Peep into pioneering works of cinema
A workshop on cinema at Hyderabad delineated various aspects of the medium. Kiranmayi reports.Aesthetic gratification has always been a waivered affair in Indian cinema. Would there be any uniqueness that one could associate Indian cinema with in future? Well, not easy to answer. One thing is certain that film-literate people being less in number, there cannot be an overnight change in the situation, but one need not give up hope.
Delineating various aspects of the birth and growth of film medium, Mr. Suresh Chabria of National Film Archive of India, Poona, conducted a two-day workshop on (Indian) cinema at the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages (CIEFL) recently. Chabria's visit to Hyderabad coincided with the International Film Festival for Children and Young People in the twin cities. The workshop, though not strictly on Indian cinema proved useful to the limited film-loving people who rarely get an opportunity to see clippings of pioneering efforts of film-makers.
It was both a fresh and rare experience though not fully gratifying. Chabria's association with the National Film Archive of India makes him a special man. Travelling, interacting and a youthful spirit have enabled him to access films of various kind, preserve them and speak about them. In a self-introductory note he said that he enjoyed teaching the second most. Though a political science teacher at Bombay University earlier, he had shifted to the Film Studies and as National Archive's anchor person plays an important role in the historical perspective of cinema in India. Quite a sustaining effort it is. Unfortunately, on both the days (November 19 and 20), the gathering at the CIEFL auditorium was small. His disappointment at the somberness of the gathering notwithstanding, the workshop went on with interesting anecdotes, digressions and spicy sprinkling of wit. Speaking about the film medium, Chabria said that after 1500 years of civilisation a new art form had emerged this century. Considering the physica
l properties of a film, he said what one watches on the television is a ``xerox of the original film.'' ``You have not had a full experience of the cinema. Many of our theatres are unclean and inadequate. Earlier, there were interrupting entertainment shows like magic and puppetry. If you think you are watching a film on television, (however great it may be) you are mistaken! You are watching a 10th generation of the original work. The density of the chemical coating of film is lost on television. The flicker effect produced with the dark and light succession of the running of a film leaves a hypnotic effect on the eye when one watches a film at a cinema. That is where the magic lies!'' he elaborated.Chabria's introduction to image and sound myth had references to other art forms like painting. Representation of reality in a film gives the illusion of continuity, because each bit of film is a spatial and temporal fragment. What a film captures is a virtual image _ an image magically connected with the real. It captures space (it always shows in a vanishing point) and the space of the shot is affected by time. This quality of the cinema gives it a musicality and rhythm, Chabria analysed. The cinema is a different art medium by virtue of its composition, time continuity and mise en scene (i.e., what is put into a scene).
Chabria presented a clipping from Ishu Patel's ``Paradise'' _ an animation film made by the ``wonderful colourist'' and miniature artist from Canada. He gave a brief account of how labour-intensive animation is, what with 24 drawings per second required. It took six years to make ``Paradise.'' A little black bird wants to become the bird of paradise but soon realises that the Sultan of Paradise cages her to enjoy that privilege. In a storm the cage disintegrates and she finds her freedom . She returns to her humble nest in the forest and sings songs of joy with friends. A beautifully crafted film, it really offers a feast of colours! The advances in semiotics, Chabria pointed out, made women film- makers interpret images differently. ``Killing us softly-Images of women in Advertising'' was his example to this new phenomenon.
Jean Kilbourne, the film-maker successfully decodes the coding that goes with our present-day culture. The slide-show of Kilbourne made in 1979 captured what a code denotes and what it actually signifies.This again brings one to the contrast between reality and image. Human experience with a capacity to signify beyond the event looks beyond the image. Taking the definition of Baudelaire, Chabria dwelled on the four types of relation between reality and image. One, that reflects reality; two, that masks reality; three, that stands for the absence of reality and four, an image that is a simulation of reality. Chabria cited examples to substantiate the four types.
