in the light of Asia
Rajula with her little warkari friend at Alandi ghat looking over the shooting of her floor painting
NOMADSLAND/ TIRTHAPATA is conceived as an Imaginary Film. The film is imaginary because no one is making or unmaking it. It only exists in parts, to be stitched together in the viewer's mind . The im-part-ial whole as colossal as the Universe is glimpsed only through these fragments here; like the visions from a pilgrim’s road, ever changing, becoming, always in movement. These fragments (involving the use of moving image, sound, text and still frames) from the pilgrim’s walk, are intricately connected with many more existing out there in a humongous grid, the secret connects being made in the mind of whoever wanders into the Tirtha kshetra/ Sacred geography of the Nomad's land. The joining of new dots by changing pilgrims Here & Now creates new virtual territories, defined yet perpetually falling outside the set frame.
The starting point of mii journey, has been the sacred landscape of Deccan but walking with a camera in the land of ten thousand Tirthas, pilgrimage acquires a universal appeal. While the annual wari carries on across centuries with the Warkaris walking in step with the rotations of the agricultural calendar; clouds gather in the sky as the Dhangar maps the Nomad’s land with his herd of sheep. Pandharpur emerges as a multi-layered, palimpsest, a crossroad of many faiths, communities crossing ways.
As a whole it constitutes what Diane Ecke calls a sacred geography as vast and complex as the whole of the subcontinent or may be even the Many Asias that Spivak speaks of; and therefore everything therein, exists as only a part of "a living, storied and intricately connected landscape."
Rajula’s work falls in the interstice of Visual Arts, Poetry and Cinema. She grew up listening to stories and working with tribal and folk artisans from all over the subcontinent and considers it her first school. This is where she absorbed the storytelling practices and learned to make things with hand while working through various craft processes across a range of materials.
The second school was the fine arts faculty of Baroda, where she studied painting briefly under Jyoti Bhatt at the Fine Arts Faculty Baroda gaining a complementary perspective in modern art. Here she also met Vincent Van Gogh in the college library and was deeply influenced by his work and thought. It later led to a decade long engagement with the translation and editing of a book of his letters to Theo in Hindi, published as 'Mujh par bharosa rakhna'/ eq> ij Hkjkslk j[kuk in 2011.
In 2005 she published her first poetry collection ijNkbZa dh f[kM+dh ls / Through the window of shadow which was awarded the Gyanpeeth Award for New Writing.
While pursuing a Masters in Literature it emerged that the movement was towards Cinema where the many and various strands would fall in place. Following which she studied Cinema, specializing in film direction from Film & Television Institute of India, Pune in 2000.
Her own film practice emerges from an intense dialogue with the various arts, in the inter-connectedness that emerges through a close collaboration with people, their spaces and the meanings that get contextualized in collaboration. Working as independent artist-filmmaker, she began with what is usually known as a documentary, working extensively in film and video exploring the boundaries of fiction/non-fiction, photography, video essay, digital art and in the process producing/ directing a handful of short & feature length films. She also develops scripts in collaboration with fellow artists, craftspeople, and people on the margins who live/work in the interstice of practice and performance.
Her films have been screened widely.
Her short fictions include Do hafte guzarte do hafte nahin lagte 35mm/ col/ 22 min/ 2000
Aisa nahin hua tha tahira/ Jumbled cans 35mm/ col/ 23 min/ 2013, awarded for its spirit of experiment with John Abraham National Award at SIGNS, Kerela.
Sabad Nirantar/ Word within the word is her feature doc on the resonances of the mystic poet Kabir in contemporary India. It has been received very warmly by lay audiences and critics alike and was awarded the Horizonte prize at DOKFEST, Munich.
Katha Loknath/ Retold by Loknath is appreciated and awarded for walking the fine line of fact/ fiction.
She also works in collaboration with fellow filmmakers. The notable being as Production Designer on Arghya Basu's poetry video Neend se lambi raat and as Cinematographer for the documentary Of Exiles and Kingdoms.
She has been on various Juries including the National Film Awards. She has been closely studying and contributing to the history and practice of teaching film in India, while interacting with film students, colleagues and fellow practitioners for well over a decade. The reflections on and awareness of the need to develop film teaching methodologies in the Indian context is a concern with her. She designs and directs Filmmaking & Film Appreciation workshops with student groups at FTII and other film and media schools.
The need to situate the arts practice within the relevant social, political, cultural context has led her to publish a lot of translations, the notable among them being the translation of We are poor but so many by the eminent social scientist Ela Bhatt. Her translations of Forough Farrokhzad's poems into Hindi are published from Tanav. She ran a regular column on Cinema in the NSD magazine Rang Prasang for two years. A grounding in Sanskrit and English gives her an advantage of having a working knowledge of a couple of Indian languages including Bangla, Marathi, Urdu, Gujrati, Punjabi, Chhattisgarhi, and a few dialects, an asset to connect crucially within the sub continental spread given the diverse cultural and linguistic diversity peculiar to India.
