‘Whispers of a Wild Cat’, a short graphic/comic narrative, published in Orijit Sen & Vidyun Sabhaney edited ‘First Hand Vol.1, Graphic Non-fiction‘ (Yoda Press, New Delhi) 2016, illustrated the story of the legendary screen actor Sulochana nee Ruby Myers. I deployed the plot of Sulochana’s famed film ‘Bombai ki billi’ (1936), in which she played eight disparate roles, as a framework to weave a mysterious story about her life, works, and also comment on the ways in which her stardom transformed from a powerful figure to a demure one. The inclusion of a ‘reference list’ at the end of the comics was a deliberate attempt to extend the limits of both scholarly writings and comic book.
[‘Enchanted Lamp’ : or reframing ‘Jamai Babu’ (1931) and Calcutta streets]
Silent Forms: a ‘solo-show’ presented four discreet art works, titled ’Fantasmatic Bodies’, ‘Toofan Mail’, ’Jute Locks’ and the ‘Enchanted Lamp’, which were installed across four disparate zones. It comprised digital prints and archival images inclusive of calendar art, iconic posters, publicity material, writings, and comics, which were intercepted by multiple video projections, along side stop-motion animation. Besides the videos, the installation used material such as vinyl, wood, iron, bamboo, jute, and lights. Exhibited at Studio 21, Calcutta/ Kolkata, during November 2013.
Jute Locks :
The first jute mill was established at Rishra, near Calcutta, in 1855. At this time, Mr. George Acland brought jute-spinning machinery from Dundee, UK. After four years, the first power driven weaving factory was set up in India, and by 1869, five mills were operating with 950 looms. The growth jute mill in Bengal was rapid; therefore, by 1910, thirty-eight companies controlled 30,685 looms. In the next three decades, the jute industry in India experienced outstanding growth, rising to a total of 68,377 looms by 1939. These were primarily located on the banks on river Hooghly. These jute mills alone, catered to the worldwide demands. And, why did the demands rocket in this manner during 1939? Certainly, it was the imperialist war which exploited the colonial masses from both the ends. The work highlighted the life of labourers by emphasising on the materiality of jute, and through the video.
It is evolving in tandem with Avik Mukhopadhyay‘s dream project ‘Lubdhak’, a stop motion animation film (under production). Also, I am working on screenplay of the film.
The city is undergoing beautification at the turn of the century. The city council has decided to make it revel in its new avatar, and thus, the entire population of street dogs must be driven out from the city. But, what could possibly be the most inconspicuous and hassle-free method of removing the dogs from the streets?
After heated debates and discussions regarding the economic feasibility and efficiency of each method, the authorities decide to gather wayward street dogs around, and imprison them within the pinjrapoles — homes for abandoned animals, effectively ‘concentration’ camps.
But will the dogs go without a whimper? Why is the ‘Dog Star’ shinning so brightly? Is there a secret message? Can the (under)dogs fight back?
“The flaneur’s freedom to wander at will through the city is essentially a masculine freedom. Thus, the very idea of the flaneur reveals it to be a gendered concept. . . .There could never be a female flaneur: the flaneuse was invisible.”
Theatres of Spectacle (solo-show) accompanied with the video Flaneuse — on gender, viewership and cinema halls — was my first effort to journey between archive and art space. The series was shown at the Nandan Art Gallery, Kala Bhavan, Viswa Bharati, during February 2011, and was hosted by the International Film Festival Rotterdam during January-February 2012.
CCTV Landscape from Moulali-Entally: a dense and playful history told via a single camera mounted on the roof of abandoned Gem Cinema, with CAMP Mumbai and Kenneth Cyrus (cinematographer). This was part RESPONSE, CIMA 25th Anniversary Show, at GEM CINEMA, Kolkata, January- February 2018.
We embarked on this project to traverse the multi-planar history of Kolkata/Calcutta, and its heterogeneous spatiality. Thus, a camera was setup on top of a defunct theatre — GEM, Entally; and, by shooting ceaselessly for over 10 days we generated an immersive and 360-degree time-space narrative.
The word kamra (room) and camera have the same root. A camera is like a room with a peephole in it. Tiny people inside this kamra can see images of expansive outdoors, without themselves being seen. This experience, of watching without being watched, is at the very heart of cinema. With the hyper presence of camera virtually everywhere, it is practically impossible to go through such an experience, since there are reportedly more cameras than people in the world.
Yet, we tried to stage such a condition from inside a dark cinema hall, located at the centre of the city. Once a prime theatre of central Calcutta, Gem Cinema is now like a hollow kamra inviting us evoke such experiences. Located at A J C Bose Road, Calcutta, its stands next to Entally Market (a derivative of Enayat Ali Market), and is close to Maulali (Maula Ali Dargah). Gem is situated at the crossroads of many lanes and bylanes, which was historically a Dalit and Muslim labourers neighbourhood, the backyard of ‘White Town/ Brown Town’ as it were. And thus, it still bears the collective memories of what used to be Lower Circular Road, a road that was built by filling up the Maratha Ditch.
