Combing Varanasi for Phalke

Kamal Swaroop’s Rangbhoomi traces the elusive filmmaker’s journey

Dadasaheb Phalke was at heights of his creativity when he withdrew from the film world and went to settle near the ghats of Varanasi, with his family, around 1920. He called it his ‘cinematic sanyas’.

He must have hid himself so well that filmmaker Kamal Swaroop, who went on a personal quest to trace Phalke’s days in Varanasi, had quite a hard time piecing together a picture, even after spending almost two decades at it.

Rangbhoomi, a part-fictional documentary, directed by Swaroop, is the end result of that quest. Phalke’s self-exile was not from creativity, it was just from cinema. He directed his energy towards theatre, into producing a semi-autobiographical play called ‘Rangbhoomi.’ Armed with the script of the play and a few articles on Phalke, Swaroop launched his search around the centuries-old ghats. He walks through the narrow alleyways, knocking on doors, of the grandsons and granddaughters of Phalke’s friends. He meets dead ends, and still ploughs on, landing surprising finds, like the location where Phalke’s play was staged.

A fascinating picture of the elusive man also emerges, from old clippings of local newspapers and even from Phalke’s reaction to a not-so-kind review of his play in a Marathi magazine. “The play is meant for the progressives and intellectuals. It might not appeal to the common man,” he has written his reaction. He did not seek help from his colleagues, not even discussing his script with others.

Parts of the documentary are filled with readings from the script, and thoughts on the nature of theatre and literature. The filmmaker and the other characters, who are shown preparing for a play and constructing a stage at the ghats, appear as projections on the ghats, reciting lines from the play.

The film also becomes an account of the extent to which cinephiles could go in search of subjects that kindle some fire inside them. It is part of a package of films with similar themes, titled ‘Cinephilia,’ curated by film critic C.S. Venkiteswaran. K.R. Manoj’s ‘16MM: Memories, movement and a machine,’ traces the trajectory of the film society movement in Kerala and its relationship with the 16mm film projector.

I Am Micro, directed by Shumona Goel and Shai Heredia, is an experimental essay about filmmaking, the medium of film and the spirit of making independent cinema. The package also has acclaimed films like Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema.

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 7:25:22 PM |

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