On June 18, 2017 by admin



Amrit Gangar

Finding a form, a cinematographic Mandala!

सिनेमॅटोग्राफिक मंडलः स्वरूप का निजी आत्मसात और निरंतर खोज़।


All of Ashish Avikunthak’s cinematographic work seems to be held by a common thread,by an invisible sutradhāra, the thread-holder, and that sutradhāra is kāla or time, which in turn,is held by Kāli – his consistent faith in the Tāntric Sakta cult.[1] From his very first work Etcetera (1997) to Rati Chakravyuh (2013), Avikunthak, as i have been watching him since he started making films, is constantly in search of a formal energy (not just ‘form’ per se), a swaroopasakti, and in that sense Rati Chakravyuh is not an accident, it is a consequence of his praxis, his belief system.[2]

About an hour-long meandering single-take in Katho Upanishad elongates itself to a circular 102-minute in Rati Chakravyuh through Avikunthak’s temporal engagement.[3] However, what i find interesting is his increasing employment of the spoken word, the sabda and its sensorium.[4] As if the silent eloquence of Etcetera had to become vāchik (verbal) eloquence of Rati Chakravyuh and some of its predecessors. But it is still within a certain body, the sarira that its enconsity is retained. This enconsity he might call religiosity but it is, i think, more of an ongoing dharma. Once translated into a ‘religion’, the term dharma tends to lose its true edge. Worse, it becomes a static and dogmatic corpus rather than a dynamic concept-in-action.[5]

My usage of the word ‘religion’ henceforth will be in the sense of dharma, which could itself take a form of sound (sabda).[6] In his films, Avikunthak’ssabda of silence (Etcetera) to sabda of dhwani, sound (Kalighat Fetish, 2000) to sabda of mrityu, death and its rahasya or mystery (Katho Upanishad) has been increasingly acquiring an abundance (Rati Chakravyuh); this is also  an interesting part of his journey towards finding a form, as if a cinematographic Mandala, where sabda rings like a rhythmic chant!Rati Chakravyuh is a chakra (circle) within a Mandala of chakra that embeds a triangle, the trikona and a central dot, a bindu, seed or a beej as it were! Broadly speaking, and as M Esther Harding in his essay, The Reconciliation of the Opposites: The Mandala, mentions, the Oriental thought concedes to the unconscious much greater place in the psyche than in the West; consequently ‘evil’, the destructive aspect of the life force, is not excluded or repressed but is recognized as the negative or dark aspect of the deities. So Kāli is but the devouring aspect of the Mother Goddess, while Siva is both Creator and Destroyer.[7] “The goal of perfection for the Oriental is not identification with the All-Good, as it so often is with us; rather, he seeks that enlightenment through which good and evil are recognized to be relative, a pair of opposites, from whose domination the individual can be released by acquiring a new standpoint and a new centre of consciousness.”[8]

ASHISH seated1

Mandala, the Practice, the Significance

मंडलः अनुष्ठान,सारगर्भिता

Simply stated, the mandala would mean a ‘circle’ or a ‘holy circle’ or even a ‘charmed circle’! In the sense of Yantra, it is a two- or three-dimensional geometric composition considered to represent the abode of the deity, within the broad sense of Sacred Geometry. The word appears in the Rig Veda and the Tibetan Buddhism has adopted it in its spiritual practice.[9]In his autobiography, Memories. Dreams. Reflections., C.G. Jung, describes Mandala at length. It is a graphical representation of the centre, which Jung calls ‘seat of the Self’ or the archetype of wholeness.

However, in association with the film Rati Chakravyuh, besides Tantra, what i find fascinating is the way the Mithila tradition imagines ‘Kohbar’ or the nuptial room. In Mithila’s folk tradition, the priest or bhagat draws a circle about his place, chanting appropriate mantras. That prevents the evil from causing any harm or hindrance to his performance. The bhagat’s place is called gahbar (cave). Kohbar, the nuptial room, where the newly-wed couple perform the garbhadhānam rite, is also made a ‘protection space’. Like the nontribal priest, the Oraon Mati makes a ‘protection space’.[10]

Talking about geometry would be a long debate for the specialists but what i find interesting is Plato’s imagination of the cosmogony, he said, ‘God geometrizes continually’ (as attributed to him by Plutarch).  My hypothesis is that it could be interesting to contextualize or even problematize the continual circularization of Rati Chakravyuh within the Renaissance Perspective-cinematography debate. In his paper Seen From Nowhere, Mani Kaul, deals with this aspect.[11] By continual circularization, Rati Chakravyuh, defies a convergence presumed by the perspectival perception, and even the presence or the notion of conventional ‘frame’, which is significant.[12]

Again, what interests me is the sub-texts and their randomness: a sub-text of the sabda and the sub-text of the circularity or the cycle of movement-image and time-image, in their randomness. In this essay, i propose to discuss these aspects of Avikunthak’s cinematographic work, particularly with reference to his film Rati Chakravyuh.


Graveyard / Space.Death / Time.Goddess of Love / Rati: The Life-Cycle.

स्मशान (आकाश). मृत्यु (काल). रतिःसर्जनविसर्जनचक्र।

 It begins with the graveyard (space) in Etcetera and passes through death (time), which could be sacrificial or suicidal (Kalighat Fetish, Vakratunda Swāhā, 2010), through sensuality of the sarira (body) or Rati (Nirākār Chhāyā, 2007). The philosophy of Tantra would suppose that the body is the link between the terrestrial world and the cosmos, the body is the theatre in which the psycho-cosmic drama is enacted.

