Last year around the same time in the month of March I last visited the Heritage Village in Manipal. The space was almost set to open itself for public viewing and despite his weak health the visionary Vijayanath Shenoy, a connoisseur of music, arts and theater, whose brain-child Heritage Village is, was seated there amidst the structures which were a witness to history. Heritage Village was a dream unfold on that soil for Mr. Shenoy and he would descend there everyday to see his dream world being grounded on earth.
Spread on the land next to the lake from which the town of Manipal derives its name, the Heritage Village envisioned by Vijayanath Shenoy is a museum of its own kind where traditional structures of the bygone eras stand to speak of history. Each structure saved from decaying in its place of origin and resurrected in Heritage Village hold within themselves stories of their times. Apart from the houses of the feudals, the brahmins, the Deccani nawabs, the spaces of Basel Mission along with shrines of bhootas and nagas, the Heritage Village also house the original paintings of Thanjavur and those by Raja Ravi Verma.
The seed form Heritage Village was Hasta-Shilpa which Mr. Shenoy had originally built for his own stay. Within two years of its construction in a traditional way he walked out of the house and turned it into a museum. As a child I was taken to Hasta-Shilpa more than once by my father. Though I understood nothing much those days with time upon reflection I realized that everything in a house, like the pillars, the roof, the plates, the doors, the chairs, hold within themselves stories and history, about which Mr. Shenoy would speak passionately to every visitor. By the time this realization dawned upon me Hasta-Shilpa had closed its doors to visitors. Soon the idea and dream of Hasta-Shilpa began to flower in a larger and grander way next to the lake which is a bit distant from where Hasta-Shilpa stands, by the name Heritage Village.
For long Heritage Village was not open for public. But we all heard that Mr. Shenoy would allow artists, journalists and researchers have a look at the Heritage Village which was still under construction. Those days I also heard, from a person who used to teach me back then, about the eccentric nature of Mr. Shenoy and his temper issues. But later through the contact of the same teacher who by then was my colleague, I made quite a few visits to the Heritage Village in the pretext of taking the resource persons who visited our Institute to the Heritage Village. During those visits I witnessed the eccentricities of Mr. Shenoy who would be angered if one looked at the Heritage Village like watching a museum or saw it with the eyes of a tourist. He demanded deeper engagement with love and respect valuing it the way he did. His anger, I realized then, was just a reflection of his passion and his love for what he was doing. It was a labout of love and he had sweated blood for it. He would throw out people from the Heritage Village if one took out their camera while touring the village. The experience of it, he believed, should be lived and recorded through engagement and not through recording.
Things had changed a bit during my last visit to the Heritage Village which was made possible by my friend Srajana, a curator herself, who had grown close to Mr. Shenoy. The man who envisioned the place was not healthy enough to take the visitors around. That made cameras come out here and there. That day a journalist from Bangalore was also visiting the Heritage Village and at the end of her visit requested Mr. Shenoy to pose for a photograph with her. A man who was accompanying her clicked a photo as Mr. Shenoy got up from his chair posed for the photo. The photo captured only their silhouette since Mr. Shenoy and the journalist had their backs to the sun. Having a look at the photo in the camera the journalist saoid, “Because of the sun behind us the photo hasnt come well,” and asked, “Can we move a bit to the other side for the photograph?” Mr. Shenoy whose movements were not easily possible asked, “Cant we move the sun to the other side?” and laughed as he stepped to the other side with the help of the journalist and posed for a photo.
The man who moved the neglected decaying but valuable materials from distances to Manipal, restored them and thus saved them from decaying when playfully spoke of moving sun from one place to another I was amazed to see a lighter side of the man and also wondered if he had, after all these years of rigorous work, come to believe that he could move anything from anywhere and plant it where he wanted. People who have known him wouldn’t be surprised he actually made the sun move according to his need driven by his maddening love and passion.
He whose life was to save things from decay, damage, destruction has been grabbed by death today. But he will continue to live among those structures and the history within them, which he did not let die.
The day S. Diwakar gifted me his copy of Nazim Hikmet’s book my evening was spent along with Diwakar Sir and a very fine critic and writer Narendra Pai.
