INDIE FILM INVASION: ARTHOUSE CINEMA FROM INDIA WITH LOVE
“I do not accept the art and commerce divide in cinema. I maintain that you either have a good film or a bad film.” – Sakti Sengupta, Discovering Indian Independent Cinema: The Films of Girish Kasaravalli
By Jillian West
Image (top) from “Dasein”, a film by Shailik Bhaumik
When most westerners think of Indian film, Bollywood generally comes to mind, as it is one of the largest markets next to Hollywood. Bollywood films are produced in Hindi which is the national language of India, hence the lion’s share of distribution across India and elsewhere. But there is a vastly under-served subculture of Indian filmmakers standing at the edge of the Independent Film Industry, who are the most worthy of our attention.
India is comprised of 29 states and each has its own regional language and dialect. Bollywood is a derivative from the Mumbai region. As each state has their own particular language, they each have their own localized industry. The film industry in the Bengal region for example is called Tollywood. Many of these fringe filmmakers are finding success in producing beautifully crafted indie and arthouse films. Here’s an introduction to a variety of cinematic fare offered from India. And remember, this ain’t Bollywood…
THE WIFE’S LETTER: A FILM BY ANEEK CHAUDHURI
“In my film, ‘The Wife’s Letter’ I’m working on a project that symbolizes Tagore, and here I must say that in this film, his short story has been used as a prop; however the core essence is designed with Dali’s conscience.” – Aneek Chaudhuri
By EJ Wickes
Image (above), Protagonist ‘X’ from ‘The Wife’s Letter’
The narrative begins with a reading of the first eight paragraphs of “A Wife’s Letter” by Rabindranath Tagore. The wife, Mrinal is expressing years of unhappiness in a letter to her neglectful husband while on a journey. Essentially she has left her husband and climbed out from under his abusive family’s thumbs. The letter is her Emancipation Proclamation.
This use of Tagore’s short story merely sets a starting point for the film’s direction and as we all know, it can never be an adventure unless the destination is unknown. Unexpectedly the filmmaker adapts the protagonist, X, as a variable in a mathematical equation who is suffering from schizophrenia. In this experiment a Leaf has been assigned to be a constant variable and X must be equal to that Leaf in order to validate language. According to Aneek, the film’s Director, he goes on to say:
“This is an attempt to prove that mathematics does not constitute emotions, sentiments and is comprising mere calculations; however, one’s life cannot be completely manipulated. Here, the protagonist travels through three worlds to discover himself trying to equate himself to the Leaf.”
The film delivers a magnificent visual experience. I found myself being less involved with the narrative than I was with the cinematography. In the film, Director Aneek Chaudhuri has X plodding through his everyday routines via different alter egos, in very long takes. I have to assume that this is a successful attempt to pull the viewer into the emotional structure of X and the mundane emptiness and regret that he feels in the absence of his wife.
Depression often has us reflecting and staring into the insignificant microcosms of life; the world that exists and makes up everything beyond our own existential being. Some of the most impactful scenes were those of a beetle crawling across the floor. The Leaf being slightly blown by the wind, almost as if it was struggling to be alive. The painterly effects transition to cinematography very effectively with simple manipulations of color and focus. The ballet scene was an apparition painted with flowing gestures of watercolors on wet paper.
A heavy Fine Art background is implied by the importance of each shot’s composition and perspective. Rembrandtesque lighting effects, sharing old and new world aesthetics, only add to the atmospheric quality and abstract nature of the film’s visual poetry. The soundtrack is composed of songs written by Tagore and the stringed instrumentals reference the influence of Dali as represented by his painting, “Pierrot tocant la guitarra” or “Pierrot Playing the Guitar”.
Deeper into the plot, the personification of X is heard to be answering Mrinal’s letter. This is the only time the original fable comes back into play in any literal sense. However by that time, the viewer has already been so immersed, it hardly matters.
