The Frozen Scream- #Sundayreading #Cinema


By Sayan Bhattacharya, Kindle Magazine

2013-02-03

English: Govind Nihalani, noted Indian film di...

Be it the searing Drohkaal or the complex Drishti, Govind Nihalani has dealt with diverse subject. One of the leading lights of the New Wave talks about the animation genre, the power of melodrama, his influences and more.

You are returning to the big screen with the animation film Kamlu Happy Happy… why animation? 

Because I love it! Because I just love the medium and I became aware of this medium and the possibilities of it with my association with Mr. Ram Mohan who is the father of animation in India.

From a very early stage, when I came to Bombay , which is about more than 30 years back , and ever since, I always wanted to do something in it. The first stage was that I didn’t have any confidence and asubject which excited me enough. And then at that time the technology was not very advanced, so it was very expensive and it did not exist in India as a viable format for cinema. It’s only after when the markets opened up, when new technology came in, then we became aware of what technology is doing to animation – 3D technology and even in 2D, they have developed some softwares which make it very fast and very exciting. But ultimately the tables were turned when Hanuman was released.

It did so well… 

Its success was phenomenal and people started looking at it as a possible medium where you could get some investment. Add to that, the fact that when the technology came into India, several studios started outsourcing for the foreign companies. They would get the design and the script and the storyboards from abroad, they would execute the job and send it back; there was no original content. But that industry was doing fairly well. Then you know several people started feeling that there is so much potential, commercial potential, so why shouldn’t we have our own original content in animation. Well, I heard so many people were doing so many things and you know in industry forums, entertainment industry forums like FICCI frames and all that which I attended, and I discovered that there was a lot of potential and animation was a very viable medium but only internationally. We didn’t have enough market in India to even recover the investment, so that was again a bit of a dampener. But after Hanuman, as I said, the doors have started opening and then I took the pledge, wrote my own story and script, conceived the characters and then approached people. But at that time also, there was no investor coming in.

Which year was this? 

2005, after my film Dev released. I thought let’s give it a shot and it would get over in 2 years. I had to produce it myself and then we ran into a few problems and now finally it’s over.

Why a children’s film? Were you seeking some breathing space after the heavily political Dev?

No! No! There was no question of relief, because films are about your sensibilities. It was just that I love the medium. I like the excitement of making an animation film.
It is not a children’s film. See children are always a main driving agent for animation. But then you have children films like Tom and Jerry, mine is not that. So this is a film for the family where I am sure if you go, you will enjoy it. Walt Disney once said that, “Animation films are for the child in the adults” and then somebody came up and said “There are films which are for the adults in the children”. So a certain intelligence level should be there in the children to appreciate certain kind of films because animation is a medium where the films are very strictly divided into bands – 3yrs to 5 yrs, 5yrs-9yrs and above 9 yrs, so you make the script, a design for those audience bands. I didn’t want to confine myself because I wanted my film to be a little more accessible to a fairly large audience and  I didn’t want an adult to come and say “What a kiddy stuff!”And I watched this film with some kids in a trial at my own studio and they were screaming. Particularly when the action came. So that’s how it happened. It’s a happy film… a very celebratory film…
So in these violent times when you are making such a celebratory film like Kamlu Happy Happy, is there also idealogical intent to that? 

When you see the film you will perhaps find some references to the modern things and I’m sure that the critics will come down heavily and say “What is this stupid reference doing in an animation film?” but one has to deal with that kind of criticism also. I don’t bother. But the fact is that there are certain concerns that will remain and simply because yeh toh phir aisi baat hui ki jo hamesha raag darbari gaata hai woh  pahadi nai gaa sakta. Usko nahi gaana chahiye kyuki Pahadi mein bahut khushi hoti hai aur darbari mein thori hulchal hoti hai. Yeh toh bahut galat baat hai! (laughs)

Dev released in 2004. It had a stellar star cast and its content was very political but it didn’t really click, neither at the box office nor with critics and a lot of your fans felt let down. What went wrong? 