Rati, the Goddess of Love is the female erotic energy, when Sakti sees Siva, rati becomes active. Rati represents kinetic energy too; the couple’s union, completeness, and this has been depicted in different schools of the Indian miniature and other painting. However, Sakti of the Saktas is not the consort of Siva. In her cosmic self, Sakti-Siva are eternally conjoined. “The significance of viparita-rati in the copulative cosmogony is of the feminine principle constantly aspiring to unite, the feminine urge to create unity from duality, whereas the masculine principle, with each thrust, invariably separates, representing the phase of dissolution of the universe.”[13]

Death keeps returning to Avikunthak’s films, but in Katho Upanishad (2013) it emerges profoundly, where Nachiketa faces Yama, the God of Death and questions him about mysteries of death.[14] Strangely, Death accompanies Rati in RatiChakravyuh in a form that ends in dissolution and not termination; the mass suicide or samuhaatma-hatyā is not the end, it is birth of a desire.[15]Rati is often personified as one of the two wives of Kāma-deva (God of Love) together with Priti. Rati is also the noun of the sixth Kalā of the Moon; in the planetary constellation, where the Moon has the lowest essential dignity, it is at the critical nodal axis of KālaSarpa, Serpent of Time. RatiChakravyuh is born in a coil, in the Sakti consciousness, in the temporality of Kāli, and the sutradhāra keeps holding his thread through.


Srichakra Pujā, the ritual worship and cinematographic circumambulation.

श्रीचक्र पूजा और सिनेमॅटोग्राफिक परिक्रमा।

 Rati Chakravyuh, the film, is born on a night of the complete lunar eclipse (chandragrahana) when the Srichakra Puja (a group ritual-worship) is performed, it is on this night the six newly-wed couples and the priestess meet in a circle (sitting cross-legged on the ground) and reflect on many issues concerning life and its mysteries, physical and metaphysical, existential and ephemeral, rational and irrational, carnal and incarnal, immediate and remote, political and apolitical, personal and impersonal, mythical and mundane!It is believed that during a lunar eclipse a special energy fills the atmosphere which is considered to be very effective for Tāntricsādhanā (ego transcending spiritual practice).[16] The worship of Devi in Srichakra is regarded as the highest form of such ritual. Iconographically or ritualistically, Siva and Sakti are engaged in the eternal dissolution and recreation of the universe. Rati represents kinetic energy, in its completeness; she is in the superior position. Foremost Yantra in Tāntrism, Srichakra represents the Yoni. The basic goal of the Srichakra Pujā is expansion of consciousness into higher powers. This ritual is a group attempt to rise to a specific higher brain power, finally reaching the most difficult state of the Eternal Being.

In this context, i personally would like to hazard a guess that though Avikunthak had bounced off with the idea of The Last Supper (in fact that was the original title of the film, if i am not mistaken), the entire imagination of the film Rati Chakravyuh is much closer to the aspect of Srichakra Pujā. In Rati Chakravyuh, Avikunthak does choose six couples (men-women, twelve of them, like twelve apostles in the Last Supper) and a priestess as he calls her, following the Biblical Last Supper legend, and then he imagines them to killing themselves, picking up from the mass suicides by devotees of some extreme cultist traditions. But the notion of chakra or the circle seems to have emanated from the Tantric Srichakra Pujā ritual, which is in line with his belief in the Sakta cult. Avikunthak employs the word ‘chakra’ in a Tantric sense, i.e. mystical circle (or diagram),chakra is also whirlpool, while vyuh is a circular flight. Chakravyuh is any circular array of troops (as in the Mahābhārata). Vyuh would also mean to shift, transpose, alter, separate or resolve.

The so-called priestess in the film is like Chakranāyikā, or leader of the group (interestingly one meaning of mandala / mandal is also group or assemblage), but in the film obviously all hierarchies dissolve, physical or metaphorical, what remains is the myth, the māyā, and dissolution. The circle of RatiChakravyuh turns into a chakra of reflections on the ontological beginning and the end, life and death, on copulation and fertility, libidinous or otherwise, on unions and disunions, on Prakriti’s (Universal Nature’s) three basic qualities (gunas): Sattva, Rajas andTamas. And the play of all this leads to the film’s references to bloody riots, wars, masculine sexual aggressions and digressions verging on masochism and sadomasochism, mythologies and mythical beings popping out of the memory’s crevices, the real stories cropping up on a cricket ground or in an automobile, a dysfunctional turning into a functional; the film in this sense turns into a huge archaeological ground where memories and myths are buried, upside down, downside up and dug out, as if in and from tantra.[17]

The sabda turning into a sarira and its surrealist or erotic phantasy, its sensuality of Rāvan’s body with ten tongues and twenty arms, and hundred fingers that can become an object of carnal desire for Sitā! These imaginations are so familiar to the pan-Indian mindscape that keeps blurring the division between the sacred and the profane, moral and immoral, good and evil; they are all profusely absorbed in Kāli. This is how one of the brides fantasizes (sub-textually representing herself and the womanhood at large) Sitā’s love for Rāvan, the passionate carnal love:

After a brief resistance, Sitā began to like Rāvan kissing her simultaneously with his ten lips at her toes, feet, fingers, navel, breast, eyes, vagina, buttocks, ears, forehead and lips; all at the same time, all at once. Sitā, as one of the brides says, had gone ecstatic, while expressing her preference for such a physical pleasure. “Any woman would have liked this,” she said. According to her story of killing of Rāvan by Rām was a hoax and Rām had developed a liking for Rāvan for Sitā’s satisfaction. On the other hand, Krishna had shot Rādhā dead in a dream where he had entered all naked. Rādhā asked him the reason for being naked in her dream. Without responding to her, Krishna pulled his revolver and shot Rādhā. And as this bride’s phantasy goes, “The gun had only three bullets. The first hit her chest, piercing her left breast and entering her heart. The second hit her right forehead and the last one hit her stomach but could not pierce it. The bullet ricocheted and hit three behind Krishna and it set the tree on fire. As Rādhā lay dying she cursed Krishna, and told him that he would not be happy making love to anyone else in his life. By killing Rādhā he had killed his own happiness.

