Contemporary cinema has an important commercial aspect which is fired up by graphics, high resolution, thunderous background music, large screen, grand architectural sets, etc., and has lost connection with the reality found only in nature. The article ‘Improvisations on a Scale: The Cinema of Mani Kaul’ written by Sen Arindam, talks about how the Indian Director Mani Kaul perceives cinema. It focuses on the ideology behind the director’s films and his experiments with cinema to explore the margins of reality.
The first paragraph sets the scene to introduce Mani Kaul’s acquaintances and his significance in Indian cinema. The style of film that was prevalent in the 1960s was inclined towards commercial-popular movies that were far from reality, shedding light on fantasy films. Mani Kaul on the other hand wanted to reproduce the virgin reality of state apparatus. Following this, the writer points out the difficulty the film style faces due to the popular dramatic cinema anchored by multiple industries.
Akin to naturalism, the film has to be devoid of space and sound rework to capture reality as it has no constraints and involves no complexity.
Capturing realism is difficult as the conversion of a social object into a cinematic one was only under exploration as the transformation involved de-naturing. The author has carefully detailed out how Mani Kaul had theorized this in his way, as he speaks about alienating the cinematic space-time, which can be altered according to the artist to entice the audience.
Deconstruction of representation was seen as a solution as the representation of the world as it is, was already in use for the repressive structures. Quotes from ‘Toward A Cinematic Object‘ have been provided by the author to share Mani Kaul’s take on ideology and to support the article.
The style of cinema that Mani Kaul pursued with devotion was the Shashtriya, the deconstruction of the dominant sound-image relationship to produce a unique cinema. Introducing the word here, the author explains the complex meaning of Shastriya in the later part. Kaul not only focused on the film but also wanted a change in the production and distribution of films during the 68′ movement.
Like Ghatak, Mani Kaul’s close friend, he also expresses that being able to stay in the location of the film and getting to know the place and the people fosters good films. The author has provided references and the name of Kaul’s movies that faced challenges to make films in a state-of-the-art way.
The author brings up important observations made by Michelson on Godard’s work which helps Mani Kaul to estimate the problems within the deconstructionist paradigm. A comparison between both their works is made to see points of convergence and divergence. In the succeeding part, the dual contrasting influences of Bresson and Ghatak on Mani Kaul have been discussed.
The obvious influence of Bresson is seen in Kaul’s films as they both consist of flattened out dramatic forms that are mostly cast with non-professional models to imbue through mediality and gesturality as these are the purest forms of exhibition rather than sequentially planned fragments. The importance of fragments from the deconstruction is emphasized by the author. The examples provided are self-satisfying that require no utterance of words or complex actions, but simple gestures that emote the same sense. Pictures of these fragments have been added for reference.
Ghatak’s influence on Kaul has also been discussed precisely. The art forms that influenced Ghatak and Mani Kaul explored, inspired them to take such films and to confront the European perspective art where even parallel lines have a point of convergence. Unlike Bresson, Kaul experiments with the different lenses to find out his preferred choice according to the nature of the film or to create ambiguity between fragments.
The author has detailed the various grades of lenses used by Mani Kaul to create contrast or distortion and has provided references from ‘Explorations in New Film Techniques, Indian Film Culture 8, Journal of the Federation of Film Societies of India 8‘ written by Kaul to understand his point of view and to support the article
The director expresses the temporal dimension of his films through Shruthi as a standard measurement, an essential feature of classical Indian music, which enhances and emphasizes the space, sound, and time ratio. The small comparison of styles between Bresson, Kaul, and Ghatak helps the readers to understand the convergence points and also for Kaul himself to analyze and arrive at his theories and opinions.
Moving forward, the writer points out the art forms that influenced Mani Kaul and his continued confrontation with the European perspective arts. He had his own style of transforming a social object into a cinematic one based on the analysis of Renaissance art, perspective, Mughal, and other art forms. He believes that the linearity of narrative cinema without any complex plot twists might be because of single perspective art forms expressing linearity.
Supporting references have been given to validate the notion. Kaul’s interest in Pre-cinematic art and its progression in the Spatio-temporal planes have been touched upon, following which the films and the way Kaul has approached each of his films, have been elaborately dealt with. The writer has specified the name along with the year of the film release.
The meaning of Shastriya, according to Kaul is then clarified and the functionality of improvisation at any scale is discussed. Kaul’s interest in various art forms and his confrontation with rectilinearity created due to perspectives, an unnatural representation has been explored by the author.
The similarity between the works of Stan Brakhage and Kaul is that they both showed hostility to the perspective art forms and had different ways of dealing with representation. One had obstructed views while the other created unobstructed views. The images help in understanding the type of representation Mani Kaul followed.
The last part of the article provides insight into the likes of Mani Kaul and the influence of music on his films. The other important feature of Kaul’s films apart from Shruthi is the Raag which is varied throughout the movie. The author has provided references for the readers to understand the importance of tone and silence in a film which are an integral part of Kaul’s films. So far the creation and the ideology of the director were discussed in detail hence this part covers the shorts of Kaul’s films. The author has left his conclusion about Mani Kaul’s devotion towards realism and his theories at the end of the article.
The author Arindam Sen has elaborately discussed the functionality of improvisations after a detailed analysis of the works of Mani Kaul, his theories that shy away from the bourgeois way of cinema. Every statement is supported with appropriate references and images for understanding. The article has been proficiently written with an in-depth comprehension of the director’s perspectives.
Available at: https://mubi.com/notebook/posts/improvisations-on-a-scale-the-cinema-of-mani-kaul [Accessed: 23 March 2021].