me understand the methods and techniques that put an emphasis on the mood to create drama, suspense and horror.

Tokyo Sonata is a family drama, where the sudden loss of a father's job, takes the film into a tailspin where the conflicts within the family gives rise to the central motif in his works: horror and suspense. The drama in the film is balanced with a very off-beat humor that comes across because of the hopelessness of the situation in which the characters are stuck. And it’s due to the sheer helplessness of not revealing a truth for the father; that gives rise to key plot development and suspense, while the action of not revealing builds up the horror within the confinement and boundaries of a family.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa films also put an undue emphasis on use of off-screen space, sound, and his composition. All three elements in mise-en-scene play an important role in shaping this film. That helps this film achieve a verisimilitude that it could belong to any family in the world, and with the global crisis upon us, such drama can be witnessed across the globe



3) The Secret of the Grain- Adellatif Kechiche

A family lunch gathering in Abdellatif Kechiche’s The Secret of the Grain reminded me of my joint family, and how every meal we shared was like a celebration: where ideas collided, views were exchanged and conversation of everyday objects and desires unified with social drama and politics. The essence of the movie ‘ The Secret of the Grain’ is the same- a story about a family, a story about a desire and a story about an individual hoping to bring meaning to his life. Slimane (Habib Boufares) is a Tunisian immigrant living in France; he is forced out of his job and decides to fulfill his dream of converting a dilapidated boat into a family restaurant taking the ‘secret’ recipe by his ex-wife — a fish couscous — and embarking on the journey with the help of his mistress’s daughter Read Further


2) Gulabi Talkies- Girish Kasravalli

Gulabi is no pin-up model, yet her smile still lingers in my memory even after the movie and the Osian film festival long ended. She seemed so rooted in the ethos of her culture that almost all her gestures in the film are universal in their portrayal and reflection on life. The way she ate, the way she talked, the way she walked and the way she behaved formed a ritual play of gestures and expression unlike any other. The foundation on which the film explores the duality of human behavior- setting a story of an individual against a large socio-economic and political scenario makes this a remarkable and a masterfully conceived film. This very theme also forms a major backdrop for the eleven odd films directed by the master Girish Kasaravalli. Read Further


1) GREED- Eric Von Stroheim

I knew this was not the full version, I also knew this wasn’t the version Von Stroheim had dreamt of making. Yet for a cinephile, watching his first silent film in a theater...the screening was more than magical. No word could express the joy I felt after the movie got over. Not only the expressions, gestures remains part of my memory but the whole film has stuck from that day on. The movie was not only about the character but also about inside of the character, an attribute of humanity that would never cease to exist.

Watch Online


Moments in Cinephilia





1) The Landscapes/ Camera in the films of Buddhadeb Dasgupta

Never before in recent years, have I longed, so much, to think about landscapes in our cinema, and Buddhadeb films made me think about our own topography and its relationship with us. I don't remember the last time I saw an Indian film where the camera movements were so exquisite that it made me fall in love with the motion. Nor did I ever see colors, stories , fact and fiction converse together in such poetic fashion.

While the mise-en-scene though uniquely Indian give glimpses of Tarkvosky and Bunuel, but gives an expression (allegorical) that has its roots in ethos of our own region.

Buddadeb Dasgupta is one of the surviving auteurs of Indian cinema and definitely one the overlooked celebrated masters of recent years.


Expect plenty articles on his films and works next year.

Budddhadeb Dasgupta on Cinema.


2) The tension of space and time in the films of Mani Kaul.

If the dynamic camera movement and deep staging made Buddahadeb's film more than exquisite, the films of Mani Kaul created a chaos inside me: they appeared from a place that is hard to describe. It had the minimalism of Bresson in terms of methods of acting, the patterns of putting the films together in a chaotic fashion seemed like a Ghatak influence, yet everything still felt new and fresh. Because beneath all his influences, a Mani Kaul film still remained his own unique identity, that was born from the conflict of his journey to take cinema to his roots. And create images that offer us an expression that comes from his ability to trace the origins and find a voice that is uniquely cinematic.


More on his works

Do lookout for a highlight on all his films next year.

3) The journey through spaces:- the camera of Max Ophuls

There is something about the dynamic camera movement that simply takes my breath away. Perhaps, the ability to open spaces; move through spaces, and the choice to become an active observer of an ongoing action. This and much more that can be explained and something that cannot be; at least for me, draws me towards this particular cinematic trait whether it flattens the space while tracking laterally or open spaces otherwise.

When I watch a Tarkvosky camera move I feel spiritual, and when I watch a Max Ophuls camera move I feel faith in the action, as the camera moves everywhere and captures everything, but in the most stylistic and systematic fashion. That I just cannot question the faithlessness of the action or narrative but move along with the action and become a witness to a semblance that is closest to our own reality.

Hoping, that I can get my hands on some of his final works to write a proper assessment sometime next year.


4) Reading two biographies on Godard and a copy of Sight& Sound.

Sight& Sound and the other film magazines are something of a luxury for me. I usually read it at the British library in Delhi, else flip through the pages at an upmarket bookshop. So to a get a copy of the magazine was a sheer pleasure, and that too on film criticism is something that I won't forget for a long time. I must have read each and every line with the same joy as I sit through watching a film. Maybe even more, because I was getting selfish so that the magazine is not over too soon.

The first pledge I took in college was trying to watch all films of Godard and have some form an understanding on his works. But now that I have finished college, the work is still confusing and there is plenty to explore and I guess that is the beauty of his films. So to receive a gift of two wonderful books on Godard was definitely a moment to remember

I know two book reviews are due!


5) The discussion at Passion for Cinema

The first time I saw censorship/moderation of support and comment was here. The first time I witnessed a hole in our so called " educated film class" was here. And also the first time I faced hostility for trying to say the right thing. It was here. Yet I think, that I cannot justify who was right or wrong. But continue to pledge that in the coming year...we are going to come with a clearer, stronger message and manifesto.

The Debate.


7) The year of Foreign films distribution in India.

Palador Pictures were the first people who acquired several foreign film titles and decided for a launch. However, UTV hogged onto to some of their ideas and set about muscling its way into distributing these films and a 24hr channel showcasing foreign films.

On the other hand, NDTV Lumiere distributes foreign films in select cities in the country, and this is something of a boon for cinephiles across these cities. So that one can finally watch some of their favorite films and auteur works on screen. Although, neither NDTV Lumiere channel or UTV have helped in fostering a growth of film-love or put an emphasis on tapping into different aspect of cinema.

The advent of these channels though is a boon to our generation- and to every Indian interested in World Cinema, but they should also consider hosting key shows that could help educate viewers regarding the medium per se. In the end, it's still a great thing that something positive has started in this domain.

However, my bet and respect is still with Palador because NDTV Lumiere and UTV still feel like businessmen, while Palador feels like a company that is interested in promotion and spread of good cinema and fostering film love.


8. All the link that are under ' The Zone' on the blog

I think no film school could teach you what a film can. Techniques can be taught but how to develop an ability to " see" as a cinephile is a life-long process of watching as Serge Daney had quite rightly put. So my year could not be complete without mentioning how much every link(blog/website on cinema) has helped me to see through various elements about the medium. Rather learn everyday and discover something new about cinema, and I know this life-long endeavor will continue whether as a cinephile or cineaste.

Songs



10. Black Mountain- Tyrants
9. Destroyer- My favorite Year
8. BeachHouse- Gila
7. Weezer- Pork&Beans
6. Air France- Collapsing at your doorstep
5. Frightened Rabbit- Keep yourself Warm
4. White Denim- Sitting
3. Animal Collective- Street Flash
2. Fleet Foxes- White Winter Hymnal
1. Bon Iver- Restacks.


