I want to do something that says something different from normal movies, says Kumar Shahani
Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh): Acclaimed filmmaker Kumar Shahani talks about films, like Maya Darpan, Tarang, and others, that he has come out on. These films have always been appreciated by critics.
Shahani does not have a visor. He has mastered the art of harnessing reality for life. For him, art is where he started. Born into a middle-class family in Larkana in Sindh Province, Pakistan, he lived through the trauma of partition like his guru Rwitik Ghatak did. Ghatak was born in East Bengal, now Bangladesh.
Shahani, 81, was in Bhopal to participate in the four-day Raza Parv. He spoke to Free Press about his films, his worldview and his goal of making films.
Maya Darpan is a very slow film.
The film is considered India’s first formalist film and is its slowest. But now it’s a famous movie. We have, however, avoided showing it earlier. Even one of my teachers, Robert Bresson, had trouble appreciating his rhythm. He thanked me for the movie and, sitting next to me, tried to capture that beat.
Watching Maya Darpan is like watching a theater.
It’s interesting. When it was shown, everyone thought it was absolutely un-theatrical. I am not anti-theatre but Robert Bresson was. There is no drama in the film.
There is a 12 year gap between Maya Darpan in 1972 and ‘Tarang’ in 1984.
It was because no one gave me any money. There was no concept of crowdfunding at the time. The film received very good reviews abroad.
You speak of class struggle and religious hatred in Tarang. Do you think the movie is still relevant?
I’ll leave it to you. I think it’s very similar to what’s going on right now. The situation in the Indian subcontinent has worsened. So, we must remain vigilant. You have to face better oppression than me, even though I was a refugee, and you are not. Young people today are going through one of the worst times in history. I am very worried about my grandchildren (live in England) and how they will read this situation. I feel like it’s terrifying. I have to do something for humanity to survive. I tried to show Tarang why. Before I even made Tarang in the 70s or 80s and in the meantime I was plagued by the hatred of my producer. He took money from someone else to make the movie, but he ran away. The film’s release has been delayed. Amol Palekar, Smita Patil, Lata Mangeshkar were always so happy to work on the film, and hundreds of people helped me do it. They were wonderful people of different classes. The carpets belonged to very very rich people. They don’t ask me for money and neither do I. We are human because we help each other. Otherwise, you are not human. Tarang’s story shows those people who don’t want to be human. There is a kind of set of darkness; there is no hope.
Despite repeated viewing of the film, it is difficult to understand the cause and effect relationship.
The cause and effect relationship is a mechanical way. It barely exists. Two things happened at that time. One was that there was an alternate cause and effect that was able to stand on set in what they were. We haven’t talked about it. I don’t know why or how it happened.
You used crane shots perfectly to show the sexuality and violence at the height of Maya Darpan in Taran. What is a crane stroke in everyday language?
He only arrives at the end of the film. The film was shot entirely in trolley shots. I used the crane shots for dark sequences. It’s not anything there. It is neither sexuality nor violence. It was used to show darkness, despair, reality. The Ajanta Caves were in my head when I used this photo.
There is a song in Tarang ‘Barse Ghan Saari Raat…,’ but, in fact, there is no rain in the scene. Why is this so?
It’s very nice. Hari Prasad Chaurasiya and Zarin Daruwala were the two musicians who played the flute and the Sarod. And Bhaskar Chandwarkar was my musical director. I told Bhaskar that I wanted a song in Raga Malhar to add a bit more flavor to the scene. So, Zarin told Bhaskar that there was no water, no rain, nothing. Why do you want a song in Raga Malhar? She got angry but Hari Ji never asked that. He was fantastic, He understood. Actors sometimes don’t understand why you’re asking them to do something in particular. They say, “Sir, what is the motivation behind this?” Zarin wanted to know from Bhaskar what kind of director this young man was. Bhaskar told him that he had been a student of Ritwik Ghatak, and Raga Malhar was used in one of his films, Meghe Dhaka Ka Tara and, thus, he hinted which was the fact. By using Raga Malhar in desert landscapes, I wanted to create that feeling. There is no rain, however.
You learned music with Neela Bhardwaj and Jal Balaporia. Did you do this for directing or did you want to be a musician?
I never wanted to become a musical performer. I love music and poetry. I think there’s a very fundamental whole heart and at the same time that’s what we all aspire to. Art inspires you. I don’t aspire to be a musician.
When did you decide to become a filmmaker?
When I wanted to join the Film Institute, everyone in my family was amazed that I thought of becoming a filmmaker. I’m going to have to examine myself for that. Other reasons could be that, because I was a refugee, but I didn’t consider myself as such. The whole universe of conscious people is close to me. And that’s why Lata Mangeshkar, Amol Palekar and Bresson were very close to me. I did not consider them like others. My father was a lawyer and my mother a mother. She was my first guru. She had 11 children and each of them is different from the other. My father died when I was quite young. She really lifted me up. Everyone was allowed to be as he or she is. So I thought making movies would be the best way to be who I am.
Inspired by a filmmaker?
I had met Ritwik Ghatak before going to the Film Institute. When I saw his Subarnarekha, I was at the Film Society. I saw it and approved its screening.
Most of your films have won awards. Did it just happen or did you do these movies for awards?
I think I will for anything. I don’t want to be stuck with any stigma. I wanted to do something that does and says something different from normal movies. For example, I used colors in Maya Darpan to convey a message. Ergo, I chose a story without any drama.
Why did you make films?
The purpose of making films is like writing poems, playing particular bandits. He seeks to be unknown. The specificity of cinema is a relay of several things that come together and add an extra spice to life. This is the goal of my films.
Most of your films are considered parallel cinema.
I only know that I make films. I don’t want to put them in just any genre. People would often think I want to be a parallel or mainstream filmmaker. The money I earned for winning Maya Darpan was so little that people laughed at me. They thought I had wanted to make a color film with the amount of money that was only enough for one day of shooting. Maya Darpan’s budget was Rs 2.50,000.
Indian cinema has completed 100 years. What changes do you find?
The hardest part is mastering the technology. People use it to swear at each other. However, many are opposed to its misuse. Each technology has its limits. And cinema is no exception. The cinema was made on celluloid. It is a photochemical recording process. Thus, he renders everything through this energy. Later, there was an interaction between numerical, magnetic and photochemical absorption. Everything is done electronically.
Don’t you think technology makes things easier?
Technology also helps to make bread. He only makes certain types of bread. I prefer what they call artisan bread. I prefer chapati to anything that can make a chapati. But it’s not out of a desire to go back in time. I do not want that. I don’t mind talking to someone like you who wears a shirt and a skirt. But I still admire Zamdani Sari from Bangladesh. It is still relevant.
What is the impact of technology on content?
Content changes depending on the technology you use. It doesn’t matter if it’s celluloid or electromagnetic. The content cannot be the same. You may choose a microphone that has cameras and a lens. If you learn enough about the technology, you won’t fall into outright imitation. You will find different contents. It’s not just an image you click on with your mobile phone. Clicking will give you an image but not the content. You create content. The emphasis today is on that.
You studied at institutions like Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). What is the state of such institutions today?
They are trying to ruin FTII; in fact, they are trying to harm all higher education institutions in India. I can say it verbally. They wean the ruling class or the world; whatever you call it: the state or the market. They want to destroy everything.
Does the score influence your films?
All my films are based on that. I never talked about it though. I hadn’t expected this. It just happened.
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Posted: Monday April 11th 2022, 1:02 PM IST