Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Satyajit Ray, Ray's Films, and Ray-Movie

Film-maker and critic Chidananda Das Gupta, around the time he published his definitive The Cinema of Satyajit Ray ,' pointed to a slight problem he was having with his mentor:

.. the Golden Lion of St Mark in Venice, the Golden Bear and two Best Director awards and a special jury award for the totality of his work in Berlin, the Selznick Award, the Sutherland Trophy, Best Film for 1957 and Best Director of the year 1959 at San Francisco, honorary doctorates from Oxford and London Universities, Most Outstanding Film Director of Half-a-Century citation from the British Federation of Film Societies, and innumerable others that Indians have stopped counting. . . The depth and extent of the western response to Ray often mystifies Indians; he is great, but is he that great? Sometimes even his ardent admirers at home are baffled by the chorus of praise abroad that greets those films to which their own response is lukewarm.

Ever since Ray made his influential Pather Panchali / Song of the Little Road (1955), and then since its even more influential New York release the following year, his cinema has set off a variety of contradictory speechlines.

There was the classic 1929 Bibhutibhushan novel on which the film is based, chronicling the history of pre-war Bengal through the story of a young lad who leaves his village for the pilgrim city of Benares, eventually landing in Calcutta and on a ship bound for South America. There was the film itself, whose four-years-in the-making story has become part of Indian film legend. Then there was the filmmaker, ancestrally associated with the landed gentry of north Calcutta and its nineteenth-century reform movements, Shantiniketan, Tagore, mass communication and commercial art, the Calcutta Film Society and Renoir's The River (1951). And there was the film's reception in the USA Read More


Interview with Ghatak

Interview with Anurag Kashyap

DIY Production Outside Hollywood.

* Issue-3 coming soon.

Pic- Aparajito, Pic on website-wikipedia.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cannes 09 Lineup

Looks like a no of heavyweight auteurs are competing for the Golden Palm this year. The festival opens on May 13 with Pixa'r "UP" (for the first time in the history of the festival) and closes on May 24th with Coco Chanel&Igor Stravinsky.

India like every year is missing in action. But, I'm sure, it hardly bothers our "creative mainstream Industry" they will still land up at the festival through the Indian Booth section and our media will report their presence as if they just conquered Mt Everest- even if most people fail to recognize them." We make films for masses not film festivals" is one of the favorite cliches of our Industry. So without further ado...let's move on to the lineup. The Director’s Fortnight and Critics Week will be announced tomorrow.


"Bright Star," Jane Campion (Australia/UK/France).

"Spring Fever," Lou Ye (China/France).

"Antichrist," Lars von Trier (Denmark/Sweden/France/Italy).

"Enter the Void," Gaspar Noé (France).

"Face" ("Visages"), Tsai Ming-liang (France/Taiwan/Netherlands/Belgium).

"Les ferbes folles" ("Wild Reeds") Alain Resnais (France/Italy).

"In the Beginning," Xavier Giannoli (France).

"A Prophet," Jacques Audiard (France).

"The White Ribbon," Michael Haneke (Germany/Austria/France).

"Vengeance," Johnnie To (Hong Kong/France/US).

"The Time That Remains," Elia Suleiman (Israel/France/Belgium/Italy).

"Vincere," Marco Bellocchio (Italy/France).

"Kinatay," Brillante Mendoza (Philippines).

"Thirst," Park Chan-wook (South Korea/US).

"Broken Embraces," Pedro Almodóvar (Spain).

"Map of the Sounds of Tokyo," Isabel Coixet (Spain).

"Fish Tank," Andrea Arnold (UK/Netherlands).

"Looking for Eric," Ken Loach (UK/France/Belgium/Italy).

"Inglourious Basterds," Quentin Tarantino (US).

"Taking Woodstock," Ang Lee (US).

Out of Competition

"Agora," Alejandro Amenábar (Spain/US).

"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus," Terry Gilliam (Canada/France).

"L'armée du crime" ("The Army of Crime"), Robert Guédiguian (France).

Un Certain Regard

"À Deriva" ("Adrift"), Heitor Dhalia (Brazil).

"Air Doll," Hirokazu Kore-eda (Japan).

"Demain des l'aube," Denis Dercourt ().

"Dogtooth," Yorgos Lanthimos (Greece).

"Eyes Wide Open," Haim Tabakman (Israel/Germany).

"Independence," Raya Martin (Philippines).

"Irene," Alain Cavalier (France).

"Mother," Bong Joon-ho (South Korea).

"Nobody Knows About the Persian Cats," Bahman Ghobadi (Iran).

"Nymph," Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Thailand).

"Le père de mes enfants," Mia Hansen-Love (France/Germany).

"Politist, Adjectiv," Corneliu Porumboiu (Romania).

"Precious," Lee Daniels (US).

"Samson and Delilah," Warwick Thornton (Australia).

"The Silent Army," Jean van de Velde (Netherlands).

"Tales from the Golden Age," Hanno Höfer, Razvan Marculescu, Cristian Mungiu, Constantin Popescu, Ioanna Uricaru (Romania).

"Tale in the Darkness," Nikolay Khomeriki (Russia).

"Tzar," Pavel Lounguine (Russia).

"Los Viajes del Viento," Ciro Guerra (Colombia).

"Morrer Como um Homem," João Pedro Rodrigues ().

Midnight Screenings

"Panique au village" ("A Town Called Panic"), Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar ().

"Drag Me to Hell," Sam Raimi (US).

"Ne te retourne pas" ("Don't Come Back"), Marina de Van (Belgium/France/Italy/Luxembourg).

Special Screenings

"My Neighbor, My Killer," Anne Aghion (US).

