CINEMA OF PRAYOGA
CINEMA OF PRAYOGA is a unique touring exhibition of artists’ film and video work from India, both historical and contemporary. These films and videos were originally excavated from archives and showcased by Shai Heredia at EXPERIMENTA India between 2004 – 2006.
Made available for the first time in the UK at the Tate Modern (2006) and then toured through the UK, this rich and unseen history moves from the birth of Indian cinema with the fantastic films of D.G. Phalke, to the inventive and playful work produced under the government’s Films Division in the 1960s. The programme also incorporates recent films, from finely crafted dream like reveries mixing fact and fiction to the latest examples of internationally shown video art. The tour introduces a unique perspective on Indian culture and identity through historic and contemporary work. These works show the vitality and diversity of modern India in a way never before seen in the UK.
Experimenta India with no.w.here (London) brings to the UK a comprehensive selection of innovative work that traces a history of personal film and video free from the constraints of the film industry and draws on a broader array of the arts from folk tales to poetry and music to dance, as well as myths and fantasy.
Cinema of Prayoga reflects the little known and diverse worlds of historic and contemporary India.’Prayoga’ is a Sanskrit word, which loosely translates as ‘experiment’ but can also mean ‘representation’ and ‘practice’. Coined by film historian Amrit Gangar, the term ‘cinema of prayoga’ defines “the eternal quest, [the] continuing process in time and space” central to artists’ film and video. Amrit Gangar was first invited to share his new concept of Cinema of Prayoga at Experimenta 2005 in Mumbai, and subsequently to present it at the Tate Modern, programme in London in 2006. Since then he has curated the Cinema of Prayoga programmes with practicing filmmakers, and presented them at various venues, including Santiniketan, West Bengal. He had been the curator of film programmes for the Kalaghoda Artfest in its initial period. For over two decades, he had headed the Mumbai-based film club Screen Unit and was responsible for a number of curated programmes and publication of books. His writings on cinema have been part of several books and anthologies. His latest book Cinema. Culture. Capital. Context: India was released during the Kolkata Film Festival, 2010.
Programme 1: Private and Public Prayoga part one: D.G. Phalke
When Dhundiraj Govind Phalke (1870-1944) pioneered feature filmmaking in India in 1913, India was still a British colony. Dadasaheb (as he was popularly known) Phalke was a versatile artist; he learnt and pursued many arts and crafts including drawing, painting, printing, engraving, photography, moulding, architecture, music, magic and amateur acting.After watching the film Life of Christ at the America-India cinema in Bombay during Christmas in 1910, he had decided to make a film featuring Hindu gods and goddesses. As he wrote, “While the life of Christ was rolling fast before my physical eyes, I was mentally visualising the Gods, Shri Krishna, Shri Ramchandra, their Gokul and Ayodhya. I was gripped by a strange spell. Could we, the sons of India, ever be able to see Indian images on the screen?” He was forty then, without any dependable source of income on which his family could fall back, and, since he was not prepared to do anything else except his experiments in filmmaking, the future was dark and insecure. Undaunted, in April 1912, Phalke busied himself making his / India’s first silent feature film Raja Harishchandra (King Harishchandra). It was released on 13 May 1913 at Bombay’s Coronation Cinema. About the most upright and truthful king, the film was based on a story from the epic Mahabharata. The film was advertised as “an entirely Indian production by Indians,” indicating Phalke’s resolve to establish a new ‘swadeshi’ or India’s own industry in those colonial times”
– Text by Amrit Gangar from “Cinema of Prayoga: Indian experimental Film and video 1913 -2006”Part one of this programme has been made possible by the kind co-operation of Mr K.S. Sasidharan (Director, National Film Archives of India). EXPERIMENTA 2005.
Raja Harishchandra (King Harishchandra)
D.G.Phalke, India 1913, 35mm, silent, b/w, 20’
Premiered on April 21, 1913, in Mumbai, Phalke’s first full-length feature stars a man named Salunke as the “Leading Lady“, since women didn’t get to act in movies at the time. Only one reel survives of the king who suffers to prove his commitment to truth.
Lanka Dahan (Lanka Aflame)
D.G.Phalke, India 1917, 35mm, silent, b/w, 9’
A mythological retelling of the familiar Ramayana story in which Rama’s wife Sita is abducted by Ravana, the demon king of Lanka, and then rescued by Rama and his army of men, monkeys and bears. The climax sees the brave monkey god Hanuman set the island of Lanka afire with his burning tail.
Shree Krishna Janma, (Birth of Shree Krishna)
D.G.Phalke, India 1918, 35mm, silent, b/w, 6’
This short has spectacular trick effects for the time. It depicts an infant Krishna (played by Phalke’s daughter Mandakini), rising out of the water balanced on the head of the demon snake Kaliya, and also Krishna’s uncle Kamsa, dreaming that his head, magically severed, rises and descends from his shoulders.
