Q & A: AMRIT GANGAR. PRAYOGA, POSSIBILITIES OF CINEMA, CONVERSATIONS AND CONTEMPLATIONS

This entry was posted on March 12th, 2014

Amrit_Gangar_-_Kolkata_2013-09-18_0261

 

“Our starting point is a unity, a simplicity, a virtual totality.”
Gilles Deleuze, Bergsonism 1966

 By Ranjana Raghunathan

Amrit Gangar is a Mumbai-based independent writer, film theorist, curator and historian. He has worked in the field of cinema in various capacities for over three decades. He has written widely on Indian cinema, and co-founded the Mumbai-based film society Screen Unit, which he ran for over twenty years. During those years, he curated a number of programmes and published books. He also organized several workshops related to cinema and literature, particularly with reference to transformation of one medium into another, besides having written extensively on the subject. He was a production executive on numerous films and video installation projects in India, including Jorgen Leth and Lars von Trier’s The Five Obstructions (2003) and Susanne Bier’s After the Wedding (2006). He was invited to be a juror by various film festivals and has participated in seminars in India and abroad. Recently, the government of India appointed him as Consultant Curator of the National Museum of Indian Cinema which is being set up in Mumbai.

In 2005, he coined the concept of Cinema Prayoga and has since developed and curated programmes under this new concept in various venues around the world, including the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai; Tate Modern and the University of the Arts, London; Pompidou Centre, Paris; and the Lodz Film School, Poland. I first met Amrit Gangar during a three-day Cinema Prayoga, programme organized by the reputed Fine Arts School, Visva Bharati University (aka Shantiniketan – abode of peace) in August 2011. It was my first tryst with the world of Indian ‘experimental cinema’. During the conference, I discovered that Cinema of Prayoga was an alternative, not just in its vocabulary but also its perspective to the ideas of experimental, art or avant-garde in cinema, beyond geographical or historical boundaries.

Prayoga as a term can signify many things – innovation, experiment, disciplined practice, meditation, contemplation, pure being. Cinema of Prayoga is a radical conceptual framework originating in the polyphony of Indian culture and philosophy. It is a bold alternative to understanding Indian as well as Euro-American experimental filmmaking practice as an experience of thinking and feeling.  It harnesses the Indian notions of time and space for a cinematography that steers away from the image towards an evocation of an aesthetic unity. Cinema Prayoga is an attempt to subvert the status of films as a visual medium, to an understanding of its essence as a temporal medium. It is rooted in a human quest that is eternal and therefore applicable to all of existence, beyond the confines of cinema.

The conference opened with rare footage from Dadasaheb Phalke’s films and setting the tone for the discussions that followed – cinema as an eternal quest, as something magical beyond the movement of images in time. Cinema became a conduit for contemplation of poetry, music, art, mysticism, and it held the kernel of possibility of transcending its representation. It was about the cinema that arose from Prayoga, it was the cinema of Prayoga, a state of constant beginning, a space with many openings. The conversations among the gathering of writers, philosophers, artists, historians and cine-lovers flowed in an intuitive manner, as though kindred members reunited in a space of myriad possibilities.  At the end of the three days, Amrit said to me “Cinema of Prayoga is really about compassion.” I departed from Shantiniketan with a feeling of hope, and ineffable buoyancy comparable to the experience of reading wonderful poetry or listening to soul-stirring music.

A year later, during a visit to India, I requested a meeting with Amrit Gangar to talk about Cinema of Prayoga in the context of contemporary filmmaking practices in India. We planned to meet in the Asiatic Society Library in Bombay. I walked up the steps of the iconic library, paused at the columns of the facade and made a telephone call to inform him that I was there. I walked past stacks of books bound together sitting on the floor collecting dust because the library was awaiting a central government grant for renovation. A faded volume of dust covered Proust was on top of a stack; I looked up at the magnificent ceiling and the long ceiling fans. Amrit was waiting inside for a book; it was found, dusted and ready to be issued – Bergsonism, by Gilles Deleuze. Something told me that was to be the motif of the conversation to follow, about possibilities, intuition and time, and how they linked to the idea of Cinema of Prayoga.

