Posts tagged ‘Mani Kaul’

August 16, 2012

Making A Short Film

We recently took on the challenge of making a film in 48 hours for the 48 Hour Film Project, Delhi chapter. We have made a couple of films before, but nothing too worthy or too up-to-the-mark. This was an opportunity to pressure ourselves and come up with something novel, and interesting, in just two days. Two days is a very short time, even for a short film, and the lack of experience intoxicated with sleep deprivation took its toll on each and every member of the team. Needless to say, we lost the challenge. The film couldn’t be completed in the allotted time. But the film was shot, edited and is in the process of being made, for ourselves (and other festivals) more than anything else. On such a tight schedule and low budgets (which translates to everyone-does-everything), we learned more than we were hoping to, or even imagined. The best thing to do is to put these learnings down for future reference as well as for the benefit of the readers who are interested in making films their own way.

If you are a filmmaker who subscribes to the Godardian school of thought that a film is not a story then initiating a film becomes very difficult. Having been brought up on Bollywood, it is extremely difficult to see the story (plot) from the outside, from the point of view of a cinematic art form. The story becomes redundant after a while and the form of the film takes over. This, to many, may sound farcical and even incorrect but it is the truest representation of the story. If a woman is waiting for someone then the film must demand that same wait from the viewer (Mani Kaul’s Uski Roti), or if a killer is terrorizing the living daylights out of its adversaries  then the blood and gore must reflect that terror, even if it seems unnatural (Tarantino’s Kill Bill). So, the form of the film must go hand-in-hand with the story, right from the start. There is no way out of this.

Locations are an important part of any film and more so for short films because they impart character instantly, without much effort by the camera or the actors. So, choosing a location that fits well with the story and the form of the film is crucial. When the camera moves around in the alleys of a suburb then the alley, with its shops, houses, clothes hanging from the balconies and kids playing, becomes a new character of the film (Gillo Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers). On the other hand there might be films that downplay the locations because giving the setting a character might be too specific for the storyline (Dibakar’s Shanghai). So, choosing a location that gives a helping hand to the narrative must be a priority.

The actors must rehearse before the filming starts. For a short film, many tend to ignore the fact that the most prominent visual element is still the actor. And by rehearsal I don’t mean an extensive workshop with a theatre group to get into the skin of the character; just a familiarity with the lines and the co-actors would do. In a film, unlike theatre, an actor might have to repeat lines for the benefit of camera angles. And many a times these repetitions are devoid of context. All the more reason for rehearsals as the actors will be familiar with emotions, movements and voice modulation for a given sentence.

One of the more technical aspects of shooting is to maintain a TC for all shots being taken. TC is nothing but a system of time coding your shots, so as to identify the OK shots quickly while on the edit table. Short film crews are usually small and assigning one person with the task of maintaining the TC is not practical. He might miss noting down some shots as he is too engrossed in watching whether the actors are doing right, the frame is looking correct or he might be busy running an errand, or holding the reflector. So, another way of doing this is to have a clap board kind of a device which can be written upon and erased. All that needs to be done is to write the scene number, take number and the audio take number (if using sync sound) and place the board in front of the camera after rolling. This will make sure that every video file starts from a slate with numbers to identify the scene and the take. And the cameraman can easily do this himself. There are many novel methods to make sure that the editing goes smoothly, and each filmmaker might conform to what suits him best. But the key is to maintain a TC.

Film is an audio-visual medium. While focusing on the visuals, it is easy to forget about the audio and in the end the camera audio capture is used. This takes away from the film. It adds unnecessary noise and may even be distracting in case of an outdoor shoot. While thinking about the camera movements and scene transitions, it is very important to write down the corresponding audio. An intense conversation in the bedroom that demands attention of the viewers will be ruined if the external sounds of the traffic, people moving up and down the stairs etc. are allowed to interfere. But the same scene might get infused with more tension if the sound of flowing water is maintained (Anurag’s Dev D). Many Iranian films use 360 degree sounds. Even these are recorded separately and mixed. Short filmmakers might not have the equipment or the resources but they can certainly have the right intent. A simple Dictaphone works wonders as far as capturing sound is concerned.

