There are quite a few factors which collude to make “Tah-Satah: A Very Deep Surface”, Mani Kaul and Ranbir Singh Kaleka: Between Film and Video” a special showcase.
It shouldn't go unnoticed that a seminal exhibition like this is happening in not a major metro but in Jaipur. The tier-II city has registered its presence on the international map with Jaipur Literature Festival, in terms of contemporary art, Jaipur offers a lot of scope which is now being explored by events like Travel Photo Jaipur and Jaipur Art Summit.
Jawahar Kala Kendra opens the doors of its refurbished galleries and museum space with the niche exhibition comprising multichannel video installations and video on canvas. Moving images probed by Ranbir Kaleka and Mani Kaul through their artistic practice form the mainstay of the show
While the 64 year-old Ranbir is one of the foremost video artists in the country, Mani Kaul, who passed away in 2011, lives on through his experimental films. Film historian and scholar Ashish Rajadhyaksha, brings the works of these two art practitioners together to raise new questions about the moving image in today’s times.
Mani Kaul’s films were not meant to be shown in a museum but here his films have been turned into works of art. If at one place, his “Satah Se Uthta Aadmi” based on the poetry of Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh has been transformed into a three channel work, elsewhere his famous first film “Uski Roti” has been reworked to create Balo’s projections in the five channel projection titled “Daata”. Her memories of her marriage to Sucha Singh, her sister Jinda’s desires and fears are projected upon the suicide of her neighbour. “Uski Roti” (1969) was about a woman in a Punjab village waiting for her husband, a bus driver so she could give him a meal. “Even the non-fiction could be creatively transformed in a Mani Kaul’s film,” explained Ashish referring to “Satah Se Uthta Aadmi.” The exhibition also highlights lesser-known aspects of Kaul’s last few films like “Ik Been Geen Ander” (I am no other, 2002) and “A Monkey’s Raincoat” (2005).
Describing “Uski Roti” as a classic in the tradition of ‘slow cinema’, the curator recalled Mani Kaul’s statements that when he began, filmmakers like Godard were speeding up cinema, so he felt the need to slow it down.
Ashish has culled out some compelling works from Ranbir Singh Kaleka’s repertoire as well. “Man with Cockerel” was one of the earliest experiments with moving image. In this simple video, a man tries to pick up a rooster, it flutters in his hands then escapes and the man goes out. Kaleka’s works are known for a play between the painted image and the moving image but here there is no canvas. It stands alone on a rectangular board with the image being projected on both sides. Another brilliant work by Kaleka which has been incorporated is “Crossings”. Four screens spread over four oil paintings upon which four video images play out in this piece which deals with migration. The paintings depict individuals who could possibly be refugees standing amidst unfamiliar surroundings. On these painted images are projected windswept mountains, childhood memories. The frequent conversations between the moving image and still image that took place in the late 60s ended up having a serious impact on several artists like Kaleka.
A sound piece by Vikram Joglekar of Dolby India is also part of the show. The work draws 250 minutes of sounds taken from various Mani Kaul’s films.
There is a very nice surprise for King Khan fans as well who would be able to see his initial forays into the world of entertainment. A four-channel video plays one episode each from Mani Kaul’s 1991 film “Ahmaq/Idiot” (1991). Known as one of Shah Rukh Khan’s first films, which was first released as a four-part television mini-series on Doordarshan. The film was based on Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel, The Idiot . An installation reproducing the private garden of Amba, one of the central characters of Ahmaq is also displayed in the gallery.
(The exhibition is on at Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur, till March 4. A host of events like walk throughs, talks, discussions along with a retrospective of Mani Kaul’s films is also on)