The conversation between Diwakar Sir and Narendra Pai, with me as an active listener, went for long without us realizing the time. On seeing darkness having settled outside the window Naredra Pai sir got up to leave. Diwakar sir, at that point, said, “Lets have a cup of coffee before we disperse.” We decided to have a cup of coffee near the bus stop so that Narendra Pai sir could catch the bus then and there. Since I had my scooter, I drove to the bus stop while Diwakar Sir and Narendra Pai came walking. By the time the two reached the bus stop Narednra Pai had changed his mind. He said having coffee would actually get him late and caught the bus immediately.
Soon after he caught the bus Diwakar sir lit a smoke and as we continued conversing I got a call from my father asking me to come pick him up. While I was taking leave Diwakar Sir said, “At least we could have had a cup of coffee together.” Even I felt the same but I had to leave as my father was waiting for me. I left having assured Diwakar Sir that I will join him for breakfast the next morning.
Coming home that evening I wrote a blog-post about the creative coincidental kinship between Nazim Hikmet-Ramachandra Sharma-YNK-Satyajit Ray-Diwakar-Samvartha and also Nazim Hikmet- Faiz- Chittoprasad- Samvartha- Srajana- Diwakar.
Next morning I woke up relatively early and left home to meet Diwakar Sir. While I was on my way my phone rang and I stopped my scooter to see who it is. It was my mentor K.P. Rao who was calling.
“Hello Samvartha. I saw your write up. Is Diwakar still in Manipal?”
“Yes Sir. I am on my way to meet him. If you want to come I will come pick you up.”
“You know, I follow the rules and dont break them.”
“Do not worry Sir. I have an extra helmet.”
“Then come home to pick me up.”
I turned my scooter and drove towards KP Rao’s house. Getting on the scooter KP Rao said, “I felt very happy reading your post. In fact Satyajit Ray stayed very close to my boss in Kolkata. He would wave at us whenever he came to his balcony,” and after a while added, “The beauty of YNK and his gang of people is that they have the entire world on their table.”
In a while KP Rao and I reached the International hostel where Diwakar Sir was put up. When we reached the 15th floor and rang the calling bell of room number 1525, Diwakar Sir opened the door. When KP Rao introduced himself to Diwakar sir who immediately recognized him and saying, “You taught Kannada to computers, isnt it?” welcomed us into the room.
For the next one hour the conversation between the two moved from Panini to Arya to Chomsky to Satyajit Ray to Homi Bhabha to DD Kosambi to Vedas to Sanskrit listening to which my jaws dropped.
The conversation was abruptly cut when there was a knock on the door. It was the driver of the vehicle which was to take Diwakar sir to the air-port. He had come to inform Diwakar sir that the vehicle will leave soon. We immediately left the room and took the lift from the 15th floor to the ground floor only to see that the co-passengers of Diwakar had not yet arrived. We seated ourselves on a couch there in the lobby and the two continued their conversation invoking the lives and works of KK Hebbar, memories of the first all India cartoonist meet and also discussed the tulu paaDdana. After a while the co-passengers of Diwakar sir arrived and so KP Rao and I took leave from Diwakar sir.
During the conversation in the room KP Rao while remembering his teacher DD Kosambi had recollected what was told once to him by the master. “Kosambi would say that if you are not interested in everything then you are not interested in anything.” That sentence kept ringing in my mind when KP Rao and I walked out of the hostel taking leave from Diwakar Sir because the two, I realized listening to their conversation, are literally interested in everything under the sun and above the sun.
If you look at it closely you realize that everything in the world is interconnected. KP Rao says to make computer learn Kannada what came handy was not just his knowledge of technology but also his interest in linguistics and his reading of vedas. That reminds of what the Kannada poet Pu.Ti.Na. says; ‘ee jagadoLu posadaavudu peLiri joDaNe horatu?’ (what is new in this world, everything is an extension, a continuation, an addition.) Everything is connected and hence if you are interested in something then it leads you to everything.
Yes, everything is connected that is how the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, a non-residential Indian Kannada poet Ramachandra Sharma, YNK, Diwakar get connected with Samvartha after 50 years. Yes, everything is connected that is how when Samvartha is on his way to meet Diwakar gets a call from KP Rao and he becomes a witness to the memorable meeting between the two giants! Yes, everything is connected and that is how creative coincidental kinships are formed.
