MOMENT, META-MOMENT AND THE MINIATURE: NAINSUKH, THE ARTIST AND AMIT DUTTA’S FILM

On May 5, 2017 by admin

Nainsukh painitng

 

Amrit Gangar

_______________

[This is the pre-screening lecture-text given at the Rachana Sansad, College of Architecture, Mumbai, on 24 January 2017.]

 

This is a beautiful moment indeed, beautiful because it connects me with yet another moment not in a distant past, but nonetheless in भूतकाल   – in the sense of a past continuous, where भूत  , वर्तमान  and भविष्य  keep coagulating! That was in far away Zurich, in Switzerland, where I had the opportunity to curate an Indian film program under a big umbrella event called Bollywood in Switzerland, which also had an exhibition around it at the city’s Museum of Design. My week-long stay there took me to the Museum Rietberg that has one of the biggest collections of Indian Pahari paintings. In that elegant museum, a graceful moment made me meet its director Dr. Eberhard Fischer, who welcomed me very warmly and took me around. During our conversation he asked me about the young film maker Amit Dutta and whether I knew him. Well, I did knew Amit Dutta. I said. But not very well, from his film institute days; in fact he was still studying at the Film & Television Institute of India in Pune. He also referred to Prof Suresh Chabria, whom I knew very well. He had been Amit’s professor at the FTII, and it was he who had first recommended Amit’s name to Eberhard Fischer to make a film on नैणसुख   And how appropriately so – as we see it now! Amit was a brilliant student and undoubtedly promising to be a distinguished film maker. That pre-birth moment of the film नैणसुख (Nainsukh) to now, when she has grown into a 7-year old lady, (in fact over 15 years from the time she was conceived) – this is a momentous occasion for me, to be here, and talking about her. Cinema or cinematography to me is feminine, but she might turn androgynous off and on during my talk.

I must thank the management of Rachana Sansad, Prof Rohit Shinkre, the Principal, Prof Gangadharan, my old friend and a comrade-in-cans for giving me this moment. Cinema has lost her Can-Yug, she is now on DCPs, pen drives, blu-rays, links and tubes. I also thank all of you who have gathered here to see an extraordinary film by Amit Dutta. Actually, it is to him that I owe my presence here today. From far away Palampur in the Himalayas, it was Amit who said this to me on the phone that in his absence, he wanted me to talk about the film in whatever manner I wanted to. I must thank him for reposing faith in me. I will also talk about him and his filmosophy in my own way.  There is also my constant wrestling with the God of our times, Googleshwara, as he keeps challenging us all the time, while making things already known universally and all across the board, this God has blurred the difference between guru and shishya. But yes, it is a constant battle, particularly for teachers across the world on how to surprise this god and the shishya at the same time. If I am able to surprise you even a little during the course of my talk, I shall feel I haven’t wasted your time.

One way, as I humbly believe, is to create or evoke a भाव  or भाव जगत,  the state of being and its universe, rather than search for meaning, because meanings keep changing and Googleshwara already has a huge museum of meanings for all of us to see. For me, Amit Dutta’s cinematography is an evocative bhava, his is the cinema of feelings, like music or painting, it touches our heart and enduringly so. Any ‘moment’ that endures, is a good moment. Also, any film that endures, is a good film. And any such film, I believe, defies synopsis. Often, I ask students to try and write a synopsis of Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Mirror. Wanting always to comprehend films through conventional simplistic synopses, they find it impossible to synopsize Mirror. Amit Dutta’s oeuvre is largely synopsis-defying and yet extremely engaging because he is an extraordinary bhāva-sarjak or evocator, both in words and in images and sounds. I will later briefly talk about his recent Hindi novel called Kaljayi Kambakht, which, as Prof. B.N. Goswami has said, is like a दिव्य विमान , a divine aircraft – but more on that later.

 

