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Film Appreciation Workshop with Shri P.K. Nair: Day 3

March 31, 2010 Leave a comment

Day 3 of the film appreciation workshop organised by the Sri Autobindo Centre for Arts and Communication:

The Film: Pather Panchali (Song of the little road)

Mr P.K. Nair introduced the film ‘Pather Panchali’, directed by Satyajit Ray. It is a Bengali feature film directed by Satyajit Ray and produced by the Government of the Indian state of West Bengal. Based on the Bengali novel Pather Panchali by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, the film was the directorial debut of Satyajit Ray. The first film of The Apu Trilogy, it depicts the childhood of the protagonist Apu in the rural countryside of Bengal in the 1920s.

As put forward by Mr. Nair, the film was a breakaway from the realistic cinema that the Indian audiences had been exposed to. It explored the concept of realism in a completely different sense.

A  still from the film “Pather Panchali”

Discussion on the film: Pather Panchali

We were asked as to which is the most convincing relationship in the film according to us and why?

There were several interesting answers to the above questions. Arohin, a student of Delhi University expressed that the mother – daughter relationship, as between Sarbajya and Durga appealed to him the most. Though it can also be said that Apu and Durga shared a very beautiful relationship, portrayed beautifully by Subir Bannerjee and Uma Dasgupta.

Reena, from the Magic Lantern Foundation stated that according to her, Durga was the main protagonist of the film, in the sense that every incident in the film was in some or the other way had some association with her character.

Mr. Nair also explained that the story has not been told in isolation, each character is established with context to various other characters present in the film, be it the nagging neighbour or the priests.

We were made to observe the similiarity in terms of construction of scenes in Bicycle Thieves and Pather Panchali. In the former, the father ends up stealing a bicycle, something he had been completely against, but in a way compelled by his situation to do so, while in the latter, it is seen that Sarbajya, who was against the act of her daughter stealing, ends up picking up a stray coconut from the ground, as she passes by, something that is totally unexpected of her.

We were also made to notice how there was always a silent expression of grief. None of the characters ever went into a melodramatic state, with reference to the scene wherein Sarbajya clings to the sari that Hori had brought for Durga, and collapses as she informs him that their daughter is no more.

Shri P. K. Nair, explains how to understand films as a whole.

The Film: Incident at the Old Creek

The film is almost a journey of the escape of a man from the verge of death, as he is about to be hanged for a crime that he has committed. How he swims across the shores, and runs for his life and similar sequences are repeated in the film, with a small sequence where he can see his wife and children and yearns to be with them. It is only in the end of the film that we realized that the entire sequence of events was just a dream, the film having ended with his death.

As Mr Nair put it, the film requires psychological analysis to understand the use of symbolism which is prevalent throughout the film. We discussed some of the details, as to how when the main protagonist is seen playing with sand at the joy of having escaped death from such close quarters, he smells the fragnance of the flowers, indicating his desire to be able to live, survive the unending ordeal.

The Film: ‘Solo’

‘Solo’ is a short film, which takes the viewer through the journey of a rock-climbing expedition, and deals with the idea of liberation and human nature as a whole.

To some of the participants, it came as a pleasant surprise when the protagonist releases the frog, which he had carefully kept inside his bag, into the water, its natural habitat. Mr. Nair, highlighted that if we want to highlight a particular characteristic of a person, then we have to devise scenes accordingly, which would bring that quality to the fore, which in this case, would be the example of the frog sequence wherein, we see the humanistic behaviour of the protagonist.

Mr. Nair explained the relevance of time, how the climb to the top took up most of the duration of the film, wherein the journey back to the land was at the end, for a short duration, a conscious attempt by the director to express the struggle one goes through to reach the top.

He also explained the use of sound and how different variations have been used to depict different emotions throughout the film. The film starts with the sound of the hurling wind, between the mountains, supplemented by the cry of a jackal, which is also repeated at the end of the film. Use of chorus and instrumental music to portray happiness, or harmony with nature, or fear, at times defeat, with constant overlapping of music, using technicalities of Fade in, Fade out which Mr. Nair helped us observe as we were shown the film for a second time for a better understanding.