Krishna commits suicide and as we are informed, he was the only God who had committed suicide. The couples’ along with the priestess’s seemingly automated, uncontrolled mind-projections effortlessly slide into many myths and associative analogies alluding as if to integrated deviations on a tantric template, mundane becoming mārmik (discerning, piercing the vitals); one of them is about Māruti (Hanuman) and his namesake Indian car that was “a monkey in its past life.”

According to mythology, Mārut, the Hindu wind god, Vāyu, had two sons, Hanumān, the bachelor God and Bhima. His mother Anjanā was an apsarā (wife of a heavenly musician) born on earth as a female vānara (monkey) due to a curse. She was redeemed from this curse on her giving birth to a son. Being son of Anjanā, Hanumān is also called Anjaneya. There are so many legends around Māruti or Hanumān, and one of them interprets him as the incarnation of Siva.

Māruti Suzuki India Limited, commonly referred to as Māruti and formerly known as Māruti Udyog Limited, is an automobile manufacturer in India. It is a subsidiary of Japanese automobile and motorcycle manufacturer Suzuki. The name Suzuki is a common Japanese surname meaning ‘bell wood’, ‘bell tree’ or ‘bud tree’. And this ‘tree’, as i imagine it, also connects with Hanumān and Sitā. According to one version, Hanumān finds Sitā under a tree, thinking of committing suicide because she saw no way out of her captivity at Ashok Vātikā in Lankā by Rāvan.[18]

Rati Chakravyuh, the film, keeps us engaged with such crazily linked stories turning myths into realities, realities into myths or both into both, as the camera keeps encircling on faces mouthing words, without any dramatization or acted intonation, manifesting the power of sabda, and its abstraction that can give birth to million stories. It is the phantasy, it is the eroticism (sans titillation) and psychic energy that challenges our established notions and draws us into the cyclical time and the space in depth, perceived and unperceived and like children we stay askance curiously. The fact of the single-shot recedes into the Yantra that Avikunthak so cleverly sets up like huge mass of micro and macro memories, crossing three times, past, present and future, all circulating within trikāla, the tri-temporalities as it were!

Rati Chakravyuh and its sub-text.

रतिचक्रव्यूह और उपसूत्र।

Every text of this film has a sub-text and every round that the camera takes has its sub-round or sub-circle, as i perceive it. This ‘sub’ is of significance. And this sub-ness (sub-consciousness) emerges from two aspects, namely, Yantra and Tantra. Among its many meanings, Tantra would mean a class of works teaching magical and mystical formularies (mostly in the form of dialogues between Siva and Durgā and said to treat five subjects (1) the creation, (2) the destruction of the world, (3) the worship of the gods, (4) the attainment of all the objects, esp. of six super-human faculties, (5) the four modes of union with the supreme spirit by meditation.

Tantra also means the warp or threads extended lengthwise in a loom, an uninterrupted series – perhaps Rati Chakravyuh works like a loom with circulating spindles accumulating yarn upon yarn, sabda upon sabda as its sub-text.  And this very sabda as it is impregnated with sensuality turns the film much more tactile and haptic than it seems on its skin; it is in our minds and imaginations that such tactility or hapticity keeps endensing itself.

Tantra is a theory, a science; Yantra, a mystical or astronomical diagram used as an amulet, machine, Yantrak is the one who is well acquainted with machinery, a mechanist, Rati Chakravyuh is both tantra yantra, it is a technology of the manas (mind) and sarira (body), and it is Jantar Mantar, the observatory of the machine called the movie camera and its levers and lenses, its eye.[19] It is the sub-text of the main-body, finally sub-merging into the tattva (essence) that could be material, sensorial, mental or egotic, all amounting to a mixture of pure and impure, comprising the soul and its limitations and the pure, signifying the internal aspects of the Absolute. These form the sub-text of the film, as i would suppose, considering its overall Tantric enclosure. It also emerges from the goddess’s triad of Will (Icchha), Knowledge (Jnana) and Action (Kriya), under the sabdaskin of the film, there lays such sub-text of sub-consciousness that governs it, that governs the world beyond logic and rationalism.

Cinematographer Basab Mullick’s keenly circumambulating camera embeds its sub-texts with the director Ashish Avikunthak’s vāchicrambling (but still in a coil) sub-texts. And whatever is being stated by the couples and the priestess through obvious words, the sub-text would make a very broad sub-templatic layer underneath, e.g. Kali’s three manifestations – creation, preservation and destruction of the universe. Graphically, her form would assume a straight line in time of protection, while in time of destruction she takes the form of a circle, and for creation, she becomes the brilliant appearance of a triangle. As if, Avikunthak sets up this circle of ‘destruction’ through the Kāli sub-text, the tāntric sub-template! But i will call this destruction, a dissolution, and that’s how the film ends – in darkness, without showing the actual mass suicides of the thirteen. It is these sub-texts that keep opening up the viewers’ individual memory boxes, the older the viewer, the fuller the memory box, the younger the viewer, the fuller the amusement box!


Space. Time. Ellipsis / Inference.

