Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh): The acclaimed film-maker Kumar Shahani talks about movies, like Maya Darpan, Tarang and others, he has walked out on. Such films have always earned appreciation from critics.
Shahani has no visors. He is a master at mining reality for life. For him, art is where he has started. Born into a middle class family at Larkana in Sindh province, Pakistan, he went through the trauma of partition as his guru Rwitik Ghatak did Ghatak was born in East Bengal, now Bangladesh.
Shahani, 81, was in Bhopal to take part in the four-day Raza Parv. He spoke to Free Press about his films, his views of the world and about his purpose of making movies.
Maya Darpan is a very slow movie.
The movie is considered India’s first formalist film and is the slowest one. But now, it is a celebrated movie. We, however, avoided showing it earlier. Even one of my teachers, Robert Bresson, found it difficult to appreciate its rhythm. He thanked me for the film, and sitting next to me, tried to have a grasp of that rhythm.
Watching Maya Darpan is like watching a theatre.
That's interesting. When it was shown, everyone thought it was absolutely anti-theatre. I am not anti-theatre but Robert Bresson was. There is no drama in the film.
There is a gap of 12 years between Maya Darpan in 1972 and ‘Tarang’ in 1984.
It was because nobody was giving me money. There was no concept of crowd funding then. The film received rev reviews in foreign countries.
You talk about class struggle and religious hatred in Tarang. Do you think the movie is still relevant?
I leave it to you. I think it is very similar to the things prevailing now. The situation in Indian subcontinent has worsened. So, one should remain alert. You must be facing a better oppression than I had, even if I was a refugee, and you are not. The youth today are living through one of the worst times in history. I am very concerned that my grandchildren (live in England) and how they are going to read this situation. I feel it is terrifying. I must do something so that humanity survives. I tried to show in Tarang what the reasons are. Even before I made Tarang in the 70s or in the 80s and, in between, I had fallen prey to hatred of my producer. He took money from someone else to make the film, but he ran away. The release of the movie was delayed. Amol Palekar, Smita Patil, Lata Mangeshkar were always so happy working on the film, and hundreds of people helped me in making it. They were wonderful people of different classes. Carpets were owned by very-very rich people. They neither ask me for money nor do I. We are humans because we help each other. Otherwise, you are not human. The story of Tarang shows those people who don’t want to be humans. There is a kind of whole of darkness; there is no hope.
Despite repeated watching of the film, it is difficult to fathom the cause-and-effect relationship.
Cause and effect relationship is a mechanical way. It barely exists. Two things happened by that time. One was that there were alternative cause and effect which were in a position to stand at the set in what they were. We have not talked about those. I don’t know why or how that happened.
You have perfectly used crane shots to show sexuality and violence at the climax of Maya Darpan through Taran. What’s a crane shot in common parlance?
It comes only at the end of the film. The movie was shot entirely in trolley shots. I’ve used the crane shots for dark sequences. It is not just anything out there. It’s neither sexuality, nor violence. It was used to show darkness, hopelessness, reality. Ajanta caves were on my mind when I used that shot.
There is a song in Tarang ‘Barse Ghan Saari Raat…,’ but, actually, there is no rain in the scene. Why is it so?
That’s very nice. Hari Prasad Chaurasiya and Zarin Daruwala were the two musicians who were playing the flute and the Sarod. And Bhaskar Chandwarkar was my music director. I told Bhaskar I wanted a song in Raga Malhar to add some more flavor to the scene. So, Zarin said to 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 catch why you are asking them to do something particular. They say, “Sir, what is the motivation behind this?” Zarin wanted to know from Bhaskar what kind of director that young man was. Bhaskar said to her that he had been a student of Ritwik Ghatak, and Raga Malhar was used in one of his films, Meghe Dhaka Ka Tara and, so, he alluded to that which was the fact. By using Raga Malhar in desert landscapes, I wanted to create that feeling. There is no rain, though.
You’ve learnt music from Neela Bhardwaj and Jal Balaporia. You did that for film direction or you wanted to be a musician?
I never wanted to become a musical performer. I love music and poetry. I think there is a very foundational whole heart and, at the same time, they are 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, everybody in my family was astonished that how come I thought of being a filmmaker. I will have to examine myself for that. Other reasons could be that, because I was a refugee, but I didn’t consider myself to be. Whole universe of consciously aware people is close to me. And that’s why, Lata Mangeshkar, Amol Palekar and Bresson were very close to me. I didn’t consider them others. My father was a lawyer and my mother a mother. She was my first guru. She had 11 children and each one of them is different from the other. My father died when I was quite young. She really brought me up. Each one was allowed to be as he is or as she is. So, I thought that making films would be the best way of being as I am.
Inspired by any filmmaker?
I had met Ritwik Ghatak before I went to the Film Institute. When I saw his Subarnarekha, I was in the Film Society. I saw it and approved of screening it.
Most of your movies got awards. It just happened or you made those films for awards?
I think I will do it for anything. I don’t want to be stuck to any stigma. I wanted to make something which did and said something different from normal films. For instance, I used colours in Maya Darpan to convey a message. Ergo, I chose a story without any drama.
What was your purpose of making films?
The purpose of making films is like writing poems, playing particular bandishes. It seeks to be unknown. Specificity of cinema is a relay of several things which come together and add an extra tang to life. That is the purpose of my making films.
Most of your movies are considered parallel cinema.
I only know I make films. I don’t want to put them in any genre. People would often think that I want to be a parallel or mainstream cinema-maker. The money I got to make Maya Darpan was so little that people used to laugh at me. They thought that I had wanted to make a film in colour with the amount of money that was sufficient only for a day’s shooting. The budget of Maya Darpan was Rs 2.50,000.
Indian cinema has completed 100 years. What are the changes you find?
The most difficult thing is to handle technology. People are using it to swear at one another. There are, however, many to oppose its misuse. Every technology has its limits. And cinema is no exception. Cinema was made on celluloid. It is a photochemical process of registration. So, it renders everything through that energy. Later, there has been an interaction between digital, magnetic and photochemical absorption. Everything is being done through electronics.
Don’t you think that technology eases things?
Technology also helps in making bread. It makes only certain kinds of bread. I prefer what they are calling artisanal bread. I prefer the chapati to whatever can make a chapati. But it is not out of wanting to go back in time. I don’t want that. I don’t mind talking to a person like you wearing a shirt and a skirt. But I still admire Zamdani Sari of Bangladesh. It is still relevant.
How has technology impacted content?
Content changes with whichever technology you use. It doesn’t matter whether it is celluloid or electromagnetic. Content cannot be the same. It may be that you choose a microphone which has cameras and lens. If you learn enough of technology, you do not fall into sheer imitation. You will find different contents. It is not just a picture you click with your mobile phone. Clicking will give you a picture but not the content. You create content. Today’s emphasis is on that.
You have studied in institutions like Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). What is the condition of such institutions now?
They are trying to ruin FTII; in fact, they are attempting to damage all higher educational institutions in India. I can say that verbally. They are weaning the ruling class or the world; whatever you may call it: the state or the market. They want to destroy everything.
Does partition influence your films?
All my movies are ground on that. I never mentioned it, though. I didn’t plan that way. It just happened.