I don’t know because so many people I met and who had the same kind of question, had not even seen the film.

I have seen it…

I don’t know what was it that they  felt let down by, whether it was the film, my narrative style or whether it was something else because that has never been made clear to me. I’m not trying to defend myself but this is one of my favourite films. I put a lot into it. After Tamas, this was the film I put a lot and ideologically, I thought it was a very strong film. But I tried my best.

To me, the film seemed quite melodramatic, especially the way it ends… perhaps you were trying to reach a larger audience base but it didn’t work.

Well, that is your perception. I don’t want to contradict it or I don’t want to justify myself but I was very satisfied with it because I conceived it that way. For me, ultimately the protagonist’s journey is very important. That is the fulcrum of the story. If I’m not interested in the character, in the fate of the character, the kind of transformation he/she goes through, it is of no interest. So this was a kind of a story where I wanted to see what role ideology plays in the lives of people who are supposed to be apolitical in performing their duties. Both of them are police officers who are supposed to be above their ideology, while discharging their duties and here one officer doesn’t maintain that objectivity.  The other officer does it and the tragedy that ensues and it’s not that it’s only Amit ji’s character, Dev that is killed, but the other person, somewhere being a human being, deeply connected with his friend; after all he named his son, he can’t live with the guilt. He kills himself. So for me, this was the crux of the story.

Since we are talking about the way these characters react to situations… anger and screams are recurring motifs in your films. Take us through this tool that you use.

See nothing is designed that way. In Aakrosh, the scream at the end was not designed, I just felt like it. At some stage, a person of this kind, like the tribal Nathu, when he is pushed to the point that he has to kill his sister so that he knows he can save her from any more dishonour or abject  poverty that she might face… what can he do? He’s not a well read person, he cannot thing logically, he thinks from the guts. Somewhere this is the only way his catharsis comes out. He doesn’t understand the system he’s against. That’s the whole thing and one should just let go. We didn’t even rehearse that scene. So that’s how it came, there’s always this emotional angle to everything and sometimes we feel that we should not be so loud, we should not be so melodramatic and all that… I don’t subscribe to that theory. Where melodrama helps, where going a little overboard helps shake up the audience, I use the tool and the first audience is me. Before it goes to the audience it should first satisfy me. So if I’m feeling ok with it, I am fine.
Now in Party there was no scream, it was a scream which was suppressed. The character which came in the last 2 shots, the character of Amrit, people were talking about him all the time and then he emerged. When he comes, played by Naseeruddin Shah, he’s stuttering with blood flowing out of his mouth because his tongue had been cut literally cut and that was the suppressed scream which was the loudest. You didn’t hear it as a scream but you did. And then I used the scream in the opening of TamasTamas starts with a scream “Oh Rabba”, if you remember and that was again the scream of great anguish born out of helplessness and anger. And the fact that you who have seen the films years and years ago, more than 2 decades ago, you still remember them. That somewhere it reaches out…

How do you select your subject material?

My choice of subjects has always been influenced by what I see around me at that particular moment. The general situation in the country, whether it is a political situation, whether it’s a social situation, which is always in a state of flux. Toh uus waqt mujhe kya cheez disturb kar rahi hai, kya cheez se bahut khushi ho rahi hai , kya cheez se mujhe bahut satisfaction ho raha hai or something which is making me angry and all that, I normally pick up things from there or even if I’m working on literature, some theme from there echos in my mind and I pick it up. Like Drohkal , was inspired by Conrad’s novel Under Western Eyes…  betrayal, how do you deal with betrayal, when you know you have betrayed somebody. You have the same theme there also. How to deal with betrayal because Om betrays his friend. And normally when I write the script, when I pick up a subject, story, novel, play anything, some theme has to hit me. I cannot write without a theme. It’s like getting a sur in music.Aapko ek sur milna chahiye, ek irada milna chahiye and that becomes the basis of everything that happens in the script.