The day ended with the film ‘Rashomon’, directed by Akira Kurosawa, leaving the participants eager to ask their questions and share their reactions about the film.

Film Appreciation Workshop with Shri P.K. Nair: Day 2

March 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Day 2 of the film appreciation workshop organised by the Sri Aurobindo Centre for Arts and Communication:

Discussion on Bicycle Thieves:

A still from the film ‘Bicycle Thieves’

The day started with an intense discussion on the film: ‘Bicycle Thieves’, directed by Victoria De Sica. The film is a simple story about an unemployed man in the depressed World War II economy of Italy. With no money and a wife and two children to support, he is desperate for work. He is delighted to at last get a good job hanging up posters, but on the sole condition that he has a bicycle which must be used for work. He is told unequivocally: “No bicycle, no job.” His wife Maria pawns their bedsheets in order to get money to redeem his bicycle from the pawnbroker. Early on in the film, Ricci’s coveted bicycle is stolen by a bold young thief who snatches it when he is hanging up a poster. The rest of the film is a journey to retrieve the bicycle.
All participants discussed their observations, as they mentioned the attention to detail, the wonderful portrayal of the father-son relationship with Antonio and Bruno.

Mr. Nair explained the how films made in the neo-realistic era kept use of the artificial lights to the least, depending more on natural resources to make the films look more realistic, stating that neo-realistic cinema is almost like an extension of the documentary school of filmmaking. He also highlighted that Antonio’s character was always placed in relation to his surroundings, be it family, colleagues, or other characters whom he interacts with through the film. He briefly described the style of direction used in the film ‘Citizen Kane’, a film that did not follow the simple style of narration.

He explained that one should put forth his/her own ideas and not be guided by the consideration of what others would like to see.

With reference to some of the scenes in the film, Mr. P.K. Nair made us notice the small details within the film, for instance one of the scenes, where Bruno is cleaning the bicycle. One can clearly see the dominance of the bicycle in the frame. As told by Mr. Nair, the film highlights several characters in the film, from the same social strata, with their own share of problems, the rampant poverty in those times. How none of the characters are portrayed as heroes nor villains, their actions guided by way of their situation, which compels them to take such drastic steps.

History of Indian Cinema:


We were shown a small film by the Lumiere Brothers, to understand the beginning of cinema. They patented a number of significant processes leading up to their film camera – most notably film perforations (originally implemented by Emile Reynaud) as a means of advancing the film through the camera and projector. The cinématographe itself was patented on 13 February 1895 and the first footage ever to be recorded using it was recorded on March 19 1895. This first film shows workers leaving the Lumière factory, followed by other sequences of gardening, breaking down of a wall.

Film: ‘The Great Train Robbery’

A still from the film ‘The Great Train Robbery’

The Great Train Robbery, a film by Edwin S. Porter, is a 12 minute film on a theft that takes place on a train. The film used a number of innovative techniques including cross cutting, double exposure composite editing, camera movement and on location shooting. Cross-cuts were a new, sophisticated editing technique. Some prints were also hand colored in certain scenes.

As Mr. P. K. Nair explained, the film uses static shots almost throughout the length of the film, barring 2 pan shots, which as is rightly said, had resulted due to sheer intuition, and was not a conscious effort on the part of the director.

Film: ‘ The Battleship Potemkin’

A still from the film ‘The Battleship Potemkin’


Mr P.K. Nair gave a brief introduction, as to how the original music written for the film could not be used since it would have led to a controversy, and how it had been rediscovered and put on to the film.

The Battleship Potemkin is a 1925 silent film directed by Sergei Eisenstein and produced by Mosfilm. It presents a dramatised version of the mutiny that occurred in 1905 when the crew of the Russian battleship Potemkin rebelled against their officers of the Tsarist regime.

The audience engaged into an interesting discussion regarding the use of montage, the conscious step taken by the director to stretch some of the scenes in the film, which as Mr. Nair explained, was an effort by the filmmaker to establish an association with similar events in the history of the world. He also mentioned that the same idea had been used by other filmmakers like Bert Hanstraa, towards a montage of time and space.

