Kochi, Feb 14: The first public screening in India of Battle for Benares, the documentary epic on the highly charged political campaigns of the 2014 Lok Sabha election, will be held over the course of an upcoming film package at the ongoing third edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.
Titled ‘Where Documentary meets the Political Popular: Cinema in the wake of Kamal Swaroop’, the three-day package – specially curated by film historian Ashish Rajadhyaksha – will run from February 16-18 as part of the Kochi Biennale Foundation’s ongoing ‘Artists’ Cinema’ programme at the Pavilion in Cabral Yard, Fort Kochi.
The package focuses on “the life and idea” of the filmmaking savant Kamal Swaroop, whose works reflect his distinctive artistic vision and experimentalist aesthetic. Shuttling between obscurity and occasional controversy for over four decades, Swaroop has nevertheless become a cult figure among cinema connoisseurs – due in part to both his bold filmography and his decades-long mentorship of film students and emerging directors.
“His concerns and works have always been subaltern or subterranean. They translate well into the counter-cinema genre, which involves popular culture, politics and other cover cultural knowledges and narratives. Part of the cult following Kamal Swaroop enjoys owes to the semi-autobiographical elements of his work, his explorations of subjective memory and history, and the ‘popular’ as the setting for the contentious,” Rajadhyaksha said.
Swaroop’s career is inextricably linked to his ‘arrival’ with his master work, Om Dar-b-Dar(1988), which was a favourite on the festival circuit but was ignored and faded from public memory thereafter despite gaining cult status. The post-modernist feature on the residents of Ajmer, Rajasthan, was digitally restored and released in India near three decades later in 2014.
“By then, Swaroop had already acquired a legend as an auteur, scenarist and author who was true to his own preoccupations. He had become a sage-like figure or a conscience-keeper for the country’s independent cinema. He has had an extraordinary impact on young filmmakers and continues to make films that provoke and influence,” Rajadhyaksha said.
Of late, the Swaroop persona has entered his film frame as the wanderer in Battle for Benares(2014), conversing with a political philosopher amidst a fiercely contested election. This trend originally began in Rangbhoomi (2013) and continued in Tracing Phalke (2015).
“By entering his films, they become semi-fictional, semi-biographical accounts and statements. In a strange way, this has made Battle for Benares not just a political documentary, but a work about the human scale of the conflict and an account of the character of that period,” he said.
Besides screening Swaroop’s works – Tracing Phalke, Om Dar-b-dar and Rangbhoomi in three successive shows starting 2 pm on Friday (Feb 17) and Atul (his 2017 film on artist Atul Dodiya) and Battle for Benares starting 6 pm on Saturday (Feb 18), the package also features the works of filmmakers who have been directly or indirectly influenced by Swaroop.
“Over the years, as mentor and instructor, he has influenced younger filmmakers from the FTII and elsewhere. The package will therefore see parallel screenings of works by Renu Savant, including the first-ever public screening of her epic four-hour documentary Many Months in Mirya: an effort at ‘documenting time’ in Savant’s native coastal village of Mirya in Maharashtra and her 2014 student film Aranyak: a remarkable whirl of intersecting stories of young men, women, nature, drying rivers, industrial pollution and science fiction,” Rajadhyaksha said.
The package begins with a special presentation of works by students at the Film & Television Institute of India (FTII) who Swaroop directly mentored, including Pranjal Dua’s Chidiya Udh(2014), Prantik Basu’s Makara (2013) and Satinder Bedi’s Kamakshi (2015).
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