"Manila," Adolfo Alix, Jr and Raya Martin (Philippines).

"Min Ye," Souleymane Cissé (Mali).

"L'épine dans le coeur," Michel Gondry (France).

"Petition," Zhao Liang.

"Kalat Hayam" ("Jaffa"), Keren Yedaya (France/Germany/Israel)


Bong Joon Ho's Mother trailer
Park Chan Wook's Thirst Trailer
Lars Von Trier's Antichrist Trailer
Anurag Kashyap Interview
The Face of French Cinema has changed- Jean Luc Godard
Cinephile Meeting-III

* Third Issue coming up soon.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Interview with Anurag Kashyap

A massive presence among us – Anurag Kashyap, we let him another sip on his Margarita. For the most part, we were poking, biting, probing, and seeking; for the remaining, we wanted to let the interview become a discussion between our favorite type of people – people who love cinema. Indian Auteur talks to Mr. Anurag Kashyap.

NOTE – A lot of discussion off-the-record remains unpublished, for the fear of inviting controversy, no more of which, Mr.Kashyap seems to be very welcoming towards now. I can only assure the gentle reader that he stands to miss a lot, but then, such is life.

Plus- Those who have missed, do check out the legendary debate between Anurag Kashyap his band of followers and us.

The Filmmaker, Fanboys&Cinephile Debate

How did your vast reading of the Hindi pulp novels help in developing your screenwriting style?
I would have to say that I am not consciously aware of any such influence. As an afterthought, however, I would have to say that they did help. I was a person who could not speak English till I was 17, and all my reading was based only in Hindi. Thus, yes, I can now count reading of those novels as one of my formative influences.

After you came to Delhi, you became involved with the Jan Natya Manch, an organization which performed street plays. Did that influence your filmmaking in any way, since your films seem inherently devoid of theatre as such?

Yes, there I agree with you. My films would not betray influences of theatre, except Gulaal, which carries within it, indelible, and obvious influences of the medium. For instance, I met Mr.Piyush Mishra while working for Jan Natya Manch, and it was there that I first saw his recitals, and it was there and then that I took a decision to use him in one of my films, which eventually, turned out to be Gulaal.

You wrote that 2009 would be a turning point in Cinema, so what exactly do you mean by this turning point? In what context, would we see a change hitherto unseen?

In the sense that independent films, made by people working outside the studio system, produced by independent producers, would find themselves being released at a popular scale. For instance, January 30 saw the release of Luck By Chance, the subsequent week saw the release of Dev D., and then there were films like Delhi 6, which though a failure, can be termed an ambitious failure. Recent weeks have seen a simultaneous release of films such as Barah Aana, Firaaq and as such. Read More

Indian Auteur articles on his films and more:

Issue No-1
Cinephile Meeting

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cinematography and Time.

Cinephile Meeting-III

Mani Kaul is one of the greatest Indian cineaste working in India. This essay is reproduced here so that a new generation of film lovers are acquainted with his writings on cinema. Hence, in time to come we can introduce his films to a new audience, with an eventual Issue on his life and films.

Beneath the surface: Cinematography and Time

The object of this article is to provoke debate on a basic cinematographic contradiction: a plethora of a films across the world continues to fashion awe-inspiring cinematographic spaces (stunning visuals), however, only a few are able to realize a simultaneous and direct experience of cinematographic time. With the current epidemic of "special effects", the awe-inspiring space has taken a turn for the worse- we appear headed for an immersion into an immaterial world.

As opposed to what has been presumed as the obvious(that space/time is an integrated vehicle that makes cinema move)space and time in cinema are separate entities, destructive of each other when one is absolutely privileged against the other; and often requiring a system of relay between them for the two to significantly come together. A film unfolds in space but at the same time in time, too. It is, however, usual to think of cinema as a visual and not (also) an art in and of time, as a temporal art.

The meaning and feeling in films centre on what is organized for the eyes and ears with what is seen and heard in a way that leads more to the production of space than to a realization of time. Time in such films is a thing just present there; intarsia entrenched available as a result of a progression of events, as a consequence of, as something absent and only directly experienced. It is rarely present and directly experienced as a revelation of multiple durations conscious in the way it’s found in music. Obviously cinema cannot aspire to the condition of music, which is primarily a temporal discipline.

Cinema is an equal mix of movement and time. The question this debate hopes to raise is how movement and time have developed as independent elements in cinema and if they have sought a unique cinematographic resolution for every film. How does cinematography figure precisely in this debate?Read More

Indian Auteur: Links

- Cinephile Meeting-III

- Bollywood Strike

- Issue No-1

- Issue No-2

- More on Mani Kaul

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cinephile Meeting-III

Invisible India is the elephant in your bedroom, what we should be talking about is the Blind India that can't see this elephant.

- P Sainath.

Topic: A more Political Cinema and awareness.

With the elections round the corner and the current strike in Bollywood, the truth is out for all of us to see- how badly our movies fare. And it’s not essentially what Bollywood feeds us is what audience wants. Hence, this meeting is to discuss on how we can take an active role in supporting the right films and create an awareness regarding the role cinema can play in highlighting issues, that are not part of any media. It's important to understand that the role of cinema should not mean reducing it to the purpose at hand.

Lets create an awareness friends, not that anyone is taking away peoples right to freedom or a choice at entertainment but India today needs to engage, question and our generation needs to wake up. So for every film of Sharukah Khan we should have a counter cinétract on Dr Binyak Sen. A balance of image is necessary else someday or the other we all will be eaten up. And never know what hit us.