METAMODERNISM IN FILM
The new proponents of Metamodernism define their perspective on the term to be more closely related to an amalgamation of feelings and experiences. Hence the reference to a “New Romanticism” as being more of a “structure of feeling” rather than a movement in art, ideology or a timeline through history. “The Wife’s Letter” seems to be a film that is constructed upon a framework of emotion and visual stimuli rather than being built upon an obsessively well structured or formulated screenplay. That said, Tagore’s story does provide a romantic foundation upon which to build an exquisite life study or love story, no matter how melancholy the outcome.
“The Wife’s Letter” is directed by Aneek Chaudhuri. The Cinematographers are Sougata Bhattacharjee and Aneek Chaudhuri. The Musical Director of Streer Potro is Saikat Chattopadhyay. The soundtrack consists of songs written by Rabindranath Tagore. The cast includes Kaushik Roy, Sanchari Dutta, Diganta Nag, Paromita Mukherjee, Dhiraj and Saikat Mukherji.
“Streer Potro” or “The Wife’s Letter”, is Aneek Chaudhuri’s most recent film. It is not literal adaptation of the story written by Rabindranath Tagore, nor a visual impression of Dali’s work. However the psychological and emotional impressions of both are used to set the tone for a surreal journey to three worlds by a schizophrenic person who is trying to equate language, love and life to a constant variable in his own existence.
“The Wife’s Letter” is set to make its mark in abstract filmmaking in India and Bengal. With a style all its own, “The Wife’s letter” has already entered the global spotlight and is destined to open doors for Indian arthouse film, internationally and here in the U.S.
PEAS AND CARROTS: A PEEK INTO A STATEMENT ON WAR
SITA: INDIE FILM FROM INDIA WITH A SOCIAL CONSCIENCE
”Every twenty minutes someone in the world becomes a victim of rape.”
By Jillian West
Image (above), Sita, a desperate woman in fear for her life
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began watching “Sita”, a short film by Indian Filmmaker Sandip Pratihar. Rape is a very sensitive subject in most civilized circles. A large percent of the world’s population are not many degrees of separation from those who have had to endure this inhuman act. In some regions it has become an epidemic.
In many countries the autonomous stature of a woman is stripped away and reduced to a level of subservience well beyond any free woman’s experiences or expectations.
Admittedly in America we have a high percentage of sexual violence, but rape in the United States has become a crime that’s prosecuted to the full extent of the law by most standards, in contrast to other countries. Due to how men traditionally regard women in certain demographics; as property in many cases; their judicial systems often do not consider violent crimes against women to be a priority.
In light of all the publicity and recent exposure concerning India with this issue, it’s easy to understand how an Indian filmmaker might consider including this narrative in any one of his or her films. And Director Sandip Pratihar handles the subject exceeding well.
More than a short film; it becomes a beautifully constructed Public Service Announcement. We used to have PSAs frequently decades ago. They were designed to make us reflect. On war, during the Vietnam conflict and the environment, as I’m sure some of you remember the Native American standing by the side of the road, or canoeing through a river of garbage.
I have become more familiar with the filmmakers of Human Lab Corporation and the core values of their mission. As artists, writers and filmmakers, they have committed themselves, not only to the professional development of aspiring filmmakers, but to explore the human condition while making relevant social statements. If art imitates life, this is how life can imitate art; through the encouragement of reflection toward our own actions.
“According to Indian mythology, women are considered to be the center of immense energy and power. At the same time women have been targets of social evil and objects of oppression. Sita is a provocative short film, revolving around the issue of rape in the modern world. The protagonist is about to be attacked by three men and what she does depicts a deep universal meaning and significance. Sita is inspired by Ramayana, where Mother Sita is believed to have been born of the Earth and after a life of displeasure and suffering, she chose to merge with the Earth. The Laxman Rekha drawn by her brother-in-law was to protect her from any evil. Despite that effort she was taken away by Ravana, the villain in the story. Sita represents all women who have the blessing of Nature to procreate; the power to give birth to a new entity in the world. A mother’s womb is a symbol of universal power that she possesses. The crime of rape against women is gravely disrespectful to that universal energy, which all human beings are bound to protect and preserve.”
