What happens when Water…
That’s me, standing in B/W full figure, stooping a little, perhaps waiting for the cloud to finish its lonely watercolors for no one to watch them this part of the universe, but my friend the No-Mad and I, keeper of pictures that the landscape lost to un-pilgrim-ed cameras. I keep my faith hinged to the steps of my pilgrim friend, harbinger of trans-galactic movements, call them Pilgrimage. And also there where you can’t see nobody till the farthest point of the forking road where sight meets blindness, a wind screams like a forest on fire, coaches appear in the distance as if from some passed fallow of childhood rail rides, not knowing to best receive. Here as the camera stops rolling, rests quietly on its limp tripod gazing like the insect and us under the same wonder beneath these strange skies of a timeless ballad, changing into pilgrims, our tired feet pull over on the orbit of imagination … do us see us go away, or fading in like an inevitable season on earth, the season of the Pilgrims, into a perennial forever writing and drawing of scripts, alphabets, Images, eventually! Everything now forms before me on a screen; forms, becomes, lets be … looking at the world again in the mirror of a river. Enchanted to remember the power of abstraction that reality itself only can write.
Image: That which makes me Imagine
Something made possible. A Being, Before Everything was born.
But only now as I stop, look, remember.
An Ocean subsides, a Universe Emerges from another.
For an instant I feel like the King of Gods. Soon an ant, throwing up its snouts and synapses in blue air trying to move on its way in an intermittent stream of universes flowing over the ant of a me. The word Hyacinth flashes up and looking at my friend I see her looking at hyacinths and scriptures doodling the river of poets, Indrayani.. as if a name would suffice..
Baudellaire’s dream forms Afterwards, in the Nomad’s land. I realize looking through another’s eyes that one doesn’t come to cinema for those many frames per sec alone. It is impossible we find to look from far, this restless river of crossing ways, without being lost in this carnival of letting go, there’s no point in all this… the rain prattles on the asphalt and the umbrella over our cameras. Walking with the wind and water I feel like a crane that must learn to fly at times, only to return to its flock.
With which lens, from where do I begin to think up a position from where anything could be seen. Do I go up the ridge of that hill, or down that slope onto the tracks that wait for round and round in endless loops for trains that whisper through the valleys where time lost its way, again as I look at my friend trying to walk on air. I begin to miss everything, all over again... and I know I must set out on Pilgrimage. My friend could be building a bridge or a trans-mundial Timehole somewhere on some reclusive geometer; I lend her my blue overalls, that the blind tailor of Bombay cut to my size with much imagination and no verses unturned. She might like that smell of unhurried distances. Trembling drenched with the goats somewhere off a Deccan highway.
The Highways talk only to the site map of great emerging metropolises, despite frantic cinematic prophecies of the zombie aftermath. Smart cities and phones calling up each other in the dead of the night raising Cryptosaurs that no meteorite shower can put back to sleep, you can only code and decode yourself from here on till the wayward God returns to ITs Computer. Not in this cradle of graves, plundered and churning up the heroes and their vanquished, walked over by a million feet, only some of them human… here the wind doesn’t sleep, the mountains don’t move in their dreams, there are no dreams perhaps…except like the really few, like the one I am going to see now.. I don’t know WHICH DREAMT IT.
born 23rd february 1971, Arghya graduated from st. Xavier’s college, Kolkata and studied at the Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), with specialization in editing. He has taught films in various academic organizations for several years and designed courses for mass communication and film studies. He worked as head of the department of Mass communication and Videography at st. Xavier’s college, Kolkata and thereafter on the faculty of editing, Film & Television Institute of India, Pune. Conducting, resourcing interdisciplinary workshops with several academic institutions including SRFTII, NID, Vishvabharati university, KRIVAetc. Working in Asian aesthetics, Buddhism / comparative religion and socio-linguistics; writing, practicing, integrating text and life. Filmography produced short documentary features, educational programmes for tv, worked on social awareness campaigns, scripted for a number of tv and film documentaries. Research and documentation work for various audiovisual projects. Produced several short fiction and non fiction videos. Worked as freelance editor on postproduction for documentaries, both in celluloid and video screened at national and international film festivals. Edited a host of fiction and non-fiction programmes for regional and national television networks. First feature length film was Listener's Tale, premiered at the international film festival rotterdam and was honored with the Pierre & Yolande Perrault grant award by the centre georges pompidou, paris in 2008.Next feature length film Death Life Etc. Is part of a series of films exploring the ethnography and influences of the tibetan buddhist faith and practices among the people of contemporary sikkim. Mt. Witness based on the life and works of lepcha musician, historian and playwright sonam tsering lepcha. The film explores sonam’s inspirations, singular vision and struggle to situate lepcha culture, language and music on the ethnographic map of eastern Himalayas.