The ongoing Bollywood strike is a clear indication to the amount of crap the industry releases every year. Now all major parties involved(Producers, Exbhitiors and Distributors) are fighting to make the maximum out of the " few " hits every year so that more sequels, prequels, comedies and Hollywood copies can be feed to the Indian audience. All Hail Bollywood, the greatest Industry on mother earth. The home for the audience, to the audience and by the audience….an oath all filmmakers and producers swear while making movies. I admire their love for the audience esp when they go all out and shoot in foreign location. To give the audience a taste of shores they would never see. Or how much our producers love audience so they invite Kylie Mingoue for a dance number; because we want her to dance here, its an achievement in Indian Cinema. How Noble. Perhaps, they don't realize that the cotton of the designer clothes they wear comes from the families, victims and the suicide of farmers in India, but, then again, who cares. Bollywood is for the audience, to the audience and by the audience, who are farmers anyways.

More on Bollywood Strike. Read More

+ Places were last month meeting/ discussion on Film Criticism could not take place will take place this time. If anyone is interested in organizing on in their city or being part of the upcoming meet please email on the following addresses.

Please email:
editor[at]indianauteur dot com
supriasuri[at]indianauteur dot com
anuj[atindianauteur dot com


April 18th - Patna, Bihar
Venue: TBA
Time: TBA
Representative: Surraj Chandrakar

April 25th : Hyderabad
Venue: TBA
Time: TBA
Representative: Shubahank Mauria
Contact: shubhank[at]gmail[dot]com

April 26th : New Delhi
Venue: Khan Market
Time: 4 PM
Representatives: Nitesh Rohit, Supria Suri, Anuj Malhotra

April 26th : Chidamnbaram, Tamil Nadu
Venue: TBA
Time: TBA
Representative: Nitish Acharaya.
Contact: nitishacharya16@yahoo.co.in

April 26th : Gwalior
Venue: TBA
Time: TBA
Representative: Suraj Prasad

April: Bangalore
Venue- TBA
Time- TBA
Representative- Srikanth Srinivasan

April- Gwalior
Venue- TBA
Time- TBA
Representative- Suraj Prasad.

* Dates, venues and timings are subject to change

* Please keep checking the blog for further updates.

Come join hands and lets learn, improve and make things better.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Kumar Shahani- a portrait

It’s difficult to be Kumar Shahani. Not that there is a great public demand or media attention like our superstars. But its his path to continue pursuing the struggle to understand and evolve the form of cinema and its relationship with life and other art forms that has made things difficult. It's best put in his own words:

"You know Subrato Mitra, whose camera work for early Satyajit Ray turned films into masterpieces. Subrato was also a film-maker in his own right. Can you imagine that all the films made by Subrato are reportedly reduced to ashes because of a fire in the studio which kept them in London?" asks Kumar. "Isn't it shameful that nobody seems concerned about such things?" Kumar should know. He is himself running from pillar to post to retrieve the negatives of one of his films. The lab, which is holding the negatives simply refuses to oblige because NFDC (the producer) has not paid it for its services rendered for some other film. He does not know the fate of the negatives: "I wonder in what conditions they are and, in fact, whether at all they exist anymore!" Kumar has similar strong views on the distribution system or the screening opportunities available to serious film-makers like him in the country.

"Take, for example, the Doordarshan(national television). I took one of my films and explained that it had been financed by the Madhya Pradesh Government. It had been very well received wherever it was screened and even went on to win an international award. The officer says that she has viewed the film but cannot find a `slot' for it. It cannot be scheduled during the prime time. It cannot be screened in the regional cinema slot because it is made in Hindi.

"We can only slot it during a mourning period when a national leader dies, because there is a lot of sarangi in it. But wait, we cannot use it even there, since the film has dance sequence!" Kumar is obviously pained: "What can I do beyond explaining, cajoling, requesting, and pleading. I can even possibly fall at the feet of the powers-that-be," he says, adding "I can only go so far. I have no `means' to go any further". The message is once again crystal clear. While on the subject, Kumar feels film-makers are also to blame for such a sorry state of affairs. "Many of our film-makers - some well-known names included — have compromised and started making `slottable' films to suit the `needs' of the system. They have also started making themselves adept in finding those other `means' for getting their films screened".

What about other channels, the private ones? "The primarily outlook for them is marketability with a capital M. If they can `sell' to sponsors, then yes, otherwise no. Haven't you observed that there were some fairly good programs on these channels? But, after the initial run, they've all been taken off." (1)

I meet him briefly at the Osian Film Festival 2008 while I was waiting in the queue for the screening of Eric Von Strohiem’s Greed. For a moment, before I introduced myself, I just thought; the fate of the film I’m about to watch, speaks a lot of the kismet he has faced all his life as a director. Later, that week, I paid more than 50$ for a membership of a film club just to watch Ritwik Ghatak’s Megha Dhaka Tara on the screen and listen to an introduction and closing comment from one of his favorite pupil, Kumar Shahani. But the money spend was worth every penny, because I got a very intimate understanding on Ghatak and his work, as Kumar Shahini knew him well. While the very next day, I saw one of the most fascinating documentary on Indian Bamboo flute constructed with such lush visuals that is hard to rightly state what it all stood for and meant.

To find Kumar Shahani films is as difficult as getting some information on him on the Internet. This post is portrait on him: a brief profile, an excerpt from an Interview published in a Cultural Print magazine and a link for those who can watch his film online legally. While if someone is interested in borrowing his Kasba can do so by sending me an email. So my brief meeting was really fascinating and we will be writing and covering his films extensively in one of our forthcoming Issue at Indian Auteur.