The day ended with the announcement for the next day, as all the participants eagerly await for the film “Pather Panchali’.

Cinema verite gets a boost: An article in Times of India

March 30, 2010 Leave a comment

An article in the Times of India, dated 29th March 2010.

Source: Times of India

A two-hour documentary on music band Indian Ocean hits multiplex screens this Friday. Does this hold out hope for a genre which in India has consistently been denied a commercial release?

by  Joeanna Rebello Fernandes


What’s a documentary about an ageing band doing at the multiplexes? For one, showing the commercial runners that there are cheaper ways of making a good film. For another, proving that a story from middle-class Indian life—the ellipses from anonymity to stadium success—is the sugar of cinema. And finally, that it’s sometimes the music that makes the movie.

It’s the content of this documentary that has taken it to the multiplex in the first place. It has no nuclear arguments, religious bigotry, political disclosures or anything to unnerve its corporate sponsors and invite right-wing wrath. This documentary (with its default score) has carpet appeal.

But why pick a band that’s receding into pop culture’s memory? Because the band happens to be Indian Ocean, with a bandwidth that’s broader than most. Leaving Home—The Life and Music of Indian Ocean is a 2-hour opus (whittled down from 197 hours of footage) on the germination and late commercial success of the group that woke the country to the folk traditions in its own angaan—the ballads of Bengali boatmen, the hymns of Adivasi farmers and the deliriums of Sufi mystics. They were arguably among the first to push the envelope of popular music into familiar, yet virgin ground. And what they did for Indian music, their film does for Indian talkies.

With Leaving Home picked up by Reliance’s Big Cinemas and promised a trial two-week run in their multiplexes across six cities, it has become the first documentary in recent years to cut through multi-city, multiplex, red tape.

According to Gargi Sen, a documentary distributor, the only three Indian documentarists in cinema history to score big screens are Anand Patwardhan and Madhusree Dutta whose films briefly showed in Mumbai, and Supriyo Sen, in Kolkata. She believes LH is an easier documentary to market because it’s about a popular band with a wide fan base. “It’s easier to show this music documentary than another about someone singing Kabir in the Malwa region,’’ she points out. Will LH open up the aisles for other documentaries? “I hope so, but I’m afraid not.’’ Ashish Saksena, COO Big Cinemas, explains why the franchise is going down the narrow alley. “We believe alternative content is here to stay, and we want to bring different content to our audiences. Leaving Home is an inspiring story with a huge dose of reality, and it will be well-received. We’re the first to screen a documentary commercially. There is a time for everything—we have been following the documentary for the last couple of years. It all just fell into place right now.’’

The film is an unglamorous cross-section of an unglamorous band which practised for 14 years in a 100-year-old rented bungalow on Karol Baug that was once the lair of Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

But from the opening shots of streetside Delhi, the viewer is hooked by Indian Ocean’s earthy alloys—their disparate rhythmic and social reverberations—that mark the synapses in the narrative. “I wanted to expose the audience to Indian Ocean’s music in such a way that someone who has never heard their sound is drawn in gradually,’’ says director Jaideep Varma.

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Film Appreciation Workshop with Shri P.K. Nair: Day 1

March 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Day 1 of the Film appreciation Workshop with Shri P.K. Nair, organised by the Sri Autobindo Centre for Arts and Communication started on a fresh note, with the course being open to students of the institute as well as the general public, thereby providing a better platform for discussion.

As all the participants gathered in the auditorium, a small musical piece was played for silent contemplation, before the course started.

Shankhajeet De, from the Sri Aurbindo Centre for Arts and Communication, introduced Shri P.K. Nair, Film Archivist, film scholar and film festival consultant, and the founder director of the National Film Archive of India. A dedicated film archivist and film historian, he has made an in-depth study of Indian silent cinema and written and lectured extensively on theoretical and cultural aspects of the evolution of Cinema as a medium of communication and art form. And guided several Indian and foreign research scholars.