ALUBM OF THE YEAR: A tie between Bon Iver- For Emma, Forever Ago and Fleet Foxes -Sun Giant EP/Fleet Foxes


Also, a mention at Catherine Grant's blog for ' Winds From The East'(runners-up) in list of the top A-Z blog of the year certainly helped to keep the passion flowing. Thanks to everyone who have offered their valuable contribution: Supriya, Deepak, Satyam, Suraj, Osiris 83, Anuj, Kshitiz, Shrut...folks without your support and appreciation I wouldn't be dreaming in an empty room- for a bright future- and towards our goals.


pic- Greed- Eric Von Stroheim
pic- Uttara- Buddadeb Dasgupta
pic- Fleet Foxes

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Filmmaker, Fanboys and Cinephiles debate


Anyone remotely interested in Indian cinema and the nature of film-love in the country should read this discussion. The discussion is taking place at Passion for Cinema community blog.

I think, I don’t need to state facts or my own opinions to point out- who is right or who is wrong-as the evidence is in the discussion. Wonder, what Bazin would have made of such confluence of ideas and perception on cinema.

In the end, I’m happy, that slowly but steadily the ideas of discussion/questioning would become an important proposition in Indian Cinema. To sow the seeds in establishing a critical school of thought for our films and pave a path for a new generation of filmmakers.




A little background
(on the discussion)

Anurag Kashyap is an Indian film director and writer. He is best known for as the scriptwriter of the 1998 film Satya and as the director of Black Friday, a controversial film about the 1993 Bombay bombings.He is also the member of International Film And Television Club of Asian Academy Of Film & Television.Noida Film City.

(Source:wikipedia)

His article is about his upcoming film
Dev D, which set-off a debate from the bunch of cinephiles whom as one can identify are from this blog.

We also appreciate director Anurag Kashyap's effort to respond, because in a country where the critic-director communication is restricted to pleasantries and snide remarks, this may very well be the start of a trend.

Our stance:-

Indian cinema needs to undergo a reinvention in order to become global identity. To enforce/inform an emphasis on mise-en-scene. And to subsequently question, examine and criticize.


The Rest:-

The Debate.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The World of Pather Panchali

Justify Full

Anyone who has seen Pather Panchali knows that the film is an experience that sinks deep within and becomes a part of one’s being. The film enlightens, shapes, modifies. One could recall individual scenes and reactions to them. The pathos of old age in Pishi. The sheer terror of the night and helplessness at Durga’s death. Even amusement at the placing of the first raindrop on a bald head, or at the pranks of Apu dressing up like a prince and getting beaten up by Durga. Or, for that matter, the sheer lyrical beauty of the dance of insects. One may not talk of scenes, but themes or abstract values: the dynamics of a poverty-stricken family, or the genuine feel of a Bengali village or the authentic Indianness of the mentality of the characters. Whatever the level of recalling to memory, the modifying influence of the film is self-evident. Or, one could go beyond the casual response and think of the whole film and enquire into the why of it. And then one necessarily starts thinking of the film as a structure.

Any film, considered as a work of Art, is made of elements of film language. What will get into the film ( and be kept out of it ) is the decision of the director, taken on the basis of his expressive intentions. He creates a work of fiction. The village of Nischindipur, Harihar Ray, Durga, Apu, and the bamboo grove in which Pishi dies are the creation of the imagination of the director : they are parts of Satyajit Ray’s fiction. The whole work creates a self-contained world. This world has to be understood in terms of its inner logic of elements and their relationships.

That it has a resemblance to the world we know increases its expressive strength. It creates a total response, deeply emotional and highly contemplative. Pather Panchali makes us think and re-evaluate several frames of understanding of life with which we have grown up. It is a case of the world of fiction influencing our understanding of the world of reality. This, in fact, is the hallmark of all great fiction, its raison d’etre.

The period is 1910-20. Pather Panchali is about Harihar Ray, a traditional Brahmin priest in the village of Nischindipur, in Bengal, who is unable to maintain his family and eventually has to leave for Banares in search of a better life. Around this thread the film weaves a design of characters, events and places in a manner which explores several seminal issues of Indian life.

Nischindipur is a remote village, tradition bound for generations, with a well set organisation. Harihar’s ancestors had lived here and thrived, but he cannot. How did Harihar Ray come to abandon his village home is what the film investigates.

The main characters are Harihar, his wife Sarbojaya, and Durga, his daughter. Apu, the son is born in the course of the film, whereas Durga dies in the course of the film. Pishi, her name is Indir, but everyone calls her Pishi ( father’s sister ). She is a distant cousin of Harihar. She has no other living relation. By custom, she has a claim on Harihar and has attached herself to this household. She keeps on the margin, very indulgent to the children, but never a part of the core. The film investigates the change in inner relationships within this family.

And the relationship of this family with other families in the neighborhood. The Mukherjees living in the big house are distant kin relations. They have taken to money-lending. Harihar’s father had borrowed three hundred rupees from the Mukherjees and they have usurped Harihar’s fruit trees towards the repayment of the loan. The prominent lady in this house is Shejobou who seems to have a running quarrel with Sarbojaya, all around the trivial issues created by little Durga. She attempts to humiliate Sarbojaya, on every possible occasion making little Durga’s pranks devices for reminding her of her status. But Ranu, the daughter of the house, and Durga, of same age, are close friends.

The other neighbor is Nilmoni. His wife is sympathetic to Sarbojaya and stands by her in periods of stress. She too has a daughter, Bini.

And crowding the courtyards and the open spaces of village are numerous boys and girls. They play, shriek with joy, and generally provide a backdrop to adult concerns.

Harihar’s house is in sad need of repairs. It is crumbling, The kitchen and the cowshed need a new thatch. The doors and windows are rickety and worn out. On the night of the storm when tragedy strikes, the roof and the doors give way first.

And the Mukherjee house is a well built solid structure with a heraldic lion on the main gate. The fresh water well in their courtyard is customarily used by other Brahmin families in the neighborhood. Between Harihar’s house and the Mukherjee house there is a pond, lined with a bamboo grove, through which children run, as also Chinibas, the sweetseller, wends his way, his heavy pots swinging with delicacies.

Nilmoni’s house has a secure door. It is shown only once in the film and the solid iron bolt stands out in the memory.

Well beyond these houses, somewhere is Raju’s house. Pishi goes there for shelter whenever she fights with Sarbojaya.

In another locality is Prosanna’s school-cum-shop-cum-gossip centre. Apu goes there for his first lessons. Prosanna gives a dictation to the children while he sells wares. Various people like Majumdar, who is the chairman of the Puja committee and others drop in at Prosanna’s. Chakravarty is inseparable from his fishing rod. All these characters enter the scenes on various occasions, contribute their mite to the image of the village community and flit out.

Well beyond the open fields and the meadows is the embankment overgrown with tall kash grass through which pass the telegraph poles. And beyond it, the railway line. Apu and Durga, on one excited afternoon, meander that far and discover the hum of the telegraph wires and the roar of a passing train. The railway and the telegraph connect the growing towns of India, out there. But in the houses in Nischindipur only the train whistle can be heard in the dark stillness of the night.

Nature is a constant presence in Nischindipur. The luxuriant vegetation merges with the houses here. And the wild growth just about threatens the crumbling house of Harihar. Rain is the life giver : it also kills.

And the animals, cows, dogs, cats, birds, frogs, spiders, the frisking insects and the slithering snake, all these co-exist with the human beings here.

This is the little world of Nischindipur with its emphasis on the seasonal cycles and festivals. People from the outside come on special occasions. Chinibas, of course, comes regularly selling sweets, and so also the baul, the mendicant, collecting customary alms from door to door. The Durga Puja celebrations bring in the drummers and the Jatra players. Ranu’s marriage brings in the unshaven band players in their tattered English finery playing a British marching tune, ‘It is a long way to Tipperary’.

A picture-box-wallah comes in and shows visions of the distant growing cities of modern India – Delhi, Bombay, Madras, Calcutta . For Apu, the village boy, these are attractive possibilities.