Invoking a prefix, an = उपसर्ग प्र  and its illumination

Amit Dutta likes the word  प्रक्रिया (prakriya), the process. And that induces me to dwell for a bit on two prefixes – प्र and सं (pra and sam); these miniaturized letters called उपसर्ग and प्रत्यय, if wedded or welded to another word – a verb, a noun or an adjective – have the ability to achieve greater metamorphosis, they have the ability to imbue an expanded meaning – in motion. प्र is an engine. Look, what it does to the word योग (yoga), for instance. प्रयोग (prayoga) to me is a much richer word than the English ‘experiment’. Or what it does to गति  (gati), just prefixing गति with प्र and turning it into प्रगति (pragati) pushes the motion forward, making it progressive. In a similar way, it turns simple क्रिया (kriya, performance, activity) into प्रक्रिया (prakriya), which could be both a complex and a forward process. Even in भूमीति (Bhoomiti), in Geometry प्र turns simple मेय (meya, measurable) into a प्रमेय (prameya, a theorem).मेय  is also ज्ञेय,  meaning discernible. Or what this does to the adjective शांत , it turns it into प्रशांत , which could be, ocean, the world’s largest and deepest ocean, the प्रशांत  महासागर,  the Pacific Ocean. I believe, Amit Dutta’s cinematography is an invocation to such महासागरú. And you will feel this in his film Nainsukh, as it inaugurates herself. So is the prefix सं (sam). Your own institution, for instance, has it – संसद (samsad or sansad) which is an assembly, a meeting. With Rachana it makes a beautiful assembly, which is yours, here and now. With this, I suddenly remember a beautiful song from the film Chitralekha (1964):

 

ये भोग भी एक तपस्या है , तुम त्याग के मारे  क्या जानो

अपमान रचेता का क्या होगा, रचना को अगर ठुकराओगे

Here we can turn a noun into another sensuously beautiful noun by just prefixing सं . This small little letter will turn भोग  into संभोग , into a procreative प्रक्रिया , beyond all divisions of space, profane or sacred. I think, it is this phenomenon of अभेद आकाश , the uncloven space that informs us of Amit Dutta’s cinematography.

Both प्र and सं are magical prefixes, they create a wonderful alchemy in a momentary contact with a verb, noun or an adjective. Film making to me is all about finding the उपसर्ग, the prefixes to create a transcendental sense of Being. It is all about finding प्र and सं , to create a संगीत  (samgeet), a collective form, a समूह-स्वरुप  from a singular geet. It is this samgeet that we should be in search of in Amit Dutta’s cinematography, that which does not need extraneous musical soundtrack but has the ability to invoke it from the crevices of its own impulses, from the सम्बन्ध that it creates between them and its own filmosophy, embedded in its poesie.

Nainsukh-self-portrait-_1_

Bimb-Pratibimb: Time and Space

Last Friday (17 January 2017), in my Bimb Pratibimb column on Facebook, I posted the Rachana Sansad poster announcing the screening of Nainsukh, and that had generated a fairly good discussion on the film and on miniature painting. I, particularly remember the very profound comments made by a friend who found the image of Nainsukh painting on the poster (though partial), fascinating and his keen observations while sharing the full view of the painting. She said, and I quote her, “Nainsukh is bending behind his patron, Raja Balwant Singh, and if you look closely, his gaze is immersive – in the Krishna painting, held by Raja. Is Nainsukh bowing to Krishna? Or is he bending respectfully in anticipation of his patron’s reaction? Or both at the same time?” And then she made an interesting statement, “To be a bhakat, one has to rebel from conventions. Nainsukh departed from his famous father’s stylistic idiom, no doubt, an act of rebellion from familial artistic practice. He was an art bhakat, whose creative independence was appreciated by his patron, so much so, that he paints him at his most mundane and intimate of moments, such as trimming his beard.” My friend finds a ‘temporal dialogue’ in the painting. I think the miniature painting evokes समय (time) in a very subtle way, like dew, but it endures. And this takes me to Amit’s own reflections on समय (time) and its सम्बन्ध (relationship) with the painting. He says:

“Pahari miniatures, as many scholars like Alice Boner have pointed out, carry with it unselfconsciously the pentimenti of centuries of aesthetic tradition. For someone with a keen eye or open heart, the painted surface opens itself up into layer after layer of context, history, form-consciousness and associations. But it is all contained in the static, limited ‘surface’: the ‘space-divisions’ or ‘measure’, as Alice Boner names it. But this still surface co-exists with the ‘time-divisions’ or ‘movement,’ the dynamic lines of action, function and association that develops not in space, but in time. It includes the time the spectator takes to absorb the painted surface, as his/her focus shifts, guided by the formal principles leading on to the symbolic and associative principles and finally to the very ‘essence’ of the painting. This essence can even change as per the journey in time, each time that it is viewed. This aesthetic ‘essence’- rasa is verily the alchemical outcome of time over space, when integrated well.” [I think this in a way is what my friend described as ‘temporal dialogue’ with the painting.]

It is this phenomenon of temporality that the film Nainsukh explores and forms its own ellipsis, while weaving legends, myths and memories, aspects that are enchantingly imbued in the Amit Dutta oeuvre. A French critic Marie-Pierre Duhamel saw Amit Dutta’s cinema as a time machine, evoking the philosophical majesty of the image. It is this majesty that we see and feel in the film Nainsukh. To Amit Dutta, the basic svabhava of cinema is more temporal than spatial. While cinema develops in time (like music), it is also made of time. Interestingly, he compares cinema with the game of chess that he is fond of – a film sequence which develops linearly is also developing vertically. The vertical time is the realm of the ‘initiate’, the sahrdaya or rasika, that has the ability to process the significant associations, symbols and ideas as and when they unfold and carry them over to the next surging moment on the screen.

