The Epic Cinema of Kumar Shahani

The Epic Cinema of Kumar Shahani

The Epic Cinema of Kumar Shahani

The Epic Cinema of Kumar Shahani

Synopsis

Laleen Jayamanne examines the major works of leading Indian film director, Kumar Shahani, and explores the reaches of modernist film aesthetics in its international form. More than an auteur study, Jayamanne approaches Shahani's films conceptually, as those that reveal cinema's synaesthetic capabilities, or "cinaesthesia." As the author shows, Shahani's cinematic project entails a modern reformulation of the ancient oral tradition of epic narration and performance in order to address the contemporary world, establishing a new cinematic expression, "an epic idiom." As evidenced by his films, constructing cinematic history becomes more than an archival project of retrieval, and is instead a living history of the present which can intervene in the current moment through sensory experiences, propelling thought.

Excerpt

KUMAR SHAHANI’s response on hearing that I had just completed this book was “Is there something of yourself in it?” I laughed and changed the subject. The singularity of the self (swabhāva) of each actor is an abiding concern of Shahani as a director. As for myself, the exploration of the multivalent selves of the actor has excited me for as long as I can remember, and for a one-time performer turned cinema studies lecturer and critic, it was not a question that could be answered directly. Indirection was one of Shahani’s methods of guiding me as a guru during the long gestation of this book, which explores his epic cinematic practice and a philosophy of cinema and politics. The enlightening pedagogy of the civilizational Indian epic awakens dormant faculties one didn’t suspect one had by posing riddles to the neophyte rather than by giving the right answer to a stale question. This pedagogic process takes time, because one gets lost on the way, “tangled up in blue,” and has to learn to unlearn and then to sense, see and hear, and find modes of articulation that are not readily available within one’s own discipline.

I now understand this process of teaching and learning as an apprenticeship in the exploration and articulation of intensive signs of cinema. To be given a chance of such an apprenticeship this late in life is a huge gift, and it is my privilege and joy to be able now to thank those who have guided and sustained me through these heady years of a belated adventure. If I have been able, like those resourceful souls in Agnes Varda’s Gleaners and I, to glean some nourishment from here and there in a variety . . .

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