Kumar Shahani is a noted Indian Film director, born in Larkana, Sindh (now in Pakistan), on December 7th 1940. After the Partition of India his family shifted to the city of Bombay (now Mumbai). He received a BA (hons) from the University of Bombay in Political Science and History and studied Screenplay Writing and Advanced Direction at the Film and Television Institute of India, where he was a student of Ritwik Ghatak. He also studied under the renowned Marxist historian D. D. Kosambi. He was awarded a French Government Scholarship for further studies in France, [1] where he studied at the Institut des hautes études cinématographiques (IDHEC) and assisted Robert Bresson on Une Femme Douce. He returned to India to make his first feature film Maya Darpan in 1972 and had to wait twelve years before he received funding to make his next full length feature film, Tarang. From 1976-1978 he held a Homi Bhabha Fellowship to study the epic tradition of the Mahābhārata, Buddhist iconography, Indian classical music and the Bhakti movement.

- wiki

He is one of the most significant filmmakers working in India. He has developed an epic idiom that engages with contemporary issues. Shahani’s films explore cultural memories embedded in nclassical Indian art forms, texts and objects. His visual explorations of Indian music and dance, the classical Indian epic and contemporary literature mark his practice as unique in the history of Indian cinema. Shahani also engages with European cinematic traditions. His first feature, Mirror of Illusion (Maya Darpan) 1972, is regarded as India’s first formalist film. His oeuvre is considered alongside renowned directors — Pier Paolo Pasolini, Andrei Tarkovsky, Stanley Kubrick, Jacques Rivette and others — whose work is similarly entwined with the visual arts. Read More

An Interview with Kumar Shahaini.

In terms of making a film, what is it that you see in a film like Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc?

The Art Director of Dreyer’s Joan of Arc was trained more in the expressionist tradition; so, in that movie the acting is very expressionist. But I don’t go much for that kind of acting. Obviously, it is much too festiculative. But Maria Falconetti, the star of Joan of Arc was a “non-actress”, so she would not gesticulate though the others did. So all this worked out well for the composition of that film. But overall what the expressionist did, especially at the technical level, was to develop the sense of how one should use the forms that were not imitational but were part and were suggestive, carried suggestion. So you could transform any landscape. They went far in exploring the avenue, may be s far that they fell over the precipice. It’s not that one wants to do that kind of thing, at least, I don’t believe in that. In fact, that view of the unconscious holds only terror. I don’t think that the unconscious is made only of terror though the element is present. So technically, what they have achieved has to do with movement, with using forms in a plastic ways. They have articulated plasticity to forms.

In that respect where will you place Battleship Potemkin? How has it contributed to your way of making films or in other words how has it contributed to your technique elaborating? You were looking at the third meaning (this is a term used by Roland Barthes in his text on Eisentein) like Sergei Eisenstein.Eisenstein does not elaborate in the way that you do?

No, No, not in that sense. He is doing this in a western musical manner with a conscious attempt at creating the third meaning about which the Japanese talked a lot. In Sanskrit, third meaning would connote “Vyanjana”. It is this which fascinated me; the fact that what was most important to Eisenstein was that the work of art should be significant. That cinema could done not through the context of images only but also by creating a third meaning, the oblique meaning as Barthes called it. Eisenstein then talked talks of over-tonalities or overtones. This interests me a great deal as well. Of Course. His films also concern themselves with freedom. In my case the concept of freedom is of a different nature, the kind of freedom that I seek for myself and for my people, as it were, is different from the one they were seeking in Potemkin. But there is that concern for freedom at the film’s core. There is not a single film in the world after Potemkin where if you are doing a scene with large groups can you forget this movie and move on. You will perforce have to recall the Potemkin. You many not imitate Eisenstein, but you can’t forget Potemkin. For if you do, you will actually end up with an imitation of the original. Ironical?

Do you mean absolutely any group scene?

Yes, You can see how everybody has taken from it, from its grammar. It is a film that has made a huge contribution to human knowledge, especially in the sense that people can’t get away with it.

How do you perceive Luis Bunuel and his filmmaking?

Bunuel was Spanish and the Franco regime allowed him to come and work in Spain. Initially, he had worked n Paris, then he went to America and then to Mexico. Before he made Viridiana, from the late 1920s till then, Bunuel had been continuously moving around. He was finally invited to make a film at home. But once the film was completed all its copies were destroyed by the dictator regime. Fortunately, the negative was in London. It is a terrific story as to how this film was saved. I would say that because they all believed in protests, they had asked him to burn his first film as a form of protest and that burning itself would become a form of art. We must remember that those were the days of the beginning of Surrealism. Bunuel had agreed that he would make a film and burn it but nobody came for the occasion or some such thing happened. Bunuel would do very strange things.

What is your view on the use of ornamentation, especially vis-a vis your liking for Bresson and Rossellini?

There is austerity in Bresson. But there is a possibility in cinema to have both: austerity and ornamentation. In Bresson, there is mainly austerity even though he aspires to have spectacle. When I work along those lines, I want the ornamentation to stand out. The magic of that reality must appear and we ought to allow that to happen. The notion of ornamentation that we have in India, the alankar, of how we play with it, that is something I like to retain in my work. And this is not there either in Rossellini’s work or Bresson’s in the works of Catholic filmmakers. When they move towards austerity, they really move towards it: Bresson in the tradition of St Augustine and Rossellini more in the manner of notational narratives.

What role Battleship Potemkin played in your filmmaking?