The trilogy has been screened in film festivals, galleries, museums, art centers and continues to find its dedicated audience the world over.
Reverberations. Video / 30 mins./ col / 1993
Little things. DV/ 100 mins./ col / 2000
Kavya katha. DV/ 80 mins./ col / 2000
Chain reactions. DV/ 20 mins./ col / 2001
The day nothing happened.dv / 15 mins. / col / 2001
Sand. Wind. Other stereotypes. DV /17 mins. / col / 2001
Image-essays listener’s tale : image essay for marg publications city. Space. Changing. Documentary photography series on urban landscapes, 2002 of a labyrinth. Photocollage series on new media ideologies, 2003 dhulichitra. Electronic paintings, 2003 dernier cri / technicolor shift at the random image factory. DV film, photocollage, animations, music, text etc.
CLOSE UP Abbas Kiarostami
'Does anything escape
the eyes looking intent-ly
at the world
those dark glasses?''
is what I am thinking
that day in the lawns
of Films Division Delhi,
during the International
Film Festival of India.
It is 1999.
Kiarostami is in the jury.
We are film students at the Film & TV Institute of India.
Tanaku Umadevi, Mii & Anupama Srinivasan with Abbas Kiarostami
He is wearing his dark glasses during through the half hour we have literally stolen with him.
I & Anupama, have been following him so long, ever since his plane landed in Delhi, fishing for a meeting that when the moment actually arrives, we are quite tired and exhausted, not unlike Qaseem from K's film Mosafer/ Traveller falling asleep in the very football match he has run away from home to watch. It was enough that he was there in the chair in front of us, wasn't it?
I remember asking him which was his favourite film and immediately feeling foolish, till he said- "Close up". A film you don't decide to make, or cannot make again, as he said.
It is curious, how Sabzian in Nemaye nezdik/ Close up also evokes Mossafer/ Traveler as an analogy of his own condition- a child going off to sleep when the match begins. He is speaking to the camera with a close-up lens, put there by Kiarostami, for him to explain whatever he is not able to otherwise put across in a court of law, defending his own case of fraud. Ahankhah's son says he would forgive him, if he wasn't still acting; but he's now playing for sympathy, says he. K asks if Sabzian thinks he's acting for the camera. He says he is not acting; only talking of his suffereing. K asks if it will not be better to be an actor than director. He says he enjoys playing the director, though its tough to play Makhmalbaff. K asks what role he would like to play. Sabzian says he would like to play himself. K says "you are playing yourself already". Sabzian falls silent...
We had hardly done anything during the festival till then, except track Kiarostami all over the capital right up to this moment. And now that it was here, we of course had no clue what to do with the moment. Our friends Gurvinder and Uma who had come along for the meeting, fumbled with some questions, while giving us intermittent stares as if to say- 'Weren't you the ones dying to talk to him? Why did you want to meet? Don't you at least have some questions?'
As for us, we just looked at him, looking at us through his dark glasses, talking about Cinema. He was every bit as we had imagined him to be- totally there, with us, rapt attentive, present to the passing moment. He asked us how we looked at the emergent video technology? We were still being trained primarily in film technology at the Film school and there was not much anyone thought about the video upcoming. It was as if everyone almost resisted its coming by pretending to look the other way. Kiarostami said there was no point if we could not look at video for what it seemed to offer newly. If one would use it as one would a film camera, it would be better to go on using a film camera! Seemed a strange statement when one thought that film was on its way out anyway and would soon become exhorbitantly expensive to use. All he wanted, was to bring our attention to the fact that we must carry over the same rigour, precision and responsibility to the video that we were wont to bring to the film camera. The shooting to editing ratio soon going totally overboard in the digital video age, with films increasingly made on editing tables and editors going crazy with the sheer volume & randomness of footage made it apparent soon enough.
Then of course came his digital works Ten and Five where one saw how he really meant- 'newly'.
This however was 1999 and Baad mara khahad bord/ Wind will carry us was the opening film; Kiarostami at 60 had already declared he had stopped entering films in competition.