Sometime in 2014 April I had written about finding an auto, in Manipal, with a Chaplin sticker with a quote by Chaplin behind it and my search for the auto on the following days.
Seeing a photo of Chaplin behind an auto was, as I had written earlier, an “exciting, thrilling and relieving experience” because I was tired of seeing, “fascist face, from nationalist, statist and religious matters making space for themselves through images and texts.” I, as I had said, was looking for a break from such an “image-sphere,” and for a more humanitarian and more inclusive “image-sphere.”
Within a month after spotting this auto in Manipal and searching for it on the following couple of days, I left for Ranchi.
After four months stay in Ranchi I returned back to Manipal.
Sometime in the end October 2015 one evening I took my scooter and went on for a drive. That evening I took my scooter to Parkala intending to take an alternate road via Saralebettu to Manipal on my way back. In Parkala that evening I finally found the Chaplin auto!
I stopped my scooter right next to the auto and as the driver looked at me I said, “You dont know how much I had searched for you.” Listening to me the driver asked if I had forgotten something in his auto while travelling in it. “No,” I said and when explained the story of me spotting his auto and the Chaplin’s photo leaving a sweet taste behind, the driver held my hand asking, “Really?” There was twinkle in his eyes.
By then the lady who had hired the auto returned from the vegetable shop near-by and sat in the auto. Thanks to her vegetable shopping, I managed to spot the auto and have a conversation with the driver.
“I need to go now,” said the driver as soon as the lady got into the auto. “Can I click a photo of the Chaplin sticker behind your auto?” I asked him and the driver agreed saying, “Sure. But quickly.” The sun had set and the light wasnt sufficient. When I told him about it and said, “Will come tomorrow and take a photo,” he said, “Give me your phone number and I will whatsapp you some photos.”
The driver took my number and gave me a missed call. I asked him for his name while storing the number and he said his name is “Manjunath.” I saved his name as ‘Manjunath Chaplin and took his leave.
Next morning Manjunath, on whatsapp, sent me three photos of his auto where the Chaplin sticker was visible. I thanked him.
From then on every day he would send me a good morning and good night message without fail. After a few weeks when he did not message me for two-three days I got a bit worried. I sent him a message asking if he was fine and he said he hadnt gotten his phone recharged hence couldnt message. That night Manjunath sent me a message saying he had saved my name as Charlie Chaplin on his phone and apologizing for the same asked me what my “actual name” is. I laughed aloud and told him my name. After some good fifteen minutes he said something funny had happened. When I asked him what was it Manjunath said he would tell me the following day.
Next morning I went to meet Manjunath at the Parkala auto stand. There I was told by Manjunath that earlier he used to work in the same office where I worked for a brief period. “That evening in the dark I couldnt see your face properly so i couldnt recognize you. Yesterday when you told me what your name is, I searched for your profile on Facebook and there I recognized you are,” said Manujnath and added, “I had come to you with some books from the admission department and spoken to you also. May be you dont remember.” I confessed that I dont remember.
Manujanth told me that he had quit that job four months ago and was running an auto full time. “The salary wasnt sufficient and I wouldnt get leave as per need. So quit the job. I used to run the auto after office hours earlier. Now its my full time profession,” explained Manjunath.
Later when I asked him if he had seen Chaplin’s films he said, “No.” I was curious to know what prompted him to have a Chaplin photo and his quote behind his auto when almost all other autos in and around Manipal had either Mera Bharath Mahaan, Jai Karnataka, Brahma Baidarkala, Jai Shri Raam, Vartey Panjurli or some other local deities at their back. When I had first spotted his auto it was between the central elections and the announcement of results. So most of the autos had the photo of the soon to be elected PM of the country, which I felt nauseating. Which was the reason why finding a humane and secular Chaplin behind an auto was a relieving experience for me.
Manjunath told me that he had read the quote by Chaplin, ‘Mirror is my best friend because when I cry it never laugh,’ on Facebook and had liked it a lot. So much that he got it written behind his auto with a Chaplin face along with it. That is it. I realized that what Chaplin meant to me did not mean the same to Manjunath. It need not also.
But to see Chaplin was a very nice experience because it created a hole in the other-wise dominantly nationalist, religious image-sphere.
