Thursday, July 07, 2011

RIP Mani Kaul

Mani Kaul died yesterday in Gurgaon. He was only 66.

I remember watching Nazar for rather dubious reasons: there were a bunch of us applying to the MCRC in Jamia and we thought that was exactly the kind of place that might ask us questions about 'art' cinema. So we watched Nazar, Kasbah, Thoda Sa Roomani Ho Jaayen and a couple of other films, in the common room of our hostel. Other girls who were not applying to Jamia resented the taking over of their space for entertainment.

I remember the antique shop in the film as the one that is (I think) opposite the Regal in Colaba. The female lead was Kaul's daughter, and a friend from school. In one scene (I think) she jumps out of a window. And jumps and jumps and jumps. It also had Shekhar Kapur. It was the oddest sensation to watch someone you knew acting as the wife of someone you knew as famous.

Later, at film school, I watched Uski Roti and even later, The Cloud Door at IFFI, Mumbai. That was probably the biggest audience a Mani Kaul film ever had: the film was one of those commissioned for the Erotic Tales series and naturally people were falling all over themselves to see erotica for free in a theatre. I'm guessing they were disappointed - the film was beautiful, poetic, the best of the three they showed that time, but it suggested more than it showed. Kaul was the only one who understood that the erotic was about possibilities and not about fulfilment.

If this sounds nearly as vague and ungenerous as the Hindu's obit for the man, it is my ignorance speaking. This was a man who studied under Ritwik Ghatak and had a completely different - and therefore valuable - view on cinema. He was theoretically rigorous, widely read and, from the very little I've seen of him, curious about everything. And I don't remember much more about his films.

One time in school, when he was visiting, he gave a talk to the teachers and the senior students must have been cinema, but to me it seemed like it was about music. He had just finished, or was just about to finish, work on Siddheshwari and as I remember it, all his talk was about Hindustani music. He set up the backs of  many teachers when he stated that Carnatic music was more rigid and uncreative than Hindustani. Remember, we're talking about the school where ML Vasanthakumari lived and taught (Carnatic) music to children. He had his reasons for his opinions, not least his total immersion in the music of Siddheshwari Devi, and it isn't unreasonable that he held these views.

For a long time afterwards, though, remembering this talk, of which I retained nothing else but his pronouncement, I also thought that Hindustani music was more flexible and deep than Carnatic music. Ignorance. And the natural tendency of the young adult to strike poses.

It's time, I think, to revisit Mani Kaul. I wonder what I'll make of him post- Kiarostami, Tsai Ming-Liang, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Bela Tarr.

Here's Khalid Mohammed's obit. Here's Upperstall's tribute.


Ludwig said...

> , I also thought that Hindustani
> music was more flexible and deep
> than Carnatic music. Ignorance.
> And the natural tendency of the
> young adult to strike poses.

Oh yippee. I thought I was alone in this phase.

Hindustani is better to drink to, though.

Space Bar said...

:-) Should try that some time.

km said...

My memories of the couple of films of his that I saw (at the age of 14 or 15) are faint. It's definitely time to revisit his films.

I love the titles of his films though - they have that old, heavy, literary feel ("Satah se uthata aadmi", "Ashadh ka ek din")

For some unintended comedy, go read the user review for "Uski Roti" on ("The village creep is eyeing her younger sister" - classic.)

Space Bar said...

km: yes, he did plenty adaptations. It would be interesting to stusy his films in light of the usual orthodoxies about adaptations from book to film.