Setu Bandhan (Bridging the Ocean)
D.G.Phalke, India 1932, 16mm, sound, b/w, 9’
Lord Rama and his army of apes and other creatures attempt to cross the sea to reach Lanka – the domain of Ravana – to rescue the abducted Sita. To do so a bridge of pebbles and stones is built by squirrels, and Sita is rescued. Made at the end of the silent period this film is a bridge between the silent and the talkie era.
Programme 1: Private and Public Prayoga part two: Films Division
It was in December 1947 (India attained independence on 15 August 1947) that the Standing Finance Committee of the Government of India approved the scheme for the revival of a film producing and distributing organization, as a mass media unit of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. First christened the ‘Film Unit’ of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and finally renamed as the ‘Films Division’ in April 1948, it was described as ‘the official organ of the Government of India for the production and distribution of information films and newsreels’ so it is quite interesting to see the category of ‘Experimental Films’ in the Films Division’s catalogue. However, as Jag Mohan, the author of a book on the Films Division said, “Experimental films as understood in the West have made slow progress at the Films Division. The utilitarian aspect of the film is the primary consideration in the selection of subjects”. Nevertheless, the Films Division did venture into this so-called ‘luxury’. The late Vijay B. Chandra, who was then Films Division’s Chief Producer always talked about producing visually stimulating ‘food for thought’ to nourish India’s millions of illiterate people. To whatever extent, it was the public sector Films Division that took the risk of making films such as Explorer (Pramod Pati, 1968), And I Make Short Films (S.N.S. Sastry, 1968), Trip (Pramod Pati, 1970), Child on a Chess Board (Vijay B. Chandra, 1979); all these filmmakers were the Films Divisions staffers. – Text by Amrit Gangar, from publication “Cinema of Prayoga: Indian experimental Film and video 1913 -2006”Part two of this programme has been made possible by the kind co-operation of Mr Mukherjee (Films Division). Because of the fragile nature of the original prints this work is shown on Beta SP.
And I Make Short Films
S.N.S Sastry, 1968, 35mm, sound, b/w, 16’ transferred to Beta
An impressionistic portrayal of a short filmmaker by a short filmmaker. The views expressed in the film are sometimes bitter, often humorous, at times satirical but seldom complimentary.
Pramod Pati, 1970, 35mm, sound, b/w, 4’ transferred to Beta
A film on Bombay, using pixilation and an abstract soundtrack to depict the evanescence of urban daily life. The quintessential Indian experimental ‘city film’.
Child on a Chess Board
Vijay B Chandra, 1979, 35mm, sound, b/w, 8’ transferred to Beta
This abstract narrative, dealing with the parallel themes of “Man with all knowledge” and “Child the father of man”, is a psycho-social exploration of nationhood, industrial progress and scientific development, as seen through the eyes of a child.
Pramod Pati, 1968, 35mm, sound, b/w, 8’ transferred to Beta
A psychedelic trip through ‘60’s youth culture in India. An analysis of science, technology and modernity with abstract references to symbols, faces and moods.
Programme 2: Migration and [dis]location
A significant feature of contemporary Indian experimental film practice is the emergence of influential work by NRI (Non-Resident Indian) artists. In a variety of contexts, these artists live, study and/or work outside India and are returning to explore their cultural roots. The films in this programme map these processes of migration, spatio-temporal disjuncture and cross-cultural dialogue, pointing to the range of self-reflexive strategies deployed by NRI artists in negotiating their postcolonial status. These include Shumona Goel’s portrayal of alienation and dislocation in Bombay, Anuradha Chandra’s process-specific meditation on time and interiority, and Xav Leplae’s ludic restaging of a 1973 Bollywood classic.
18(+2) Blinks of an Eye
Anuradha Chandra, India/USA 2004, 16mm, silent, b/w, 23’
“I was fascinated by Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams’ which explores different possibilities of understanding time. He creates a series of vignettes that describe some of the dreams that Einstein could have had while trying to understand the mysteries of space and time. Each vignette contains a world based on a particular perception of time and space. People inhabiting these worlds have behaviours and philosophies appropriate to these models of perception. The vignettes are cinematically evocative as possibilities – in one world, time is circular, and its people repeat triumph and trial over and over and over again… In another, men and women try to live as high as possible – the higher the altitude the slower the time moves and the longer they remain young … In yet another, there is no time, only frozen moments. These are evocative metaphors for time – although when we try to articulate an exact definition of time it falls into circular language. We take time for granted, mostly as the linear clock time by which we divide our days. But what is it really? The film starts from this point and then evolves into an experiential journey to discover the essence of time, and trying to represent it ‘directly’”. – Text from Interview between Anuradha Chandra and Shai Heredia from publication “Cinema of Prayoga: Indian experimental Film and video 1913 -2006” Experimenta 2004
Shumona Goel, India 2004 16mm, sound, colour, 20’
[Projected on Beta at request of director].