In our conversation, Amrit Gangar mourns, almost apologetically, the clubbing of cinema by mass communication. He raises pertinent questions about the debates along the art-commerce binary, and emphasises the “practice” necessary for Cinema Prayoga, which includes both filmmaking and viewing. Works ranging from the early works of Dadasaheb Phalke to the contemporary filmmakers such as Amit Dutta or Kabir Mohanty have been included in the discourse. He stresses that Cinema Prayoga is not experimental cinema, not avant-garde cinema! By suggesting a new vocabulary to engage with cinema, he offers a refreshing perspective by positing it as a human experience that is universal and eternal. Amrit’s ideas blur the boundaries between poetry, music, literature, art, cinema and life; emphasising the privilege of intuitive perception in our experience of the world. He makes a passionate plea for cinema in the times of bombarding moving images on screens of all sizes. Amrit’s unflinching belief in cinema brings me closer to the internal world of cinema in the theatre of my mind, the screen of sky, and everything in between, in continuum…

CoP-Ka, Dir. Amit Dutta

Ranjana Raghunathan: How did your foray into the world of cinema come about?

Amrit Gangar: I used to watch films in Chitra Talkies [Mumbai] every Sunday morning. They would screen Bengali films. My first exposure to Bengali films was through the works of Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Tapan Sinha and Mrinal Sen, every Sunday morning, at the 9 o’ clock shows. I was staying in a hostel then, and it was my Sunday routine. Soon after, we started Screen Unit, around 1977. My friend wanted to be a filmmaker, but he could not gain admission in the Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), so he started Screen Unit to be in touch with cinema, and I joined him immediately. Shai Heredia interviewed me about Screen Unit, and the interview is titled, “When Godard Rode the 17:05 Borivli Local”. It was a film society, but over a period of time became like an educational and a great experiential space, where young film practitioners, artists, journalists, students, poets, architects would meet and exchange ideas. There would be fights, about Godard or Mani Kaul, we were probably deliberate dogmatists! There were fistfights, you cannot imagine! Many love affairs between young hearts happened there too [Smiles]. We would drink cheap country liquor, watch films, and fight. There were arguments, stupid, but sometimes very good. It was a wonderful experience that went on for over two decades. We were a small, cohesive group of about 150 members, unlike other larger film societies with thousands of members. There was an excitement of watching a film together like a social ritual, there was the joy of a collective experience. We would carry the heavy film cans in the crowded Bombay local trains, for the screenings.

It was then that I started writing for Screen Unit programme notes, on a rickety second-hand typewriter, and then cyclostyled for multiple copies. My notes would run into ten, twelve, sixteen pages with reading material sourced from books and journals. In the programme notes, I would also write about other issues, like pollution in Goregaon. For me cinema was life, it could not be separate from life. Books were a natural corollary to my extensive notes, we published books too. There was a sense of camaraderie that developed over the years, through our work, our beliefs, and a certain selfless craziness. There was a romanticism derived from inaccessibility to these films. My firm belief was, and continues to be, that after a year of seeing films by Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Ingmar Bergman or Jean-Luc Godard and such other filmmakers, it rubs off on you. You become a better human being, a better citizen.

RR: How did this concept of Prayoga come about?

AG: I first coined the term in 2005 and presented it at the Experimenta, founded and directed by Shai Heredia. The following year, Tate Modern in London invited me to present it there. The idea was to develop an alternative thought. That was my struggle, right from the beginning. This was what Screen Unit always thought, and fought actually. Therefore, I think Cinema of Prayoga was already there in the embryo of my mind, I was always uncomfortable with the concept of experimental film. It is a Euro-American-centric term, which I believe was not deeply rooted. It was too rational and too western, for me. I also found it exclusivist. Therefore, I wanted to develop an alternative thought. I personally find and believe that some English words are inadequate if you compare them with Sanskrit alternatives, so I thought why not explore that? In Sanskrit, there is prefix and suffix, and when they become a conjunction, you know that word. It becomes so beautiful. It can explore the beauty of the word; the abstraction of the word, literature has that privilege of abstraction. The word bhavak for example is derived from the word bhava, a certain state of mind. Its English equivalent audience is such a flat word. Therefore, we have to reinvent our own thought and its articulation.

RR: Just like the word experimental in film, as opposed to perhaps how Gandhi meant it in “My Experiments with Truth”?

