Archive for January, 2010

Theme Parks: Rahul Roy; An article in Time Out!

January 31, 2010 Leave a comment

An article in the magazine Time Out, Mumbai

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Shanty paths

bottom-up perspective of the big city

Rahul Roy

The city film

Documentary cinema is an urban animal that was born in a concrete jungle. Ever so often, the beast tries to make sense of its surroundings and understand the changes in its habitat. Documentaries about cities and their people cover a range of experiences. Ruchir Joshi’s Tales from Planet Kolkata satirises depictions of Kolkata in foreign films (notably Louis Malle’s Phantom India). Madhusree Dutta analyses Mumbai’s foundational myths and history in Seven Islands and a Metro. In City Beautiful, Rahul Roy shows us Delhi’s belly.

City Beautiful is Anand Patwardhan’s Bombay Our City for the noughties. The films are about different cities (Delhi and Mumbai) and vastly different in style (Roy is impressionistic while Patwardhan is antagonist). What links A City Beautiful and Bombay Our City is their shared concern for the city’s underbelly. City Beautiful (2003) refracts the effects of globalisation through the eyes of the two working-class families in the ironically named working-class Sundar Nagar neighbourhood in New Delhi. Roy observes the hardscrabble lives of two recently unemployed men who struggle to keep up their roles as heads of their families.

City Beautiful followed When Four Friends Meet and Majma, and all three films are “located at an intersection of gender, masculinity, the city and its labour”, said Roy. He added, “The immediate context is that such neighbourhoods have witnessed changes in family dynamics since the mid 1980s due to globalisation and structural adjustment. No one has a permanent job any more. They seem comfortable on the surface, but if you look closely, it’s a massive debt economy. The lack of permanence makes people lead extremely insecure lives.”

Though Mumbai’s slums are as visible as its high-rises, the poor have been gradually elided from New Delhi’s middle-class neighbourhood’s since the 1950s, said Roy. One of the most significant changes caused by globalisation is the increase in the number of working women. It’s more unusual to see working-class women leaving their homes for work in conservative and feudal Delhi than it is in Mumbai. “In that sense, it’s a typically Delhi story,” Roy said.

Source: Time Out, Mumbai


Theme Parks: Mani Kaul; An article in Time Out, Mumbai

January 30, 2010 Leave a comment

An article in Time Out, Mumbai.

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Novel approach
Siddheshwari overturns time-honoured documentary conventions.

Mani Kaul

Mani Kaul’s Siddheshwari, based on the life of renowned thumri singer Siddheshwari Devi, is one of the most unusual films to have been produced by the Films Division. Kaul rejects two holy tenets of documentary – linearity and exposition – and focuses on how the singer came to be immersed in classical music. He gets Mita Vasisht to play the singer and depict key events in Siddheshwari’s life (such as her early years of training and her struggle to survive as a single mother). He juxtaposes these re-stagings with recreations of Siddheshwari’s memories and epiphanies. Is it a documentary or is it fiction? Kaul, who is also one of India’s foremost experimental filmmakers, has no easy answers.

You have made several films for the Films Division, but your approach to documentary filmmaking runs contrary to the work that FD has largely produced.

In my own way I seemed to have followed the famous advice the Dutch computer scientist, Edsger Wybe Dijkstra, gave a researcher, particularly on selecting a topic for research: “Do only what only you can do.” Dijkstra’s wisdom tells us that no one is in competition with anyone else. You are unique and free because you have been careful in developing the topic for a documentary that will make you make a film only you can make. For better or for worse!

The role of documentary films is to produce free and fearless thinking in Indian cinema. Institutions such as the Films Division have accomplished admirable work when they had the courage to fund films that went beyond vested interests of the state or industry, and languished when they were treated as instruments of the state’s and the industry’s Dance and Drama Division.

Are reality and fiction too deeply intertwined to be separated?
It has never been easy to characterise the precise difference between documentary and fiction films. That the documentary uses fact and fiction film fiction is too simplistic an explanation. There are fiction films that are based on what could be called solid facts. And there are documentaries that foray into fictional construction to state a fact. Ghastly Indian realities that are reported as news every single day and eagerly lapped up by an equally ghastly readership present a world that will be difficult to fictionalise into a film, let alone made into a documentary. That is the state of our reality and fiction. Paradoxically, Indian life is at the same time choking on the “feelgood” stuff churned out by proponents of commerce, their advertising wizards and of course the state itself. They make one doubt if at the end of it all the reality might be nothing more than a piece of fiction.