Well for Tarang for instance, I was shooting a strike sequence. It was an obvious point where one could have quoted Eisenstein. Most filmmakers in such a situation would do so, inadvertently and unconsciously. Even the most “bourgeois” filmmakers as it were, the most commercial ones, or their exact opposites, would all do that. That is why one should remember him, to remember what he did and not to repeat it. So I remembered him while I was shooting that sequence, constantly like a prayer. We can’t help saying that Eisenstein did it such a way and let only him do like that. That is why I feel very happy with that particular sequence in Tarang. It doesn’t have, in any sense, an imitation of Eisenstein.

In Tarang there was no attempt of any kind to cup up things, to get the montage effect. But not to do this also has certain dangers. The final formal concern that Eisenstein has is, of course, interesting. For example, his preoccupation with the question of signification where he wants so much in the cinema-overtones, abstractions-so that it goes much beyond the concreteness of images. How could any filmmaker achieve it? He, of course, could achieve them in his own way, through his own material context. As they say, one of the reasons for the montage to come up in a big way was that in those days the Soviet Union was so poor that only small strips of films were available. The montage came into being out of that material necessity. One doesn’t know whether this story is true or not, but in any case it is an interesting story, of how a creative output grew out a scarcity.

The other day you were talking about some rules of the game. How does that help in, for example, camera movement?

It is important in this respect to speak of modulation. I have not read Deleuze all these years, though as a French theoretician of cinema and one who speaks on this aspect of films. I have heard him quoted by friend. He and Hauston, and the filmmaker Renoir, are to my mind liberals both in the good and the bad sense of the word. The capitalist ideology has tried to portray them in a light as if they mystified modulation. But this was more how Henri Bergson propagated his idea in the West, though I think Bergson got it from India.

He might have come across some Indian text sometime. The idea of modulation is present in our culture right through. Consider the conventional way of describing someone, let us say the heroines of the Mahabharata the great heroines like Kadru, Vinita, Ganga Kunti, Draupado. Their descriptions may be very similar, like eyes like lotus, thighs likes banana leaves and so on. But each descriptions is modulated and through this a slight change is brought about which actually acts as an explosive change. It is the same in our music that continues on an infinite scale because there is no fixed scale but a continuous one. So you can touch any note anywhere. And yet we have a system of holding the notes together . You can approach a note from anywhere and again it is balanced by modulation. I am always more interested in this form of modulation.

But our way of looking at modulation is fare ahead of liberal way of elaboration, like a legacy, a real inheritance, not only through forms but also in actual life, beyond the essence. This has come not only from our philosophy but actual praxis. Therefore, I tend to reject the theory based on this kind of thing in the west, because I think their praxis must yield to it before they are really able to expound those theories, theories that I think are overloaded with liberal idelogoies.

Udayan Vajpeyi interview with Kumar Shahani published in Indian Horizons, Jan- March 2008.

Watch Kasba Online

KK Mahajan

- The Cinephile Meeting III listing to be announced shortly.

- (1) cited from an article on Kumar Shahani from The Hindu.
- pic- Kumar Shahani's Kasba.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Cinephile Meeting: Bangalore via Delhi

At the beginning, there are questions. People, some cynical, some supportive, often ask them. The common concern is ‘why’, and not ‘what’, or even the generous ‘how’. As Delhi baptized itself into the series of Cinephile meetings across the nation, in a small café atop a bookshop in the heart of the city; people gathered to assuage their skepticism.

While Delhi planned a glorious debut, it turned out to be a sedate induction of sorts. The topic, “State of Indian Cinema & The Massive Success of Slumdog Millionaire”, was bound to invite divided voices, based purely, on the accessibility and its presence in the public domain. Rapidly a thing of the past, but when it wasn’t, Millionaire was a film that belonged to everyone, and to everyone’s dissertation of it, thus. People from all over, journo, students, social activists, producers, actors et cetera made their way to the meeting spot, to both voice their opinions on the subject, and to inquire, about the curious topic called the Indian Auteur.

“The problem of the film lies in the language. How children from the slum learn such chaste English, is beyond me”, said Sai Abhishek, a vocal participant in the meeting, and thus reflected an issue, beyond many others as well. Thus initiating, also, a debate on the logical directions (or mis), taken by the film. Its vain co-incidences aside, the patriotic heart was offended by its selective depiction of the ‘slum’, and its convenient ignorance of the ‘rest’. A lot of heated debate ensued, upon topics as diverse as cinema’s linguistic demands, instances used being from as far and wide as Schindler’s List where the Polish & the Germans, spoke English, to Gandhi, where Gandhi, spoke in the Queen’s language. A common consensus could be reached, only upon the conclusion, that such trivialities open themselves to debate, only when the film is not crafted well enough to make the viewer’s attention bypass them.

As the gathered filled themselves with caffeine, cinematic preferences were shared. A wide range of directors, from Kubrick to Godard, to Dasgupta, entered the discussion in the form of mere mentions, as well, as detailed eulogies. Read Further

  • The pics are from the Cinephile Meet- II, New Delhi.
  • There were around 22 people who attended Cinephile Meet-1, New Delhi but the list and pictures are missing as our team member Anya lost her camera and notes.
  • The third list of Cinephile Meet dates and topics to be announced soon.
  • Indian Auteur Issue no-1 and Issue no-2
  • Previous Cinephile Meet Reports: HYD and Mumbai, Chidambaram, Patna

pics taken by- Sai Abhishek
comrades missing in action- Satyam Berera, Deboijit Ghatak, Ebrahim Kabir.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Postmodernism and Cinema

Asim Ratan Ghosh discusses about the characteristics of post-modern cinema with examples from different significant post-modern films

Today’s life is a post-modern one. Cinema and TV are shaping our lives - life styles and attitudes towards life. The social, economic and political problems have direct relationship with it. The cinema and TV serials are simulating a hyper-real world. They pretend to show a ‘real’ life. That world lures people. They try to search out that ideal life but without success. This failure creates hatred, frustration, anger and a sense of revenge. That is why the instances of suicide, homicide and other crimes and misdemeanors are gradually increasing.