AG: Exactly. It does not retain the depth. Andrei Tarkovsky questions the very notion of experimentation in art: “How can you experiment in art? Can one talk of experiment in relation to the birth of a child?” he asked in his book, Sculpting in Time. Like Tarkovsky, Mani Kaul does not consider himself an experimental filmmaker. Mani Kaul says, “I knew everything that I was doing, I’m not experimenting.” I think what Cinema of Prayoga will do to the world is give it a completely new vocabulary to film history, to film aesthetic and to life.

RR: Is that why you were also opposed to the phrase avant-garde?

AG: Avant Garde, the French word as an original notion is not a product of any intense artistic or philosophical quest. It is a military term, literally meaning soldiers in the front line and I did not agree with it. Everyone borrowed that term in the art field, but I do not know why. I thought I could think of some other word, a much richer word that is more meditative and artistic. Prayoga came to my mind immediately. Prayoga has many connotations but I think it is more inclusive and can include experimental films, just as it would cinema without creating any market-driven categories or binaries. It is not about the East-West division. Today even Robert Cahen from France, one of the foremost contemporary video and electronic artists is invited to join under the concept of Prayoga. His work is extremely temporal.

RR: That is what is so appealing about this concept, this sense of universality of cinema, a unified way of viewing it without the split between space and time. I experienced what I call love at the conference last year, and in the end, you also used the word compassion to describe it.

AG: Yes, and that comes about from a sense of temporality. Music for example, has that universal quality, compassion and warmth. Music is highly temporal and abstract. That abstraction, as Mani Kaul says, is not literal abstraction but a visionary abstraction. I find that quality in the works of Amit Dutta, Ashish Avikunthak, Kabir Mohanty, Vipin Vijay, Arghya Basu and now more recently Shambhavi Kaul and Rajesh Jala, too. Shambhavi is Mani’s daughter, and she lives in America. So it is expanding, however, I think rigour is the key word. Rigour is very important. The Cinema of Prayoga does not avoid discipline. If you see Kabir Mohanty’s work, Song For an Ancient Land (2006), it is extremely rigourous, and he brings a certain quality of plasticity in video work, which is very difficult. Cinema of Prayoga also demands  a certain plasticity of work. Plasticity is very important for “cinematography”, to use a Bressonian term.

Here, Indian philosophy is very important to me because of the perceptions of time and space, which are very different from the more rationalistic and materialistic thinking of the west, though I do not reject materialism. I still believe that we have to understand what Karl Marx says about material dialectics.

We have to understand that, because without understanding materialism one cannot be spiritual. However, materialism is different from objects, things, possessions. In Jainism the word for matter is calledpudgal. Therefore, Cinema of Prayoga is an attempt to incorporate these diverse philosophical thoughts.

RR: The French critical traditions have had debates about how cinema was always lost and not fully realised, actual cinema as something dissociated from possible cinema; the cinematograph as a genius independent of artist. Godard says that to create a scenario is to create not a world but the possibility of a world, which then the camera will actualize. How would you join this dialogue with the concept of Cinema of Prayoga?

AG: I would add Deleuze to this conversation. I am thankful to Deleuze for opening the doors to such conversations, which are constantly widening. I agree with him that every phenomenon emanates from life itself and not outside – his sense of immanence. Cinema cannot be alienated from life. Cinema brought me to philosophy, Jainism in particular, but also to other philosophies. I wanted to understand time and space, and they have beautiful thoughts about it. Here, the Indian philosophies were very crucial for me. That is the beauty of this country. There are thoughts, counter thoughts, alternative thoughts. Interestingly, the dominantly perceived villains of Indian Mythology, such as Ravana and Duryodhana are worshipped in some parts of the country. The idea of Anekantvaad from Jainism, simply put is multiple realism or non-absolutism. I will then try to bring my own ideas of time and space to the conversation.

You mentioned the word possibility. Possibility comes from non-absolutism, nothing is absolute, and therefore everything is possible. Everything is then open, and you do not become the end. You then always go forward, searching, questing for something. Cinema of Prayoga is always cinema in quest. You can find something from anywhere in the world. It is neither geography-centric nor nationalistic. Cinema of Prayoga desists from nationalism and therefore it is much broader, and non-absolutist because it tries to include all kinds of thoughts into it. We are not talking about technique.