Surely, around Nischindipur are bigger places like Dasghara, Ranaghat, Bishnupur. Harihar goes to these places, looking for additional clients. For Sarbojaya, these are mere place names. Harihar Ray, in his youth, had gone away to Benares. At the end of the film when his efforts to stay on at Nischindipur collapse, the family goes to Benares where Harihar Ray hopes to encash his traditional skills of reciting the scriptures on the ghats.

What were Harihar Ray’s dreams? And why were they shattered? He wanted to write plays, educate Apu, arrange a marriage for Durga, repay debts and keep the ancestral roof over his head. Sarbojaya was even more modest. She set her sights on two meals a day and a few changes of clothes in the year...... and so on. And yet, it came to nought. The drift of Harihar’s life reveals several significant aspects of the situation. Harihar Ray trusts benevolence of fate in a naive optimistic way. The growing demands and the economic tensions become just so many strokes of bad luck. This is a case of the poor not grasping why they are getting poorer. The sense of purpose of the changing systems is lost. This is brought out in the views and methods in education at Prosanna’s school. Nobody seems to plan for a better equipment for survival in the fast changing circumstances. Each one tends to keep within the narrow focus of personal life. The scale of the problem lies beyond the comprehension of individuals. The minor adjustments are regarded as permanent mechanisms.

And there is, at the same time, a tough and tendinous tissue of the traditional norms, contradicting but co-existing with the new ways determined by economic relations. All the characters in the film address each other by honorifics as in an extended family set up. Shejobou and Sarbojaya would fight bitterly, but be traditionally entitled to get help from each other : Shejobou sits through the night of Apu’s birth and Sarbojaya helps in the kitchen at Ranu’s wedding. Shejobou would bitterly resent Durga’s expectation to receive sweets from her on every other day of the year except the Puja days. Pishi would slight Sarbojaya and stay in Raju’s house but would insist on spending the last days in the ancestral house and when this is refused, not go to Raju, but die in the bamboo grove close by.

This exploration of the inevitable process of cracking up of a way of life is the stuff of which Pather Panchali is made. It shows a collapse but not annihilation. And all this is created by interweaving of the moods and acts of human characters and of nature as they interact.

It would be seen that the structure of the screenplay derives its logic from the elements of the world of Pather Panchali as hinted above. The world of Pather Panchali as we receive it, derives its logic from the expressive rhythm of the portrayal of the village and people of Nischindipur.

All this is, of course, fiction, placed at the beginning of the present century in India. For the viewer today and at any time, anywhere, Pather Panchali, the film creates a potent world. It offers nuances of feeling and this experience enhances our capacity to notice them in the film, and in real life as well. Actually it is such films that create the possibility of a film culture and of the Cinema shaping a cultured taste.

From a discussion of Satish Bahadur and Shyamal Vanarese about the basic structure of Pather Panchali.




Published-
SatyajitRay.org, a non profit venture not affilliated to Ray trust.
Arup/ Asiam Ghosh zine.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Satyajit Ray, 'What's wrong with Indian Films?


2008

Justify Full
The year is drawing to a close and top-ten lists have already started hitting the Internet. While going through several list of the, ‘Best movies of the year- distributed and non-distributed,’ it’s sad and remarkable to see the omission of Indian films. Over the years, there seems to be either ignorance on part of film festivals, critics, organizers about our cinema or in a country of over billion people,we are not able to make one worthwhile film that could transcend boundaries and cultural space- irrespective of being Indian. Beside let’s make this clear- Slumdog Millionaire is not an Indian film as the media seemed to project, rather it’s a British film with an Indian context. And so instead of proclaiming this as our conquest on the global stage, we should lament why anyone from our own industry couldn’t achieve this feat.

While it's high time we should move on from talking about our scripts reaching the Oscar library or the growth of Bollywood in the US and UK box-office since it's still we Indians who are watching these films, and not truly ' global' in terms of everyday tom, dick or harry going for our films. Instead the elementary question is, ‘Why can’t we make films that are not global only in terms of its monetary returns but aesthetic value?’ So in order to know what ails us today, it’s important to understand what did we lack 60 years back and has anything changed ever since. Or are we not looking at the brightside of our growth. This and many more questions Ray asks and put forward in his essay, and so it's important for us to know the struggle of a cinephile(Ray) back then, to what we will be facing in days to come, since the essay seems relevant today as it did 60 year back.


What's wrong with Indian films?
Satyajit Ray

1948


One of the most significant phenomena of our time has been the development of the cinema from a-turn-of-the century mechanical toy into the century’s most potent and versatile art form. In its early chameleon-like phase the cinema was used variously as an extension of photography, as a substitute for the theater and the music hall, and as a part of the magician’s paraphernalia. By the twenties, the cynics and know-all had stopped smirking and turned down their nose.

Today, the cinema commands respect accorded to any other form of creative expression. In the immense complexity of its creative process, it combines in various measures the functions of poetry, music, painting, drama, architecture and a host of other arts, major and minor. It also combines the cold logic of science with the subtlest abstractions of the human imagination. No matter what goes into the making of it, no matter who uses it and how- producer for financial profits, a political body for propaganda or an avant-garde intellectual for the satisfaction of an aesthetic urge-the cinema is basically the expression of a concept or concepts in aesthetic terms; terms which have crystallized through the incredibly short years of its existence.

It was perhaps inevitable that the cinema should have found the greatest impetus in America. A country without any deep-rooted cultural and artistic traditions was perhaps best able to appraise the new medium objectively. Thanks to pioneers like Griffith, and to the vast-sensation mongering public with its constant clamor for something new, the basic style of filmmaking was evolved and the tolls of its production perfected much quicker than would be normally possible. The cinema has now attained a stage where it can handle Shakespeare and psychiatry with equal facility. Technically, in the black and white field, the cinema is supremely at east. Newer development in color and three-dimensional photography are imminent, and it’s possible that before the decade is out, the aesthetics of film making will have seen far-reaching changes.

Meanwhile, ‘studios sprang up’ to quote an American writer in Screenwriter, ‘ even in such unlikely lands as Indian and China’ One may note in passing that this spring up has been happening in India for nearly forty years. For a country so far removed from the centre of things, India took up film production surprisingly early.

The first short was produced in 1907 and the first feature in 1913. By the twenties it had reached the status of big business. It is easy to tell the world that film production in India is quantitatively second only to Hollywood; for that is a statistical fact. But can the same be said of its quality? Why are our films now shown abroad? Is it solely because India offers a potential market for her own products? Perhaps the symbolism employed is too obscure for foreigners? Or are we just plain ashamed of our films?

To anyone familiar with the relative standards of the best foreign and Indian films, the answers must come easily. Les us face the truth. There has yet been no India Film which could be acclaimed on all counts. Where other countries have achieved, we have only attempted and that too not always with honesty, so that even our best films have to be accepted with the gently apologetic proviso that it is ‘after all an Indian film’.

No doubt this lack of maturity can be attributed to several factors. The producers will tell you about the mysterious entity ‘the mass’, which ‘goes in for this sort of things’, the technicians will blame the tools and the director will have much to say about the wonderful things he had in mind but could but could not achieve. In any case, better things have been achieved under much worse conditions. The internationally acclaimed post-war Italian cinema is a case point. The reason lies elsewhere. I think it will be found in the fundamentals of film making.

In the primitive state films were much alike, no matter where they were produced. As the pioneers began to sense the uniqueness of the medium, the language of the cinema gradually evolved. And once the all important functions of the cinema-eg movement- was grasped, the sophistication of style and content, and refinement of technique were only a matter of time. In India it would seem that the fundamental concept of a coherent dramatic pattern existence of time was generally misunderstood.

Often by queer process of reasoning, movement was equated with action and action with melodrama. The analogy with music failed in our case because Indian music is largely improvisational.