I & Anupama had stayed up all night making plans to abduct him straight from the airport! On second thoughts we had gone to the hotel where the dignitaries were being put up. The hospitality staff there had no clue who he was; some were sure the girls were after some hot star. They were the early days of internet in India, and believe it or not we didn't know what he looked like. There were many filmmakers, we thought were Kiarostami, including Jean Claude Carriere. Alas. We waited all day skipping lunch, films, almost forgetting the world, with the man in question never appearing. After all our detective antics, we figured the faux pas which to this day, remains quite an enigma. But that is how it happened.
It seems the person who had gone to pick him up at the airport had missed him. How we cursed ourselves for not being there! Kiarostami thereafter had gone out on his own and checked himself in a hotel in Paharganj. After a while there was panic among the organisers. It was the first day of the festival and the opening film was his latest ' Baad mara khahad bord/ Wind will carry us'. It was almost evening. Abbas Kiarostami was missing.
We only had enough time to reach Siri Fort for the inauguration and park ourselves right behind the seat marked with his name, next to his wife's, who had apparently come straight from Paris. We figured he must eventually come to see his wife. He did not show up. The function happened without him with an IFFI official explaining the absence in his own way. The film started.
After the film had started, in the dark a tall figure came crouching and whispered something in the wife's ear. Our eyes followed the walking shadow we barely recognized, as he went and stood in the aisle with the crowd. Whenever I stole a glance behind, he was standing there. He watched the entire film from there. After this introduction to K, somehow it became all the more necessary for us to meet him; even the most important thing that year. Anu had learnt Persian in Boston after watching his films. I was so utterly impressed with her! We kept awake another night writing letters to hand him, in case we couldn't manage to secure a meeting.
It was crazy. But there was a sense, these mad days would not return.
I still have the paper I stole from the back of the chair
reserved for Abbas Kiarostami, on which he never sat.
So there we were sitting in front of him...imagining people in Iran queuing up to his latest film release. While he said- "In mii country, as in yours, people like to watch Hollywood."
Later as Gurvinder was ducking down the eye-line to frame our group photo with him, he had asked- "why are you going down? Why not take eye level?"
None of us film students could answer the simple question. Yes, why?
Ever since Close up, it had been clear that no one before had quite done what he had in Cinema; turning things on its head, annulling the borders in between, collapsing high walls, dissolving all kinds of boundaries to reach a point where no divisions matter anymore. The question of the true and the false, black & white, right and wrong fall by the side as matters become real. The binaries have meaning in only as much as each continues to bear testimony to the other. Kiarostami the poet, painter, photographer filmmaker, opera-maker that he was, tries to show us only what he sees, again and again through all his works, as if he says-
Lie has a kind of Truth.
Does he take you to where you already belong- the place where the opposites look the same? Where the two become one? Its then that you begin to see that there is not enough space for two here. The director, slips out of the frame quietly to make space for a direct encounter between the actor playing self and spectator. The two eventually fudge boundaries, collapse distances and become each other; almost invariably ending on a note where there is total confounding of who's who, of the real and the unreal, of the true and the false, of art and life in an almost satorian insight on human condition.
At the end, neither Sabzian nor Kiarostami remember who wrote which line in the film script. Well, does it matter? As Sabzian says right at the beginning of the film, in his first encounter with Kiarostami in jail- he had accepted the allegation because what he did looked like fraud; it was not. He had passed himself off to Mrs Ahankhah, as filmmaker Makhmalbaff- the maker of the film Cyclist, because he believed he could have made the same film. When Kiarostami asks him what he could do for him, he requests him to give a message to Makhmalbaff: "Please tell him his Cyclist is part of me". Later, in the court pleading gulity for playing with the feelings of the Ahankhah family, he asks for their pardon. To the court of justice, he appeals for his 'love of Art' to be taken into consideration.
What is there in Kiarostami's work like Close up which you discover as a critic that the filmmaker may have missed? There he is as the voice behind the camera in the courtroom with a close-up lens on the mount, bearing witness to the 'what is'. Sabzian, Cinema, Kiarostami, Makhmalbaff, Tolstoy, Truth, Lie, Art & Iran. To think that the filmmaker thought of this and that and also left space for what he felt he may not be able to see at the moment. A tall order of awareness. Remember him saying in an interview that if viewers had some patience, he would like to include just some black in the film. I see how he misses a pause in film, like punctuation in writing, a break in paragraph, the turning of a page or simply, putting the book down and looking for a while outside the window.