Editing is something that is very technical and precise in nature. It is lining up of the shot sequences in a pre-determined order. This sounds easy but requires an understanding of the software, as well as the film. Lining up the scenes must not be perceived as a mechanical task. The editor must also realize that there is a certain feel that needs to be imparted to the whole film. So, the transitions from one scene to the other might be an abrupt cut or a fade-out/fade-in, depending on the flow of the film. A montage of abrupt cuts highlights the timelessness and the fast paced lives of people in the film (Ram Gopal Verma’s Company), or a 5 minute long sequence slowly dissolving into black shows the mundane routine lives (Bela Tarr’s Satantango). Many say that the edit makes the film. This might be true if the edit is in sync with the rhythm of the film. If cinema is an art form, then the editor needs to be an artist too, and not just an operator.

Apart from these elaborate themes, some small but important paraphernalia of filmmaking are: measuring tape to maintain frame size by noting positions of actors/objects with respect to the camera, duct tape to mark the position of actors and camera and a reflector (thermocol sheet would do) to ensure that the actor’s face is not in shadow.

Needless to say, this is nowhere near to being exhaustive. But every new film is a learning in itself and as newbie short filmmakers, we hope to incorporate as many creative and procedural aspects of filmmaking with every subsequent film we make. Let’s keep making films and hope that we get a hold of our own way of filmmaking as soon as possible.

June 1, 2012

Indian cinema is celebrating its 100 years.

Part 2: Cinema Unlimited

Critics and film buffs across India term the past few years as the new Indian New Wave, a kind of resurgence of Indian cinema. A novelty that one probably never saw apart from the parallel cinema movement of the 50’s and 60’s, a few NFDC gimmicks dispersed throughout the last century and masterpieces by the great Indian filmmakers who are not limited by classifications – Ray and Ghatak in Bengali cinema, Adoor in Malayalam cinema and Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahani with their revolutionary ideas in Hindi cinema. It would be very unfair not to mention names like Chetan Anand, Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy and Mrinal Sen in this context. But all these movements, experiments and geniuses were then. Now is the age for commercial blockbusters and market savvy films. In this environment of mass consumption and commoditized cinema, when people say that Indian cinema is seeing a creative spurt, then filmmakers must be creating something that is worth a keen look.

I think this reinvention started with Mani Ratnam, a Tamil, Telegu, Kannad and Malayalam filmmaker who was as poetic in his screenplay on paper, as he was on shot direction with a camera. Some of his films not only garnered critical acclaim but were huge commercial successes as well. This might be one of the primary inspirations for other filmmakers to be bold and venture into the long forgotten territory of conscious cinema that also makes some dough. Mani’s Nayagan is one of my favourite films and the credit must be shared with Kamal Haasan the actor. His venture into Hindi cinema with the dubbed Roja and Bombay still have the ability to give you goose bumps with their beautiful, almost picture perfect frames and hardcore-to-the-point-of-disturbing subjects. This terror trail was bracketed at the end by Dil Se, a Hindi film that was so stylishly European that it was a huge dud at the Indian box office (but a hit overseas). And in any case, it is hard to make a hit out of a love story destined to end tragically from the very first shots of the film.


fires and barbed wires

The stylization was also evident in the amazing cinematography and lighting used by the duo of Mani Ratnam and Santosh Sivan. The dilemma of staying put or walking away was a constant throughout the movie and never better established than through the following scene of a radio studio where the door constantly shuts and opens, leaving the actors in an uncertain light.