All over the world another phenomenon can be observed: social unrest and change of social order are taking place all over the world. In the economic front Capitalist flavour is almost lost. Multinationals are reigning the world. Economists call this ‘Late Capitalism’. This ‘Late Capitalism’ has direct relationship with postmodernism. In the cultural front, modernism, realism, and classicism are dying. Postmodern art and culture are replacing that place.

This post modern age is full of visual culture. This age can be called age of cinema or rather age of TV. They represent the collective ambition of the mass. They show the dreams man love to see. The love, affection, brutality, sexual excess, news for entertainment as whatever all people love to see are transferred into celluloid or videotape.

With this perspective let us look at the nature of postmodern condition which exists today. Nostalgia, a conservative longing for the past has become a very much unavoidable intense feeling – in this time. At the same time the boundary between the ‘past’ and the ‘present’ no longer exists. The feeling of both history and art come in our mind in fragmented manner, often appearing as examples of pastiche. Sexual desires are now almost open for fulfilling. Taboos about sex no longer exist. Pornographic elements, perversion, obscenity, sexual exigency etc. have become very open and explicit in these days. In cinema and TV these elements are common now and people love to see them. Sex and desire have become commodities. Representation has become more important. Process/ performance/ happening are now more important than finished art objects. Rise of consumerism is also another symptom of post-modern situation. As a consequence of a number of social reasons today’s man feel isolated, alienated and detached from the society. Anxiety, emotional disorder, breakdown of family and marriage etc. are also common post-modern features.

Naturally these post-modern condition is reflected in today’s films whether the director does that intentionally or not. Another kind of films are being produced consciously keeping the post-modern elements and using post-modern cinematic techniques.

Christian Metz in his essay ‘The Modern Cinema and Narrativity’ indicated the characteristics of the modernist cinema:

1. Importance of director as an auteur or author.

2. Anti-theatrical

3. Thought provoking

4. Emphasis on the structure of individual shots.

In this context let us look what Fredric Jameson says about post-modern cinema. He says ‘All important cinemas of the twentieth century are characteristically different. ‘Modernist’ films simultaneously resist and exhibit their status as commodity, by means of stylistic self reference’. Jameson also says that the modernist style comes from extreme desire to express oneself to keep an impression of the auteur on the artefact. The auteur theory, a strong modernist point of view emphasises on personal, individual styles of an auteur director. Foucault also accepted Roland Barthes’ stirring comment ‘Author is dead as God’. Post-modern cinema is not devoid of ‘style’ rather multiple styles are present here. The styles of different authors and different times are amalgamated here as colourful and historic examples of pastiche.

History comes frequently, but in a fragmented manner. A brilliant example of dislocated history is found in a kind of post-modern films called ‘retro’ films. Here history comes in a fragmented style. The total experience of a period is summarised in these films. Brazil is one such example. Plurality of styles or pastiche is a major element of post-modern films. TV has a major role to play in post-modern cinema. Often they offer a way to escape to the modern or the late-modern realm as a result of reaction against the post-modern.

Although the post-modern films are high sounding, one thing should be kept in mind that post-modern films are very popular because of the reason they derive their basic elements from the hearts of the post-modern people.

Now let us look into some post-modern films and find out the post-modern elements.


Storyline: The hero, Jeffrey Beaumont comes to his native place during his summer vacation. During that period suddenly his father dies. He has to take charge of his father’s hardware business. One day Jeffrey discovers a severed ear of a man in a field. To identify the owner of this ear he meets a private detective. Sandy, the daughter of the private detective and Jeffrey goes to Dorothy, a night singer’s house and Jeffrey hides behind her closet. Dorothy’s husband Don and their children were kidnapped by Frank. Frank cut off Don’s ear that time. Dorothy is Frank’s sexual slave. She seduces him and gets indulged in sado-masochistic sexual activities. When they discover Jeffrey, Dorothy asks him to strip in knife point and then seduces him. After this all of them go to Frank’s hotel. Leaving that they go to the outskirts of the town where Jeffrey was beaten up by Frank. Returning home he finds Dorothy in a completely naked state and she is claiming to be his lover. She is sent to hospital. In Dorothy’s apartment Jeffrey finds dead bodies of Don and a corrupt police man. Jeffrey and Sandy get married and started living peacefully.

Postmodern elements

1. Presentation of the unpresentable

A lawn full of green grass is shown in the film in which each blade of the grass are of gigantic size. There bugs of abnormal size are roaming. After some time we see the rotting ear in extreme close up. Its inside view can be seen with a roaring sound. Sexual excess (of Dorothy and Frank), brutality (beating of Jeffrey), violence (chopping of ear, murders) etc. are shown in the film.

2. Erasure of boundary between past and present

The film begins in such a way that audience starts believing that the background of the film must be of fifty years back. Suddenly they find cars of 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and even 1980s are going along the road — all at a time. Similarly school students wearing dresses of different periods. This way the boundary between past and present gets dissolved.

3. Nostalgia

In the initial part of the film, it appears that America of 1940s is depicted here. Merry atmosphere, clear sky, colourful landscapes, it appears that everything is going all right. Rock n’ Roll can be heard. Audience get nostalgic like Indian audience while listen songs of the older days.