“When I moved to Bombay I shared a room with my friend Atreyee, a young Bengali woman who was doing fieldwork in Bombay for her PhD. She had inexpensive basic equipment to document her research – an automatic still camera, disposable cameras, a tape recorder, and a computer. I started playing around with these amateur gauges, taking random snapshots of Atreyee sleeping, eating, and reading. There was something revealing and cinematic about these personal snapshots. I followed Atreyee around for two years while she developed a routine in Bombay. She found a flat, she did her research, she made friends, she fell in love, and she got married. I guess I ended up using her as a subject to build on my own story of moving to a new city”. – Text from Interview between Shumona Goel and Shai Heredia from publication “Cinema of Prayoga: Indian experimental Film and video 1913 -2006” Experimenta 2004
Xav Leplae, India/USA 2003, 35mm, sound, colour, 32’I’m Bobby serves up an unbidden détournement of the classic Bollywood blockbuster Bobby (Raj Kapur, 1973), considered scandalous in its day for its eroticism. Xav leplae casts street children, child laborers and drawn puppet figures in place of Rishi, the grown up superstars of the 1970s original. While Kapoor’s Bobby was loosely based on ‘Romeo and Juliet’, set in modern India ‘I’m Bobby’ newly relays it own messages about society and culture. Experimenta 2004
Programme 3: Indian Video Art: Between Myth and History
Curated by Johan Pijnappel
“It was certainly not for lucrative reasons or for recognition in the West that Indian video art started up at the turn of the century. Scarcely that. It was on ‘Black Friday’ 12 March 1993 that another bead on the string of violence hit the city of Bombay with a tremor that could be compared with 9/11 in New York. A series of explosions cut a swathe through Bombay spreading terror and destruction. Starting at the landmark Bombay Stock exchange the blasts extended all the way across to Centaur Hotel in Juhu. The toll: 257 killed or missing, 713 injured, and a city in shambles. It was in this period of despair that especially women artists in this city Nalini Malani and Navjot Altaf broke out of the frame to expand their testimony to a wider public with installations and theatre performances that included the medium of video. These artists were not aesthetic rebels. It happened in the period in which India opened up to the international market and where one felt the loss of the crumbling Nehruvian dream upon which their grand narrative was constructed. In contrast to the cynical post-modern feeling in the West, these artists felt there was still a time and purpose to offering hope. However this was not a re -awakening of political awareness as we have seen in the art of the West in the nineties. Nor was there a feeling of doubt about the value of a critique on the society based on individual experience. For these artists the speed of change in their society made this ‘time based’ art the best equipment for making meaningful marks. For them video was a medium par excellence appreciated and understood by the masses and as such appropriate for political engagement and consciousness raising. The NGOs in India had used it affectively in this capacity. Video was still seen as a possible catalyst for change”.
– Text by Johan Pijnappel, from publication “Cinema of Prayoga: Indian experimental Film and video 1913 -2006”
Nalini Malani, 1996, 10 min
Malani’s first animation is an interpretation of ‘The Job’ by Bertold Brecht. It tells of an impoverished worker who spent four years disguised as a man before it was discovered that she was a woman. Using a tactile technique, Malani painted directly onto glass drawing over or erasing the previous images. The work captures the ephemeral and unreliable nature of memory and identity.
Chingari Chumma/Stinging Kiss
Tejal Shah, 8 min, 2000
“Stinging Kiss is a ‘fairytale’ exploring the spaces of queer desire that remain unaddressed by Bollywood. Conventionally, a heroine would be abducted by a bandit, taken to his den and tied up only for the hero to come and save her just in time. But here an unexpected twist subverts this typical Hindi film climax…”
Tushar Joag, 4 min, 2002
A documentary on the politics of hate, made soon after and in response to the bloody Gujurat riots of 2002
Valay Shende, 4 min, 2002
Scrolls juxtaposes footage from a popular TV serialisation of the epic Indian tale Mahabharata, with scrolling news text. The artist weaves together a commentary on contemporary India polarized on religious lines, with an uneasy mix of myth, violence and entertainment.