We use the camera, placed on top on Gem, to traverse such distances of spaces and multiple temporalities. Maybe the true destiny of “CCTV” is to make us secretly intimate with each other, our surroundings, and manifold stories, which are both visible and invisible.
Carnival (No Dialogue, with English Inter-titles, 2012), was my first feature film as writer-director. It had its ‘World Premiere’ at the 41st International Film Festival Rotterdam 2012 under the ‘Bright Future’ category.
A story of four days, the film begins with Babu’s return to the city after the demise of his ailing mother. The compelling festivity of the Hindu Autumn festival Durga Puja juxtaposed with his father’s numbness seems to baffle him. Babu appears distracted and uneasy. A little bit of himself seems to have been left back in his new home abroad. He moves around mechanically, and looks at his father with utter detachment. He has come to deeply dislike his father, or what he has become. Sometimes the sound of the loudspeakers drowns his father’s banter. On the last day of the Puja as Babu hopes to escape the situation the jubilant and maddening mob takes over the story in their frenzy. Gradually, the plot meanders into nothingness.
An ‘experimental film’ in spirit, Carnival explores the possibilities of the digital medium and our personal encounters with the city, by deploying documentary footage and intense performances, which are shot in colour and black and white. A film without dialogues, it is laced with a dynamic soundtrack. It featured the veteran actor Dhritiman Chaterji and was in competition at the 12th Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival 2012. It has been screened at Bangalore (Jaaga gallery), Mumbai (Whistling Woods), Kolkata (Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan), Brussels (10×12 Art Gallery), at the ‘Deconstructing Cinematic Realities’ festival in Moscow during 2012, and at the University of Pittsburgh in 2014. It was shown at ’Ooty Film Festival’ (India) in 2016, and at University of Muenster (Germany) during November 2018.
PS. ‘City Trilogy 2’ shooting commences in 2019.
Kangal Malsat (/War cry of the beggars, Bengali), adapted from Nabarun Bhattacharya’s classic text was created in collaboration with Suman Mukhopadhyay’s film of the same name, in 2013. Described as the ’first graphic-novel in Bengali’ by the popular press, it also featured on the ‘best-seller’ list. Anyhow, this was my ‘first’ graphic-novel (in Bengali) in which I did both the narration and illustrations.
Kangal Malsat, the novel, involving the Fyatarus, encompasses a broad canvas, as the plot tackles multiple times, characters and political commentaries. Set in the last decade, the plot often wanders into a range of other stories in order to produce compelling historical links between present-day and nineteenth-colonial Bengal, as well as with larger politico-cultural turmoil through the twentieth century, and the extensive process of decolonization. Nabarun Bhattacharya’s text maps a broader history of economic deprivation and political insolvency. Thus, while during the daytime the characters loiter around, during the night they encounter – under ‘normal’ circumstances – dead political leaders, ghosts from nineteenth century and other nocturnal creatures. Therefore, while daytime deals with contemporary issues, night-time unravels the complicated social history, which eventually provokes mutiny and mayhem. The novel describes the exploits of two groups, namely the Choktars (a title like ‘Doctor’ bestowed upon black magicians) and the ‘losers’ or the Fyatarus (Flying-men). While the Choktars are headed by a rather loutish character named Bhodi (also known as Marshall Bhodi); however, they are practically led by an old talking Raven, who is Bhodi’s father. In time, the Fyatrus and the Choktars join hands, and form the scrounger’s army. Finally, they declare ‘war’ against the Government, and attack government offices with a ‘tiny-dicky’ antique cannon, old pistols, knives, scissors, shovels cockroaches, and also throw shit, pee, etc. on the buildings. And yet, the rebellion fizzles out in the end, as they accept the treaty of peace, become petty agents in disparate departments and get inducted into the corrupted system.
House of Fire: divided in three ’parts’, was a site-specific installation, held at Gem cinema, Kolkata/ Calcutta, during February 2017.
The first one — ’Trail’, was a recreation of Sholay‘s poster (acrylic on metal), reframed with lights, which was refracted through mirror-finish acrylic facing it. It was placed at the stairway. Then came ‘Ladies in a Box’, set in the Gem cinema ’Box’ space. It presented a video and my (stereophonic) sound project, which was intercepted by lights place on the floor. It explored the intimate associations of the audience with a place and memory of cinema.
Finally, ‘Fire, Echo, Movement’ was installed at the Balcony space, and involved video projection on the dilapidated wall (with a tree), and amidst remnants of the theatre seats, which were reworked as ‘tombstones’. It highlighted the many passages of the film ‘Sholay’ and public cultures. It included lights, sculptural objects, and video.
‘House of Fire’ was presented under ’Shifting Narratives’ CIMA, Kolkata Arts Festival, February, 2017.