This elementary confusion, plus the influence of the American cinema are the two main factors responsible for the present state of Indian films. The superficial aspects the American style, no matter how outlandish the content, were imitated with reverence. Almost every passing phase of the American cinema has had its repercussion on the Indian film. Stories have been written based on Hollywood success and the clich├ęd preserved with care. Even where the story has been genuinely Indian one, the background has revealed an irrepressible penchant for the jazz idiom.
In the adoptions of novels, one of two courses has been followed: either the story has been distorted to conform to the Hollywood formula, or it has been produced with such devout faithfulness to the original that the purpose of filmic interpretations has been defeated.

It should be realized that the average American film is a bad model, if only because it depicts a way of life so utterly at variance with our own. Moreover, the high technical polish which is the hallmark of the standard Hollywood products, would be impossible to achieve under existing Indian condition. What the Indian cinema needs today is not more gloss, but more imagination, more integrity, and a more intelligent appreciation of the limitations of the medium.

After all, we do possess the primary tools of film making. The complaint of the technician notwithstanding, mechanical devices such as the crane shot and the process shot are useful, but by no means indispensable. In fact, what tools we have, have been used on occasion with real intelligence. What our cinema needs above everything else is a style, an idiom, a sort of iconography of cinema, which would be uniquely and recognizably Indian.

There are some obstacles to this, particularly in the representation of the contemporary scene. The influence of Western civilization has created anomalies which are apparent in almost every aspect of our life. We accept the motor car, the radio, the telephone, streamlined architecture, European costume, as functional elements of our existence. But within the limits of cinema frame, their incongruity is sometimes exaggerated to the point of burlesque. I recall a scene in a popular Bengali film which shows the heroine weeping to distraction with her arms around a wireless-an object she associates in her mind with her estranged lover who was once a radio singer.

Another example, a typical Hollywood finale, shows the heroine speeding forth in a sleek convertible in order to catch up with her frustrated love who has left town on foot; as she sights her man; she abandons the car in a sort of a symbolic gesture and runs up the rest of the way to meet him.

The majority of our film are replete with visual dissonances’. In Kalpana, Uday Shankar used such dissonances in a conscious and consistent manner so that they became part of his cinematic style. But the truly Indian film should steer clear of such inconsistencies and look for its material in the more basic aspects of Indian life, where habit and speech, dress and manner, background and foreground, blend into a harmonious whole.

It is only in drastic simplification of style and content that hope for the Indian cinema resides. At present, it would appear that nearly all the prevailing practices go against such simplification.
Starting a production without adequate planning, some-times even without a shooting script; a penchant for convolutions of plot and counter-plot rather than the strong, simple unidirectional narrative; the practice of sandwiching musical numbers in the most unlyrical situation; the scope, and at the same time when all other countries are turning to the documentary for inspiration- all these stand in the way of the evolution of a distinctive style.

There have been rare glimpses of an enlightened approach in a handful of recent films. IPTA’s Dharti ke Lal is an instance of a strong simple theme put over with style, honesty and technical competence. Shankar’s Kalpana, and inimitable to the peak of cinematic achievement. The satisfying photography which marks the UN documentary of Paul Zils shows what a discerning camera can do with the Indian landscape.

The raw material of the cinema is life itself. It is incredible that a country which has inspired so much painting and music and poetry should fail to move the film maker. He has only to keep his eyes open, and his ears. Let him do so.

Satyajit Ray
1948
published in the Statesman, an English daily.
RePublished- ' Our films Their Films'
Orient Longmam



Pic- Satyajit Ray- wikipedia.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Satyajit Ray's: Aparajito

PART 1




Aparajito, which Ray chose to film, had earned tremendous reviews as a novel and achieved another milestone in the literary career of eminent novelist Bibhuti Bhusan Bandopadhyay But Satyajit Ray’s perception was exclusive. His scenario was based on reality — a concept which the masses could correlate and conjure as such he evaded the mythology or any alien culture.

The character Leela in the novel is thus transposed with the city Calcutta where chronological events in the life of Apu emerge within the framework of a modern city. To explore the psyche of Ray on cinema — an in-depth study of his book "Our Films Their Films" is particularly relevant. His perception on cinema —long before the idea of filming Pather Panchali emerged is evident from the essay "What is Wrong with Indian Cinema" in 1955. He writes ".....in the primitive state films were much alike no matter where they are produced. As the pioneers began to sense the uniqueness of the medium, the language of the cinema gradually evolved.

And once the all important function of the cinema e.g. movement — was gasped, the sophistication of style and content and refinement of technique were only a matter of time. In India it would be seen that the fundamental concept of a coherent dramatic pattern existing in time was generally misunderstood. Often by a queer process of reasoning, movement was equated with action and action with melodrama. The analogy with music failed in our case because Indian music is largely improvisational."(1)

In Aparajito he aimed at redefining the parameters of film language analogous to a poet expressing ideas. For the film-makers story is plot only — intended to create ideas. A film maker takes a story —deconstructs resulting in a myriad of compounded shots — nomenclatured theoretically as deconstruction which the viewers consolidate and synthesize.

The events occur in time and place which creates an illusion of reality. Photography, maneuvers, manipulates, recreates and reconstructs reality. On examining the first sequence of Aparajito — period 1957 — it is evident that Ray in endeavors to establish Benaras and its famous scenario in 1920. He recreates reality to a great extent by arranging the shots in a pattern that give effect of a montage and the time dimensions are so arranged so as to create an abstraction. Let us retrospect the beginning of Aparajito.





Ray’s canvass aimed at vivid depiction of Banaras city from dawn to 8 or 9 O’ clock in a shot the span of which was restricted to 2-3 minutes. A film basically caters to 5 channels of information — visual, graphic, dialogue, music and incidental noise. Satyajit fully explores all these channels in the 2 minute shot. Varanasi — 1327 provides the graphics. The camera captures the train approaching Banaras from an angle followed by the vivid visuality of Ganga ghat. But Ray’s uniqueness is that instead of describing it in totality unlike an ordinary artist he composed the sequence on shot and reverse shot method.

The visuals of ghat and crowd are shot from a boat and shots of river, boat and crowd from ghat — which collectively converge the sequence of a group of community performing various actions —the sanyasis chanting hymns — the more mundane bathing while washing clothes — Kathakthakur reciting holy verses etc.

Satyajit Ray’s camera then indulges in a complete shift from generalization to particularisation as the frame captures lonely widow. The desolateness of the lady and the vastness of the ghat, manifest the abstraction of a crowd to particulariastion of a person — which in cine parlance is montage structure.


Etymologically montage is to assemble — a French derivative. The assemblies have a peculiar equation which does not move along the predicted lines of 2 + 2 = 4 as customary in films. A number of shots conjoin in geometrical regularity but the end product is not necessarily the consolidation of shots initially used for composition.

Ray by deft association of few shots presented Benaras ghat in a technique that enables the viewers to comprehend its vastness and contemplate the spatial arrangement and the physical significance of Benaras — emerging in cinematic realization a technique Satyajit Ray learnt from Sergei Eisenstein A reference can be made to the film ‘Battleship Potemkin’ particularly the ‘Odessa Step’ sequence where the beautiful display of the theory is evident.


A reverse to time is displayed where Ray condenses images of morning ghat of Banaras spanning over two to three hours in two to three minutes. While portraying all these suddenly Satyajit’s camera freezes before a small Shiva temple under a tree — here the tonality of light changes — music pattern changes — We are awakened to the fact the dawn has rolled on to late morning — a queer trick of cinematic, photographic and musical synthesis.

We experience the reverse shot technique comprising of incidental noise — characterization the photographic pattern — the distribution of light. Music changes to impress the feeling of transition of time. The created light the audience sees and assumes to be natural is neorealistic light — an invention of Subrata Mitra and Satyajit Roy as none had clue to this light till then.