Unity in Diversity
Nalini Malani, 7 min, 2003
‘Unity in Diversity’ is based on Raja Ravi Varma’s C19th allegorical painting ‘Galaxy of Musicians’, showing 11 female musicians dressed in the different costumes of India: signifying unity in diversity. The video contrasts this with later histories of the rise of fascism and the genocide in Gujarat in 2002. What starts off as a visual fairytale, where all parts of the nation play in harmony together, ends up in a bloodbath.
Kissa-e-Noor Mohammed (Garam Hawa)
Anita Dube, 15 min, 2004
Originally a video installation, this piece seeks to portray the nine ‘rasas’ (‘essences’ or ‘sentiments’ in Indian aesthetics, the characteristic qualities of literature, drama and music) through a character called Noor Mohammed, who transforms from an amiable and affable man into an aggressive fundamentalist.
Tushar Joag, 7 min, 2004
Amidst media saturated memories assembled from “conflated celluloid images of butchery, war footage and animated cartoons,” Tushar Joag attempts to rediscover values and create a meaning in life through art. The title refers to the Jataka tales, Indian folk stories passed down and reinterpreted by each new generation.
Rashtriy Kheer & Desiy Salad, 11 min, 2004
Based entirely on material found in family recipe books dating from the 1950s and ‘60s, the film presents the modern Indian family as exemplifying the ideals of the newly formed Indian nation. With scribbled domestic lists, personal memos, poems and classroom notes, recent history is distanced and treated as excavated past.
This screening is followed by a panel discussion featuring : Head of Tate programming Stuart Comer, Curator Johan Pijnappel, Founder of Experimenta India Shai Heredia, Historian and Writer Amrit Gangar, and International artist ‘in residence’ at no.w.here Surekha Kumar.
Kaal Abhirati (Addiction to Time)
Amitabh Chakraborty, India 1989, 35mm, sound, colour, 120’
Amitabh Chakraborty: Kaal Abhirati in Bengali would literally mean Time Addiction / Obsession. Sounds very pretentious. But at that time I saw it this way – someone sitting and watching a film, a real actual act – real time – ninety-five minutes, one twenty minutes, thirty minutes, whatever. Could I factor this real time of the viewer into my image making on screen? Would it be fiction? How would it be vis-à-vis the time sweep of a novel or an astrological chart of an individual? The past, future, present moving from one to the other in the blink of an eye. What a high! I kept the length of the shots where they fulfilled a plot and then began to exist on their own, in the real time which a viewer also experiences while watching a film. This gave me a high too. It can get addictive… Experimenta 2005
Programme 5: Experimental Ethnography
These Indian artists interrogate the conventions of ethnographic and narrative filmmaking to explore questions of filmic representation. The films invoke music, poetry, myth and performance to examine the relationship between their status as filmic texts and the fictions-in-progress of their subjects. These include an encounter with the transsexual ritual of Kali worship in Kalighaat Fetish, ‘India’s first gay film’ BOMgAY, and the storybook of young boy (who is also an old man) in Kshya Tra Gya.
Ashish Avikunthak, India 1999 16mm Sound Colour 22min
“Kalighat Fetish is contemplation on two ideas – transgression and morbidity. They are connected by the act of transformation, leading to death. Both the violence of sacrifice and the performance of transformation for me are transgressive acts performed as an engagement with morbidity. They are part of the same act of reverence and anguish. For me, Kalighat Fetish is an outcome of my own interaction with the memory of death and dying. The ‘brutality’ of the sacrifice is for me a meditation on the morbidity of death. Personally, the film is a cinematographic rendition of memory. The film has been shot in two spatial formations that are an integral part of my memoryscape – the house I was raised and the famous neighbourhood Kali temple in Kolkata – the Kalighat [AA] – Text from “Cinema of Prayoga: Indian experimental Film and video 1913 -2006” Experimenta 2004
Riyad Wadia, India 1996 Beta, Sound Colour 12min
Referred to as “India’s first gay film”, BOMgAY brings to life the acerbic poetry of the late R. Raj Rao, and challenges the oppressive and archaic posture of section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises homosexuality.
A Short Season
Ashim Ahluwalia, India 1995 16mm Sound Colour 30min
A Short Season is a portrait of an 87 year-old man and the city in which he lives. The camera moves out from the protagonist’s apartment out into the sprawling city and the buzz on the streets at night. We see children return from a fun fair, couples wandering in the shadows, old buildings demolished to make way for skyscrapers. The city moves on without him.
Kshya Tra Gya
Amit Dutta, India 2004 35mm Sound Colour 22min
A boy (who is also an old man) tries to tell a story. The first part deals with the ritual of a boy going to school, and the second part deals with the storybook. With a rhythmic structure, this abstract narrative tale is told using in-camera special effects and mythological references to Indian narrative traditions. Experimenta 2005
Supported by the British Council and Arts Council England
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