Amid this confusion, rather than try to define what is fact and what is fiction and divide films into documentary and fiction categories, I find it more useful to first debate the nature of the cinematic idiom itself. A statement that Jean-Luc Godard made years back seems appropriate to cite here: cinema is not representation of reality but reality of representation. If once we understand that the truth and untruth of reality lies first in how it is represented by the filmmaker, we can take the second step: we can know that in certain cases (that I call re-presentational) where a thing or a being stands for another thing or another being, like a real human being (an actor, for instance) re-presents another (imagined) human being called a character, well, that will be often characterised as fiction. Whereas in certain other cases (that I call presentational) where a thing or a being stands for itself and not another and then presents a reality, the work will be mostly thought of as documentary.

Siddheswari is often categorised under “docu-fiction”? How do you describe the film?

By that description I presume it is implied that Siddeshwari is a mix of documentary and fictional idioms. In my view that is incorrect. I made the film by employing what I have termed as the presentational idiom. Therefore, contrary to certain assumption that Mita Vasishta plays, rather re-presents Siddeshwari in the film, every bit of that actor’s work in the film is only a presentation of Siddeshwari’s life and work, also a presentation of thumri as a poignant musical form and a presentation of the spiritual/sensuous equation in traditions of Indian art and literature, particularly the miniatures and the epics I drew much imagery and sound from. I related Mita, Mita related Siddeshwari.

Source: Time Out, Mumbai

Theme parks: Amar Kanwar; An article in Time Out, Mumbai

January 29, 2010 Leave a comment

An article from the magazine Time Out, Mumbai

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Lyrical Solutions

All isn’t well in the Republic of India

Amar Kanwar

History and violence
The 1990s was a decade of unprecedented upheaval and renewal. Political parties were in disarray, separatist movements clamoured for attention, and the new market economy sent out mixed blessings. Out of the chaos grew a new way of looking at the idea of India – more inquiring than inquisitional, more impressionistic than interventionist. Alongside the activist filmmaking of the late ’70s and ’80s, a new kind of documentary storytelling emerged. Filmmakers like Amar Kanwar, Sameera Jain and Madhusree Dutta clearly identified themselves as political activists, but they also attempted to find a different visual vocabulary to address their concerns.

One of the best examples of the new school of documentary filmmaking is Amar Kanwar’s A Night of Prophecy (2003). The film collects protest poetry from across India, including Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Nagaland. The poems give voice to feelings of anger, injustice and marginalisation. Kanwar made A Night of Prophecy after A Season Outside (1997) and a series of films about ecological destruction, for which he travelled to several conflict zones. “I felt that in spite of a very clear and strong articulation by people, nobody was listening to each other,” said Kanwar, who lives in New Delhi. “I also got the sense that the understanding of issues wasn’t enough. The form of poetry creates a certain kind of understanding that goes beyond information-based articulation.”

The film’s lyrical title stems from a hypothesis Kanwar followed during the making of the film. “An economist understands agriculture by looking at information collected over a period of time,” said Kanwar, whose The Lightning Testimonies was recently screened in Mumbai. “If you’re able to understand the passage of time in society through poetry, can you predict the future? If I were to record poetry from a certain region over a period of time, would my understanding of conflict change?”

Ultimately, Kanwar’s deeply felt explorations of conflict and violence question the government claim which is endorsed by private industry that India has made great strides over the last few decades. “Through the 1990s, and in the last nine years, the aspiration about a certain kind of India has been clearly and fully put to rest,” Kanwar said. “People have seen through the project of India. My work tries to occupy a place between hope and despair. When you get to the pits of your despair, you begin to ask questions.” A Night of Prophecy leans on the side of hope, he added. “A Night of Prophecy feels it comes out of despair. But after a while, you feel that you are now possessed with a need to figure out your future. If you’re propelled, there is hope.”

Source: Time Out, Mumbai

South Asian Film Fest @ NID!