Moving images are highlighted by three kinds of lights. One is basically expressionist lighting — chiaroscuro method which is presentation of light and shadow in a pattern that refers to European painting (particularly those of Rembrandt and others). Four point light employed by Hollywood to give prominence to one over other is another technique. For example a man is focused, the audience concentrate on the anatomy of the man in shallow focus, then light is distributed in a pattern to create artificial illumination to emphasize some light and de-emphasize some light.


Some statement in photograph is underlined. But Satyajit Ray while filming Aparajito resisted the use of this technique for he realized that the employment of this lighting to photograph could render the film an artificial statement of Indian culture as such he applied absorbers to create an illusion of natural lighting.

He introduced in the frame a believable source of light which could be sun light or any other created light with an absorber to absorb the extra light and the photograph was taken. The credit of introducing this sort of photography goes to G. Aldo in Visconti’s film La Terra Frema in 1948 (European chroniclers who are adamant in their supremacy have made an exception and credit Subrato Mitra and G. Aldo of the creation of this exclusive lighting). Thus emerged the beginning of a new kind of photography — the neorealist photography



Neorealism is the illusion of reality. Aparajito is basically the chronicle of a man who wanted to grow. But the story was redesigned as the whole nation was undergoing an identity crisis. 1957 witnessed the beginning of 2nd five year plan and this film aimed at helping the youth find their roots and reestablish their identity.

In Aparajito Harihar typifies the lower middle class that dies in poverty and dejection. His widow and son survive as she serves as house maid and a revelation dawns on her when she returns to her roots only to discover the alienation with her son which she cannot endure and succumbs to the ruthlessness and the son lives to explore a bigger horizon; an exposition of ‘mother - son relationship’ deeply rooted in reality — with no larger than life image; a very simple and contemporary scenario — which typified the situation through which India was passing.

This screenplay of Aparajito was the historical transformation of Satyajit Ray and not a representation of Bibhuti Bhusan’s novel. Satyajit wove into the fabric of this novel contemporary relevance. Substituting the persona of Leela with the city Calcutta Satyajit Ray wanted to highlight the emergence of rural milieu to urban, from feudal social set-up to urban set-up from collective living to individual life-style, the metamorphosis of personal and interpersonal relationship. It was actually a question of transformation of India and that is the pragmatism film Aparajito renders.

It has been suggested by an audience — that the director has rendered too extensive an interpretation — the transition from rural, feudal milieu to urban bourgeois set-up. The technical shortcoming of finding an actress to enact Leela’s role prompted Ray to recast the storyline.

In the course of reshaping he injected some rhythm and transformed the rationality of the story. Leela’s role could have ushered in some lyrical proposition or romanticism but what Ray aimed at exploring was the ruthlessness of human relationship —and to broaden the parameter of modernism he replaced the character by an apparently inanimate geographical space. He redefined the characteristic and limits of modern civilization in which the human values of love, affection, respect are more temporal compliances.




APARAJITO

PART-2

The BODY( death)







Level of perfection in Ray’s film is unique where even a minor character like Nandababu is contemplated with equal attention to details. Everything is depicted from the standpoint of a third observer. Apu is thus perfectly detached — unconcerned — observing, gaining experience from surroundings. Even his mother’s urgency fails to register and he leisurely collects the water from holy Ganga and is apparently in no hurry to get back to his father’s death bed. Only a genius of Ray’s stature could conceive that the eternity of death could have no profound implications on the psyche of a 10 years old.( SM)


This scene is also vital because of Ray's remarkable use of sound punctuating the image of Harihar in a close-up. That follows with the cry of Sabojaya which is dissociated with the image , but heard with the movement of the birds. It's remarkable how Ray builds the sequence with an utmost precision that is montage based. Ray, known mainly as a Neorealist filmmaker, deployed different editing technique to create tension through the course of the film.(NR)

The JOURNEY(Train)








The scene unfolds the reverse journey of Sabojaya and Apu. The train passes through different geographical places and Ray employed different artificial studio-created sounds. The sound of flute makes the viewer realize that this is Bengal — the archetypal representation in soundtrack — the sound system referred to the originality, core, basic of human journey that Sarbojaya was trying to reestablish her relationship with her son by coming back to her root. The effect of the sound is explosive. Satyajit aims at awakening our patriotism by the essentials available in our own soil.

They return. But life refuses to move along the predicted line as Apu is exposed to new things — life flows on — civilization flows on — life becomes difficult. Civilization is progressive and abhors duplicity. Apu therefore does not become another Harihar — another priest but learns new things at school both scientific and technical and in the process questions the basic institutional framework of Indian culture. Apu is subjected to an academic awakening where he learns and unlearns. His awareness on scientific thoughts and global developments are evolved but he unlearns the relationship of the traditional Indian society — a contradiction in the development process. Modernisation makes mother - son incommunicado. He cannot relate to his mother, his rural surroundings — for Calcutta beckons him — which now is emblem of his sustenance. This is Satyajit’s cruel observation on civilization. Aparajito is a commentary on the historical progress on our society. (SM)


The use of sound contrasted with silence is remarkable in this sequence. Beside one should look at the use of the transition, that give this whole sequence a fluid passage of time and journey. The first dissolve helps us move from Benaras to the outskirts, and the second rapid movement (as the train hurls past houses) acts a transition; to the next shot of a cloudy sky, and the final transition(dissolve) with the music signals the arrival of Bengal, and the nostalgia that embodies the film. (NR)


The SPACE( Door/Passage)


THE ARRIVAL







THE WAIT




THE DEPARTURE






THE ARRIVAL
THE WAIT
THE DEPARTURE





The film would not be complete without mentioning how Ray molds the space. The space serves as a motif through the course of the narrative. The door and the passage becomes an integral part of the subject and their journey. And in each of these sequences, a whole body of emotions are intertwined: the arrival of the family from Benaras, Apu leaving for Kolkata, or the final arrival of Apu. All these important plot developments in the film grow, because of the deployment of the space that marks an impression through the course of the narrative. The absence of the mother can be felt when Apu arrives back home, as Ray's camera observes him from outside the door. The absence not only startles Apu, but it also gives us a feeling of not seeing someone where we usually expect them to be.

And when he leaves, the camera slightly trudges forward;to look again at the empty door- where is uncle stood. The absence again reminds us of his mother. Even the music which from the beginning functioned as a leitmotif, returns and flows with the camera movement, and carries on as we accompany Apu in the final leg of the journey in search for himself.


RAILWAYS






One of the earliest recordings on celluloid was the arrival of a train by the Lumiere brothers. Cinema is about movement, and so is the train, a journey- a form of human activity. Railways hold an important part in the film. A character itself. That not only becomes a bridge to the places of arrival and departure, but offers an expressive relationship and feeling with the characters.

Apu on arrival, on hearing the train whistle;hurls towards the door with joy and watches the train in the background. Something similar happens in the case of his mother, her feeling is evoked by the whistle of the train. In both the cases it evokes a feeling of joy, nostalgia and melancholy. This relation of the subject in the foreground with the object in the background becomes an expression.

The whistle, the sound of the train running, the images of the compartment, railway station and the train itself serves an important backbone to shape the film. They form a vehicle that unconsciously allows the characters to think, act and express their inner-feelings and desire in the film.




Part 1- An excerpt form Sanjay Mukhopadhyay analysis of Aparajito given at a Cine Club in 1996, republished here from angelfire e-zine. Part of Aparajito’s script is added to facilitate readers in understanding the situations.

Part2- NR.

(1) Every culture has its own aesthetic temperament. So the Western concept of harmony is alien to classical Indian music, which uses melody alone. The Western method of teaching music is through written notation while Indian music has an oral tradition of learning. A Western classical musician interprets a composition while an Indian classical musician improvises, developing upon a particular composition. Also, Western rhythm is linear whereas Indian rhythm is cyclic, having a precise beginning which is both a point of arrival and departure in every time-cycle.