These films were followed by one of the most exciting Indian film in recent years. I am talking about the ingenious direction of Ram Gopal Verma (exec producer of Dil Se), to a maverick screenplay by Anurag Kashyap, for a seminal film that Mumbai loves, Satya. The underworld had always been in a love tango with Indian cinema. Despite having a primarily Bomaby-centric focus, films across most Indian languages did not shy away from these goons. The style, overbearing persona and the rise and fall storyline was always a hit with the crowds and formed a plot base for many Indian films. But Satya was different. RGV was so assured and knew what he wanted from every frame. The scene where Bhiku proclaims himself the king of Bombay is so ironically structured against the vastness of the sea with the high rises in the background, and a small Bhiku standing like a spec of dirt on this beautiful landscape. Ominous.

The joke will be on him!

Satya also had a protagonist who was not stylish at all. Kashyap must have been in a fix while presenting his script because his hero (villain) was so human. In fact this representation of a pathetic hero is still a prominent feature in all of Kashyap’s films.

This brings us to the prince of the new Indian cinema, Anurag Kashyap. His struggles to reach where he is today (in Cannes, to be precise) have already become legends in screen writers’ and directors’ folklore. The defiant young man who got inspired by The Bicycle Thieves has made several films, written numerous ones and been a producer to many new talents. With two banned films, many box office flops, one hit and a 5+ hour long opus to be released soon, Kashyap seems to have been juggling around with a lot ideas and creative outbursts. Being a little more international in his approach to cinema as a business, he is giving TED talks and attending various festivals across the globe. The idea is novel, and Indian cinema needs to be exposed to the foreign lands, but what about the Indian audiences? Taking films abroad is different than bringing films to India. A new wave is not only about going to Cannes. It is as much about appreciating one’s own Cannes.

Khosla Ka Ghosla. Oye Lucky Lucky Oye. Love Sex Aur Dokha. If you have seen these films then you know the genius the man behind them is. Dibakar is a true artist when it comes to film making. His style is not permanent and his idea of cinema comes from life itself. The characters in his films are unique, real and funny. Even in LSD, the element of funny was never let go off. West Delhi is his playground and he has proven that with the perfect OLLO. Watching it in a theatre was strangely exhilarating for me. As the three roles of Paresh Rawal unfolded, the film started making sense. It was not just a story of a petty robber making it big; it was a personal journey of a young man searching for his father. Dibakar makes certain that each character has a part to play, and no one is a mere spectator. It is almost Chekovian. His next is Shanghai, an adaptation of the novel Z. It will be a great film.

In all this talk of the new kind of cinema that India is seeing, there has to be a mention of a certain screenplay writer who has shown the potential that Indian cinema can tap from classic resources which have been done to death in the first world. Vishal Bhardwaj has adapted two of Shakespeare’s plays for screen, and both the films are mouth watering to say the least. While Maqbool was dark and minimal, Omkara was loud and gory. The bard would have been proud.

Being an Indian native, I am really sorry not to have mentioned some of the Tamil and Marathi cinema that has also contributed a great deal towards this cinema explosion off late. I have seen the reputed and National award winning stuff coming out of regional centres but I cannot boast of being in the know about these cinemas. Films like Shwaas, Harishchandrachi Factory and Deool are good films that need to be seen by India. When film buffs have to wait for a film to be recognized by a national award before knowing its name, then there is definitely something limiting about this new wave of Indian cinema. But, I hope, like all art movements, this one will spread and reach every region of the country. Time is not a constraint. It can happen tomorrow or two decades down the line. What is important is to strive for a complete, unlimited Indian cinema.

December 28, 2011

Deaths, 2011

Some would say that this festive time of the year is probably not the right time for this post, but the beauty of life is only heightened by the sense of grief and loss. This post is both a remembrance and a short prayer.

This year was a sad one for Indian art. We lost true souls who were loved by many and respected by all for their passion, consciousness, commitment and humanness.