आकाश. काल. समय. अव्याहरण।

The circular physical space occupied by the six newly-wed couples and the priestess as i presume is placed within the square space of the room (imagined as a temple space) and through that space remains adhyāhāra(elliptical), it still gives me the sense of the KāliYantra or the Mandala, where the centre of the circle also remains adhyāhāra in some sense, the void encircled has life of its own. The film provides us this spatial experience, it has its sparsh (tactility), and so even samaya (time) remains adhyāhāra within the spatial womb, ākāsagarbha. And the film in its circularity seems to be developing two simultaneously ontological and epistemological (which also includes avidyāor ignorance) in both its sub-textual time and space.

Mullick’s camera most of the time captures the faces of  the memory and myth-making couples but at times it slips into an adhyāhāra as we don’t see a face but hear the words, the camera-eye is somewhere else. This adhyāhāra, I suppose, compliments the amurta (abstraction) of the words, of sabda that Avikunthak employs. In the process, Rati Chakravyuh, the film, becomes a lilāof the amurta enlightening the burden of realism in the elastic spaces of our minds. This abstraction or the imaginary along with ellipses provides the film its temporal enclosures and disclosures, its own vyuh, the stratagem in its cyclicality. And though we know in advance the film was to last for 105 minutes (102 + 3 minutes of titles and darknesses), this knowledge stops being pre-deterministic as the abstraction of words keeps enveloping time in its myth and maithuna. Even we are told beforehand that all these young couples (along with the priestess) would commit suicide before their honey-moon on the night when the moon has been eclipsed, this knowledge too does not seem to become pre-deterministic as we proceed listening to their stories transporting us to a kind of free-zone beyond death as termination of life. As if the physical reality of human bodies was awaiting a kind of redemption in the space-in-predicament along with the encircling camera as the observer of unfolding of life and its mysteries. Rati Chakravyuh, the film, in its intrinsic dynamism saves space from being claustrophobic, ākāsa does not become oppressive. And it is neither dramatized through acting or through lighting, it is non-theatrical, non-proscenium.


Feminine and Masculine / Prakriti and Purusha.

प्रकृति और पुरूष।

 In tāntric cosmology, the whole universe is seen as being built up from and sustained by dual forces, Sakti and Siva, the feminine and masculine, prakriti and purusha; although as Devi says in the Devibhāgavata: ‘At the time of final dissolution I am neither male, nor female, nor neuter.’ She is formless, attribute-less, in her ultimate aspect of Reality.[20]

The monthly efflorescence of woman in her menstrual cycle is in rhythm with the lunar cycle and creates a body-consciousness which is related to the processes of the universe.[21] Since, according to tantra, the body is the link between the terrestrial world and the cosmos, the body is, as it were, the theatre in which the psycho-cosmic drama is enacted. Tāntric literature records an extensive body-language usually known as the science of Amritakalā(kalā as a fraction), which charts the energizing centres of female body according to the calendar of the light and dark (shukla and krishna) halves of the moon, the Chandrakalā (moon-fraction). Woman’s body is both a unity and an organism directed towards oneness, wholeness.

In the Yantra, the goddess’s unfolding is represented by five triangles, indicating the five jnānendriyas  or the organs of knowledge and the five karmendriyas or motor organs; the encompassing circle, which is avidya(ignorance or delusion); and the eight-petalled lotus, indicating the eight-fold Prakriti (Nature): earth, water, fire, air, ether (space), Manas (Mind), Buddhi (Intellect) and Ahamkāra (ego-consciousness). Her cosmogonic diagram is imbued with the pulsation of prānas, the life-force.

Geometry as a contemplative practice is personified by an elegant and refined woman, for geometry functions as an intuitive, synthesizing, creative yet exact activity of mind associated with the feminine principle. But when these geometric laws come to be applied in the technology of daily life they are represented by the rational, masculine principle:contemplative geometry is transformed into practical geometry, observes Robert Lawlor in Sacred Geometry: Philosophy and Practice.

The Circle: Where is the beginning? Where is the end?

वर्तुलः आरंभ कहां? कहां अंत?

 After a momentary darkness on screen (once the titles had rolled by) as the film unfolds, i was filled with anxiety as to from what point of the circle the cinematographer Basab Mullick’s camera would begin, as he was not dealing with a linear line! The circle was a pre-knowledge, so were the newly-wed couples and a priestess forming it in a chosen place and its space but not the camera’s predicament. This obvious vāchik-vartul-lila(dialogic-circular-play) is sandwiched between two momentary passages of darkness, of nothingness, in the beginning and at the end, as if it evoked the Jaina principle of time as having no beginning nor end, being ananta.

As a geometrical form, the circle (also the sphere) has always been an enchanting figure. In spherical geometry, the Euclidean idea of line becomes a great circle or a circle of maximum radius. This great circle could be Kāli; and perhaps triangles within the Mandala! It is this geometry, i think, that keeps infusing energy into the film Rati Chakravyuh’s yantra. Basab Mullick’s camera on a trolley or dolly gives us the sense of rotation (besides revolution) too, as if there was its axis in the centre, the bindu[22] Else, its movement gives us the sense of ether or ākāsa as it moves in time, real and irreal.

Where did the camera begin on the circle after the inaugural darkness? It began slightly leftwards (vāma) to the priestess (who is single without her spouse, and hence maybe she earns the priestess’s status and she is as young as other couples). Mullick’s camera inaugurates its movement with a male (groom) who reflects upon the beginning of our universe and says, “In the beginning was rain. It was not falling but was all around.”[23] “But,” says one of the brides at an unpredicted circular moment, “[…] that rain gave birth to sadness. In the beginning was rain.”  The circle has no sequence, no uni-dimensional view, as the story of genesis has none – between the two definite points, birth and death; the camera is not equidistant, it keeps changing its relational proximity to the speaking mouths, the facial geographies. This is an interesting sub-textual vyuh (stratagem) set up by the cinematographer Basab Mullick.