Going back a little, you started off during the peak of The New Wave of Indian Cinema, and somehow it petered out. Now when you look back, what do you think led to its decline? 

Several things – opening of new media, technology. With technology, came the media also and the economics of the industry also changed. These are factors which are beyond your control. Then also the fact that certain filmmakers who had very brilliant ideas fell short of being the masters of their craft. So beautiful stories, not well made films. We were very much helped by a very supportive media at one stage, that also petered out.

The costing of the film became more, the number of theatres were the same. Why would anybody give space to my film which has no stars, when he’s getting a chance to show a film with big stars? So there are several things, there is no one particular cause that I can say.

And also lack of government backing…

Government backing has always been there. They still find films.

But they’re not distributed  and marketed properly!

They never market films properly. Now they are a little more conscious because they are entering into co-productions. Their own money is directly involved and that too big money, which is a good thing. But the situation has always been like this.

Do you think it’s a myth that it has become easier for directors to work on experimental subjects because of multiplexes? 

Depends upon the director, depends upon how they can convince the funding person and also depends on the kind of imagination they bring to their project. To make a different kind of film, has never been easy at any given time, even today but considering the fact that in the last 2 years, there have been a hundred new directors entering the Hindi film industry, so you know there’s a space for them! (laughs)

Talking about the star system, Naseerudin Shah has said that parallel films also had its star system – Naseeruddin Shah, Smita Patel, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, Farookh Sheikh…

Why not ? Who makes the stars? People make the stars. A star is an actor who people want to see again and again!

But directors who give them work for the first time and keep working with them, also have a huge role in shaping them into stars. 

When they took them for the first time, they also had no idea that they would be stars. They are just good actors. Actors didn’t get continuous work from us alone, they worked outside. As an actor, they are open to anything, any kind of cinema. They became stars because of their own talent and the fact that audience took to that. Without audience, there is no star

What do you think about the criticisms Naseerudin Shah makes on the New Wave Cinema?


That is his perception; it doesn’t affect the movement in anyway!

When he says something like “Directors living in Malabar hill shouldn’t make films on coal mines in Bihar”…?

It’s his opinion. I can’t comment on somebody’s opinion.

So today if you were to meet him, what kind of conversations would you have? 

We would have a very nice, friendly, cordial conversation, aisa koi problem nahi hai, because these are just individual opinions.

You have collaborated with the likes of Shyam Benegal, Satyadev Dubey, Vijay Tendulkar… how were those days? 

My evolution as a person, as a filmmaker has been very deeply influenced by 3 people – one is my guru Mr. V.K. Moorthy, the cameraman, Mr. Satyadev Dubey, with whom I have had an association of more than 50 years as friends, and Mr. Benegal with whom it was not a cameraman-director relationship but a personal relationship and he has a brilliant mind. Just being there, discussing things or hearing him discussing things, it was so stimulating.  Quite often I used to be present at his script readings. All these are very highly intellectual, enlightened, and very sophisticated people. Just listening to them, being in their company, discussing things is very enlightening for me.

I was quite fascinated by Rukmavati Ki Haveli and wanted to ask you about the influence of theatre in your works. 

A lot… I worked with Dubey. In earlier stages I used to work in the backstage- sound and lights but more than that, conversations with him. I used to attend his rehearsals and the way he would talk to his actors and particularly the handling of the dialogue, handling of emotion, interpretation of characters, just watching him rehearse with people, I got so much knowledge, so much insight. And of course there were personal conversations that carried on for hours and hours. That’s how it happened. I always found theatre very exciting.

What have been your cinematic influences?

 Several… from Orson Wales to Ray, Ritwik Ghatak to foreigners like Kurosawa, Bergman, other European artists and filmmakers; there have been several. Influence in the sense that I don’t want to imitate them. Their films have opened up my door of perception, my understanding of the medium itself, opening up the possibilities of the medium, that’s the way it is. It enlightened me!

Recent films that you loved watching?

I like the works of Vishal Bharadwaj, Anurag Kashyap… Dibakar Banerjee is also doing good work.