Badal Sircar, one of the greatest practitioners of theatre in India, was the pioneer of the Theatre of Synthesis – Third Theatre (First being rural, second being urban; to put it crudely). Constantly transcending convention to create relevance for the audience as well as the participants of theatre, Sircar forced critics, peers and theorists to wake up and take notice. A writer of proscenium plays, he evolved into writing and directing non-proscenium drama and took to mentoring young theatre artists in the later part of his life. He advocated and practiced the concept of free theatre through his group Satabdi, one of his under-acknowledged but most important achievements. All those in awe of this great artist must read .

Dev Anand was not only a superstar but also a writer, director and producer. Dev Sahab was a patron of many talented artists in Hindi cinema; the list includes Guru Dutt, Waheeda Rehman, S.D. (in Hindi cinema), Shekhar Kapur, Sahir, Majrooh and many more. He was style icon, swaying in his own unique way while giving lip to some of the greatest songs of Kishore, Rafi and Hemant Kumar. He was offered Amitabh’s role in Sholay. Superstars don’t have just one song (that too without a heroine), they don’t play equal to a fellow buddy and they definitely don’t die at the end.

Jagjit Singh’s was one of the few voices that could make a jaat cry. A great ghazal singer of all time, Jagjit sang a wide range of songs from traditional ghazals, classical renditions like thumri to Hindi film songs, Hindi (almost) pop. At his peak, he was unparalleled when it came to live singing. Some of his concerts are legendary (youtube him). It’s almost frightening to realize that after him, India will not have a ghazal singer. This soul invoking form of singing will die.

Mani Kaul is the latest addition to our list of great film directors. And some of his films are the latest addition to our (very, very) limited film collection. He made his first film at the age of 25, Uski Roti. Please watch it. A student of Ritwik Ghatak at the FTII, Kaul was a well educated genius. His films speak a different language and require different tools of appreciation. Excruciatingly painful, is the phrase a friend uses to describe his work. Well said. Sadly, his films are not easily available. They are solely under the ‘care’ of the film archives in Pune. Look out for them on the DD network or a film festival (retrospective as they call it, one almost feels that an artist has to be dead for his work to be available for appreciation). Some are available with us as well.

Satyadev Dubey could be seen standing outside Prithvi (theatre, Mumbai), smoking, talking a bunch of eager and young actors, directors or writers. He was old and sick in his last days but still took time out to watch a new production. A writer, actor and above all a director, Dubey was a brave genius. He was (in) famous for twisting plots, jarring the narratives and extracting absurd meanings out of old theatre texts. His interpretations were as much personal as they were relevant, maybe because of being given this unique personality, they became relevant. He enjoyed the pleasure of working with Vijay Tendulkar, Girish Karad and Badal Sircar. And his favourite actor (to direct and to watch) was Amrish Puri, kind of says it all doesn’t it. Many might not know this but he was a RSS cadet. An irreverent right-leaning theatre artist, such a heady combination!

Shammi Kapoor introduced the playboy category of heroes in Hindi cinema. He might have been the first real bad boy on screen. And the first real dancer too. His career was buoyed by the perfect singer-actor partnership with Rafi.

M.F.Hussain shouldn’t even be mentioned here under the category of Indian artists, but we aren’t strictly politically correct are we. An eccentric artist with loads of money, many classic sports cars and no footwear, Hussain’s artwork was critiqued by greats like Picasso. He was definitely someone who inspired many young painters throughout the world. On his demise, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray said, “He only slipped up on the depiction of Hindu gods and goddesses. Otherwise, he was happy and content in his field. If his demise is a loss for modern art, then so be it. May his Allah give him peace!”. His Allah surely will.

Pt. Bhimsen Joshi was known for his powerful voice, amazing breath control, musical sensibility and grasp of the fundamentals. Trained in the Hindustani Classical style (Kirana Gharana), he strove to achieve balance between what may be termed as traditional values and mass-culture tastes. You can find his recordings in the AIR archives, or even in decent music stores (HMV). Most insufficiently educated Indians only recognize him through a state sponsored national integration song, Miley Sur Mera Tumhara.