And from that point it sets its 102-minute real-time journey. And where did it stop? Just before the darkness returns towards the end, the camera almost abruptly stops slightly right of the priestess. The circle has its temporal uncertainty as death is, but as i said before, it is dissolution (vilaya) and not termination (anta). Interestingly, the camera has picked up its velocity towards the end! Had everyone reached her or his ontological orgasm? Had everyone reached the moment of her or his vilaya? At the end as if everyone had uttered ‘swāhā’ with the priestess and consigned her or himself into the unseen agni (fire) in the pit of the circle, we don’t see.[24] Where did the film end – on the circle or in the unseen great ritual, the mahā-yajnain its unseen kunda, the centric sanctum sanctorum of agni?


Magic of words and the cinematographic transference.

शब्दमाया और सिनेमॅटोग्राफिकअनुप्रेषण।

 On his loom, Avikunthak (along with Saugata Mukherjee), weaves the yarn of words in a fabric, but that has no linear pre-deterministic logic in its spindle rotations. It has a typical group psychology at play, both six young men and six women are independent minded with their own views about phenomenal and objective realities / non-realities. But then the words they speak create a certain seductive enchantment along with the charmed circle. In one of his comments, Le Bon had described the group mind thus, “A group is subject to the truly magical power of words; they can evoke the most formidable tempests in the group mind, and are also capable of stilling them.” And as he says reason and arguments are incapable of combating certain words and formulas.[25]

Though vāchik as i described Rati Chakravyuh before, it does not cater to providing information or become an usual information-film, on the contrary i would think it raises the question about the function of art, or the relationship between the work of art and communication.[26] A work of art is not an instrument of communication as it is not an agent for conveying pieces of information. In one of his lectures, Deleuze had commented that there was a fundamental affinity between a work of art and act of resistance. Quoting Andrei Malraux he said, “Art was the only thing that resisted death.”

Explaining this Deleuze comments, “You only have to look at a statuette from three thousand years before the Common Era to see that Malraux’s response is a pretty good one. We could then say, not as well, from the point of view that concerns us that art resists, even if it is not the only thing that resists.” Though, as he clarifies, not every act of resistance is a work of art, nor every work of art an act of resistance, and ‘yet, in a certain way, it is.’[27]

More interestingly, Gilles Deleuze refers to Not Reconciled or The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach. “Bach’s speech act is his music, which is an act of resistance, an active struggle against the partitioning of the profane and the sacred. This musical act of resistance culminates in a cry. Just as there is a cry in Woyzeck, there is a cry in Bach: ‘Outside! Outside! Go on, I don’t want to see you!’ And as Deleuze argues, when the Straubs underscore the cry, that of Bach or that of the old schizophrenic in Not Reconciled, revealing a double aspect. The act of resistance has two sides. It is human, and it is also the act of art. Only the act of resistance resists death, whether the act is in the form of a work of art or in the form of human struggle.

Deleuze raises a question to answer, “What relationship is there between human struggle and a work of art? The closest and for me the most mysterious relationship of all, exactly what Paul Klee meant when he said, ‘You know, the people are missing.’ The people are missing and at the same time, they are not missing. The people are missing means that the fundamental affinity between a work of art and a people that does not yet exist is not, will never be clear. There is no work of art that does not call on a people who does not yet exist.”

The six newly married couples’ mysterious dissolution, the vilaya as the film Rati Chakravyuh closes its circle with, is a sign of its resistance, the sign of their resistance – resistance to many dispensations already embedded in circumambulating sub-texts as it were. And to my mind, in the present film-making scenario, Rati Chakravyu has a film itself, is an act of resistance, when the films as ‘products’ are constantly consumed by the market and its seductive powers! Rati Chakravyuh is a grand cinema of prayoga.[28]


Nation! Violence! Death! Blood!

राष्ट्र! युध्ध! हिंसा! मृत्यु! रक्त!

 Rati Chakravyuh is obviously a political film at both text and sub-text levels, as it keeps politicizing myth or mythologizing politics – phenomenological, ontological, epistemological, existential, historical, national, intra-national, sports, sexual, iconic, biological as it memory-veins show us the wounds, healed and open, into the redness of blood and blackness of Kāli. i counted some individual words and the number of times they recur and found out that the word ‘death’ occurs the maximum times – 56, followed by ‘blood’ – 47 times, both Kāli and rain – 45, followed by Rāvan – 41, and then come Sita – 33, Rām – 33, Krishna 31, Sex – 25 and Haumān – 13 + 14 Māruti, towards the end before they talk of darkness, light, soil, fire, ego, death, sex, Kali, water, sun and devil, a groom refers to a ‘Dakhin Murti Hanuman’ alluding to his many forms. The word ‘dakhin’ ‘or ‘daksina’ is significant, which means ‘one who is facing south. South is the direction of death, it would also mean the right (not left) side. Since Daksina Murti Hanuman (in fact it should be more proper to say Daksinamukhi Hanuman or Māruti), and since he faces the south, black magic is often performed in front of such idols.

The Mahākālasamhita gives nine names of the goddess Kāli and one of them is Daksinā; others being  Samshāna, Bhadrā, Guhyā, Kalā, Kāmakalā, Dhāna, Siddhi and Candikā. Kali is also known as Vāma, one who is on the left. The NirvānaTantra says that Vāma is the granter of Great Liberation after conquering Siva who is on the right. The left, female, conquers the right, male, hence the goddess is called Daksina-Kāli. As James Joyce warns in his novel Ulysses, “… beware of the left, the cult of Shakti.” Black Kāli is worshipped in cremation grounds as Smashāna Kāli. She makes her abode there to receive those who come to take rest in her.[29] In this sense, i would venture to suppose, the thirteen of Avikunthak’s characters have gone to this form of Kāli – to the smashāna – to take rest in her on their own volition.