Shri P. K. Nair in conversation with the participants.

In 2007, he has been bestowed with the life time achievement award by the Culture Ministry of Kerala Govt. for his contribution to Indian and Malayalam Cinema. In 2008, he was honoured with the Satyajit Ray Memorial Award for his outstanding contribution in disseminating film culture in the country. He continues to be actively involved in film archiving, film teaching and writing.

Shri P.K. Nair spoke about the basics of filmmaking, the essence of communication, .. that is to communicate a thought to another, one should be very clear at the back of his/her mind about what he/she wants. Also, he spoke about the importance of recording one’s thoughts, in some medium or the other, so that the person to whom one wants to communicate should have access to it at all times.

He explained the phenomenon of ‘Persistence of Vision’ and its relevance in the world of cinema, the emergence of action cinema, about how cinema came about as a medium to capture life and its moments. He said that a film is crafted by the order of the images within, which can lead to make or break the film.

All the participants introduced themselves, with students from various educational backgrounds, some students from commerce, from advertising, others from Film and Video Department, and of course, 3 members from the Magic Lantern Foundation were also present at the course.

The session started with the screening of the film: ‘ZOO’ by Bert Hanstraa:

A still from the film ‘ZOO’ by Bert Hanstraa

A film which uses ensemble imagery to draw similiarities between animals and humans, but from the perspective of the animal. Many of the participants could draw only one conclusion from the film: that the film attempts to bridge the gap between humans and animals. An interesting observation from Ranjan De, one of the members of the Magic Lantern Foundation, said that the film tries to draw a comment on the fact that animals are caged, and the humans are superior, with an attempt to highlight the switching borders.

After having heard the reactions of the participants, Shri P.K. Nair highlighted on the usage of symbolism throughout the film, as the opening and closing sequence of the film, the use of iron bars and wire mesh, signifying forceful confinement. He also made us observe the use of recurring images in the film, and its significance therein. We were asked to observe the smallest of details, which are bound to miss one’s eye. We were also explained the relevance of various shots in the film.

A still from the film ‘Glass’ by Bert Hanstraa

Post the tea break, we were shown the film ‘Glass’, another classic by ‘Bert Hanstraa’. After the film got over, he gave a little background as to how he ended up making the film. That though it was a project funded by the Dutch Government as a film to promote the glass making factory. He accepted the project on only one condition, that he would be allowed to use some footage from the entire film to make his own film, and so he did, to make a film that won awards galore.

The elements tackled in the film were: Man and Machine. This film evoked interesting and different responses from the participants. Arohin, from Maharaja Agrasen College, Delhi University drew the comment that man’s life has been made easier by the use of machines, yet machines can also go wrong at times. Shri P.K. Nair highlighted that the film had a poetic rhythm to it, as highlighted by the changing background music, and changing color.

The first day of the workshop ended with the screening of the film ‘ Bicycle Theives’ directed by Vittorio De Sica. Shri P. K. Nair introduced the film in an interesting manner, quoting the thoughts of a critic, who was hounded by the thought of whether Antonio actually was able to retrieve his cycle. Everyone left the auditorium looking forward to the discussion to be held on the film next day.

A still from the film ‘Bicycle Theives’

‘Heavy on morality, light on ethics’: The Statesman

March 26, 2010 Leave a comment

An article in The Statesman newspaper,

‘Heavy on morality, light on ethics’
Source: The Statesman
22 March 2010

Is television the new god of millions of Indians who are hooked to its various programmes that range from telling one what gemstone to wear, to what products to buy, to what is happening in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Meerut? shoma a chatterji dwells on a shocking documentary that looks beyond the frames that weave the frenetic tapestry of “Breaking News”

IN the winter of 2005, Indians switched on their TV sets to watch yet another “breaking news” story – and what they saw was shocking indeed. In Meerut, police officers, mostly women, swooped down on lovers in a park and began beating them up. They were accompanied by photographers and news cameramen whom they’d invited along with the promise of an exclusive sting operation tellingly named Operation Majnu. Public Service Broadcasting Trust, Delhi, that produced the film, did not in any way interfere with its making.