4. Pastiche and parody

The film parodies 1940s American films - ‘small town’ films, Film noir and films of other genres. A mixture of different genres and different times are seen in this film which is an example of pastiche. Everything is done and shown in a mocking manner as if the whole film is a parody of 1940s’ American film.

5. Voyeurism.

Jeffrey looks at the Dorothy and Frank’s sexual activities as a Voyeur. In a later sequence Jeffrey again acts as a Voyeur. Audience also play the role of Voyeur.

6. Post modern woman’s film.

The contradictory images of American women are shown here as -‘the play boy’ role played by Dorothy and ‘traditional’ role played by Sandy. Throughout the film it mocks perceptions about women. In Indian cinema also we can find this kind of dichotomous view about women.

7. Postmodern hope

People of post modern society are very optimistic in nature. They believe finally all will end well. For that reason the film shows a happy ending. This feature is common in Indian films also.

Let us look into another film which is characteristically post-modern in nature - Brazil


Storyline : A bureaucrat works in a society which resembles Russian communist society as perceived by the people who reside out of Russia. Very often he meets a lady from outer space. Once he meets some alien enemies of the world. He was ordered capital punishment. But before execution of the capital punishment, somebody from extra-celestial world saves him. He realises that what he was thinking was not correct at all. One thing must be noted here the narrative of the film is neighther so simple nor its structure is. Let us look at the postmodern elements in the film.

1. Retro mode

In postmodern films often we find pastiche of older films:-film noir, western, musical etc. Brazil is a retro film with particle of older science fiction like Star War, soviet film Battleship Potemkin and the films of different historical period etc.

2. Erasure of boundaries between past present and future

Costumes, sets and even perceptions about future of different periods are fused with each other in this film. This science fiction film is about what people thought about future in 1930s or 1940s. The result is queer, funny as for example the computer looks like type writers. Past, present and past perceptions about future are so intermixed, they cannot be separated.

3. Ironic rethinking of historyy

According to Linda Hucheon, Brazil is a postmodern film because of its ‘ironic rethinking of history’ and its parody of two famous films Battleship Potemkin and Star War.

After the Blue velvet and Brazil let us look at a film in which postmodern society is reflected - sex, lies and video tape.

sex, lies and video tape

Storyline: Ann is John’s wife. Cynthia is her sister. John often makes love to Cynthia. On the other hand Ann goes to Graham’s place. Graham discusses with her about sex, love, marriage etc. Graham with his video camera tapes the discussion. Graham is sexually impotent; only this type of video camera can arouse him. Ann wants to break the marriage with John when she comes to know John’s affair with her sister Cynthia. John then comes to know about Ann’s affair with Graham. John beats her, rushes to Graham’s apartment, beats him and watches video tape where Ann is talking about her sexual life.

1. Reflections on post modern life styles

The central characters of the film are well off and lead their life in a postmodern way. They wear designer shirts, drives BMWs, use Reebok tennis shoes, lives in fashionable apartments — in a whole their life style are postmodern in nature.

2. Simulacra

All characters of the film are postmodern simulacra. They have become sexual objects and images. They consider members of other sex as sexual objects.

3. Open sexual discourse

People here talk about sex openly without any uneasiness and taboo. The film shows them directly although the film shows only sexual discourses.

4. Postmodern views on women

sex lies and video tape shows sexual excesses of today’s women but finally we see Ann cures Graham’s impotency by aiming video camera at him. As a contrast to ‘male gaze’ of Graham seen through out the film the ‘female gaze’ is seen finally. The film reflects on the perceptions about sex in post modern society, the film openly discusses about sex, love, friendship, marriage, postmodern voyeurism. It also shows that sex is a self standing subject. It does not depend upon anything.

5. Visual culture

video plays an important role in the society. Video in this film is used as an weapon. Here men tape women, women see them and again women turn video camera towards men. The use of videotape as shown in this film is postmodern in nature.

6. Voyeurism

Graham is a passive voyeur in this film. He sees women talking about sex on video. Those videotapes appear to be erotic to otherwise impotent men.

Other postmodern films

Long time companion is on social problems. In this film we see pastiche of realist and neorealist films. Wall Street discusses about money related problems in today’s society. This is a film on ideology using simple narrative. The Flu is a postmodern science fiction. Speaking Past is a self reflective cinema. Blade Runner is an experimental film which reveals postmodern condition and contradictions.

In post-modern films we can find plurality of style. With the invasion of post modern TV, cinema has lost one dominant style. Multiple styles can be seen in this films. In different channels of neoTV one can see postmodern, late modern, modern, premodern films all at a time. Their existence cannot be denied. This is an age of plurality.

Post modern films are very popular. Unlike postmodern theories these films are appreciated by the audience, since these films show what they want to see.

We have travelled the realms of postmodern cinema. We can see the post-modern characteristics discussed about some films are present in various films we see regularly. This is because of the reason that the audience and film-makers live in a post-modern society. The directors consciously or unconsciously make post-modern films. The basic formula of commercial films is ‘cater what public need’. Naturally post-modern audience of the post-modern society wants to see something which is post-modern in nature. The already discussed post-modern elements and characteristics can be found in various contemporary films.

- The article was originally published in July 2006 in the defunct e-zine angelfire.
-Pic-Brazil-Terry Gilliam

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

An Interview with Ritwik Ghatak

Our second issue looked at the legacy and the cinema of Ritwik Ghatak which has continued to thrill and find new audiences across the world.
The following Interview is from his book of essays(Cinema and I) that was later published in Rows and Rows of Fences. Both books are now out-of-print and it is a testament to the sad state of affairs of his legacy. I hope in times to come we can be instrumental in protecting, preserving and making his movies and writing accessible to a wider audiences.