Bhupen Hazarika was a lyricist, musician, singer, poet and film maker from Assam. Very well educated and well travelled, he was an iconic Indian artist recognized for his art globally. Hazarika was an active member of IPTA in his youth and his gutsy writings were avowedly anti-establishment. Not quite a household name beyond Bengal, his multi-faceted talents are relatively unfamiliar to mainland India.

M.A.K. Pataudi was a Nawab, on the field as well. Youngest Indian captain (22+) and a brilliant fielder (he is credited with bringing this fine art to Indian cricket). India won its first overseas series under Pataudi (New Zealand). He played for Winchester (school), Oxford (university), Sussex (county), Delhi and Hyderabad (Ranji). He injured his right eye permanently but continued to play the game, learning to play with just one good eye. Well, he wasn’t called the Tiger for nothing.

September 26, 2011

When Art Inspires Artists

The greatest excitement about art is the process of creating it. Yes. It is.

When that illusive bolt of lightning strikes; you know what hand gesture would give that missing edge to the character, or what blocking would elevate the play to a new meaning altogether, or even when you haven’t a clue about stuff, nature conspires to give you that perfect shot on camera.

I would call all this inspiration, in a sense, to keep going on. To keep at it. And above all, I think that such akaashvani tells you point-blank that you are an artist. Good or bad? Well, that’s subjective really. I believe that if you are conscious towards your art, you are good. I would be digressing if I go into details here.

What is this force, this power that clicks you towards genius? Is it an external power, a subconscious one or something naturally within? Art academicians, psychologists and others interested might answer this, but to practitioners one thing is evident, this thing keeps evolving. These moments of ecstasy increase as you live life; more plays in your profile, well read about something (one), worked with different people, seen more of this world and so on. But sometimes, for those tiny nanoseconds of your life, you stand aside this constant growth and just let it sink in. You get inspired, truly. You want to shout with joy. You are fanatic. You become a fan.

One such moment in my recent life was watching Satah Se Uthata Admi, a film by the great Mani Kaul. Oh, what cinema! Pure genius! It’s so difficult to take up a subject, dive right into it, manage to take the audience along with you, and still come out of it unscathed. No harm’s done. I mean, keeping the viewer distanced from the art is difficult in theatre itself, let alone a film. The film is about a Hindi writer, Muktibodh – I read some of his poems after watching the film, he wrote brilliantly. Being a biographical film, Satah is not your traditional docudrama. It is a fictional journey of a poet into his life, his friends’ life and a life that he imagines when engrossed in literature (his own and sometime Muktibodh’s). All these narratives are overlapping, no state remains isolated from the other. Reality of one segment is a reality of the other as well. There is no shying away from it. Some examples now –

A cup of tea kept at the bedside in the morning is left untouched. It appears again in another narrative, but this time inside a fridge, after all it must have gotten cold by now!

A tired looking Hindu teacher shares a casual walk back home with a maulvi inside an evidently Muslim colony. The next thing you see is the dawn of a new day with saffron clad young men on horseback entering the colony. And to make it just a tad celebratory (and ironic), there is a brass band playing (with no background sound! It is silent!) as the violence begins.

This and many more such ‘realities’ are brought in front of the characters in the film, Mani Kaul behind the camera and to an extent the viewer sitting in the auditorium, watching. This debate between reality and fantasy, practical and ideal, theory and practice…is the essence of this film. Should the artist go deeper within to create something or should he get inspired from the realities outside? I see that we are back to where we started. I guess some arguments are lifelong. Or maybe Mani Kaul understood it all, he knew the answer. I guess I will have to watch the film many more times to find out.

Trust me, you have to see it to get it. And you will get it. It’s a piece of cake, this film. The difficult part begins when you realize that this film is twisting your innards and making you think. And think. About things that are cruel, sad, happy, mundane.

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