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Updated: October 30, 2010 16:04 IST

Visual symphonies

Meena T. Pillai
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On a musical note: Kumar Shahani Photo: K. Pichumani
On a musical note: Kumar Shahani Photo: K. Pichumani

Music has a strong role in filmmaker Kumar Shahani's films.

“I can hear music in a colour,” says eminent film maker Kumar Shahani. This becomes quite evident when one looks at his repertoire of films all of which have a lingering musical quality. Shahani seems to carry music with him. There is an innate sense of music in his words; music colours his thoughts and many of his major films like ‘Khayal Gatha' and ‘Bamboo Flute' are based on music.

However he says he had no formal training in music as a child and later he began to train himself, not to perform but to enjoy music. Mumbai in those days was a centre for Khayal Gayakies and in the post-independence era was the hub of many music maestros.

Shahani considers singing to be the basis of Indian arts. For him without vocal music there is no orchestra, without which there is no dance, without dance there is no sculpture and without sculpture there is no painting.

Ocean of music

When he made the ‘Bamboo Flute' with Hariprasad Chaurasia he recollects how he kept on dreaming of life under the sea. He later interpreted this as an unconscious ‘knowing' of the pressure of water, of the pressure of life, the water in the womb and the water in the sea and their primeval music. Interestingly enough water is a predominant metaphor that figures in most of his movies.

Important works

Groomed under the tutelage of the likes of D.D. Kosambi, Ritwik Ghatak and Robert Bresson, his most important works include ‘Maya Darpan' (1972), ‘Tarang' (1984), ‘Khayal Gatha' (1988), ‘Kasba' (1990), ‘Bhavantharana' (1991), ‘Char Adhyay' (1997) and ‘Bamboo Flute' (2000). ‘Maya Darpan' was made in 1972 and in reply to the question whether his approach would be any different if he remade it today he said that he hadn't yet found out the final practice of either living or film making. “And I don't think I'll ever find it out in an absolute sense.”

In response to the comment that in his films one can see the struggle between the aesthetic and the ideological, he said he was grateful to both Marx and Kosambi for helping him bring forth and even represent that struggle itself.

It is the brilliant exploration of the visual in the performing and traditional arts of India that make his films resonate with a curious synesthetic beauty that is indeed rare in Indian cinema. Going by the Godardian definition of cinema as truth at 24 frames per second, for Shahani this truth itself is multivalent with oblique meanings offering the possibility of numerous perspectives.

The beauty of cinema for him is that so many subjectivities and so many arts come together in a film, making it a composite art

Shahani said that he was working on two projects: one on Odissi with Ileana Citaristi, a disciple of Kelucharan Mohapatra, and another with internationally renowned sculptor Anish Kapoor.

Speaking on the relevance of serious cinema in the age of digitisation he pointed out that we need to differentiate between the digital and cinematic art.

Although they overlap, each has a different potential and take off in different directions. It is important therefore that young film makers understand that the digital is not a cheap variant of the cinematic. Responding to questions regarding the philosophical and spiritual in his works he said in a jocular vein that his friends accuse him of not being carnal enough.

Surrounded as we are by film makers who seem to carry baggage of their films on their shoulders and are unable to digest any criticism, Shahani's view that the work has its own life and as an artiste he prefers to move on mentally and emotionally holds great significance.

Choosing not to speak on his own films he waxed eloquent on his master Ghatak and his student M.R. Rajan's films.

It was the humility and grace of this consummate artiste, his erudition and humaneness that held listeners spellbound during his lecture at the Institute of English, Thiruvananthapuram. The talk was in connection with the ‘Erudite Scholar Programme' of The University of Kerala.

Points to ponder

Shahani made a fervent plea to the youngsters of today to make attempts to preserve their rich heritage and their past. It is indeed the need of the hour to revive the works of major film makers and landmark films of India. Aravindan's films he said make the best case in point.

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