[Here is wishing us all A Very Happy New 2013!
Read on this concluding, Part 3 of the article.
Having covered in the earlier parts the first viewing of Mani Kaul’s Uski Roti in the Institute, we are now at Kumar Shahani’s Maya Darpan.]
By the time Maya Darpan was completed, Nirad Mohapatra and I had started teaching part-time at the Institute. Sharing a room in the hostel, it was really learning from the other end and we enjoyed great personal rapport with the direction batches of the period. But whenever there was a break, we would both take to Mumbai where as filmmakers we eventually saw our destiny.
Both of us saw Maya Darpan together in a film society screening in Mumbai. Early enough it was clear that the film was not working. Mani’s father was “modeling” a role—Bresson’s expression for acting—and went stiffly from shot to shot, doing as told. So also Prabha (KK’s only gain from Maya Darpan to my mind, for he later married her) playing the main role most obediently; during editing I had seen her ‘mother’ the unit with homemade dabba etc. In an early scene, as Mani’s father and his visiting friends talk, scattered and jarring sound of crows is suddenly pushed to the fore. This was commenting on the feudal stuff that the old people were supposed to be talking for you, (as if they had been allowed to speak their own minds, rather than Kumar’s mindless lines!) What had these people, both Mani and Kumar, done to dialogue in the name of draining the emotion out (the Bresson way, you were threateningly told), you wondered. Nothing seemed to hold the shots together except for the editor’s glue.
Going by Kumar’s diploma film—while Mani’s had been a peculiar hotchpotch of various brands of colour stock, Kumar’s The Glass Pane, again by KK Mahajan, showed promise of technical competence—I was expecting restraint with some coherence of the narrative. But here there was only a warped sense of restraint and no coherence at all. And in the light of glaring failure in these two key respects, colour experiment, even if it was there, was meaningless. I for one could never see the palette, then or since, in spite of listening to Kumar over a number of occasions.
There was a generous sprinkling of Institute ex-students among the audience and the atmosphere of hushed reverence was largely due to their presence. Staying in far-flung PG accommodations, they used to seek each other out in the evenings at one or the other of about half-a-dozen “joints” downtown—Jahangir Art Gallery’s restaurant Samovar was among the more uppish ones. And on days there was a screening such as the present one, all would make it a point to be seen there in strength as though on duty. If today it is their films, tomorrow it’ll be ours, was the fond hope in every eye. Each brought one or two others as their contribution to the Cause—a budding journalist, a dabbler in paint, someone “involved” in theatre, a date once in a while and so on—and one thing you noticed they all shared besides love of cinema was a tilt to the left. For their part, these enthusiasts would be keen to pick up the Institute vocabulary of film jargon, and with luck, in time, a possible career in this exciting medium. With a revolution happening, you wanted to be a founder member of whatever was going on. It was touching the way these youngsters took the job of hanging on around those, who were themselves doing the same, so seriously.
After the screening, both Nirad and I felt privileged to be sitting with the man of the evening, Kumar himself. It was still bright and after this coffee with Kumar we were taking the Deccan Queen for back home to Pune. Extricating himself from the routine compliment givers, Kumar had brought us to this open air, roadside restaurant and was eager to know what we thought of his film. In actual fact, as soon became evident, he wanted to do a refined Vinay Shukla, slipping in even ‘talking points’ for us to seed among students on the campus.
Perhaps I can’t even now hide my dislike of a film but Nirad, though equally critical, had much greater patience to listen to the maker’s viewpoint. “What is this going on, yaar,” he had been whispering to me throughout the film, but here he seemed to be very sympathetic. “I was compensating for your Jat-like manners all through,” he retaliated when I cornered him in the train and we both had a hearty laugh.
In broken up references (as well as sentences), as though the ground rules were already agreed upon from prior interactions, Kumar and Nirad’s conversation may have gone on something like this:
“And what did you think of colour? Yeah, I wanted them saturated. Greens in particular, it’s so difficult to handle green, you know (or was it blue?) And violet too. But you must if you want to stylize and not use them naturalistically, you see.”
“Is it violet or indigo? Prabha’s nude?”
“Oh but the censors are being so stupid, don’t you think? They want to cut the whole scene, just eliminate the whole thing, you know? No, I have still not agreed to the cuts, but the release date is approaching and I want my film seen, for God’s sake!”
The mention of release date, ridiculous any day in the context of Maya Darpan, was again accompanied by that constant checking look a la Shukla to see how your reaction was going. And, of course, the censors had been taken for a ride getting the film free publicity, which Kumar had made the most of. The nude itself had been so self-conscious as to be pointless—the girl was all the time in the distance, looked over-dressed in that heavy violet body paint, and the shot being the very last of the reel was marred partly by the density of reel-end scratches and partly in the manual switch-over between projectors. Left unfussed, nobody would have even noticed (as nobody does today) that a nude ever graced Maya Darpan.
“What did you think of the broken chappal, you know, where I quote Ghatak—?”
So he was “quoting’ Ghatak, you were supposed to understand and pass the word. This was Aditi, doing the same as the Meghe Dhaka Tara girls do in relation to their broken chappals—bend over and see it. Of course Ghatak’s pathos, resonance of meaning and its wider implications, not only for the Indian middle class but that of the whole of the third world, are nowhere in evidence in Kumar’s quote.
“Yes, that I noticed. That works, I mean, you can’t miss it. But what I liked most was what you shot in the Institute, in Studio 1, the Chou dance. And the way the camera keeps coming down on the crane, again and again…”
Why suddenly for no reason that Oriya folk dance in a film which is all taking place in Rajasthan desert? Why is the girl perennially walking dead pan on the face, shot after shot after shot? Why are they suddenly in that steamer floating away in Assam of all places, and why unedited, as though you had just removed the camera flashes and kept the rest as shot?
Questions, questions, questions. But here they were, the two of them, constantly skirting around the issue, never quite coming down to discuss the film, the film that wasn’t even there. Everyone just saw the hoax it was—it played on the public screen after all—and how could they betray not even a hint of it? How can they remain so cool, so civil, one playing the filmmaker and the other an informed viewer, a rasik, ‘discussing finer points of Maya Darpan around coffee’, let’s say, making a perfect picture of harmony? In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody did take a picture of the three of us and said so by way of caption in an article praising Kumar’s high art.
It’s a measure of the terror our two Wavers had managed to generate that it took something like fifteen years for someone to write in an obscure article after seeing Maya Darpan that considering the amount of walking the main character does, it would seem that talkies were entering an era of walkies. But by that time the ‘historians’ had already taken over and decided in favours of the Wave. From then on it was only a matter of time before articles, books and even encyclopedia came along celebrating the Wave. A view of protest sounded an exception, vouching more for the “freedom of press” than anything substantive said about the Wave.