January 28, 2010 Leave a comment

The Dept. of Film & Video Communication at NID, Paldi, Ahmedabad, in collaboration with the Magic Lantern Foundation, is hosting a 2-day Film Festival of South Asian Short & Documentary Films, on 30th & 31st of January, 2010 (Sat and Sun), between 10 am to 5.30 pm, at the NID, Paldi Auditorium. The 2-day Festival is open to the NID community. Limited number of Entry Passes will also be issued to interested citizens of Ahmedabad.

View the schedule at:

The 11 films to be shown from Under Construction in the Festival include –

01 Cosmopolis (Dir: Paromita Vohra / 13 mins)
02 Rewind (Dir: Atul Taishete / 9 mins)
03 Hope Dies Last In War (Dir: Supriyo Sen / 80 mins)
04 .in For Motion (Dir: Anirban Datta / 59 mins)
05 Notes On Man Capture (Dir: Nandini Bedi / 43 mins)
06 Every Good Marriage Begins With Tears (Dir: Simon Chambers / 60 mins)
07 Bilal (Dir: Sourav Sarangi / 88 mins)

08 Out Of Thin Air (Dir: Samreen Farooqui & Shabani Hassanwalia / 49 mins)

09 Face Like A Man (Dir: R. V. Ramani / 30 mins)
10 Tales From The Margins (Dir: Kavita Joshi / 23 mins)
11 View From A Grain Of Sand (Dir: Meena Nanji / 82 mins)

Two filmmakers from the above list, namely Supriyo Sen (Hope Dies Last In War) and Kavita Joshi (Tales From The Margins) will be present for post-screening discussions, subsequent to their respective screenings.

This short 2-day Film Festival will also be an apt curtain raiser for the “ALPAVIRAMA South Asian Short Film Festival”, which the Dept. of Film & Video Communication at NID is organising next year, between 4-6 February, 2011, as part of the NID Golden Jubilee celebrations.

Forever Young: Screening at the IIC!

January 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Forever Young, a film on the celebrated rock musician from Shillong, Lou Majaw was screened at the India International Center on Wednesday, 27th January 2010. Skillfully combining Majaw’s thoughts on music, rock poetry and today’s India with the dynamic images of various performances, Ranjan Palit evokes the spirit of his own generation and of contemporary India and its many facades. The film was well received by the audience.

Below are some pictures of the memorable event.

Some members of the audience at the display table set up by Magic Lantern Foundation

‘Lou Majaw’, the main protagonist in a still from the film.

Members of the audience in discussion with the filmmaker Ranjan Palit.

Filmmaker Ranjan Palit in conversation with the audience.

Theme Parks; ‘Anand Patwardhan’: An article in Time Out, Mumbai!

January 26, 2010 Leave a comment

An article from the magazine Time Out, Mumbai

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Reel change
Revolution flows from the lens of a camera

Anand Patwardhan

Political documentary

Anand Patwardhan is a genre by himself. He is a poster boy for the anti-establishment documentary movement that started in the mid-1970s. Patwardhan is part of a generation of leftwing filmmakers that was unabashedly activist in its approach and saw the documentary as a weapon with which to correct social wrongs, especially those committed by the government. Among the issues with which such filmmakers as Patwardhan, Tapan Bose and Deepa Dhanraj dealt were indiscriminate slum demolitions, the Bhopal gas tragedy and anti-women family planning policies.

Patwardhan’s trademark style includes footage of actual events, sharp interviews with his opponents that often made them sound foolish, and cutting between seemingly unrelated footage. “I like things to reveal themselves rather than tell people what is going on, “Patwardhan said. “Many of the things that appear shocking are not so shocking for the people who believe in them. It is only when you juxtapose their views with something else that the truth comes home.”

In the early ’90s, Patwardhan collected footage of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Rath Yatra. In Father Son and Holy War, he makes the link between a feeling of threatened masculinity among the majority Hindu community and its link with increased communal feelings. Patwardhan aims to provoke audiences into rethinking their support for the BJP. “This kind of filmmaking is becoming rare,” he said. “People react with surprise, not with horror.”

Source: Time Out, Mumbai

Market Watch: An article in Time Out, Mumbai

January 25, 2010 Leave a comment

An article in the Time Out, Mumbai (Volume 6 Issue 11) which takes a look at the distribution aspect of documentary films, the challenges in marketing documentaries.

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