Apart from Kamluwhat else are you working on?

There are 2 projects, one is in Marathi which I might start immediately after Kamlu, which is a script by Vijay Tendulkar and there’s a Hindi script that I am developing myself.

Facebook #Censorship- Salvador Dali and Phillipe Halsman, photos removed


“The photograph of Salvador Dali and Phillipe Halsman, “In voluptate mors” (which was iself inspired by Salvador Dali’s gouache Female Bodies as a Skull painting), was removed by FB as somebody had reported the image on grounds of Nudity. My first instance of Moral policing. Facebook says “Facebook has a strict policy against the sharing of pornographic content and imposes limitations on the display of nudity. At the same time, we aspire to respect people’s right to share content of personal importance, whether those are photos of a sculpture like Michelangelo’s David or family photos of a child breastfeeding.”I wonder who the kind soul was who reported? I also wonder why Salvador Dali didn’t resort to Breastfeeding so that his work could be shared? I wonder if FB is paying attention to all this?”  Avi Das..https://www.facebook.com/avi.das1

 

Just the other day, I mentioned how Phillipe Halsman was a source of inspiration for fashion photography, but this is not, the only field where his work has been used.
Perhaps one of his most famous pictures, 1951′s “In voluptate mors” (which was iself inspired by Salvador ’s gouache Female Bodies as a Skull painting), has been featured, not in one, but in two!

Serial killer movie “The silence of the lambs”, used the picture as a small detail of the poster, by employing it as a motif in the moth’s head (you can click on the image, to see it with some more detail).
The skull image idea, was reportedly given to the agency that designed the poster, by director Jonathan Demme, specifically for use in the film’s poster artwork.

The second use, in the poster for British horror flick “The Descent”, was not so subtle, with the obvious difference being that the women in the poster are all dressed in hiking attire, to match the movies’s subject.
If you haven’t seen it yet and like horror movies, I highly recommend it!

And doesn’t this, just seem extremely well suited for the subject???

Comrade Kumbhkarna play review- Sonalee Hardikar


If you like to go to the theatre so that you can take plays home in your head; if you want to go in search of images that will move you, even if you do not immediately ‘understand’ them, and if you are a seeker of restlessness, then Ramu Ramanathan’s COMRADE KUMBHKARNA presented by the National School of Drama (NSD) repertory company is a must see.

From the dark recesses of the stage comes forth a troupe of performers to create and inhabit an imaginary world that is at once ancient yet contemporary, impoverished yet dreamy, profane and vulgar, and yet at the same time immensely poetic and beautiful. Before your eyes the story unravels myths, age old lores that we take as given, staid authority, and its banal memorandums. In a very Marquezesque fashion, the divide between the god and the demon, the Aryan and the Dravidian, the good and the cruel is analyzed and cut to size.

Instead we are given a new lore, a new protagonist- a hero in chains instead of the arch archer. An actor who becomes the character he plays; a hero who is part folk performer, part Kumbhakaran…A Kumbhakaran who is part demon, part god. By mussing up the divide between the real and the unreal, between the personal and the political, between the historical and the contemporary, we are taken on a wild journey. It’s also a precarious one as most journeys that take you away from the known are. It’s also a bold play for its current political resonances. There is intensity to it due to the eloquent hyper real imagery that director Mohit Takalkar and his team have evolved to tell the story.

Though the original text by Ramu Ramanathan is in English, the Hindi version by Santwana Nigam is equally remarkable for the nuances it generates while fitting the original to a Hindi speaking, Hindi singing, and Hindi dancing culture of the play’s world. Music by theater veteran Kajal Ghosh is alluring as it takes off from the age old rhythms of the folk and becomes one of the most accessible and entertaining elements of the production.