DASEIN: EXISTING WITHIN THE MOMENT
“If then, you have lived in despair, then whatever else you won or lost, for you everything is lost, eternity does not acknowledge you, it never knew you, or still more dreadful, it knows you as you are known, it manacles you to yourself in despair.” – Soren Kierkegaard
By EJ WickesDasein is one of the most incoherent films I’ve ever seen; which is exactly what you might expect from a non-linear surrealist film. I became somewhat ill at ease with my inability to keep up with the random roulette of scenic vignettes that somehow come together if you’re paying any attention at all. Dasein is an experimental metamodern film project from Director Shailik Bhaumik. In an examination of the meaning of life, Dasein is the story of Aniket, (Sumanta Mukherjee) an artist growing up in India.
As a young boy Aniket discovers his mother has hung herself. Being his only companion and role model, his dependence on her and the comfort she provided is essentially stripped away. Growing up virtually as an orphan since his father was always away on business, he developed his own system of values and perceptions at an early age.
As a young adult his father remarries a much younger woman (Anu Chatterjee) which only adds to his artistic angst as his resolve is challenged by the lonely Anu. The outcome is not pleasant as it threatens his spiritual commitment to Hrittika, (Manisha Chakravorty) his current girlfriend from college. Another harsh emotional blow comes when Hrittika, the love of his life, the woman who promised to never leave him – leaves him. The final coup de grâce comes when a fellow art student and friend Ipshita, (Ipshita Samanta) steals his concept and takes First Place in a very prestigious art competition.
This is the last straw for Aniket and in his desperate attempt to claim any victory at all over his own existence; he commits suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills. Only when he feels closer to death is he able to take control of his destiny and win his emancipation from an otherwise dystopian life of false pretense, misguided desires and emotional pain.
Aniket’s destiny being written for him as a young boy.
Not necessarily in that order, Director Shailik Bhaumik connects his three dimensions with beautifully atmospheric; monochromatic dream sequences and intermittent segments produced with the sexy and stylish flair reminiscent of international pop music videos. The music track was a nice mix of contemporary Heavy Metal, Pop and traditional Indian music; very multicultural, very metamodern.
REFLECTIONS OF METAMODERNISM IN INDIAN FILMMAKING
Foreign films require a bit of discipline to watch, especially if you have to rely on subtitles and if the subtitles are white, much of the text disappears into the lighter shades of the scene behind it. Add to that a minimal amount of surrealism and it becomes even more of a challenge to follow.
The scenes that moved me the most were the ones with very little or no dialogue; when the director truly exhibits the intensity of the characters’ feelings through their silence; just body language and the poetry of the music. Like romanticism in a static work of visual art, it always delivers an active, moving narrative to the viewer’s mind’s eye.
Dasein means literally “being there”. Man’s place in the world, his existential being becomes the focus over, “I think, therefore I am”. We exist because we take up physical space regardless of our mental abstractions. We affect the material world around us and the materialism of pop-culture and institutionalized thought is what we spend our lives either resisting or complying to.
Because of the nonlinear nature; abrupt scene changes and time displacement, I felt akin to the protagonist as he randomly watched significant periods of his life dance in and out of his own semi-conscious state. Like in our dreams, the scenes change randomly. Time and space have no relevance. And through it all, the final lesson comes in the realization that regardless of our spiritual beliefs; reflections of the past or our longing for the future, we can only exist and experience life to its fullest in the present moment of our being.
Produced, Written and Directed by Shailik Bhaumik. The Cast includes: Sumanta Mukherjee, Manisha Chakravorty, Anu Chatterjee and Ipshita Samanta.