Indian experiments on celluloid

Experimentation in Indian cinema will take centre stage, outside classrooms and the walls of its film schools at a three-day retrospective of Indian cinema and video festival, titled Hundreds Years of Experimentation (1913-2013), organised by Films Division of India.

A still from the film Kaliya Mardan, one of the earliest films directed by Dadasaheb Phalke

The show curated by Ashish Avikunthak and Pankaj Rishi Kumar, charts the transformation of experimentation (in Indian cinema), from its early celluloid spectacles to contemporary digital adroitness. “The focus is to trace the chronology of experimentation through the history of Indian cinema. It halts at pit stops of radical moments of experimentation and underscores it,” say the curators.

A still from the film Kramarsha, directed by Amit Dutta

A selection of Dadasaheb Phalke’s films like Kaliya Mardan will be screened udner the section Experiments With Gods, whereas the re-emergence of experimentation in Indian cinema in the 1960s is captured in the section Experiments in State featuring works like India Rs 67 (1968) by S Sukhdev and Explorer (1968) and Claxplosion (1968) by Pramod Pati, among others.

It also includes a 16-minute film, Koodal by renowned artist Tyeb Mehta. This is followed by the rise of the Indian New Wave with films by Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahani; a special section Experiments In School takes you through the works that Ritwik Ghatak inspired at the Film and Television Institute of India and works from Satyajit Ray Film and Television School (SRFTI). Separate sections will look exclusively into documentaries, short films and animation films.

There’s also the Experiment in the Gallery, which focuses on established and emerging artists experimenting with digital video and specifically showing in the gallery/museum context featuring works like Hetain Patel’s Dance Like Your Dad (2009) and Nalini Malani’s 10-minute video Record/Erase (1996).

What makes the show more special, the curators say, is its focus on how experimentation in Indian cinema was always different to what was perceived as experimentation in Western art. This difference, in particular described as Cinema of Prayoga by Amrit Gangar, finds space in the section by the same name, also curated by Gangar.

It features works like Egotic World (Vipin Vijay, 2002), Kramasha (Amit Dutta, 2006) and 21 Chitrakoot (Sambhavi Kaul, 2012) among others.

The retrospective shows almost all the works in their original format -- 35mm, 16mm and digital video -- and include most rare, unseen films (most of which, around 42 are shorts, and just three feature films) rather than known masterpieces. Curating the show, however, wasn’t easy, and Avikunthak and Kumar had to take a few tough decisions like leaving out important works like Kamal Swaroop’s Om Dar Badar (1988), SN Dheer’s Pratishodh (1982) among others, because of the unavailability of prints.

What to watch
June 28: 10 am to 12.30 pm (Experiments with Gods - early films by Dadasaheb Phale); 1.15 pm to 3.45 pm (Short films like Explorer, Trip, Koodal, Child on a Chess Board); 4 pm to 6.45 pm (Experimental films from FTII and SRFTI); 7 pm to 9 pm (feature film Kanchan Seetha)
June 29: 10 am to 12.30 pm (documentaries like I Am Twenty by SNS Sastry, Nayi Kheti by Pallavi Paul); 1.15 pm to 3.45 pm (short films like Dust by Ashim Ahluwalia, Atreyee by Shumona Goel); 4 pm to 6 pm (video art and installations from galleries); 6.30 pm (feature film Satah Se Uthata Aadmi)
June 30: 1.30 pm to 4 pm (Cinema of Prayoga curated by Amrit Gangar featuring works like Egotic World, And Now I Feel I Don't Know Anything, Kramasha etc); 4.15 pm to 6.30 pm (feature film Kaal Abhirati)  

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