Why does the word ‘blood’ recur for as many 47 times in the film? It does because there are wars, there is killing, there is Kāli, there is nationalism, there are nations at war, neighbours at war, there is a pent-up anger inside human-beings, and there is the over-powering ‘death’ (56) mixed with existential angst. One of the brides considers blood as the ‘beginning’ of our being and non-being, and she says, “it was the blood that gave birth to Kāli; it was the blood that was sacrificed to Kāli. It was the blood that killed Krishna.” And one of the grooms sees not only their end in the blood, at the same night. The End.” Was it his individual and collective premonition?

Remembering the first day of her menstruation, yet another bride, memorizes the blood, “I also remember the first day of my menstruation. Instead of urine, blood came out. I was terrified. I thought I was dying. My mother told me that there is nothing to worry. She said that death happens when blood comes from the mouth. She said death comes when you stop urinating. She said blood from the vagina makes your body pure. You become goddess when blood passes through your Yoni. From a Yogini, you become a Yakshi. One day this blood that you shed will give birth to a life and that day from Yakshi you will become Mātrika.”

Yogini is one of Kāli’s countless partial manifestations, among whom are living women. The yogini’s gesture, the Ahuryavarada-mudra, suggests: “I am the Universal Feminine.” Like all the Mahāvidyas, Kāli is a Great Yogini.[30]

Though countless forms of yoginis emerged from the body of Kāli, sixty-four of them are named in the Kālika Purāna with their prescribed worship, and in the Bhutadāmara (a tantric text) eight different methods of yogini-worship are described. Yakshi is goddess of wealth and guardian of the treasure.[31]Mātrikas is agroup of Hindu goddesses (singular: Mātrika), always depicted together. Since they are usually depicted as heptads, they are called Saptamātrika or ‘seven mothers’, viz. Brāhmani, Vaishnavi, Maheshwari, Indrāni, Kaumāri, Varāhi and Chamundā or Narasimhi. In Nepal, Ashtamātrika or ‘eight mothers’ are venerated. In Saktism, they are described as assisting the great Sakta Devi in her fight with demons. As already stated, for tantra, the human body is the microcosm, the theatre in which the psycho-cosmic drama is enacted. In the Yonitantra, the menstrual flux is designated the ‘flower’ or puspa.[32]Through the use of non-linear psycho-linguistic apparatus (within Tantra cosmogony and cosmicity), Rati Chakravyuh transports us to different terrains of memory depending on what we remember through our own acculturation and assimilation of past memories and experiences.

Myth and Reality of Viewing and Engagement.

मिथकरूप, मूलरूप, प्रेक्षण और लगाव।

 After viewing Rati Chakravyuh in Mumbai at its Chatterjee & Lal Gallery premiere (followed by its five weeks of daily screenings during July-August 2014), I heard several viewers, both young and old, saying that though they did not understand the film, they found it extremely engaging. Where does this engagement come from? i think it comes from its magic of words, its language and the sub-texts about which i had already discussed, and these sub-texts as transference create a certain subterranean environment in the viewer’s mind – this environment is filled with a strange psychic energy in turn filled with a sense of curiosity.

The entire drama is created through the sabda-lila (word-play) and like the gopis of Krishna, the words keep dancing in circle as in raas-lila, sensuously, seductively, libidinously, crazily, challenging your established notions of gods and demons, of sexual morality and immorality, of popular beliefs and disbeliefs, Avikunthak and Mukherjee spare none, not even the popular cricketers because they are part of the larger lilā of three gunas, sattva, rajas and tamas, human history cannot escape them![33] You cannot escape Rati Chakravyuh’s engagement…[34]It can touch your five body organs (the panchendriya) through the abstraction of words, the sabda… And ākāsa (space), internal and external, invisible and visible evoked by the sabda and samaya, the three that also melt in the end, they dissolve into nothingness, into shunya[35]



End Notes


[1]Amrit Gangar in conversation with Ashish Avikunthak,  Cinema of Prayoga, Eds. Brad Butler and Karen Mirza, a no.w.here publication, London, 2006.  Kāli represents the cyclical time-consciousness that transcends individual destiny.


[2]i personally think it is important to understand Avikunthak’s faith in the Sakta cult which has its influence on his cinematographic oeuvre. In this context, i would like to refer to Robert Bresson’s work and the influence they have of Jansenism, which took the form of the recurrent themes of free-will versus pre-determinism. Cornelius Jansen (1585-1638), a Dutch theologian. Between 17th and 18th centuries, Jansenism was a distinct movement within the Catholic Church, largely in France. The idea of swaroopasakti, i believe, should resolve the clichéd dichotomy between form and content as it essentially merges both into a unitary conscience very akin to my concept of Cinema of Prayoga.


[3] It is said that the word ‘mercy’ occurs 102 times in the Holy Bible.


[4]A sensorium is the sum of an organism’s perception, where it, as the seat of sensation, experiences and interprets the environments within which it resides. i think sabda as sensorium of sound, of dhwani, evokes an interesting sense. In the film, one of the grooms says in the beginning was sabda or sound which is Brahma or God. For him sound is truth, sound is the truth you hear.


[5]Right vision, tele-vision and dharma, AmritGangar, The Speaking Tree, The Times of India, 30 August 1997. In a seminar KalāDarsana: Philosophical and Formal Approach to Arts at IIT-BHU, Varanasi (14-30 June 2014) organized by the Center for Exact Humanities, International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad, Kumar Shahani said that religion was aroma, i would like to add that religion is also sound (and color). And in that sense the employment of sabda by Avikunthak in his films becomes interesting.


