‘Mani Kaul practiced writing with the camera’: Ashish Rajadhyaksha

The prominent film historian explored the art and aesthetics of Mani Kauls filmmaking practice at a lecture on Friday. The talk was organised by the Raza Foundation.

New Delhi, Aug 16: Describing Mani Kaul’s uncompromising filmmaking practice as “writing with a camera”, noted cultural theorist and film historian Ashish Rajadhyaksha said the late great auteur’s singular concern was the primacy of art over storytelling.

 “According to Kaul, an object gets into a space before the camera. Whereas realism would have laid out its own world before the camera has even set up, it is important to do a ‘de-naturing, de-signification’ of that object in order to give a new perception. In this way, Kaul believed one can break the pre-verbal sensation of a semiotic tree,” Rajadhyaksha said, expounding on one of the defining characteristics of Kaul’s oeuvre.

“This ‘simultaneity’ was a crucial concept for Kaul to bring out the essential content in a film. He believed filmmakers should acquire simultaneity to go along with existing realism,” he added, noting that Kaul’s works stand as counter to classical theories of structure, motif and narrative – decrying these as artificial constructs blurring the art. 

Over the course of a lecture titled ‘Reflections From the Very Deep Surface: Mani Kaul's Vanguard Turn’, Rajadhyaksha examined both Kaul’s fidelity to his craft and his keen understanding of and inspired ‘borrowing’ from Indian folk traditions as well as the other arts like music and literature.

The evening talk, held at the India Habitat Centre on Friday, was the fifth edition of the Raza Foundation’s annual Mani Kaul Memorial Lecture series. The series features eminent film personalities discuss the aspects and aesthetics of Kaul’s practice as well as his enduring legacy as the foremost figure in Indian ‘parallel cinema’.

“Kaul changed the ‘desk work’ of movie-making. He never distinguished recording, editing and drawing as separate activities, but indulged them as though they are one. So, collectively, what he was doing was ‘writing with the camera’,” Rajadhyaksha said.

Drawing from his experience of curating ‘Tah-Satah: A Very Deep Surface’, a niche exhibition comprising multichannel video installations that were informed in part by three iconic Kaul works: Siddheshwari (1989), Dhrupad (1982) and Mati Manas (1984), Rajadhyaksha described Kaul’s ‘curiously reluctant’ digital arena explorations and, Rajadhyaksha said Kaul’s works transgressed the time he inhabited.


His prioritisation of the temporal over the visual is one of the reasons why Kaul still holds international prestige, Rajadhyaksha said.


While querying his ‘curious reluctance’ to explore the digital arena, Rajadhyaksha said, “Kaul got into digital doodling as a creative experiment during his last years, which clearly evinces the next-level thoughts he always possessed and how he incorporated them in his films.”




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