COMMORADE KUMBHKARNAA special mention needs to be made about the light design by Pradeep Vaiddya. While working at a repertory, that too of a national stature, one often tends to be compelled to make a statement with the kind of facilities available and to dazzle the audience with the power of technology. Pradeep successfully shirks these temptations. The lighting is novel. It is extremely economical and yet very interesting and effective. So was the initial idea for the costumes of the play, but the execution lacks conviction. It would have been interesting to see more grime, dirt, real wear and tear, and crumpling of the costumes and the effect it would have on the overall narrative, akin to the effect that the crumpled tape spools or the red trunk and the mirrors have.

While casting actors without knowledge of fluent English, the director needs to explore other devices that would fit well with the varying power structures that the characters represent. Actors playing the characters of Tripathi and Singh are otherwise quite capable actors but come out as limited in their rendering because of their self consciousness in speaking the English text. The younger Kumbhakaran played by Ajit Singh Pahlavat brings a lot of energy and vulnerability to the role. Though the older Kumbhakaran succeeds at the poetic moments in the play, the angst that can spark revolutions, the simmering and smoldering of the protagonist, is missing from the body language, and makes for a lukewarm portrayal of the central role.

The twin sister played by Rakhi Kumari is memorable and some of the images she creates are stunning. A special mention is required for the role of Amma played by Sajida. Her stage presence, the texture of her voice all lend favorably to the portrayal. The irreverence and the grit of Amma’s character is played out with a studied amount of detailing by Sajida and it’s a pleasure to watch her throughout the play.
Madame X, although a small role, is played by Ipshita Chakraborty with a commendable poise.

Some questions that I took back with me that may or may not be in direct relation to the play-but concern the broader context of theatre and Indian theatre in general —would the real “Kumbhakarans” (who are mentioned at the end of the play’s brochure and who Ramu dedicates the play to….) be really silent on the key issues that get picked up in the play but are met with silence by the stage Kumbhakaran?

COMMORADE KUMBHKARNAIn current political scenarios of the Indian subcontinent what is and should be the role of theatre— can it be ok for us to just be mirrors and reflect back the complex painful reality?

If one is taking pangas with the powers that be…why take a non committal panga? Why make Kumbhakaran silent on key issues? Is it only possible in the Indian context for a playwright to be writing about Gandhian thought and Maoist thought one after the other, and what are the implications of such writing- if any? Will the repertory take such a play to the real places out of which the characters in the script have developed? If at all any such interaction is generated what shape would the play take then?

Thankfully the life of repertory productions is far greater than most other productions that get mounted elsewhere in the country. And a lot can be done with such a play. It will be quite interesting to watch the journeys that it embarks on, and the effect it produces.

*Sonalee Hardikar is a graduate of the National School of Drama and also the recipient of the Jim Henson fellowship under which she studied scenic design at the University of Maryland. She is a visiting faculty at the National School of Drama and runs a photo studio in Albany, New York.

Original article here

 

The feminist poets of Mumbra


Mohammed Wajihuddin, TNN | Mar 4, 2012,

In a modest flat off a dusty lane in the Muslim-majority town of Mumbra, a group of young girls is sitting in a semi-circle. Before they entered the apartment, they were all covered with the black veil, the unofficial dress code of any conservative Muslim mohalla in the subcontinent. But now, faces kissed by the sunlight, they await their turn at something equally liberating: poetry.

The young poets, initiated into the art two years ago, are gearing up to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8 with yet another poetry recitation session. Emotions-some raw, others mature beyond their tender years-flow as the girls’ words become banners of dissent. Their poems protest the many inequalities that women face-female foeticide, financial dependence on men, unrequited love and the curses of divorce and widowhood.

The group came into being after Iranian-American poet Roxy Azari conducted a two-month-long poetry workshop for the young women in 2010. Azari, then on a Watson Fellowship, toured seven countries to engage young Muslim women and train them to express themselves through poetry. Her first stop was the 27-year-old Mumbai-based advocacy group Awaz-e-Niswan.

“Three days a week, Roxy would visit Awaz-e-Niswan’s Rahnuma Library at Mumbra and discuss socio-political issues with us. Then she would ask us to pen our feelings,” recalls Saba Khan who coordinated the poetry workshop. Both Awaz-e-Niswan and Rehnuma Library basically counsel and educate women on their rights, and the poetry sessions held now are an adjunct of the same philosophy-a desire to be free from the oppression of men.