Almost three years after all these, now in 2017 just two days ago I happened to meet Manjunath again. This time in Manipal. Before I saw Manjunath I saw his auto which I recognized because of the Chaplin sticker.
But now Chaplin was not alone behind Manjunath’s auto. Next to Chaplin was Shivaji!
The history of Shivaji and Shivaji as a poster is not smooth and is complicated, agree. But what Shivaji stands for in this day and age needs no explanation. So it was painful to see Shivaji next to Chaplin behind Manjunath’s auto.
When I met and spoke to Manjunath I felt happy because of Manjnath’s unadulterated affection.
But as I took leave from Manjunath, the discomfort caused by the shrinking of the hole caused by Manjunath’s auto in the image-sphere made me recollect, the couplet by my poet friend Liaqat Jafri:
haaye afsos yeh kis tezi sey duniya badli,
yeh jo sach hai kabhi jhoot hua karta tha.
In his autobiography, Girish Karnad recollects an incident from the initial days of his term as the Director of the Film and Television Institute of India.
Interviews for the fresh batches were being conducted and among the faculties a discussion was taking place regarding one particular student who was good with his performances but wasn’t good looking. “His looks doesn’t make him a hero material for films,” argued almost everyone. Girish Karnad, as he recollects in his autobiography ‘aaDaaDtaa aayushya’, as the Director of the Institute said, “If there is an eligible candidate and does well in the entrance exam it is our duty to select and train such a student. Whether he fits the roles of a hero or not is not our concern and we are not a hero producing factory for the Bombay industry.”
The boy was finally selected for the acting course at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune.
That candidate was Om Puri.
My heart ached to hear this morning about the demise of Om Puri. In some time a friend (Ritwik) from the Institute shared a photo of the board outside the Main Theater where details of the daily screening is made known everyday. The board is also a space where the list of National Award winners is announced and congratulated every year and also the space on which the demise of an alumni is made known.
Today the board read, “6 /01/2017. RIP Om Puri Saheb.”
The Institute, which I hold in great affection and am grateful to as an alumnus, which once was reconsidering the admission of the same person has respectfully referred to him as “Om Puri Saheb” and that shows what an artist and an artist of what caliber Om Puri Saheb has been; an artist who could make an institute revise its thought!
During my days at the Film Institute, I remember, being numb after watching the speechless performance of Om Puri in Aakrosh, which to me till date is his best performance. That day in the mess I had told my roommate Lohit that no filmmaker no screenwriter seem to have sculpted a character which would challenge Om Puri and Naseer. I still stand by my word.
Aakrosh, a film where Om Puri Saheb is wrongly accused of murder and the lawyer in his defense begins his conversation asking, “Why did you kill?” A judgement was already made in the mind of the lawyer who was supposed to defend the case of Om Puri Saheb. The film is about the lawyer, played by Naseer, revising his opinion about Om Puri Saheb and the entire case. As we watch we too, who initially believed Om Puri to be wrong, slowly discover the truth and feel ashamed of our initial judgement and revise our opinion.
Years later while watching the cunningly scripted interrogation of Om Puri Saheb on a national tv by a man who is disgrace to journalism, I was secretly wishing Om Puri Sahebwould sit silently like he did in Aakrosh. But sadly, Om Puri Saheb fell into the trap of self proclaimed nationalists and was disrespectfully and mercilessly attacked by them, first for not any valid reason and also after he apologized for a crime he never committed. Watching the show was painful, to say the least.
Now in this hour of mourning, I sincerely hope that a day will soon arrive when all the nauseating jingoists will revise their thought about Om Puri Saheb after having harassed him unnecessarily during his last days!
Though not a believer of time and history being just, today I would like to believe it to be true. Because Om Puri Saheb deserves it and he has proved it right once earlier.
Accept my salutations Om Puri Saheb. Rest in power.
Last night I had a strange dream.
In my dream all of Amrit Gangar sir’s experience- reading, viewing, listening etc- was turned into a library where he would visit every now and then to access the huge archive of experience and knowledge. It was a huge huge huge library.
In that library of experience, I was the librarian. Of course I was feeling extremely happy that I have access, though second hand, to all that Sir has read, heard, viewed, experienced and understood.