She's currently working on a new film called 'At Home Walking'.
When I attended the students film festival of Munich, in 1998, India was the guest of honour and I and mii classmate were representing it with selected student films from FTII, the Film & TV Institute of India. The German professor at the Munich Film school asked mii a question, I had some trouble answering: "We know India is a poor country, but it produces the highest number of films in the world; most of which are flops but it doesn't seem to affect the production. Can you explain how the economics works out?" I had barely finished mii first year at the film school, this was mii first trip abroad and I wished I could take a helpline to know if as a representative of the guest of honour film school of India one could use terms like 'black' & 'white' money to explain the otherwise inexplicable film production economics to a teacher of cinema in Munich!
As the professor seemed to suspect, the economics doesn't work out. It can't. Two decades later, in a world reeling under free market, corporate terrorism & political monopolies, money has finally no colour-black nor white; skin has acquired a range of tones; market is the most secular space and Gandhi's face on the Indian Rupee note appears sad. Or this is how I feel.
When we graduated from the film school at the turn of the century, there was a vague sense that there was nowhere to go thence; that we would be 'underutilized' in the industry; a feeling drawn on accounts of those unhappily working there, run of the mill films churned out on a daily basis and one's own perception. I remember explaining the sense to miiself & well wishers via the iconic Indian parent anxiety of the educated daughter having trouble finding a match. To be sure, if you believe 'marriages are made in heaven', there was employment opportunity for all, but lets say we were looking for something more than survival, glitter or gold. And the feeling that growth of the budding director & entertainment machine wasn't linked, was strong.
Society based on production is only productive, not creative. reminded Albert Camus. Apparently society made its pick long back.
It was clear that our journey thence, was in a direction different from the state and its industries; way ahead was new, solitary and unknown. The heart was heavy from learning that not a tiny part of the capital was put aside for the Artist, Poet, Thinker, Scholar, Indigenous Craftsperson. Outside the Market, or beyond the logic of profit & loss there seemed no way to evaluate human enterprise involving imagination, art, storytelling, philosophy, cinema, poetry et al. Even so. Our faith in the power to create was real & palpable.
Besides, hadn't it always been against the current for the poet-artist? Their way has never been paved.
Little wonder that a production heavy industry where two thirds of the film's budget is to be reserved for publicity & promotion, seemed to hold little promise of growth for most budding directors. While s/he needed scope to build on the learning so far, it only asked for executors or technical expertise to keep the machinery oiled. After the subsidized education at FTII, the idea of serving the advertising industry didn't appeal. Being woman was no help, even if you please a hindrance to being Director. But there we were- dreaming up a real life in the service of the Arts.
We began thus as a band of outsiders with a distant look in our eyes and a close-up lens on the mount; Gleaners, panning the Earth with our microscope aka camera. We let the poets of yore remind us of who we are. Like them we were concerned with nothing less than the Universe and nothing more than being human. It seemed we had ancestors all over the earth. We could begin Anywhere; with Novalis's Menchen werden ist eine Kunst - 'to become a human being is an Art'. Or with Abhinavgupt's -Sarvam Sarvatmakam- 'Everything related to everything else'.
Art is hard to define. Harder still is to measure its impact.
Nevertheless. It seems central to our life. We wonder why it is peripheral to the society we are part of. And if it has always been that way? We have questions to work with. Is periphery a given or choice for the artist? How are poverty and Art related? What is the connect between Art and Market? Is there an art worth its while without its politics? What's the essence of be-ing human?
As we struggle through existential questions here, in the process, exchanging notes with artist-practitioners from the west, India sometimes even seems to be on the 'wrong' side of the globe to pursue knowledge or practice art. Many friends have flown to greener pastures in search of opportunity, work or good life. However as we get on with it, living & working in the Indian Asia, reveals itself as an opportunity. Traveling across the subcontinent documenting precious cultures, vanishing tribes, encountering real albeit little known lives, finds us making incredible journeys into the heart of the Everyday sacred.
Cinema as community based art practice, offers to integrate much of value to our times. In the light of some delightfully heartwarming and invaluable dialogue/ collaborations with individuals and communities, across language and regions, we learn to pitch tent in Nomadsland and raise a toast to the spirit of Inter-dependent Cinema.
Seeing ourselves as secret chroniclers of time and tired of having to declare if our film's fiction/ non fiction/ experimental inspires us to name it genre F(r)iction for films un-contain-able in the given categories, including our own work.
To begin with, Cinema was Science, Technology, Invention. It developed into an Art form, especially in societies wrecked by man-made wars, injustice and sufferings of all kind. Its use as propaganda started in America followed by Stalinist Russia, Mussolini and Hitler. Totalitarian regimes across the spectrum acknowledged the power of the mass medium to drive home the message. And so on.
The artist/poet continues to stand alone, as before.
Cinema for her/ him is first a Practice, much like the other arts.
It is also a School; for Life-long learning.