What is the story behind this news story? Morality TV Aur Loving Jehad – Ek Manohar Kahani, a shocking documentary by Paromita Vohra, looks beyond the frames that weave the frenetic tapestry of “Breaking News” on India’s news channels to uncover a town’s complex dynamics – the fear of love, the constant scrutiny and control of women’s mobility and sexuality, a history of communal violence, caste brutalisation and feudal equations. Assuming the tone of pulp fiction and tabloid features, it examines the legacy of this kind of story-telling — from the relishing accounts of true crime magazines like Manohar Kahaniyan to the double morality of pulp detective fiction to the tabloid news on Indian TV — to unfold a thrilling but disturbing tale of its own.

The film was acclaimed at Stuttgart (Bollywood and Beyond, 2008), Berlin (Asian Hot Shots), Mumbai International Film Festival, 2008 (Competition) and the Bangalore International Festival, 2008. It won the Best Short Documentary Award at the International Video Festival of Kerala, 2008, and is being screened in Hyderabad at the Resistance and Perspective Film Festival this month (The festival had been cited wrongly as Resistance and Perspective in the article instead of Persistence Resistance. For more on the festival, log on to Persistance Resistance @ Hyderabad.) The opening frames are so peaceful that one is not prepared for the audiovisual shocks that follow. We see birds fly across an azure sky as the female voice-over in Hindi tells us, “For centuries, Indians have begun the day with sun worship.” The scene changes to a television screen and the voice-over now says, “TVC’s astrological gemstones have transformed the deity of millions,” setting the film’s tone. Is television the new god of millions of Indians who are hooked to its various programmes that tell one what gemstone to wear when and for what results, to what products to buy at cheap rates to what is happening in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Meerut?

Says Paromita Vohra, “I have had a troubled relationship with the idea of the exposé, with an ‘investigative’ story that will finally reveal and fix the culprits, from the time I began making documentary films. I felt that though self-aggrandisement and easy understanding are inherent in such stories, they are also wrought with problems. I felt it was a violent idea that needed to be executed seriously. The complexity of such situations needed to be understood properly. I felt this shows that we do not really live in a world of pure justice and democracy because when the media (television) and/or the police speak this language, they also speak a language heavy on morality, light on ethics.”

The narrative is anchored to the fictitious love story of the young and beautiful Meenu, who sets out for work every morning but, before going to work, she goes to meet her boyfriend at their secret rendezvous. “Little did this tender bud know the end of this thrilling tale. Her intoxication made her forget that whoever touches the double-edged dagger is sure to be cut.” Her story recurs like a thread that weaves the film into one cohesive whole. The camera and sound track cut into the voice-over of Rakhee Sawant with visuals as she complains about being kissed in public view at singer Mika’s birthday. When asked to respond, Mika sings a song. We see a smiling Rajat Sharma attack her with his acidic questions in his popular show.

The scenario shifts to Meerut, December 2006. Nitin Sabrangi, a writer in Satyakatha, a true-crime story magazine that sells very well in Meerut, says, “The new generation police have a strange psyche. That is why they took the media along (meaning television channels) to ‘publicise’ their good work. The whole thing was planned so that news channels could get exciting footage.” But things took a different turn. The media got its scoop but it backfired on the police. No one knows who gave the name Operation Majnu to this attack on innocent young men and women at Gandhi Bag in Meerut by the police, led by a woman named Mamta Gautam, who beat up the girls and young women for ‘indecent’ behaviour in public.
Gautam’s “back story” is narrated by a victim, Priyanka, who was beaten up for resting with her brother at Gandhi Bag that day. Priyanka says that when she went to lodge a FIR against torture by her in-laws, Gautam demanded Rs 10,000 and threatened her that if she did not pay up she would “Teach you the lesson of your life”. The film shows a scramble for sound bytes in Gandhi Bag as journalists, camerapersons and other staff from different news channels fight with each other for bytes to get the “breaking news” first.