[6]Even during the kingdom of Christ those people who do not belong to the community of believers, who do not love him, and whom he does not love, stand outside this tie. Therefore a religion, even if it calls itself the religion of love, must be hard and unloving to those who do not belong to it. Fundamentally indeed every religion in this same way is a religion of love for all those whom it embraces; while cruelty and intolerance towards those who do not belong to it are natural to every religion. (Freud in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego.)


[7]Psychic Energy: Its Source and Its Transformation, M. Esther Harding, with a Foreword by C.G. Jung, Pantheon Books, 1963.


[8] Ibid.


[9]Rig Veda is counted among the four canonical sacred texts of Hinduism known as the Vedas, the other three are Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda. Rig Veda is one of the oldest extant texts in any Indo-European languages. Its most likely date approximates to somewhere between 1500 and 1200BCE.


[10]Ritual Space (Tribal-Nontribal Context), BaidyanathSaraswati in Concepts of Space: Ancient and Modern, Ed. KapilaVatsyayan, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, 1991.


[11]Kaul presented this paper at an international seminar on Concepts of Space: Ancient and Modern conceptualized by KapilaVatsyayan, New Delhi, 1987.


[12]For Plato, Reality consisted of pure essences or archetypal Ideas, of which the phenomena we perceive are only pale reflections. The Greek word ‘Idea’ is also translated as ‘Form’. These Ideas cannot be perceived by the senses, but by pure reason alone. Geometry was the language recommended by Plato as the clearest model by which to describe this metaphysical realm. [Ref. Sacred Geometry: Philosophy and Practice, Robert Lawlor, Thames & Hudson].


[13]Kāli: The Feminine Force, AjitMookerjee, Thames and Hudson, 1988. In Tantra, Chhinnamasta, one of the Mahavidya goddesses, is depicted severing her own head and standing on the copulating couple of Kāma and Rati, with the latter on top, i.e. viparita-rati (viparita means opposite, reverse). This is interpreted by some as a symbol of self-control of sexual desire. The love-deity couple also symbolizes maithuna, ritual sexual union.


[14]The Kathā Upanishad (or Kathopanisad), also titled Death as Teacher in English is one of the primary and widely known Upanishads. Its early Persian translations first found their way to Europe. Max Mueller translated it in 1879. Edwin Arnold rendered it in verse as The Secret of Death.


[15] They had a samuha-lagna or group-marriage.


[16]In SrichakraPujā of the ‘left-hand’ (vāma) tantriks, a special homage is paid to the yoni (vulva; the female organ of generation). A famous temple at Kāmākhya near Gauhati in Assam is dedicated to yoni-worship. Avikunthak’s forthcoming film tentatively titled as Devi boldly deals with this Yoni aspect of Tantra and its morphology. i personally believe that Ashish Avikunthak is the only filmmaker in the world to have so consistently embraced and explored Tantra in his cinematographic sarira / oeuvre.


[17]In Sāmkhya philosophy, these are three gunasor constituent qualities of all material substances. Rajas is the second of the three gunas and is supposed to be the cause of the great activity seen in creatures, it predominates men, as sattva and tamas predominate gods and demons. Rajas also means menstrual discharges, menses. Samkhya is one of the six schools of Indian philosophy, other five are,Nyāya, Vaisesika, Yoga, Karma-Mimāmsā and Vedānta.


[18]In the name Hanumān, ‘hanu’ would mean the cheek. As BasabMullick’s camera encircles the couples, it keeps signifying the facial geographies and the brides’ cheeks painted with bridal patterns, and they become prominent as perhaps beautiful spaces where Hanuman can have his free flights of imagination.


[19] The JantarMantar, meaning ‘calculation instrument’, jantar – instrument, mantar – formula or calculation, but it would also mean  mantra. It is an observatory based in Jaipur, built by Sawai Jai Singh II (1688-1743).  Among other five such observatories (Delhi, Mathura, Benaras and Ujjain), the Jaipur’s is the largest and still operational.  Relying primarily on Indian astronomical theories, the observatory predicts eclipses and other astronomical phenomena. Some of the yantras, the observatory has include, Ram Yantra, SamratYantra, DigamshaYantra, NarivalayaYantra, etc.


[20]Devi BhāgavataPurana or Devi Bhāgavatam is one of the most important works of Saktism, along with Devi Mahātmya.


[21]Associated with the fertility cults, the annual celebration of MithunaSankranti or Raja Praba in Odisha is interesting. It is a four-day long festival and the second day signifies beginning of the solar month of Mithuna from which the season of rains begins, inaugurating the agricultural year, marking through biological symbolism. It is believed that mother goddess Earth, the divine wife of Lord Vishnu, undergoes menstruation during the first three days; the fourth day is called Vasumatigadhua or ceremonial bath of Bhudevi. The term ‘raja’ or ‘rajas’ is also traced to ‘rajaswala’ or a menstruating woman in this sense. During medieval period, the Raja Prabafestial became more popular observing agricultural holiday. Bhudevi is also said to be Lord Jagannath’s wife. An idol of Bhudevi is still found in Puri Temple aside Lord Jagannath.


[22]Mullick has a tremendous control on the circular movement of the camera, and we should appreciate the amazing role played by his focus-puller, Manas Bhattacharya, a young student from the Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute of India, Kolkata, where Mullick had himself studied, and the trolley-pushers, AnupamPoddar and Anupam Das from Kolkata’s Tollygunge film industry. Since Mullick’s proximity to faces is constantly variable, the task of focus-pulling must have been extremely difficult to achieve the desired sharpness and the unity of vision and movement.


