What Time Reflects: In Memory of Mani Kaul, 1944-2011

One of my major influences was the French film maker Robert Bresson. Bresson’s films reflected a particular brand of Christian belief called Jansenism which manifests itself in the way leading characters are acted upon and simply surrender themselves to their fate. I believe that cinema is not so much visual as temporal. But most filmmakers concentrate on the spatio-visual aspect. This has led to certain problems. What time reflects is more contemporary than the arrangement of a set of visuals. I do not want to focus on this visual aspect in my films, but want to make the temporal primary. [Mani Kaul, ‘Interview’, ARC, November 15, 2005]

[Mani Kaul] has been described as a formalist. But the term does not do justice to the intense emotional stories that [reverberate] from the images that make up his interpretations of myth, music and [architecture]—although often they are more like collaborations with those cultural pratices and forms. He defies categorisation: to call his work non-narrative does not account for the detailed and complex narration that his camera work offers within any single scene. Even to call him an Indian film maker does not seem useful since Kaul refuses to locate his work within national or cultural subjectivities. [Ian Iqbal Rashid, ‘Asian and Asian Diaspora Programme’, RUNGH, Vol. 3, No. 2, 1995, p. 36]


Apologies for the very poor quality of this video;
its inclusion here can only be very insufficiently indicative of the film’s actual brilliance

The Indian filmmaker Mani Kaul, who grew up artistically in India’s subsidized ‘‘parallel cinema’’ (i.e., parallel to commercial cinema) in the 1970s, has worked repeatedly with Indian song traditions, including Dhrupad (1982), which mesmerizes with the sound and image of one classical music performance style designed to facilitate spiritual meditation. Such work highlights the way in which we often take sound for granted as a convenient emotional conductor.
Pat Aufderheide, Documentary Film – A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 17

Film Studies For Free was saddened to hear, via film scholar Surbhi Goel, of the death of the great Indian filmmaker Mani Kaul. Last week, it posted a list of links to studies of the works of another legendary director from that country – Ritwik Ghatak, one of Kaul’s most important teachers at the Film and Television Institute of India. But Kaul was a genuinely pioneering and deeply unconventional film artist in his own right who also became a hugely influential teacher and writer on cinema. He will be greatly missed.



    "Born in a dream": studies of Ritwik Ghatak

    Subarnarekha (lit. “Golden Line/Thread”, Ritwik Ghatak, India, 1962-65)

    All motion, in fact, has the same origin. The camera moves, so do men. Then everything comes to rest, or, various integral compositions made out of these create a whole design born in that dream.
    Ritwik Ghatak [Ritwikkumar Ghatak, Rows and rows of fences: Ritwik Ghatak on cinema (Calcutta: Seagull Books, 2000), p. 65]

    Every film is going to be more than you can see… Where the real cinema takes place is in your head.
    The notion of a film born in a dream that then manages to figure that dream in all of these movements, in all of these modulations, in all of these articulations is at the heart of Ghatak
    Adrian Martin, ‘Seven and a Half Minutes with Ritwik Ghatak (An Apprenticeship in Magic)‘, Film and Television Studies ‘Under Construction’ Seminar Series, Monash University, June 8, 2011(mp3: 1:40:38, mp4 – Video version)

    Very recently, in a much-discussed Film Comment article by David Bordwell, and in the project of a fascinating book titled The Language and Style of Film Criticism ([eds. Alex Clayton and Andrew Klevan] Routledge 2011), an old-fashioned line has been redrawn, separating the work of criticism proper (evocative, descriptive, evaluative, lyrical, etc) from the so-called ‘formalism’ of close, textual analysis (frame and audio analysis, structural segment/part breakdown, etc). I reject this distinction.

    In the lead-up to the WORLD CINEMA NOW conference this September at Monash, I propose taking seven and a half magnificent minutes – one complex scene in three parts – from Ritwik Ghatak’s Subarnarekha (The Golden Line, India, 1965) – and seeing how deeply we can dig into its sharp audiovisual beauty. Ghatak (1925-76), only now receiving the full international recognition he deserves, is a key figure for any history of cinematic forms: using the melodramatic tradition as his pivot between classicism and modernism, he elaborated a moment-to-moment style that was a form of fluid mise en scène shot through at every moment with the kind of disruptive ‘intervals’ beloved of his Master, Eisenstein. In Ghatak, scenes do not simply unfold: they open up into multiple, contesting worlds, man versus woman, old versus new, feeling versus reason, body versus song …

    Along the way of this demonstration, I hope to offer a model of how film analysis might be done, or at least how I try to do it: its possible protocols, procedures, pay-offs. Seven and a half cinematic minutes with Ghatak, plus around two musical minutes with Abdullah Ibrahim, amounting to around sixty minutes … Adrian Martin, ‘Seven and a Half Minutes with Ritwik Ghatak (An Apprenticeship in Magic)

    Today’s entry here at Film Studies For Free — a list of links to openly accessible studies of the work of the great Bengali filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak — was very much inspired by the online availability of a podcast of a lecture by Adrian Martin, Associate Professor in Film and Television Studies and co-director of the Research Unit in Film Culture and Theory at Monash University. In the lecture Martin discusses a scene in Ghatak’s Subarnarekha (lit. “Golden Line/Thread”, India, 1962-65).

    The sequence discussed by Martin may be found at 7:40 in the first of the two clips embedded above, continuing up to around six minutes through the second clip. As the above lecture abstract indicates, along the way, Martin says many important things about the practices of film criticism/analysis, and, indeed, about Film Studies more broadly. Great work, and thanks to Arts at Monash University for making it available. [Update: August 2011 – here’s a link to the video recording of the lecture. Right click on the link to save to your computer for viewing later).