Here is an excerpt from the Interview, the full Interview can be read from the link specified below.


Q. Mr. Ghatak, what inspired you to turn to film making?

R.G. You could say that I strayed into films down a zigzag path. If may father had had his way I should have been an income-tax officer. I got the job but left it to join the C.P.I. if I had stuck to it I might have become a Commissioner or Accountant General by now. But now I am only a street dog!

After quitting the job I tried writing poetry, but found myself singularly incapable of it. I shifted my interests to writing short stories and won a bit of fame. More than a hundred of them were published in ‘Desh’, ‘Parichay’, ‘Shanibarer Chithi’ and other leading magazines of Bengal.
That was when I found that literature delves deep into the soul of man, but it works slowly. It takes a long time to grow roots inside. With typical adolescent impatience I wanted to make an immediate impact, because I felt the people should be roused instantly.

Then a miracle happened – the IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association). First came Jabanbandi, then Bijon Bhattacharya’s bombshell Nabanna. They showed me that, in terms of immediate and spontaneous communication, theatre is much more effective than literature. So I gave up writing stories and turned to writing plays and organizing theatrical groups.

Then came another bit of heart searching. It was after my greatest success on stage – a prestige performance staged in the Jadavpur University campus in 1950, to coincide with the convocation inaugurated by President Radhakrishnan. I produced Tagore’s Bisharjan in which I also played the leading role. More than 8,000 persons attended the show. It was fantastic!

But this also showed me that I could only reach a maximum of 10,000 people through such a show. And so much collective labour had to be expended just for that! Then I decided to make films.

Q. Did you realize your ambition through the film medium?

R.G. Looking back I can say that I have no love lost with the film medium. I just want to convey whatever I feel about the reality around me and I want to shout. Cinema still seems to be the ideal medium for this because it can reach umpteen billions once the work is done. That is why I produce films – not for their own sake but for the sake of my people. They say that television may soon take its place. It may reach out to millions more. Then I will kick the cinema over and turn to T.V.

Q. Can you recall any particular influence that inspired you to be a film-maker?

R.G. Well, there were films like Eisentein’s Battleship Potemkin, Pudovkin’s Mother, Krakatit the Czechoslovakian film Nema Barikada by Otakar Vavra and books like Eisenstein’s Film Form, and The Film Sense, Pudovkin’s Film Technique and Film Acting. Ivor Montagu’s collection of film articles in the Penguin series, and Bela Balasz’s Theory of the film, all of which threw up a completely new world before my eyes.

Most of the films which I have mentioned were banned in India at that time. We could only see them clandestinely. That also gave a romantic aura to the whole experience. And then came the first Film Festival in India which introduced us to the Italian neo-realists. This was yet another completely new and fascinating world.All these films and books helped to develop my tastes, but they did not influence me directly. I did not become a part of any school.

Q. These persons you have mentioned, are they the greatest cineastes in your opinion?

R.G. They are not cineastes and they are not dilettantes. They are more or less pioneers in exploring this exciting medium. Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and, in a way, Dovshenko discovered a new artistic language in films. The first two were not only film makers, but were also among the first film theorists of the world. Film makers anywhere owe a debt especially to Eistentein. He have us a whole new medium of expression.

Q. Films are still perhaps the most exciting mass medium in the world today. But few directors have cared to explore its vast possibilities. Which directors or schools of film-making, in your opinion, have been exceptionally successful?

R.G. In my opnion Sergei Yuktevich and Louis Bunuel are the very greatest. But Yuktevich died recently and Bunuel, in disgust, has stopped making films as a protest against the

commercialization of this great art from. Jean-Luc Godard says that as long as film-making is not as cheap as pen and paper in this bourgeois world, good flims cannot be made. I last heard about him a few months ago from a French journalist. He has stopped making films and whiles away his time on the boulevards of Paris and in doing party-work.

Then there is a Japanese school. I am not talking about export quality film directions such as Akira Kurosawa but of directors like Mizoguchi, Ozu and Tanaka. Now there are some promising young directors among them, such as Nagisa Oshima.

In South America we have Leopold Torre Nilson; in Greece there is Michael Cacoyannis and, of course, in Sweden there is Ingmar Bergman. I don’t set much stoer by the so-called underground cinema of America, or by the British school, or by the clinically disinfected realism of poverty produced by directors such as Satyajit Ray. There is also a wave of pornographic films, which makes me furious. There may be other notable film makers but since the scope for seeing the latest works from abroad is almost non-existent in our country, I may have missed many remarkable works of art.

Q. I notice that you have not included the Italian school or the controversial ‘nouvelle vague’ movement.

R.G. Well, the Italian school seems to me be a spent force. After the Italian spark of neo-realism, which ultimately turned into fantastic realism in the hands of great masters like Federico Fellini, Antonioni, Luchino Visconti and others, it has very little else to officer. The same is true of the Polish school led by Andrej Wajda and others. In the ands of people like Roman Polanski, it tended to go towards s ort of new-existentialism. Polanksi has rightly found his heaven in Hollywood.

About the nouvelle vague, the French have a peculiar fascination for giving a label and a name to anything and everything. To me the term nouvelle vague, is a very vague and fuzzy label to attach to films like Truffaut’s ‘Quatre Cents Coups’ and the Resnais-Robbe-Grillet production l’annee Derniere a Marienbad both in the same breath. They are as different as can be. So I cannot accept this as a school. But many of these film makers are most powerful, there is no doubt about that. I do nto know what the East-European countries are doing.

Download the Interview.

- Issue no-1
- Issue no-2
- A translated Interview with the master
- Iranian Cine Experience.

Pic source-www.filmex.net