For the first time in Meerut’s history, a minor story, unconnected to public life, took such proportions. The incident led to a marathon race between and among news channels across the board, sensationalising the news rather than keeping it factual. Three days were filled with live telecasts, interviewing youngsters, political workers, journalists, writers and so on. The film goes on to say that a young couple, Bittu and Anshu, eloped after Operation Majnu. The film draws upon other related stories like the sting operation on Shakti Kapoor some years ago, Julie, the young girl from a doctor’s family in Delhi, who fell in love with her Hindi professor and began a torrid live-in relationship with him, magazines like Manohar Kahaniyan and Madhur Kathayen that sell sleaze in the guise of truth.

Says Paromita Vohra, “From Tehelka to the Shakti Kapoor story, the sting operation has become the accepted language of television news. When I saw the Operation Majnu story I felt as if this language had come to a culminating moment – one that justifies violence in the name of righteous indignation. I also wondered how, in this atmosphere of heavy moralising – whether political or personal – a young person was to find a true, meaningful, relevant articulation of personal relationships and his/her intimate journey in the world.”

She says her film questions the police censorship and atrocity on the freedom of choice of young individuals to seek and find space for legitimate love that does not transcend barriers of public decency in any way. But by the time the film ends, the message that comes across is a film that is a powerful socio-political critique on the media’s approach to news bytes that are titillating and sensational enough to raise the channels’ TRPs. They are willing to do this at any cost even if this mens conspiring with the police.

One television journalist says, “For two days, I kept trying to explain to my channel that this story was a set-up, that the media was hand-in-glove with the cops. I told them that the police wanted some cheap publicity and the media wanted some spicy news.” But no one listened to him.

The film justifies cinema as a rich visual medium with a virtual flood of images, repeated shots of multiple television screens, collages of cheap romance magazines that sell like hot cakes, heart-shaped pink balloons filling the skyscape, to close in on the history of Meerut that has always been the bedrock for sensational stories. There is a flashback to the 1987 Hashimpura killing of 42 Muslims who were shot dead, their bodies dumped into a canal, but who have not got justice till date. The film closes on the notes of the famous song from Julie that goes, My Heart is beating…on the soundtrack. Anshu and Bittu came back and their families married them off.

Morality TV Aur Loving Jehad – Ek Manohar Kahani is being widely screened in media schools and other audience groups. “I feel I have been able to use an idiomatic and complex style with the help of an excellent crew – cameraperson Mukul Kishore, editor Sankalp Meshram and music composer Chirantan Bhatt,” says Vohra. And yet, at the end of it all, she adds, “I am uncomfortable with words like media-bashing, etc, because I do not consider this a blame game, but rather a moment to reflect for those who make this news and for those of us who watch it.”


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Under Construction @ Leftword, Yodakin, People Tree

March 26, 2010 Leave a comment

The Magic Lantern Foundation is happy to announce that Under Construction films are now available at the Leftword Bookstore, People Tree Store in Connaught Place, New Delhi and at the Yoda Press Bookstore in Hauz Khas village.

Some photographs of the bookstores which have put up Under Construction films on display.

Under Construction films at the Leftword Bookstore

Sudhanva Deshpande at the Leftword Bookstore

The Yodakin bookstore at Hauz Khas village

Under Construction films at the Yodakin Bookstore

Film Appreciation workshop with Shri P.K. Nair

March 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Twilight Film Club of Sri Aurobindo Centre for Arts & Communication organizes a 5 day introductory workshop on Film appreciation with legendary film historian and archivist P. K. Nair. This course will initiate the participants into better understanding of cinematic expression with a historical over view. The workshop will be held from 9.30 am – 8.30pm I Monday 29th March – Friday 2nd April 2010. The workshop schedule and other details attached in PDF format for your perusal.  The workshop requires online registration at www.sac.ac.in/fapkn10 along with a participation fee of Rs. 2,500/- and Rs.1,500/- for alumni of SACAC. The seats are limited and the last date of registration is Saturday 27th March 2010.

For more information on the course, log on to: http://www.sac.ac.in/fapkn10/