It is very important here not to reject B and C films. For instance, I find C grade films interesting because they show us the sky so much more than an A grade film would. The sky, Akaash [1] is shown! As you know, India, or the eastern part of the world had contributed the fifth element of space, ether. Aristotle did not once mention it. In this context, Mani Kaul talks about undivided space, Abhed Akash, because our so-called market-driven popular or populist cinema keeps on dividing space as sacred and profane, and hence it becomes so vicarious. For example, towards the end or a climax, you start crying. Climax comes from a Renaissance principle of convergence [2]. The camera lens is invented on that principle, where parallel lines converge. My artistic philosophy gives me a view like that of a miniature painting, which is not one climax. It has multiple converging points not one and that becomes interesting. The narrative then is not climaxing towards a catharsis, which was borrowed from the West, from the renaissance principle. In our Indian miniature paintings, or mythology, there are multiple climaxes. In the West too, Dostoyevsky, Matisse or Bresson were against the idea of convergence.

That is why such films would look for a target audience, like an advertising film. I want to sell the oil and I know whom to sell to or whom not to sell. I remember my college days. Through a friend who was in the commerce faculty I came to know about the subject called Salesmanship in Inter-Commerce level, and in a book there was a question, “What could describe the best salesman?”  The answer (with an illustration, if I remember right) was, “The best salesman is one who could successfully sell a comb to a bald man! I always questioned this statement or belief: Why should the salesperson persuade the bald man who did not need a comb? That essentially amounted to deceit or an attempt to convince someone through a hidden agenda!  My question was also how could an academic discipline allow such a thing. Why should you create a superficial or a superfluous need? The commercial cinema, I think, constructs itself around creating needs and therefore the ‘star’ becomes more important than the story, which actually is built around him or his persona. He is a selling commodity. Well, market also has its rules of the game and so long as it sticks to them fairly, it can go along the lines. History has always been craving for an anti-thesis, an alternative thought and practice. Intuitively, she probably was in search of Cinema of Prayoga somewhere.

CoP-Listner’s Tale, Dir Arghya Basu

RR: Would I be right to view Cinema of Prayoga not as a philosophy of cinema or an attempt to apply philosophy to cinema, but an unending movement from philosophy to cinema, from cinema to philosophy not towards an intellectual film theory, but perhaps as Bergson would say, an attempt to give importance to intuition as a method? What is interesting for me, as a viewer, is the space that this thought has for a way of viewing cinema, where the dialogue is not just about filmmaking practices, theory or an intellectual analysis, but a space to engage with it in an intuitive manner, which is very open.

AG: It is like responding to music or poetry. I was showing some films at the NCPA (National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai). It was a seven-month long programme of Cinema of Prayoga. Kumar Shahani’s film, The Bamboo Flute, was being screened and a very young girl was sitting beside me. There was a beautiful pan in that film and that girl said “wah kya baat hai” (Wow! How amazing!), responding to that particular pan as you would respond to a vocalist’s or an instrumentalist’s taan[3] in a Hindustani musical rendering. I found that response very interesting; responding to a form and not a dialogue or a piece of acting. It has a different experience. A transcendental experience. So I ask, is it possible for elaboration to happen in cinema, the way it could emerge in Indian classical music elaborating or a vistaar on a raga.

Today, we are bombarded with moving images. They are everywhere, on mobile phones or the internet or television. How do we intervene? I am afraid that such bombardment deprives us of the visionary experience, the spiritual experience. Earlier I referred to the word bhavak for the audience, bhavak is the one who understands the bh?v. Bh?v is important. To understand bhav, not meaning. Not that bhav is not meaning, but we are not desperately searching for meaning here. The Cinema of Prayoga wants to retain the core experience. Cinema for me is a spiritual experience.

RR: Is that not what Tarkovsky says in his idea of spiritual cinema? I find that it is parallel to the eternal quest that you mentioned. As Tarkovsky depicts it, a yearning for the Light in our memory, and we are constantly seeking it, cinema then is a spiritual quest. As I see it, Cinema of Prayoga is an awareness of this possibility that we constantly seek.