On waking up I realized the trigger for this dream was my envy for all the experiences in reading, listening and viewing Sir has had and my deep felt desire to be able to access all of them through him.
This was one of the two most beautiful dreams I have ever had, the other being one where I was a line of poetry in the heart of Gulzar.
Thanks for everything Amrit Sir.
Far from India and far from Pakistan a friend wrote to me saying her primary school going daughter, born Indian, was invited for lunch by a friend of hers, born Pakistani, who is younger than her. My friend was writing to me soon after having dropped her daughter at her friends place.
Far from the nation (India and Pakistan), divorced from all the jingoism and masculine nationalism, true friendships flower between children belonging to supposedly ‘enemy nation,’ true love blossoms as unadulterated hearts meet.
Far from where I am, two little girls dine together and I feel reassured. I send my love to those little girls because of whom I can still hope.
PS: Later in the day my friend wrote again saying how she and the Pakistani mother spoke to each other ‘normally’ when she went to pick her daughter up. She said she was amazed by the ‘ordinariness’ of the meeting.
Jayanth Kaikini, one of the finest Kannada writers, in an informal conversation recently spoke to me about the cover photo of the book by Dr. Mamta Rao on the short stories of Jayanth Kaikini titled ‘Janath Kaikiniyavara Kathanaavarana’. He said, “I like the pic on cover which Srajana clicked in Delhi market when I was unable to cross road. It looks as if my charcters have gheravoed me and asking me, “what do you think you are?” Pen and paper in my shirt pocket look so stupid and helpless like me.“
That reminded me of a short note I had written, in Kannada, on 10 April 2015 on Facebook when I finally managed to lay my hands on a copy of the book. Here I just reproduce a translation of that small note.
The book by Dr. Mamata Rao titled ‘Jayanth Kaikiniyavara Kathanaavarana’ finally reached me last evening. I first learnt about this book when the designer of the book Raghu Apara, months ago, shared the cover page of the book on Facebook.
A book on the stories written by Jayanth Kaikini triggered immense curiosity and excitement in me. And I was thrilled to see the cover page because I was very familiar with the moment – time and space- in which the photo on the cover page came to life.
It was monsoon of 2010. Jayanth Sir had come to Delhi for the admission of his daughter Srajana, also a dear friend of mine, at JNU for MA in Arts and Aesthetics. After completing the admission process on day one we decided to go around Delhi to see places of historic and heritage value on the following day.
Next day we started our Delhi tour with our visit to Kutub Minar. On seeing the flowers and creepers chiseled on the walls there, some broken some fallen some still intact, Jayanth Sir clicked photographs of those sculpted floral designs and said, “This can make a good cover page for a book.” He followed that sentence with his observations and thoughts on what makes a good cover page, what is the purpose of a cover page, what emotions should a cover page invoke, what impression do cover pages create etc.
I had heard, until then, people discussing books. But never had heard anyone discussing the cover page of the book and its aesthetics.
After the visit to Kutub Minar we went to the Lotus Temple and from there we went to the Red Fort. Opposite the Red Fort we found this small but colourful shrine which made Jayanth Sir say, “even this will make a good cover page picture.” As he said that he clicked couple of photographs of the shrine along with the cycle rickshaws around. He made Srajana and me stand in front of the shrine and clicked a photo of us.
Following this Srajana clicked the photo of Jayanth sir caught in traffic, which has now made it to a book cover page.
I am thrilled because the photo that came to life while discussing about cover pages, has now become a cover page by itself and I have been a witness to that moment.
Thrilled also because the cover page is so apt with this photograph! Jayanth Sir is standing amidst the flow of life and observing the life and humans around him, breathing the same air. There are human beings around him, there is a shrine behind him where God resides. Behind the shrine is a huge tree, representing nature. There are cycles around, which stand for mechanization and human craving to make lives easy. Amidst humans, motors, nature and the divine stands a writer who seeks humanity in the rush of life, enriches human spirit through his writings and tries, in his own way, through his writings, to makes life easy/ bearable by showing the beauty of life.
I congratulate my friend Srajana for this meaningful and loaded photo and also Raghu Apara for designing this beautiful cover page
When I was leaving Delhi for Manipal she and I decided to write letters to each other. She said, “You write first.” I agreed. When I got back, I wrote her a letter, with all the love I had for her and that I could give her. Even after a month the letter did not reach her. I wrote a second letter which also did not reach her. Our conversations, all through this time, did continue via mail, sms, phone calls, gchat etc. But the letter just did not reach.
One evening as I was standing at a shop by the Manipal lake waiting for the rain to stop I got a message from her saying, “Just woke up from an afternoon nap. In my dreams both your letters had arrived. You had signed in the end and that is all I could read in my dream, not any other line.”
Bad postal services also could not stop letters being exchanged.
Letters have the quality of a dream. It is a personal and emotional truth. Letters exchanged in dreams are…
(Memory recollected while in a conversation with Rashmi Ramchandani around the magic and beauty of letter writing.)
Couple of months ago a friend on Facebook (Guruprasad Nayaran) put up a post on Satyajit Ray. While commenting about the books written by Marie Seton, Chidanand Dasgupta, Gaston Roberge etc on Ray I also mentioned about an essay by S. Diwakar where he mentions about Ray having designed the cover page of a poetry collection of the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet.
In that particular essay (found in the book ‘naapatteyaada graamaphone mattu itara prabandhagalu‘) S. Diwakar recollects how he first read Nazim Hikmet’s poetry in translation, translated by Ramachandra Sharma and how went looking for a collection of Hikmet’s poetry, without any success. He remembers how, during those days, he once mentioned about Hikmet to the great Kannada writer YNK who on hearing the name of Hikmet got excited and spoke of Hikmet, his poetry and his politics with great enthusiasm in one breath. But to Diwakar’s bad luck YNK’s copy of Hikmet’s poetry collection was borrowed by someone and never returned to YNK.
But then “Twenty five years ago” writes S. Diwakar, “in a small old book stall in the then Madras,” he found a book of Hikmet’s poetry titled ‘Nazim Hikmet Selected Poems.’ He continues to say, “Recently” (at the time of writing the essay) he chanced upon the book again in his library and a detail that had skipped his eyes all those years caught his eyes. The cover page of the book was designed by Satyajit Ray and the book was published by one ‘Parichaya Prakashini‘ based in the then Calcutta.
Narrating these S. Diwakar writes in his essay, how thrilled he was to see a a Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, non-resident Indian Kannada translator Ramachandra Sharma, a Kannada writer YNK and the Bengali language film director Satyajit Ray get connected and how thrilled he was to see all of them get bound together in his mind.
I had forgotten about my comment on Guruprasad’s post on Ray. Completely. But then…
On 24 of June 2016 S. Diwakar came to attend the inaugural function of the Hebbar Gallery and Art Center in Manipal. He was one of the speakers in the panel discussion conducted as a part of the inaugural programme. He was surrounded by other friends and admirers during the tea break following the panel discussion. When one by one started dispersing we met and on seeing me he immediately put his hand in his bag and took out a book saying, “This is for you.”
A yellow bind book with an image of human figure in black whose titled read ‘Nazim Hikmet Selected Poems.’ !!!
“I saw you mentioning about my essay on Facebook. I was happy that someone had read and remembered it as well. I dug out the book from my library that very day and thought of sending it to you by courier but got held in some other work. But in a day or two after that Srajana called me to invite me for this programme and I thought it is better to give you the book personally when I come here. So, here it is,” said S. Diwakar.
My friend Srajana Kaikini, who is the curator of Hebbar Gallery and Art Center was right there when this exchange happened. When I showed her the book saying, “See he gifted me this,” there was a memory recollected.
Sometime in 2011 Srajana and I had attended the exhibition of paintings by Chittoprasad in Delhi. In one of his paintings one can see Hikmet’s book in the frame. Standing before that painting I had recited Faiz’s translation of Hikmet in Urdu; “Meri jaan tujh ko batalaaun bahut naazuk yeh nuqtaa hai, badal jaataa hai aadmi jab makaan uska badalta hai.”
Next day when Srajana went to class with Raqs collective the discussion in class was around Nazim Hikmet’s poetry! That evening we had wondered at the coincidence.
Years after this Srajana witnessed Nazim Hikmet Seclected Poetry collection, where Turkish poet Hikmet and Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray are bound together, being gifted by S. Diwkar who has his own history with the book where Ramachandra Sharma, YNK, Ray get connected with Hikmet, to Samvartha with whom she shared her own Hikmet story where Faiz and Chittoprasad are Hikmet are connected.
Srajana clicked a photo of Diwakar Sir and me with the book.
When I opened the book I saw S. Diwakar Sir having documented the date of purchase on the first page of the book under his signature. It read 1. 12. 66. The book was purchased 50 years ago and the essay ‘Sharma-Hikmet-YNK-Satyajit Ray’ was written 25 years ago.
In his essay he says to him Sharma, Hikmet, YNK and Satyajit Ray are not just humans but threads who connect with each other to weave a grand narrative of their times. And he wonders how a creative kinship is formed
I am thrilled to know that 50 years after these threads passed through Diwakar Sir has now passed through me too making me a part of this strange yet beautiful creative kinship. And in a strange way another series of coincidences involving Faiz, Chittoprasad, Hikmet and Raqs collective met S. Diwakar’s narrative of creative kinship.
I am also thrilled about the fact that the book is now in my possession.
[A friend- Kiran- had put up a status on Facebook regarding film reviewing in the context of some Facebook discussions taking place around reviews of some recent Kannada films. Commenting on the post by Kiran, I raised some questions which were in my mind regarding reviewing of films.
Saying those questions were similar to the questions he has had in mind for some time now, Kiran sent the questions to film historian David Bond seeking answers. David Bond answered those questions or rather responded to those questions. Kiran later shared the answers with all of us. Thus happened an inadvertent Q&A with David Bond.
I wish I knew this was to happen so that I could have framed my questions in a better way and more structured manner than this, which are more casual due to the space of Facebook. But, it is okay…]
Samvartha ‘Sahil’: How to view/ read/ review/ critique/ analyze cinema in a country where film is not just art but also entertainment, recreation, a sociological text, a catharsis?
David Bond: Film is recreation as much as it is art at all times and in all countries. There is absolutely no difference in this respect between any of the major traditions (US, Japanese, European, Indian – to which probably we should now add Chinese). It is in the nature of film to serve both functions (and others also) and cinema would be the poorer if either function were disregarded. Catharsis is a significant element in all performance drama. In fact the cinema tradition which is most determinedly geared to “recreation” is without doubt that of the United States where the notion of cinema as “art” hardly exists at all (and is usually taken to apply only to foreign films, especially European, Japanese and more generally “world cinema”). The only difference one might point to, is the very unfortunate tendency in India to divide films of recreation and so-called “art” films into two different camps as though there were two entirely different types of films with two entirely different audiences. This has been particularly noticeable in Karnataka; it is far less true of Tamil and Malayalam film and seems to have no meaning in Telugan cinema any more than it does in the USA. Such an artificial division always has the result of weakening films of both kinds by cutting the natural and important process of cross-fertilisation that should take place between them. The good critic will always judge a film for what it is not for what it is not. It is, for instance, absurd to blame a superbly entertaining film for not having profound significance and it is equally absurd to blame an intellectually difficult film for not being a bundle of laughs. To create first-rate entertainment is not at all an easy thing; so-called “commercial” films are far more inclined to fail than so-called “art films” which play to a niche audience, usually very faithful and not in practice very critical. A critic should not therefore ask spurious questions of a film. I have known a critic here criticize the film Mughal-e-Azam (a wonderful film in my opinion) because it was not sufficiently political radical (for the critic in question) and then attempt to compare it with an experimental Iranian film with a strong political subtext (a rather irritating, pretentious film in my opinion). This is completely to misunderstand the heterogeneous nature of cinema by attempting to reduce it to one set of rules applicable to all films. One cannot I think stress too strongly that there is not one “film language”; there are many films languages. There is not one way to make a good film; there are many ways of making good films. Cinema has the duty and the great privilege of serving many functions in people’s lives. This is its great strength as a medium and no director nor any critic should ever forget it.
SS: How do we differentiate between film analysis, film criticism, film appreciation, film review, film studies? What should be the approach to be taken by a film reviewer writing for general public as opposed to academic writings?