Azari, famous for her slam poetry performances, left after the workshop for other destinations and better things, but she definitely ignited the dormant poet in a dozen or so young women. Each member of the group penned several poems, which are now part of a collection appropriately and evocatively titled Bebaak Qalam (Frank Pen). Three of them-Neha Ansari, Rabia Siddiqui and Faiza Shaikh-collaborated on an imaginative poem titled Agar Main Mard Hoti (If I were A Man) which portrays the many things men take for granted. For instance: “Agar main mard hoti/Subah der tak soti/Raat ghar der se aati (If I were a man/I would sleep late into the morning/ Come home late at night). And the poem perhaps expresses a collective feeling when it declares: “If I were a man/I would change the attitude of all men).”

Siddiqui, who studies at SNDT Women’s College, Juhu, says that before she joined the workshop she never realised her poetic talent. “I would occasionally read Ghalib and Faiz, but the workshop emboldened me not just to write poems but even continue my education,” says Siddiqui, who adds that her brother did not want her to study beyond Std 12, but her husband is “quite supportive”. “I am restless if I don’t write for a few days. I feel good after I have penned a few lines,” she says.

Evidently, poetry-writing provides a catharsis to these girls who otherwise have limited avenues to vent their suppressed feelings. They may not take out morchas in the streets but their poems hold aloft banners of protest. Fauzia Qureishi, by far the most accomplished in this young, bubbly group, has many poems to her credit, but the one about zindan (prison) and azm (ambition) clearly shines through the collection. The long poem talks about almost everything that a girl from a conservative Indian Muslim family has to face-early marriage, the threat of triple talaq, the gruelling work at home and the restrictions put in her path. “It is not just my story alone, but my protest on behalf of all the women who are suppressed and oppressed in a male-dominated society,” says the bespectacled Qureishi, quoting a couplet: “Kab tak kisi ki milkiyat main maani jaaon/Ek mard ki pehchan se kyon jaani jaaon (For how long am I going to be considered a property/Why should I be identified with the identity of a man?).

Mumbra may seem like an unlikely centre for feminist poetry but these young women are taking it there.

A democracy that sleeps


Suprateek Chatterjee, Hindustan Times, March 03, 2012

Exactly two months after alleged Maoist Arun Ferreira was granted bail, post a widely criticised four-year-long incarceration, comes playwright Ramu Ramanthan’s politically-charged play Comrade Kumbhakarna.

The Hindi play, inspired by the 2007 arrests of Ferreira along with Sridhar Srinivasan and  Vernon  Gonzalves, will be staged in Mumbai for the first time this Sunday.

Comrade Kumbhakarna was written in English towards the end of 2010. He wrote the play for Pune-based director Mohit Takalkar’s theatre group, Aasakta, with whom he had worked on Kashmir, Kashmir in 2009. “It [Kashmir, Kashmir] was an incomplete script,” says Ramanathan. “I decided, therefore, to write Comrade Kumbhakarna to compensate for it.”

Oppression is what the play deals with, as it introduces a central character named Kumbhakarna, a member of a theatre troupe that enacts stories from the Ramayana. Born into poverty but high on self-respect, Kumbhakarna proceeds to subvert the mythological figures his plays portray, which leads to him being branded a rebel by the government, and his subsequent arrest.

Commenting on the parallels with Ferreira, who recently spoke out against inhuman police torture methods, Ramanathan says, “Democracy in India is only skin-deep. There are innumerable Arun Ferreiras out there, still languishing in jail. This is what Comrade Kumbhakarna attempts to show.”

The play has been extensively staged all over North India as well as cities such as Bengaluru. It has received rave reviews as well as several standing ovations.

However, according to Ramanathan, this may just be the only show Mumbaikars get to see, given that the play, which has been travelling since last June, may be reaching the end of its run.

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