AG: Exactly. But we also get a very deep question from Tarkovsky’s own real life, particularly with reference to his last two films Nostalghia (1983) and The Sacrifice (1986).  They have an element of self-destruction, theological religiosity. You can see that in his last films, the crisis that he finds himself in, a terribly fragile state. Why does he do that? I really sympathise with him. That did not happen to Bresson, for example. But, Tarkovsky came from a different reality, from the Soviet Union and he could not go back. He left socialist Russia to go to the capitalist west, where capitalism has its own power, which perhaps destroyed him, as I see it. In Russia, he could make Stalker (1979), for example, regardless of his struggle (and the struggle of his fraternity of filmmakers against the bureaucrats), which was shot in colour and printed in black and white. That kind of colour you get on monochrome, it is quite amazing. It was possible within the Soviet Union but when he goes to the West, it became a very painful experience for him. What is freedom, one tends to ask all the time. Where is the freedom? Was there no freedom in the Soviet Union? If there was, did he find freedom in the capitalist West? It is a puzzling question. Cinema of Prayoga is now again questing. It really questions life. It is all about life. It is not just about films. In actuality, cinema seems to me to be much smaller than life. The whole Prayoga is like Gandhi’s; it becomes part of your life. It is not difficult to comprehend actually, even though Mani Kaul’s cinematographic work was considered to be durbodh or inaccessible. I don’t know why.

As I told you earlier, the Osian’s film festival in Delhi recently had invited me to curate a tribute program for Mani Kaul, in which I had included thirteen of his works and had two sessions of charcha (discussion) about his cinematography that was done by the practitioners who had worked with him – editors, musicians, DoPs, production managers, et al. In the audience, there were young students who so spontaneously talked about Mani Kaul, and none of them, said it was difficult for him or her to comprehend Mani Kaul’s work.  It just depends on how we open the dialogue.

RR: And perhaps how we open ourselves to be affected?

AG: Exactly. Get people closer to poetry, literature, and all the literary and poetic work will open out. You cannot escape from great cinema. You just cannot escape from the touch of its temporality, its smaya sparsh! For instance, Ashish Avikunthak’s screening of his latest feature film Katho Upanishad (2011)  in the gallery space in Mumbai, you could have the experience of that temporality. I was at the inaugural opening, young people came and just sat down in the darkened gallery space. Nobody talked. Usually during openings people have cheese and wine in mind. Nobody was interested in that. They sat down, in the dark. That kind of response, that is cinema, and it is a limb of the Cinema of Prayoga.

Song for an ancient land, Dir. Kabir Mohanty

RR: The temporality that you talk about is not a sense of planned time, is it? Through my experience of watching the films at the Cinema of Prayoga conference last year, there was a sense of ‘coming together’. It is instinctual, immediate and intuitive. Certainly, there is a discipline and rigour of practice, but one can sense an openness to allow life to happen, for cinema to breathe its own life.

AG: Yes, and that is because there is randomness to it. In computers too, we have random memory and memory is always random. Indian classical music is random, it is not notated.  As Mani Kaul would say, “We have this random figure which creates its own form, and it is a beautiful form.” That is intuition. It is not structured or notated, nor does it take you to a particular direction. It does not avoid discipline though. Most of our cinema is actually filmed theatre as Bresson mentioned. With more multiplexes coming in to India in shopping malls, can you even imagine watching Bresson there? You cannot because the viewing space has a different meaning, a different purpose, perhaps, what we call an entertainment that includes the so-called comfort of seating and eating. And no wonder, in the time of multiplexes, more and more comedy films are being produced. I am worried about the kind of machinations that are going on, very cleverly and obviously eliminating filmmakers and artists such as Bresson, Kaul or Tarkovsky from its base.

RR: But Amrit, would you agree that it happened right at the beginning, when the machine was invented? The contradiction of the machine and its usurpation by the market forces? So do you see that struggle as something that has existed eternally?

AG: That is the contradiction of industrialization, no doubt. The industrialized product is subject to utility or application. But what I am talking about is neo-capitalistic attitudes and intrusions, and when the multiplex comes in, people are more interested in selling samosas, or popcorn, and selling advertisements. This is exhibition, while the machine is part of production. It was the same machine that produced Bresson’s film, but the space of viewing, is eliminating him. And we should address ourselves to this contradiction, which, I think, is highly cruel and brutal.

RR: In one of your essays, you and Mani Kaul addresses the issue of politics of distribution and communication, asking one question: ‘Whose responsibility is it?’