This verticality of time, as Amit Dutta maintains, need not necessarily be an obstacle to the horizontal flow of time or become an esoteric secret. It can rather intensify the challenge and enjoyment for the viewer, who can then revisit the work each time, expecting to experience a new tangent of time every turn without fail. Especially now, in our information age, even the most complicated of chess games can be followed by a lay person with the help of chess engines that reveal the emerging pattern of the game; it allows one to enjoy and appreciate the concept of ‘time pressure.’ So too the film, which develops in time and holds a similar challenge for the sahrdaya, who chase after the complexity and abstraction of themes with his or her own bank of experience.

[The terms of सह्रदय  and रसिक are key to Indian Aesthetics or सौंदर्य शास्त्र , as it believes that सह्रदय is the one who is the true and ideal reader of a work of art, the one who has a heart.  He is given the status of a creator in his capacity to create the work of art and re-live the aesthetic experience imaginatively. His heart and whole being should be able to not only comprehend the truth and essence of reality behind the work of art, but also be aware of complexities of art creation. He is alive to the difficulties of achievement in the process of creativity. A रसिक  is one who is full of passion and elegance, with a sense of discrimination. He is a true connoisseur.]

 

The Swivel and the Gaze

What is interesting to me in Nainsukh and Amit Dutta’s other cinematographic works, is the swivel and the gaze rotating on an axis, and how that gaze gradually immerses into an experience, in an अनुभूति . Our experience of the environment or आबोहवा  that Amit is able to create, and in this environment breathe both samaya and akasa, time and space, while the story keeps engaging us basically through its bhava production, the भाव-निष्पति,  if you will. Through ellipses and cuts, that is one of the privileges of cinema, Amit keeps us wondering and in astonishment, in कुतुहल  (curiosity).

At this point of time, let me broadly familiarize you with the characters that appear in the film.

Pandit Seu, c. 1680, Master of a painting workshop in Guler, about 55 years old.

माणकु Manaku, c. 1700, a successful painter, conservative, eldest son of Seu, about 30 years old. Nainsukh, c. 1710, younger son of Seu, he first appears as a young man, aged about 20, and then at the age of 50. Raja Zorawar Singh of Jasrota is an elderly nobleman, 60 years of age. Balwant Singh of Jasrota, c. 1724 is an aristocrat, who first appears at the age of 18, then later at 45.  Pandit Hari Saran is Balwant Singh’s family priest. Besides these characters, the film has workshop apprentices and associated painters. There is a woman of the household with a small boy; a Mian, the dancing girl Zafar, a mirasi and a naqqad, two female kathak dancers, Pahari aristocrats and couriers, a groom, pundits, a female vocalist, musicians, an old singer with a tanpura, a royal lady, two Persian traders, two barbers, an acolyte, an old groom with a white beard and three page boys – all of them inhabit the film.

[The Mirasi community of India and Pakistan are the genealogists, traditional singers and dancers. The word ‘mirasi’ is derived from the Arabic word ‘miras’, meaning inheritance or heritage. Some Mirasi groups are Muslim converts from the Hindu caste, while others claim to have originally belonged to the Hindu Charan community. They are said to have converted to Islam at the hands of Amir Khusro, the 13th century Sufi poet.]

Nainsukh was the first Indian painter with an individual vision: from a certain point on, he infused his family’s workshop style with elements of Mughal naturalism. One might go so far as to say that Nainsukh’s mature miniatures, in particular, those made during his stay at the court of Jasrota, mark the beginning of Indian Modernism. And as Amit Dutta says –

“Inspired by the paintings and biography of Nainsukh, this film is shot in the same region where the artist had lived and worked. The actors are local people and include the direct descendants of Nainsukh. The story is from my homeland and I speak the same dialect. The artist himself is played by Manish Soni, one of the finest contemporary miniature painters in India.”

As Max Nelson comments, Nainsukh stands at the centre of Dutta’s output to date: the three major shorts he has made since orbit it like satellites, each approaching the painter’s life and legacy from a slightly different angle, and his subsequent features have each built on its formal template in their own way. The details of Nainsukh’s biography are scattered and often vague. He was born around the year 1710 in the hill town of Guler, part of the Kangra district of northern India. His father, Pandit Seu, and his older brother Manaku were both accomplished painters, but during Nainsukh’s childhood the family found itself caught at an artistic crossroad, as the Pahari painting style native to Guler—of which Pandit Seu was a major practitioner—was being slowly transformed by the importation of a more naturalistic school associated with the Mughal empire. Ironically, Pandit Seu himself helped introduce this stylistic shift.