A Nazi propagandist film made by Leni Riefenstahl, a woman film- maker, who if not swept away by Nazi bigotry, would have been one of the worthiest forerunners of the craft, was a rare treat. ``Triumph of the Will'' made to show Hitler as a messiah was replete with images which closely evoked religious fervour. The film was considered important for sending messages to the sub-conscious. Dr. Chabria observed that it was a seminal film as far as controlling the mind through this medium was concerned. Leni used the technique of playing an overture (as in opera) to set the mood on the first (blank) frame which was a convention with the religious mystery plays. The significance of stone carvings, the symbols used to highlight the ``Triumph,'' and Hitler's sensitive facade add up to the orchestration of images achieved through wonderful technique of editing by this skilful film-maker whose craftsmanship, one wished, had flourished outside the Nazi shroud. This myth-making prelude in films has carved the ``Hero'' and ``Cult'' dimensions to the new medium lending it an extraordinary power. Then one has to obviously discuss montage _ a joining of shots or fragments of film.
More than just a physical achievement of cinematic art, editing is an intellectual process, according to several great masters, particularly from Russia _ like Eisenstein and Kuleshov. Montage can be defined as an effort of joining two opposing things to produce a third meaning. Eisenstein's argument in favour of a montage within a shot is evident in his exemplary craftsmanship of the Odessa steps sequence of ``Battleship Potemkin.'' The hard and the soft (the soldier's boot and the child's hand) is a juxtaposition which produces a third meaning of brutality. Also the suspension of real time is an achievement only possible in the film medium. If it takes one minute to come down of Odessa steps, the sequence goes on well above seven minutes. The trampling feet of the soldiers, the frightened eyes of the women, the crouching old people, the church and the steps build up a sense of urgency towards an imminent crisis. The pram, the child and the mother become the cogent tragic ends of the double blow that Eisenst
ein gives. Dr. Chabria recalled Eisenstein's comparison of the camera to a plough to ``furrow through people's consciousness.'' Tarkovsky, another great master in using time had an entirely different approach in using time. It is the duration of a shot that a film-maker modulates, Chabria observed.There was a brief clipping from Norman McLaren's imaginatively rich film ``Pas de deux'' which synchronises the beauty of the dance (by the title) with the images rhythmically arranged.Welcoming the workshop-gathering to a Godardian experience, Chabria presented a film ``Slow-motion'' by the French director whom he described as a montage director and a non-narrative film-maker. He said the film was a comment on the contemporary world in which women had learnt a different language of assertion. Terming it as violent and profoundly critical, Dr. Chabria showed how sound and image contradicted in the film.On Thursday, Chabria quickly evaluated the contributing factors to the growth of cinema in India.
A few clippings from Phalke's oeuvre which predominantly had frontal camera positions and no perspective depths (and no shadows), a few studio production bits such as ``Devdas'' by Barua (1932) in which Saigal acted and sang as the protagonist (``narcissistic self-destructive male, the image being carried on into the 60s and early 70s by heroes like Rajesh Khanna until Amitabh Bachchan broke it with the angry young man image'') and importantly, star valued films such as ``Pukar'' with Sohrab Modi and Chandramohan _ gave a quick insight into the various strides that Indian cinema began to make. ``Pukar'' particularly had the Parsi theatre influence as far as set designs and music were concerned. There again one sees Indian audience's growing penchant for the pitch and tone of dialogue.There was a clipping from ``Khazanchi,'' the social, which transformed the film song (dholak replacing tabla and harmonium).In the south, Vauhini and Gemini made a mark for themselves. Talking about ``Chandralekha,'' Chabria high
lighted the importance of drum-dance sequence, the spirit of which held on to the trends in the following years.The golden age of melodrama from ``Awara'' in 1951 till 60s was etched with the new, post-Independence mood of the ``social critique of the issues'' around. The floating, lumpen audience increased and a new class was born which relished these melodramas. K Asif's ``Mughal-e-Azam'' was splendid for its execution of mood and details in a grandiloquent style. The technicolour clippings screened at CIEFL were brilliant for their saturated colour.In the 60s, Dr. Chabria pointed out, among important destructive things that happened to the Indian cinema were the complete shift to colour (resulting in bad composition and juxtaposition) and the introduction of zoom lenses.With ``Pather Panchali'' came a new wave, internationalist in spirit and film makers like Benegal and Shahni, apart from Ray, made original statements, Dr. Chabria noted. The new film culture made available at the Poona Film Institute also
helped initially to sustain the efforts of such movement.A film made by Mani Kaul, ``Siddheswari,'' on an exponent of Tumri singing, was screened. Dr. Chabria called Mani Kaul's a modernist work with great pictorial sense.The workshop ended with a Kamal Amrohi film ``Daaera'' which merits a controlled performance by a graceful Meena Kumari.
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