AG: In this country, thousands of hours were wasted just debating what an ‘art film’ is and what is a ‘commercial film’? Thousands of hours were wasted in the 70s and 80s, because there was public funding from the Film Finance Corporation (FFC) that later became the National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC). Some of the filmmakers were questioned and asked whom they were making films for? Their films were failing to communicate to the people of India, as the argument went. That is when Mani Kaul wrote this essay called “Communication”. It was a hard struggle and he never wrote scripts, so there was another problem for him. When we sing a raga, we do not write for example. We elaborate, and elaboration happens in cinema too. Cinema of Prayoga believes that this kind of elaboration is possible. I think we have possibilities again, your keyword, “possibilities”.  Find possibilities, and that is the only way humanity can be happier, perhaps in a true sense.

RR: Cinema then is about existence…

AG: It is about existence, exactly, and inequities which we have in this world. Space, the actual space of living, water, electricity, look at the inequities around us. When I was in Delhi, the grid failed and seven phases were affected. Metro railwayline was shut down. Delhi had to borrow power from Bhutan. My mind started questioning, where does this power go? Who is being deprived? I am sure villages must have been affected… to light up our malls? So all this becomes a much larger thinking, which we should not reject, we should not avoid. Cinema of Prayoga is a meta-thought.

Our film schools do not do that. Not even our film theorists. Most of the western film theorists are quite unidirectional. Ritwik Ghatak talks about archetypes, division of Bengal, and he artistically pulls them into a cinematograph, a cinema. Mani Kaul believed, and I support him, that cinema is not a visual medium it is a temporal medium. In one of the seminars I had organized some years back he said, “Visual is Vulgar”. Cinema unfortunately got into visual art and mass communication. The day before yesterday I was conducting a workshop in a local college, and I told the young participating girls, very innocent looking girls, that ‘I am responsible for the injustice we have done to you, my generation. We have put cinema into mass communication, as if we had no other option and my generation is responsible for making your life miserable.’ And really, while I am making this statement I am serious about it. There are a very few proper film studies departments in India and therefore I felt glad about the international seminar on Film and Philosophy organized by the Calicut in Kerala.  And mind you, it was organized by the Department of Philosophy and not by any Department associated with cinema. And equally important was the seminar on Cinema of Prayoga organized by the Visva Bharati University, Shantiniketan. Again it was organized by the Department of Fine Arts.

I am afraid at the time of independence when the nation building exercise was taken up, somewhere along the way we missed the vision. Academically, we went on producing battalions of commerce graduates and chartered accountants. We never created enough museologists, archivists or thinkers. Our schools and colleges or any other educational institutions, by and large, do not inspire the youth to become thinkers, they push them onto careers. Cinema of Prayoga questions such dispensations. It is a thinking space, and I am talking of this in a much larger sense.

RR: As a person from the world of human rights and justice, this is the space that I relate to, because the questions that plague our everyday life cannot be separate from cinema, and cinema becomes a wonderful tool for contemplating about them.

AG: No, you cannot ignore them. I really feel for those students at the festival. They were lower middle-class students, and do not know what to do. They never saw anything like that before. This is cinema! At the end of two days, they said “Sir, we got something. At least we know there is something in the world, and though we have to pass exams and graduate, we know there are things out there to anchor us in our life.” Education does not do this, unfortunately, because it is so exam oriented. The state makes some things free in the case of education, like bus fare or train journey, or whatever, but what are you really giving them? All these questions have to arise. So I think this could be a springboard for questioning, one alternative thought gives rise to another. Mani Kaul said Cinema is not about one thought, it is about giving birth to a thousand thoughts[4]. That is why I think it is very crucial to create thinkers. Question! Ask idiotic questions, but ask! Ask, and for asking one will be forced to read something. So I feel hopeful. At least people can think alternatively, about eastern perceptions of time and space. Ashish Avikunthak makes a film called Katho Upanishad[5].

RR: Yes, what was particularly interesting was the gallery screening that you talked about earlier. I think the screening of the film as a triptych lends time an all together different understanding. He collapses it and I could experience the simultaneity of existence, whereby the quest, dialogue and redemption exist in one moment, together.

AG: Exactly. I use the word “simultaneity”, and one experiences that in the film. It is not something that one jumps to articulate. This is why the ideas of polyphony and non-absolutism are important, and they emerge from music. It is unending. The artist has to follow Svabhav, her own belief system, and cannot be separated from it. The Cinema of Prayoga artists are with their svabhav, because it would not make you a seller, would not allow you to be a vendor.  The marketers may argue that they are true to their selves, but this is much deeper. It is a state of being that one cannot help but be.