(Rekha Surya on North Indian Classical Music, published on Winds from The East)

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Cinema of Hollis Frampton.

Satyam


While reading Scott MacDonald's Critical Cinema, the first thing that struck me was Hollis Frampton's statement -

Quote - "The term Intuitive - although that's an indelibly sloppy word that i dislike immensely. When people say they did something intuitively, it means that they didn’t think about it. They did what they liked to do, or what they do automatically, like picking their noses. It’s a totally irresponsible thing for an artist to say. On the other hand, simply attempting to keep an apparent progression from developing was probably a better control than assigning them each a number and taking the numbers out of a hat. As always happens with the very elementary uses of chance operations that would have produced "Clumps.""...Unquote

A brief biography

Frampton was born March 11, 1936 in Wooster Ohio. An only child, he was raised primarily by his maternal grandparents. At the age of 15 he entered Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where he was accepted on full scholarship. At Andover, Frampton's classmates and friends included the painter Frank Stella and sculptor Carl Andre. Widely read already as a youth, he had a reputation at Andover as a "young genius" but was also unpredictable: he failed to graduate from Andover, and thus forfeited a National Scholarship to Harvard University, when he failed his history course on a bet that he could pass the final exam without ever reading the textbook. Entering Western Reserve University in 1954, Frampton took a wide variety of classes (Latin, Greek, German, French, Russian, Sanskrit, Chinese, and mathematics) but had no declared major. He recounts that when he was called in front of the dean after three and a half years of study and 135 hours of credits and asked, once again, if he intended to take a degree, he was told that if so, he needed to take speech, western civilization, and music appreciation. He replied that "I already know how to talk, I already know who Napoleon was and I already like music" and noted that "For that reason I hold no bachelor's degree. I was very sick of school." During this time he had a short-lived radio show at Oberlin College.

Frampton originally came to film from the fine arts, his background as artist & photographer. Manual of Arms (1966) the earliest Frampton film, includes a portraits of sculptors Carl Andre & Lee Lezano, dancers Lucina Childs & Twyla Tharp, painters Robert Huot, Larry poons & Rosemarie Castoro, Filmmaker Joyce Wieland, Michael Snow & others.


HIS FILMS

The Structure of his films explores fundamentals by limiting the numbers of elements used in a work and using them in pre-determined systematic ways. Manuals of Arms present its fourteen portraits using minimal means [eg; lighting is simple and each subject has apparently been given the same basic instructions in the same empty darkened space]. A serial structure, all the subjects are introduced in fourteen second shots, each separated from the next by forty frames of dark leader; then the portraits are presented in the same order. Palindrome (1969) organizes found imagery discarded by the film lab into complex palindromic sequence. Artificial Light (1969) uses the same sequence of imagery twenty times, but in each instance this material is presented in a different way; in one instance Frampton paints on the footage, in another he erases portions of it, in still another he presents it upside down and so on.
Frampton's systematic approach to film structure reached perhaps its most elaborate exposition in Zorns Lemma (1970). Zorns Lemma is divided into three sections, each representing a phase in the process of learning [particularly the process of learning languages] that begins in early childhood and continues until adulthood. First section, a school marmy voice reads verses from the bay state primer, an early English rhetoric used in New England, while the viewer watches a dark screen. The verses focus on words beginning with successive letters of the alphabet, which becomes one of the central grid structures in Zorn’s Lemma. the second sections begins with run through of the roman alphabet, then proceeds to reveal in silence, an immense collection of environmental words that are presented in alphabetic sets, one second per word.

They form an immense spatial temporal grid. As set after set of the words revealed, second development comes to dominate this central section of the film; gradually each of the word positions within each twenty four part alphabetic set [I/J and U/V are considered one letter] is replaced one second segments of a continuous action; Robert Huot painting a wall, egg frying, the pages of a book being turned. A new kind of narrative develops for viewers, who begin to follow the sequential actions [the length of each of which coincides with the time remaining in the central section of the film] and to wonder which letter will be replaced next. When the last letter has been replaced, the middle section of the film ends. In the concluding section, we watch a man, a women and a dog walk away from the camera across the field, and into the woods, in a series of roll long shots, edited to look like a single continuous shot. The final section is the first with both imagery and sound; we hear several people reading. The voices alternate, each one reading a single word at a time. Just as the alphabetic system of the short first section continues during the second section, the one second rhythm introduced in the second section continues here. The voices read in time to a metronome marking off a one second beat.

Instead of identifying with fictional character and vicariously experiencing this character's adventures, the viewer of Zorn’s Lemma metaphorically relives phases of an educational process that, from Frampton’s point of view characterize contemporary experience.

Frampton's next work, the seven parts Hapax Legomena - the first three sections of Hapax Legomena - Nostalgia, Poetic Justice & critical mass are some of Frampton's most impressive films. In Nostalgia, we see close-ups of a series of photographs as they are burned, one by one, on a hot plate. As we look at each image burning. We listen to Michael Snow read a discussion of the image we will see next. In poetic justice, the viewer reads 240 page screenplay one page at a time. A story of a stressed relationship between a photographer and his lover is evident within the verbal & visual labyrinth created by Frampton’s ingenious text. In Critical Mass, he uses forms of visual & auditory repetition, to dramatize a lover's quarrel between a young man and women.

After Hepax Legomena, he made 36 Hour long film Magellam - organized and meant to be viewed cylindrically over the course of 371 days.

Excerpts from an interview:-

Scott MacDonald - I’d like to raise something peripheral to what you were saying earlier about people teaching films that have been written about. There has been a tendency among many academic film people to redo what is done in universities with literature; specifically, to isolate a few great figures out of a series of generations and then to devote tremendous amount of scholarship to them. The problem with this, I think, is that a great many very interesting artists tend to get lost during that original, rather erratic selection process and perhaps are never found. "Film History" tends to become the history of who is written about?


Hollis Frampton - the word Academic, of course is a pejorative term. It’s characterized by the tendency to limit the territory by proscriptiveness. Thou Shalt not do so and so. At the same time, that something is taught or written about does not necessarily mean that it's become academic. It may mean that it's becoming a discipline. there was a time, after all, when what we now call philosophy was not taught, and indeed, that was equally true of literature. I remind myself sometimes that vast catchall for everything that nobody wants - English - never had a departmental status or was taught as a discipline in any western university before 1911. University taught Latin and Greek, the argument being that everybody knew English, so why teach it? There is nothing more academic - in the grimmest sense of the word - than just about any Hollywood film, or let's say any commercial melodrama. They are utterly academic. They proceed from the notion that it is known how to make film. At the same time, there has also been the most extreme resistance to film becoming a discipline, that is to say, something that is to be examined in a general climate of intellectual inquiry. A good part of that resistance comes from the Avant-Garde film community.

Scott MacDonald - are you saying that the Avant-Garde film community has resisted the academicizing of film or the attempt to bring film into universities as a discipline?

Hollis Frampton - I think it has often seen the two things as the same thing. It’s a standard confusion. The other arts have, as often as not, felt that way too. On the other hand, for the sciences, that question has been so irrelevant for so long that we can’t retrieve whatever dialogue took place about the entrance of the sciences into the universities; the sciences, of course are at once disciplines and in some places, highly academicized. I think right now in some quarters, there is a very specific resistance not just too academicizing film but to film's emergence as a discipline, the argument being, I suppose, that critical scrutiny dries things up, make them sterile. During the last thirty years film, almost uniquely, has enjoyed a grand period of enthusiasm without much scrutiny of itself, at least on the part of filmmakers. It has had little rational examination undertaken with a view - and this is the point, of course - to extending the range and power of its possibilities. we have seen this same drama enacted before, in the Soviet Union where Eisenstein's efforts to take film seriously as an intellectual discipline were met with cries that he was a chilly intellectual, that he was an engineer. This, of course was equated with not having the people at heart, on the corny and insulting Stalinist grounds that the people are all heart. If one takes the narrowing of the fields of possibilities as a major benchmark of academicism. Then it's coming mostly strongly from some of those who have preached most violently against academicization. I' m referring very specifically, although not exclusively, to Brakhage's public declarations during the last couple of years, which strike me as an academic in the extreme.