Brings to mind a very circuitous discussion in a film seminar at JNU for half hour on the shot of the taxi driver kicking an empty can in the beginning of Close up. We were students in Film school then and saw it duly as a curious motif that undergirds K's looking, recurring in his other works, including his first film Naan va Kooche/ Bread & Alley to Baad mara khahad bord/ Wind will carry us. To be sure they were there, the rolling empty cans and apples. However the can that rolled on the floor of the seminar hall that day, went on as if there was nothing else to the film. I remember the feeling. It strangely reminded mii of another filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky's reflections on the cinema, in his Sculpting in Time-
"I have to admit that even when professional critics praised my work I was often left unsatisfied by their ideas and comments--at least, I quite often had the feeling that these critics were either indifferent to my work or else not competent to criticise: so often they would use well-worn phrases taken from current cinema journalese instead of talking about the film 's direct, intimate effect on the audience. But then I would meet people on whom my film had made an impression, or I would receive letters from them which read like a kind of confession about their lives, and I would understand what I was working for. I would be conscious of my vocation: duty and responsibility towards people, if you like."
Much later I will read K. converse with philosopher Jean Luc nancy reflecting upon the text Nancy wrote on Kiarostami's film Life and Nothing else; in 1994, on the hundredth anniversary of cinema, for a book planned by Cahiers du cinema with one hundred authors writing about one hundred films from the history of this cinematic century:
AK: At times I am thinking: how can I make a film in which I wouldn't be saying anything? This became evidnt for me after I read your text. If images confer on the other such power to interpret them, to make sense of them in a way I couldn't suspect, then its better not to say anything and let the viewer imagine it all.
When we tell a story, we tell but one story, and each member of the audience, with a peculiar capacity to imagine things, hears but one story. But when we say nothing, it's as if we said a great number of things. The spectator is the one empowered. Andre Gide said that the gaze is what's important, not the subject matter. And Godard says that what's on the screen is already dead-the spectator's gaze breathes life into it. I read your text several times and thought that a filmmaker's responsibility is so great that I'd prefer not to make any films.
JLN: It's a bit late for that!
AK: It isn't too late yet!
Cinema certainly does not come from Cinema when it comes to the New wave in Iran. It comes from Life; unlike the French New wave inspired by Andre Bazin a critic and kick-started by some very bright & erudite film critics from Cahiers turning filmmakers. The cinema was very self conscious and cross referential. In Jean Luc Godard's own words: "Frequenting cine clubs and cinematheque was already a way of thinking cinema, thinking about cinema. writing was already a way of making films...as a critic I thought of myself as a film-maker."
Curious that the same Godard down the years would famously declare:
"Cinema begins with Griffith and ends with Kiarostami."
Kiarostami's last work 24 FRAMES robs mii of all the words I have learnt- clever or heartfelt. It makes mii fall silent in the way only poetry/ art does. It seems like our conversation with him continues beyond the grave; perhaps he asked us- 'how do you look at the digital image now? Can you make a film without shooting?! What is the before and after of a single frame? How does the Earth look like without humans?
In 24 FRAMES the before & after of the Homo Sapien match frame by frame for mii. It will be the same in the future as it has been in the past. The images look peaceful. As if I want to sleep and wake up to the timeless images playing on the screen before mii. Whatever the end of the world may look like, it is nothing like the anthropocentric apocalypse of the Hollywood.
There is a belief in the Asian schools of Philosophy & its practice manifested as Art that compassion is not possible without imag(e)ination. Only if I can image how the other feels, can I be compassionate towards her/him. Creating of images, it is believed, brings high merit; even more says the Buddha, than saving the life of a sentient being. Imagination therefore is key to their practice of meditation. In our film research & documenting work, travelling in the Indian Asia, we continue to find echoes of it. The sacred status accorded to Image making is gleaned throughout our readings & studies in the philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism, Tibetan Buddhism, Jaina Art. In Art it's possible to imagine another reality, dream up the universe anew.
As Kiarostami muses in his wonderful conversation with philosopher Nancy, it does seem that the responsibility on the imagemaker is huge.
Thank you Agha Kiarostami for the last meditation on being Human on planet Earth.
Rest In Peace, Poet. I offer a haiku, your own :
In your absence
I debate with myself
We come to agreement