RR: Something pure, like intuition, unadulterated by intellect or thought?

AG: In this, there is luminosity inside. That luminosity comes forward in the cinema, in thought, it is the heart of everything. I find that luminosity comes from Svabhav. The Cinema of Prayoga artists are doing it. I have a firm belief in temporality. Not many filmmakers are temporal. In Robert Cahen’s work, I found pure temporality. I do not find that many works with that kind of temporality, to be honest. It is Dhyan (meditation). I cannot explain it, because how does one describe luminosity? One just has to experience it. Thus, Cinema of Prayoga for me is deeply the Cinema of Feeling, like music. Even if we do not know the name of the raga, malkauns or any other, we can feel it. It certainly creates an emotional value and volume inside. How does one do that? We do not know. It cannot be described unless you are with yourself in that particular moment. That experience, I think, is eternal and universal. We are referring to texts which are five thousand or two thousand years old, why is that? They have not become redundant, why? So a certain cinema will survive.

RR: To be honest, I feel a sense of hope. An idealism really.

AG: Unless you are romantic and idealistic, you are dead. Then you stop combating, fighting against yourself because you are conscious of being a romantic. We are middle class. We cannot be afraid of our class.

RR: I see Cinema of Prayoga has very few filmmakers under its ambit. Is there a reason why some other contemporary filmmakers are not included?

AG: I have not seen all the films there are, but I must admit that I do not find temporality. Most of the films are visual or visually dominant, their ‘cuts’ are locational and not temporal, as I feel. It is difficult to get that spiritual experience unless it is temporal. Tarkovsky is temporal that is why he writes a book called Sculpting in Time. I do not get that temporality a lot but instead there is a lot of dialogue, lot of drama, many very well made visually too. But the randomness of time does not emphasize visuals. When Mani Kaul shot Naukar Ki Kameez (The Servant’s Shirt, 1999), he did not allow his cameraperson to see through the lens. It was not anarchy, he knew what he was doing. It was interesting as it was metaphorical and not mechanical, as Mani Kaul said later – to allow for randomness, and the “rambling figure”. It has a sense of surrendering to it.

Within this larger context, what also bothers me is the cinema’s capacity to concretize or physicalize the image. It also in a way absolutizes the image.  We should be very careful about cinema. In its process of creating the sensate two or three dimensional (or even four or five) world, somewhere it helps destroy the deeper abstraction, that probably the pure word in literature is able to retain. Cinema of Prayoga is trying to retain it, to retrieve it and to recreate that abstraction.

Author Bio: Ranjana Raghunathan is a social worker and researcher, who works on issues of social justice in India and Singapore. She is deeply fascinated by, and committed to hearing and writing the stories of marginalized communities. She has recently discovered the creative possibilities of experimental cinema – a process that is proving to be transcendental.

Notes 

[1] Amrit Gangar in an interview ‘When Godard Rode the 17:05 Borivli Local’ with Shai Heredia says: “The problem is that people have less time to think, to introspect, to ponder, to read, to listen to music, to really meditate, or look at the sky to feel the moon. Even I don’t remember when I last saw the moon! Being unable to look at the sky at our will, we are missing the cinema.” ArtConnect (Vol. 5. No. 2, July-December 2011)
[2] Mani Kaul in conversation with Amrit Gangar says: “Convergence, where answers and resolutions abound, is a killing field for curiosities, it is an illusion that reduces an infinite universe into a finite domain of rationality, where we feel content to play with cause and effect and imagine an entire future under our control.” (2006)
[3] Taan is a technique used in vocal performance of a raga (melodic mode constructed with musical notes) in Hindustani classical music, which involves singing rapid melodies using vowels.
[4] Mani Kaul in a conversation with Amrit Gangar said: “Art is not about naming feelings; it is, I think, about a desire to express feelings. That ‘desire to express’ (vivaksha) signals, arouses, provokes thoughts and feelings. A film is not about a thought, it is about giving birth to a thousand thoughts. A film cannot age.” (2006)
[5] Katho Upanishad is Avikunthak’s exposition of a Sanskrit text that was composed around the fifth century BCE, centered on the story of Nachiketa and his encounter with the God of Death. The film is a triad with three single-shot chapters – quest, dialogue and liberation.