Theatre and art combined in Soudhamini’s presentation to convey ideas.
If Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull was the story of the bird seeking a higher plane of existence, Soudhamini’s film, influenced by the aesthetics of installation art represented the “Bird” in free flight. The “Bird” as a character did not have its tangible presence but was seen skeletally and diagrammatically. It may not have known its destination and yet was at least travelling with a self-assurance that it would not fall even as it soared.
The bird (or birds) has the intuitive ability to select what it wants, has in the course of evolution developed its eye into a spectacular organ and can focus on a single detail and separate it from the rest. The film, which started as a customary visual narration on Koodiayattom, discreetly picked up snatches from an enacted play of Brhnnala to become an enquiry about space, relationships, the body, the mind and power.
Selective contents of one story from the Mahabharata - a performance - were chosen to delve into a story of an entirely different kind - though it never looked as simplistic as that.
Installation is a genre of art where the experience of the audience is consciously and continuously employed. It encourages re-use of material and the audience is both the giver and the taker, assessing and following.
The wall itself became the screen for this film, breaking the convention of the landscape forming the background. One had to therefore draw the connecting line between what was running as the film and what was presented as a related visual.
The visuals and their relevance were in their most subtle form. The tree with its nurturing element and the shade it offers universally was the mother’s unconditional love for the child. The scene running parallel on the other corner of the screen was the lullaby sung by the mother (Thaalattu). The song was also sung in the most natural manner, as natural as the vegetation that stood at the diagonally opposite end.
Interestingly provision had also been made for a “walk-in” where you could enquire into the film on a laptop. Seven separate modules were on display. These were recollections of “Brhnnala”, (by Adisakthi) and had the titles - Bhima, Dog in Tiger, Drona, Energy Centres, In the beginning, Playing God and Parent Spiral. These then gave a glimpse of the parts before you encountered the whole. This close-quarter laptop viewing made it a truly individualistic experience.
Some of these modules or some sequences from these never entered the film per se, for lack of explicit context. The film maker also never wanted to accommodate any kind of interlude, comic or otherwise, that would distract the viewer. The sculptures depicted in the film, some of them poorly damaged directly showed the consequences of neglect and were in fact a response to the play itself.
It also reminded one that Arjuna had to don the role of Brhnnala out of necessity and what assisted him was his alert mind. This in turn was because of the high standard of physical fitness that he observed.
Ulrike Mothes, a German filmmaker in conversation with Soudhamini says: “Starting off in a more documentary style and then moving into an observational mode, and then you free the character more and more, gradually taking him out of the play… And play [work] instead with the indexed relevance of his movements, and his gestures.” That sums up the approach. For Soudhamini “Bird is between Film, Installation and Theatre, in a way.” She also desires “to Initiate lay viewers and draw them in” and simultaneously wants to “forge that magical link between the artist and the sahrday (an intellectually accomplished person)”. The first of these, would take longer to get established than the second. But who knows?