[23] This is interesting because as i see in tropical countries such as India the humidity causes a high amount of water vapour in the air, which is in gaseous state of water and is invisible, but it does sweat the body wet as if under falling rain. i would assume the tropical countries have a kind of perpetual ‘rain’. Maybe in the beginning was just humidity, absolute, relative or specific. RatiChakravyuh, the film, is relative.


[24]In Hinduism and Buddhism, the Sanskrit lexical term swāhā is a sacrificial oblative interjection while reciting the mantras. In Tibetan language, it is translated as ‘so be it’. In the Rig Veda, it may also mean an oblation to Agni, the god of fire or Indra, lord of the heavens. And as oblation personified swāhāis a minor goddess and the wife of Agni. It is a common belief that the gods to whom offerings are being made through yajna refuse the offerings unless the word swāhā is uttered during the sacrifice. In this context you may read my essay Transplantations. InTranscendence on Avikunthak’s film VakratundaSwāhā (2012).


[25]Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, Sigmund Freud, 3rd edition, Tr. James Strachey, Hogarth Press, 1945. Gustave Le Bon (1841-1931) was a French social psychologist, sociologist, anthropologist, inventor and amateur physicist.

[26] Most films, non-fiction or fiction turn out to be providing pieces of information and become highly boring, as they lack in the basic essence of cinematographic temporality or its evocation. In the final analysis they get reduced to just databases, good or bad, and most of the discussions around these films turn out to be data-based.


[27]Deleuze and Guattari: New Mappings in Politics, Philosophy, and Culture, Eds. Eleanor Kaufman, Kevin Jon Heller, University of Minnesota Press, 1998. Reference is to Jean-Marie Straub’s film Not Reconciled based on Heinrich Boll’s novel. Not Reconciled is widely regarded as an enigmatic work of the New German Cinema. Jean-Marie Straub had decided to abandon his homeland to avoid the draft during the Algerian Crisis and instead move to Germany where he was later joined by his wife Daniele Huillet whom he had met in Paris. The couple would become famous for the stage adaptations of Greek and Roman plays as well as a biography of Anna Magdalena Bach and minimalist version of Kafka’s America.


[28]Cinema of Prayoga, a theoretical concept and a notion of cinematographic praxis that i have tried to develop and expand over the past eight years or so itself is such an act as it resists market, as it aims to retain the temporal essence of cinematography and its grace. It is still a work-in-progress or a theory-under-construction.


[29]Kāli: The Feminine Force, AjitMookerjee, Thames and Hudson, 1988.


[30]The ‘knowledge’ aspect of Kāli is represented by a sakti-cluster of ten goddesses known as the Dasa-Mahāvidyas, the Ten Great or Transcendental Wisdoms. The first Mahāvidya is Kāli herself, as the power of Time, and the other forms are Tārā, the potential of recreation; Sodāsi, ‘sixteen’, the power of perfection, fullness; Bhuvaneswari, supporter of all existence, the distributor of life-energy; Bhairavi, the active power of destruction; Dhumāvati, the power of darkness, inertia; Bagalā, destroyer of negative forces; Mātangi, the power of domination, dispeller of evil; and Kamalā, the state of reconstituted unity. These nine goddesses are no longer worshipped separately from Kāli, or if they are, their cults are esoteric. (Kali: The Feminine Force, AjitMookerjee, Thames and Hudson, 1995.)


[31] Ibid.


[32] Ibid.


[33]One of the brides thought that it was Krishna-Kāli in the beginning. Now, from the Tantra perspective this notion of Krishna-Kāli is interesting. According to TantrarajaTantra, it is said that the goddess Lalitā after charming men wanted to charm even the womenfolk on earth. And to achieve this, she assumed the form of Krishna. The association of Krishna with the goddess could be found in some parts of Eastern India, where he is worshipped as a black deity. It is believed that he is the male form of Kali, in other words, Krishna-Kali. But this view is negated by the priestess as she thinks in the beginning was blood and that encompasses even Krishna and Kali. Thus thelilā of affirmation-negation, between beginning and the end, between birth and the death, goes on between minds and movements.


[34]The Rāsalila is a divine dance of Krishna with Rādhā and her sakhis, the gopis in Vrindāvan when one night upon hearing the sound of Krishna’s flute, they sneak away from their households and families to the forest to dance with Krishna throughout the night, which Krishna supernaturally stretches to the length of one Night of Brahma (Brahma Ratri), a unit of time, said to be lasting about 4.32 million years. Loosely translated, the Sanskrit word ‘lila’ would mean a ‘play’. There is yet another word, ‘kridā’ that could also be re-contextualized here, e.g. sabdakrida, a ‘play on words’.


[35]The ultimate shunya, if we interpret the film in that sense becomes significant to enter into the mystery of the origin of the universe. The early Western thinkers had tried to explain the revolution of the universe from finite things. Later they turned towards the Absolute or an Infinite Being. Infinite as the only reality and rest of the things its reflections. The philosophy of shunya forms the part of a larger mind, along with God, Supreme Spirit, Brahman, Infinite Being, et al. Probably, Nagarjuna (150-250CE), who expounded the philosophy of Shunyavāda was one of the most important Buddhist philosophers after Gautama Buddha. He is also considered to be the founder of MahāyānaBuddhism, which forms the distinguishing feature of Vajrāyāna, understood as an extension of Mahāyāna. In short, Rati Chakravyuh is not just a film, it is a filmosophy.

Amrit Gangar is a Mumbai-based writer, film theorist, curator and historian.



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