A special program by Cecilia Cossio
‘Cinema of prayoga’ is a term created by historian Amrit Gangar as an alternative to Experimental film and is also used to address the characteristic traits of innovative filmmakers, among whom Amit Dutta, The Sanskrit word prayoga expresses a wide-ranging and profound notion that may take on several meanings, i.e. ‘experiment’, ‘use’, ‘project’, ‘cause’, ‘effect’, ‘representation’, ‘practice’. It is also more suitable to define some unique works by Amit Dutta, who prefers to call himself a margi (a person who looks for a way to move forward).
Born in 1977, near Jammu, in the extreme North of India, he lives in Palampur, Himachal Pradesh, a State that lies just below Jammu & Kashmir. In 2004 he graduated in film direction from the Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, the most prestigious cinema school of the country. It was here that he worked on his first films, Ksha tra ghya (X y z, 2004) and ll Kramasha (To Be Continued, 2007), that exposed him to an immediate international attention. After his first shorts, “flamboyant expression of whatever I had learned at film school”, he felt the need to experiment the world to find those that will become the hallmarks of his style; his quest became reality with Nainsukh (2010), an extraordinary tribute to the life and work of the brilliant 18th-century Indian miniaturist. Nainsukh is the first of his films to explore the world of art and the indigenous systems of knowledge, followed by Saatvin sair (The Seventh Walk, 2013), on the painter Paramjit Singh; Gita Govinda (2014), on the minatures based on Jayadev’s work (12th century), and Lal bhi udhaas ho sakta hai (Even Red Can Be Sad, 2015), on the painter Ram Kumar: “Cinema becomes a way of searching and learning through culture, history, music, beauty and eventually truth”. Maybe this is the right definition of his work: cinema of research, or better still, cinema of learning.
The films presented here are emblematic of his research, starting from Jangarh: Film Ek (Jangarh: Film One, 2008), a documentary on the famous tribal painter who committed suicide in a Japanese museum in 2001. This film is the beginning of a quest that found completion in Amit’s extraordinary book Invisible Webs. An Art Historical Enquiry into the Life and Death of Jangarh Singh Shyam (2010). The second short, The Museum of Imagination (2012), reports in a very essential way the encounter with art historian B.N. Goswami on the trails of Nainsukh, while Chitrashala (House of Paintings, 2015) is a silent journey among the miniatures Amar Mahal, Jammu palace-museum.
Many awards and honours have been tributed to him and several retrospectives have been presented in festivals and institutions, mainly in America and Europe. Indeed, though much discussed, his work has hardly been seen in India, where his films have not been released yet. This may also be due to his self-imposed isolation and to the non-narrative, almost philosophical quality of his cinema. But the only way to enter the unique universe of his works is to see it.
Jangarh: Film Ek / Jangarh: Film One
Research & direction: Amit Dutta
Camera: Kaushik Mondal, Pranay Shrivastava, Amit Dutta
Editing: Chinmay Sankrit, Kevat
Sound: Ajit Singh Rathaur
Production: Chinmay Sankrit
The suicide of Jangarh Singh Shyam, a famous tribal artist, in a musem in Japan stands at the origin of a research which lasted many years. This documentary, shot in Patangarh village, in Madhya Pradesh, narrates the beginning of this quest.
The museum of imagination – A Portrait in Absentia
Direction, editing & sound: Amit Dutta
Camera: Dhananjay Mrinal
Music: Kumar Gandharv, Krishna Kumari
Executive producer: Mahesh Sharma
During an encounter with art historian B.N. Goswami in his house and in the museum of Chandigarh, on the trails of the 18th century miniaturist Nainsukh, the director captures the ‘infraspaces’, silences above all, by ccreating a double “portrait in absentia”, of the artist and of the art historian.
Chitrashala / House of Paintings
Direction & screenplay: Amit Dutta
Animation: Aiswarya Sankaranarayanan
Animation photography: Piyush Shah
Camera: Dhananjai Singh
Editing & sound: Samarth Dixit
Music: Catherine Lamb
Production: Amit Dutta & Ritu Khoda
A journey among the miniatures of the Amar Mahal, the palace-museum of Jammu. During the day the miniatures are ‘objects’ to be admired, but at night in the empty museum they come to life and depict an ancient tale.
About Amit Dutta
“Dutta’s is cinema of exploration. Exploration of the traditions of painting, sculpting, storytelling, interrelationship of the arts, the sounds of nature, layered textures of human relationships, and many such tender and essential phenomena. The exploration takes place with an extremely refined cinematic technique, the imaginative bringing together sound textures with visual elements, the subtle use of gradations of light, of tonalities, of colours interspersed with the brilliant use of a written script or subtitle as the nexus of sound and image.”
In “Amit Dutta: The reticent revolutionary”, by Udayan Vajpeyi, 21 luglio 2018.
“Dutta’s films and artworks are rarely frozen, static things but ceaselessly evolving entities, constantly being made and remade, having their boundaries redrawn, and being conflated, in the eye of the beholder, with the world they represent. (…) Over the past few years, Dutta has become a kind of emissary from one medium to another, (…) or a landscape painter who happens to work with a camera rather than a brush.”
In “Dreams of Light: The Cinema of Amit Dutta”, by Max Nelson.
“Amit Dutta’s cinematography is minimal to the core and austere. (…) Well-known film scholar Jonathan Rosenbaum called Amit Dutta an “extraordinarily gifted Indian experimental filmmaker”, (…) George Clarke called him, an “accomplished Indian experimental filmmaker.”. In the context of cinematographic duration, I find Dutta’s films significant as he is dealing with memory. His films such as Masan, Chakravak and Ksha Tra Gya, for instance, seem to be merging the recesses of his mind with those of our own historical pool of narratives – sort of macro-and-micro memories.”
In “Cinematographic rigour; A case of four Indian filmakers” by Armit Gangar.
“The cinema of Amit Dutta, profoundly anchored in Romanticist categories such as Nature, Beauty, and the Sublime, seeks a displacement of man from the centre of the world. (…) It is here that his grammar of fragmentation, poised between the divisionism of montage and the multiplicity of deep focus, makes an intervention.”
In “Modernism, by other means: the films of Amit Dutta”, by Srikanth Srinivasan.