Unlike his brother, who maintained his essentially conservative style, Nainsukh came to draw freely and imaginatively from both traditions. The bulk of his major work was made in the service of an appreciative prince Balwant Singh, who belonged to a royal family based in Jasrota (a principality included in Jammu, Dutta’s home state). The exquisite paintings he produced during that time give us a vivid picture of courtly life: its daily rhythms, major ceremonies, styles of architecture, and habits of dress. Nainsukh comes off in these works as a somewhat paradoxical figure: full of tenderness for his patrons yet willing to observe them with unfawning detachment; motivated equally by a respect for tradition and a drive to experiment, synthesize, and invent.

Nainsukh-leaving-home

Beyond Representation

In his film on Nainsukh, Amit Dutta does not tread the conventional path of creating yet another biopic. He treats Nainsukh’s paintings not as representations or re-imaginings but direct, unmediated, almost photographic records of the artist’s 18th century milieu. The film consists largely of live-action recreations of the artist’s major works, each tableau, a stunning stand-alone creation in itself, carefully detailed, gorgeously lit, and paired with details from the corresponding paintings. And as Nelson says, recreating the paintings on the original sites of their composition becomes, for Amit Dutta, a way of giving the past a kind of tangible presence, blurring the line between the painter’s world and ours. [Dreams of Light: The Cinema of Amit Dutta, Max Nelson, in Cinemascope]

Intimate Dialogue and the Saptapadi

Amit Dutta’s cinema is the cinema of quest, it is the cinema of interiority, of आत्मिय संवादù, an intimate dialogue and in this quest he also asks questions of himself. Once he asked seven questions to himself, which I call सप्तपदी .  Let me comprehend one of the seven questions that he had once asked – and here I also return to my inaugural proposition of , प्रक्रिया, the process and आत्मियता , the intimacy that ensued; Amit Dutta’s own सप्तपदी or to be more precise सप्त प्रश्नपदी .  Here is the first of the seven –

Nainsukh-painting-at-baoli-_3_

One.

For the practice of every art, one question has remained eternal: ‘Why?’ And it will remain so. According to the laws governing each art, the answer must come from within each practitioner. Recently, it seems technology outruns innovation in the arts, bidding it to follow suit and catch up quickly. No matter how far or less we have come with Cinema, digital technology has opened other roads for it. So one can stay away from big cities and make films even from within small villages. It has happened in the other arts also; for example recording technology provided the nourishing environment for an artist like Glenn Gould, who was caught in the innate contradiction of wanting to think aloud individualistically through an orthodox performance art while bypassing the performance part largely. Now, can we review the viability of cinema as an instrument for the search of truth? Money and human relationships have always intervened in filmmaking; but technology is minimizing their necessity, giving more space and time for the inner journey. Filmmaking becomes more and more personal, almost intimate. It happens outside the purview of an audience; at least a real audience. There is no money to be earned, nor much fame. Then what reward remains for the filmmaker? The answer for me could be: ‘the process’. The possibility now is to live one’s film more profoundly, more intimately than ever. The kind of subject one chooses, the reading, learning and thoughts one lives through the making of a film, become the most important reason for making it. Cinema becomes a way of searching and learning through culture, history, music, beauty, and eventually truth.

In Kashmir Saivism, some scriptures have the concept of ‘prakriya’ denoting a prescribed practice (of ritual or meditation), which is the same as the highest knowledge; the path therein is one with the destination.

And our prakriya of viewing will be to ask questions than to find immediate answers. This also reminds me of my conversation with Amit Dutta way back in 2005 when I had first presented my concept of Cinema of Prayoga at the Experimenta under the directorship of Shai Heredia – and during my conversation with Amit Dutta a dozen years back, he had also talked about prakriya. My question to him was:

Amrit: What if a work of art fails to communicate with people?

Amit: The whole notion of making people understand anything is false; my films are made out of this position. I have not understood anything and my films do not generate any kind of false knowledge. Knowledge does not exist. Anthropology and archaeology have created a false world. The only way you can deal with relics is by just absorbing information, facts. They can be true or false, but that should not matter. The only work one can do is dig, search, quest. Quest is the only truth. The process is the only truth.

If you find truth then it is no longer truth.

Astu!

_________________________________________

AMIT DUTTA

amrit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *