WHO is he?
Indian filmmaker, film theorist and teacher who graduated from the FTII at Pune in 1966 and made films from the late Sixties to the 2000s. He was mentored by renowned Bengali director Ritwik Ghatak and he assisted French filmmaker Robert Bresson on one of his films. He won a National Award each for Duvidha (1973) and Siddheshwari (1989).
WHAT are his films about?
More often than not, the subject that Kaul’s films deal with extensively is art itself. These films work against the aesthetic principles and the ideas about beauty set forth by the artists and theorists of European Renaissance. Convergence of perspective lines in painting, the three act structure of literature and the climaxing of motifs in music — all baggage from the Renaissance — are notions that Kaul’s cinema experiment against and through which its left leaning politics is refracted.
Kaul’s rigorously formalist cinema draws both from the traditional arts of Indian subcontinent such as the Dhrupad form of music and Mughal miniature paintings as well as the paintings of Paul Cezanne and the films of Robert Bresson. Kaul’s cinema embodies an aesthetic of fragmentation in which shots of isolated hands and feet dominate. The acting in these films is not realistic, the faces of the actors blank and expressionless. The narrative perspective is dispersed, which do not converge towards the end of the film, as they would in traditional filmmaking.
WHY is he of interest?
Arguably the most avant-garde of Indian filmmakers, Mani Kaul has done, perhaps more than anyone else, to open up the cinematic form and to explore the deep ties that cinema has with other classical arts. His cinema is wholly different from the social filmmaking of Parallel cinema, which sometimes sacrifices cinematic examination for partisan politics. Kaul is also one of the few filmmakers from the country who has backed his filmography with a published theoretical framework.
WHERE to discover him?
On paper, Siddheshwari, like so many films commissioned by the Films Division, is a cine-profile, of the Hindustani singer Siddheshwari Devi. However, Kaul turns the genre inside out, and amalgamates literary, theatrical, musical and cinematic forms together to construct an experience of music, instead of simply presenting biographical details or passively documenting the singer’s artistry. The sprawling film blends multiple timelines, realities and geographies to sketch a unique portrait of the artist.