As far as making monuments of major figures is concerned, I think the humanities have tended to take as their submerged metaphor what they believe to be the procedure of the sciences. It is believed that the procedure of the sciences is to take typical or illustrative examples and infer generalities from them. One cannot study, all cockroaches, one studies a sample of cockroaches and makes stylistically statements about cockroaches. One cannot study all the films. One deals with the quintessential sample, with the film that seems to point to possibilities for unpacking other work yet to come. Well anything that is truly a discipline that is taught and studied, must constantly be under construction because, invariably, one is wrong to a degree. The intellectual tools that one has at any given moment tend to enforce certain readings, to delete certain other readings, to produce an historic order, a finite set of monuments that seems to constitute a tradition. A tradition is that part of the history of a discipline that is perceived as ordered and important, but only at a given time.



Biography source- Wikipedia.
Watch:- http://www.ubu.com/film/frampton.html

Friday, December 12, 2008

Narrative Style of Satyajit Ray- in context Godard, Eisenstein and others.



A discussion about the narrative styles of Satyajit Ray in different films like Pather Panchali, Aparajito, Charulata, Jana Arnya etc. In this context comparison with Godard, Eisenstein and other directors and schools are done. Sanjay Mukhopadhyay discusses with Bibhuti Bhusan Mandal and Dr. Arup Ratan Ghosh

Sanjay Mukhopadhyay (SM): The discussion that we are going to begin is about Satyajit Ray and his films. To be more precise, the topic sounds as ‘Satyajit Ray and the narrative style of his films’. I want you to highlight the salient features of his narrative style . When Satyajit Ray came to the film industry he had already developed a film sense. He had written a lot of essays in the Calcutta Film Society journals. These volumes help us to know Ray’s theory about the cinematic aspects of film. For example, during Dada Saheb Phalke or Jamaibabu period (silent era) we find that theatres and novels had a lot of influence on cinema. In these essays we find that the theatrics of these films have been criticised. Satyajit Ray and his contemporary critics like Ram Haldar, Chidananda Dasgupta, Hari Sadhan Dasgupta et al. censures the excessiveness and melodrama in films. This criticism received a boost when The Bicycle Thief was screened in Calcutta in 1952. People could experience that a film can be made without any excessiveness and without the doctrine of larger than life image which had an impact of the Italian neorealism. Satyajit Ray unhesitatingly incorporated the neorealism in his films and incidentally it was The Bicycle Thief which changed the style of his script writing. He scripted Pather Panchali in an experimental way. He made a permutation of audio and visual elements. The language that was produced through Pather Panchali was a language of silence, While in Shantiniketan he came across the essays of Rudolf Ernheim who is known as the most famous theoretician at Hollywood during the late silent era. In Pather Panchali Satyajit made a sensible use of sitar, (though not always) deep focus, soft focus, transparency and other annotations of film editing.

Arup Ratan Ghosh (ARG): What do you mean by transparency?

SM: Actually before Satyajit Ray, we don’t find a simple transparent storytelling technique in Indian films. Most of the films are full of emphatic statements loaded with a lot of melodrama and exaggeration. Later Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak pointed out the ailments of Indian cinema in their essays like ‘What is wrong with Indian cinema’ and ‘What ails Indian film making’ respectively. Satyajit felt the urge of story telling. In his renowned films like Pather Panchali and Aparajito he introduced symbolism and suggestiveness at some climatic junctures.

Bibhuti Bhusan Mandal (BBM): It is primarily a method of silent era. Satyajit Ray was highly influenced by Eisenstein. Then how was it possible that Satyajit brought both Eisenstein’s and Hollywood’s classic narrative styles together in his films? Did he make combination of these two?

SM: It can be said only about Aparajito.

BBM: We could hardly find any influence of silent era in Satyajit’s films. Rather generally he has followed the classic narrative styles of Hollywood.

SM: It is to be noted that Satyajit Ray deliberately followed Eisenstein while filming the Benaras Ghat sequence. But it was not a copy of Odessa Steps sequence. The significance and the communication were different. Eisenstein propounded discursive cinema which gave more emphasis on thought than on audio-visual aspects. We find that in the films of Ritwik Ghatak and Godard the dominance was that of subject or context to that of story. At the same time both of them did not disregard the narrative styles of commercial films. However there is only one instance that Ritwik Ghatak was successful in the circuit. That was Meghe Dhaka Tara and the rest failed to do the same.

BBM: We started our discussion on the narrative style of Satyajit Ray — the influence of Eisenstein on him. It is to be mentioned that Eisenstein weaved a pattern of his own. Before Eisenstein there was montage but not in the form of Eisenstein’s — I mean in his manifestations. There was deficit regarding the use of sound. But later when the self-sufficient system was introduced, a term coined as ‘Statement of Sound’ emerged. The system itself raised a sense of ego among the film makers. From then onwards Eisenstein took it as granted that whatever might come in the way it must be a contrapuntal use — mostly in dialectical method. Now the question that arises whether the dialectical system has made any impact on Satyajit Ray’s thinking or not. I would like to add that Satyajit Ray is basically a story teller. He adopted the Hollywood narrative style as and when required. He imbibed the style of invisible editing of Hollywood in all his films except Pratidwandi. He used to adopt a smooth story telling technique but whenever he found an opportunity he followed Eisenstein’s style. Say for example in Charulata — in the sequence of Charu’s writing we find that the camera aims at the eye first. Then a bigger close up of the eye followed by the increasing speed and size of the shot. The rotation of the whirligig (nagar dola) revolves followed by the rotation with the wheel with more speed resulting in an Eisensteinian montage. It is to be noted here that there is total absence of sound in this sequence. Satyajit Ray has beautifully and quite successfully incorporated the theory of Eisenstein in this sequence.

ARG: This sequence remembers us a painting by Chagall, ‘I and My Village’. There we see head of a goat, different images of village life can be seen behind it. That has a strong resemblance with the montage of Charulata.

SM: Yes. One point may be noted that in this particular sequence we did not miss the sound altogether. For example din of the fair etc.

BBM: But Satyajit Ray handled the element of sound as a contrapuntal support. The whole sequence is based on Eisensteinian method. Can we say that Satyajit Ray did not stick to any of this said principles but employed the deep focus and other methods whenever he got a chance?

SM: When we tried to understand Satyajit Ray’s films — style and manner for the first time, he was labelled as a neorealist. The primary reason was that the film Pather Panchali, which was done on outdoor locations with nonprofessional actors and actresses and with new lighting systems etc. forced us to call him a neorealist. But we made a mess of it because there is a clear demarcation in the events of neorealist films and in the events of Satyajit Ray’s films (not in the sense of story). It can be said that Satyajit Ray has blindly followed neorealism in sequence of adventurous Apu-Durga in Kash ban or in the death sequences of Durga or in the sequence when the necklace is thrown into the pond. Satyajit Ray himself was divided in his application of the theory. However Aparajito was termed as a neorealist film. In my opinion, the death sequence of Sarbojaya is very much close to painting. We find that Sarbojaya’s yearning for her son is something more than just waiting. We can guess that Satyajit Ray has tried to bring an overtone in that particular sequence. The stress was given on Sarbojaya’s pale and indifferent look. Here it can be said that Satyajit Ray intended to give importance to the statement. One thing is very clear that Satyajit Ray deviates intentionally for the general characteristics of the neorealist trend. Later in his essays in ‘Our Films Their Films’ and in some of the speeches we find his deep reverence for Ford and Wells and his close kinship with the narrative style of Hollywood films. But Satyajit Ray was never swayed away either by the Hollywood style or by the Italian neorealism. So it will be wrong to label him as a neorealist. He was fascinated by Ivan The Terrible and incorporated some of the elements in his films. For example in Charulata — in its column arrangement of different compositions of Charu — we can relate with the Gothic structure of Ivan the Terrible. Eisenstein was basically trying to prove that film is basically a way of expressing thoughts. Eisenstein wanted to project the mere thought of Das Capital when he tried to film it. Now-a-days the importance is given on message rather than context. Ritwik Ghatak also echoed the same in this context. This theory was first introduced in literature in James Joyce’s novel Ulysses and in Brecht’s drama ‘Drams in the Night’. If we look at the analytical cubism of Picasso we find that a multiple perspective is built up. Similarly when the camera operates from various angles then it almost does the work of Cubist painting. If we closely study the later works of Eisenstein we can discover that he wanted to incorporate elements outside the institutional sites of film making. Satyajit Ray and his contemporaries believed in the purity of art. Satyajit Ray conceived that the convention of story- telling, mystery, hints, gestures, symbolism etc. can be attuned but at the same time he did not want to break away from the art of story telling, what Ritwik Ghatak tried to do consciously.

BBM: What emerges from our discussion is Satyajit Ray was bona fide in the tradition of Rabindranath or Viswa Bharati. Satyajit Ray has assimilated every thing in his art. He was influenced by Eisenstein and Renoir but we never miss the classic narrative style of Hollywood. At a later stage we find that Godard and his subsequent film school failed to exert any influence on Satyajit Ray and his narrative style. His narrative style has come to a stagnation.

SM: Well, it would be wrong to say that he has abandoned his narrative style. He rather maintained his own style. Satyajit Ray in his anthology ‘Our Films Their Films’ remarked that Godard was the most talented film director of his time. He was very sorry to find that Godard was poorly imitated in Indian films. Once he commented that Godard’s experiment was justified because he was competent, but not for most of the Indian directors who lack the basics of film direction. In this context he may be compared with Rabindranath. Rabindranath towards the end of his life had to face a lot of criticism. Tagore tried his best to pacify the baiters but he didn’t believe that literature should be like that. Satyajit Ray also believed like that. From this we can conclude that Satyajit Ray was the first classical Indian director. He brought some changes in the subject but did nothing to form. In Aranyer Din Ratri we find a beautiful close-up of Satya Bandopadhyay sitting in the darkness of load shedding. A Rabindrasangeet chhaya ghanaichhe bane bane can be heard. Why he used this romantic Rabindrasangeet here? What Satyajit Ray tried to mean here is the melody of a romantic song may prove futile in some situation although it leaves a permanent impression on mind.

BBM: Here I would like to mention one thing — he deliberately uses raga of a particular time in completely different time. Satyajit Ray has also skilfully use Rabindrasangeet in Jana Aranya. When we listen to the song we do not listen to the words of the song properly — we concentrate on the overtone that comes out of it rather than the actual meaning of it. This overtone is gloomy, as if darkness is engulfing everything gradually. Satyajit Ray used it nicely. This indicates his mature handling of narrative. I would like to say that ultimately he could not resist himself and utilised the techniques of the New Wave in Pratidwandi. But soon after that he could realise that this can not be his style. And we can see that he changes the subject of cinema, not the narrative style in his subsequent ventures.

SM: One point which should not be missed is that he resisted the temptation of being influenced by two great film personalities. In Jana Aranya where we find the photograph of Vidyasagar is gradually being lowered. The statement which Satyajit Ray tried to raise is the negative reply created an object of fear to the existing ruling class. He could not approve of the actions taken by the then ruling classes. I agree with you that when Satyajit Ray speaks through his films, he is then the absolute master of speech. He enjoys supreme control over words, the images plays truant. In Jana Aranya we find Somenath - a man with broken morality who goes in a nocturnal expedition in search of a call girl to run his business. We see Somenath loitering at night in Calcutta. But such an image is not new to us. But it makes us ashamed . We discover the exact picture of the city, Calcutta. Finally we find that Somenath awaiting for the confirmation of the order with typical middle-class mentality. The reason why I raised the point is that to bring a comparison with Kurosawa’s Ikiru (To Live, 1952). Here too, we find a nocturnal journey where a corporation staff came to know that he is going to die very soon. So he chooses a life of fun and frolic - roams in the city at night, fully intoxicated with Mephistopheles as his companion. He is often found haunted by the question - why man must exist? He asks himself what is life? Subsequently, Ritwik Ghatak also made Subarnarekha and the same nocturnal expedition is found. Ritwik is found to have referred frequently Upanishadas. Here we find that Kurosawa and Ritwik are more bold in their statements of nocturnal journey. Their statements are deeply philosophical. But Satyajit Ray in Jana Aranya was far from being philosophical because he did not believe in it.

Satyajit was very categorical in his assertion that in films it may be examined whether we are optimistic about the existence of civilization or not. However his conviction and faith was lost somehow in his last film. He became rather doubtful about the characteristics of the language of the cinema. In this context we may recall Godard. He said, "Broadly speaking, we get our authenticity, cinema is returning to sound track". In Gordard’s film, sound has the predominant role. In Roy’s Agantuk we find that he was too concerned with dialogue and less about visual properties. The reason may be that he was very ill at that time and had to rely much on dialogue. But to me, it seems that though Satyajit Ray was deeply influenced by Godard and other film personalities right from the beginning of his career, he went smooth on his own way except his last two or three films.

ARG: After Satyajit Ray fell ill we find that almost in all of his films like Shakha Prashakha and Ganashatru - the element of theatricality. Can we ccall them Chamber films?

SM: No, we cannot designate these films as Chamber films. Bergman’s Persona was a Chamber film.

BBM: It may be told that Ray concentrated on such type of film due to his practical problems regarding health. We can correlate Shakha Prashakha with Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander visually. Here we notice that very carefully he has transformed the style that he has followed in almost all his previous films. The film is a bit theatrical and emotional - he used dialogue whenever there is an opportunity. In Agantuk also the tendency of using dialogue has increased considerably.

SM: Yes, this is absolutely true, one who was accustomed to the economy of words has turned verbose.

BBM: Now regarding the transparency we see that Ritwik was more transparent because he was more emotional. But Satyajit Ray is not so transparent . He puts a veil behind his story and if you are capable, then you have to overcome the story and then you have the taste of his art.

SM: In other words we can say, if you want to understand you must be artistically cultivated.

BBM: But this is not true with Godard. He makes us understand why he is experimental— why he wants to return to sound track. Finally, he said that if he is unable to make a film he will write a notebook. It can be seen that while Godard is interested both in writing and films Satyajit does not want to come out of the world of cinema — this is what strikes us.

SM: It is unjustified to correlate Satyajit and Godard. The reason is Godard is basically a film critic whereas Ray, a devoted director and craftsman. When Godard came to the world of cinema he said that there is no fundamental difference between film-making and it’s criticism. He is still a critic and only instead of writing, he films them. If we talk about his Breathless, we find that he is more concerned about his discourses—the images are less significant to him. This is very much true to Ritwik Ghatak. He entered the world of film only to communicate with a larger number of people. He opined that if he finds a better and suitable medium to express his thoughts he will leave film-making, because he does not love films. But this is quite in contrast to Satyajit Roy. He was so deeply involved with cinema and it’s manifestations that it would be totally absurd for him to utter such comments. If he wanted to be swayed away by the thoughts of Godard or other film makers then it could have happened in the seventies.


Transcribed translated from Bengali to English by Sandeep Ghosal. The transcribed is republished on the blog to preserve some of the articles, interviews written by eminent professors and cinephiles on several online freeware site that are slowly disappearing.

Source: http://www.geocities.com/virwhatnew

Pic- Pather Panchali title card
source: wikipedia.