DB: The object of good academic writing – and there is plenty of bad academic writing – is to add to knowledge and increase understanding. The journalistic reviewer has clearly a great deal more freedom. It is entirely legitimate for such a critic to write a commentary that is in itself intended to be entertaining and witty and such a piece, even if is abusive, can have a value of its own. I grew up on the drama-criticism of the very iconoclastic British critic Kenneth Tynan whose reviews were extremely amusing and a little unjust on the plays and the players he reviewed. Nevertheless Tynan proved very important at that period in moving attention away from the old-fashioned “well made play” which he detested toward more interesting and innovative forms of drama. Not everyone is a Kenneth Tynan and we must all attempt to play to our own strengths and develop our own styles of criticism. My own personal approach is different because I also have a strong academic interest in cinema and in cinema history. My attempt (and only the readers can decide whether I succeed or not) is always therefore to try and combine two things – a relevant and pithy commentary (which will aid the reader to know whether a film is likely to be worthwhile) with a contextual approach that varies from review to review, depending on what aspect of cinema or of cinema history the film in question appears to me to highlight or relate to.
SS: How important is it to take into consideration the atmosphere in which the film is made? Not just the atmosphere within the film but the atmosphere within which the film is made which is inclusive also of the social, political, economical conditions.
DB: These are all areas in which readers are in general very poorly informed. It is, in my view, vital for the critic to be as well-versed as possible in all these aspects. The English novelist and essayist, E. M. Forster, once summed up the object of all intellectual exercise in a very simple phrase – “only connect”. The task of discussing any film in isolation is inevitably rather superficial (the reader will in any case make up their own mind about the film when they see it). The entire value of a critique lies in its ability to make connections, to show how films relate to each other, to the tradition of cinema to which they belong and to the history of cinema as a whole. It is also the critic’s role to explain as much as he or she can of the background to the film, a knowledge of which invariably enriches the viewers’ experience. There is always the film and a story of some kind to be told about the film; to know the latter is to better understand and be able to appreciate the former.
SS: Can a film be viewed, in our context, without taking into consideration the cinematic literacy or the culture of cinema, not as we expect it to be but as it is in our time and space?
DB: We are in the twenty-first century. India, just like the US and Europe, has a culture of cinema that extends back to the 1890s. Along with the traditions of the US, of Europe and of Japan it is one of the four major cinema-traditions to have existed continuously over the whole of that period. The inferiority that some Indians continue to harbor with respect to their “cinematic literacy” or the supposed inadequacies of their “cinema culture” is perfectly ridiculous. I am never especially surprised by Indians’ lack of knowledge of other cinematic traditions (the Indian tradition has had a rather isolated development in many respects) but I am often shocked by their lack of knowledge of the Indian cinema tradition itself. Know your cinema and you will find plenty to be proud of.
SS: Should a film be, to borrow metaphors from MH Abrahms, a ‘mirror’ or a ‘lamp’? Should there be different frameworks to view/ review/ analyse/ critique art that is a ‘mirror’ and art that is a ‘lamp’?
DB: The metaphor is, I think, colourful but little else. If we take the “mirror” to be the reflection of life and the “lamp” to be that which shines light, it seems to me fairly evident that the one is in fact the corollary of the other and that the two are simply different ends of one single process. What needs to be examined in a film is the degree to which it is a true mirror and, therefore, the degree to which the light shone by the lamp is helpful. A falsely sentimental film, for instance, is a kind of distorting mirror and the lamp will therefore project a similarly distorted light.
SS: Should a film be compared just to those films which are of similar theme, across the globe, and films by masters or should it be seen with the films made in the same time and same culture, to see how different/ meritorious the film is?
DB: All comparisons are valid but all films should be seen to some extent within the context in which they are made. European films, for instance, are quite different from US films and belong to a tradition that has often seen itself as seeking entirely different ends (very broadly speaking a difference between the pursuit of drama/sensation and the pursuit, in intention at least, of “truth”). Film-makers are always wise, in my view, to respect the cinematic traditions within which their films are made. The “unrooted” film will always tend to be a rather bland product of only ephemeral interest.
SS: What is the role of a reviewer/ critic in a society where the cinema culture is not a trained one? How should the review/ criticism be in a society where culture of cinema viewing is not trained one?
DB: What on earth is an ”untrained cinema culture”? This is a completely meaningless notion. It can in any case hardly apply to a country which has been producing and watching films since 1898. Where is this “untrained cinema culture”? Outer Mongolia?