Sunday, January 25, 2009

Decalogue and Mahabharata-2

This monograph is the culmination of a vagabond like interest in two broad areas of study i.e. Mahabharata and Global Cinema. Over a period of around last six years, a continuous desire to frame my thinking processes in an alternative methodology has been driving me in uncharted territories of inter-disciplinarity. It seems quite easy to say that a proposed research subject is inter-disciplinary in nature but on a practical ground, it needs a sustained struggle with a thought that can find a common ground in more than one disciplines seemingly unrelated to one another.

The common thought in this case proved to be the basic conception of ‘Vyasa’ the so called author-cum-character of Mahabharata. Whenever Vyasa is conceived in contemporary thinking, we almost refuse to believe that he could ever be a person. This is due to the fact that almost all of us have concluded that the kind of textual version of Mahabharata that we have today, is the result of hundreds if not thousands, of years of contribution (both extrapolation and interpolation) by various authors, almost all of them unknown. This might be because of the lack of any concrete tradition of authorship in Indian literary traditions in ancient period. Even today, though V.S. Sukhtankar’s edited version is regarded as the standard one yet there are dozens of versions scattered in the different libraries around. That makes the problem of locating the exact source of the text a bit more difficult. The existing understanding of relationship between the author and the text does not maintain a strong validity here. But with this conception around, Vyasa turns into a kind of non personal author. This makes the word ‘Vyasa’ quite problematic. If Mahabharata is a text, who is the source of this text? If it is a bunch of stories, how the very perceptible streak of continuity is being built right through all stories? Or is it so that our definitions of ‘author’ and ‘text’ need a kind of unimaginable paradigm shift which is yet to happen?

             These all above mentioned questions were lurking in an indiscrete manner right through my independent audio project on Mahabharata. The answers from the expected corners came in piecemeal fashion but never in an integrated manner and the whole enterprise was almost on the verge of vanishing into a black hole of mundane routines of survival when a sudden interface happened with Drishya, a film appreciation group based in Calcutta. They had a collection of international film classics and somehow, I procured a ten film series, “Decalouge’ by Krystzof Kieslowski, a renowned Polish film maker known for his film cycles ‘Decalogue’ and ‘Three colours – Blue, White and Red.’

             He is among those rare film makers who have been able to remain untouched from the compromises of commercial cinema and have continued to frame his philosophy on to the screen. In simple words, Decalogue is a modern adaptation of ‘Decalogue’ or ‘Ten Commandments’ given by the God to Moses on Mount Sinai. Kieslowski transformed an opportunity into cinematic excellence about which Stanley Kubrick once said ‘as the only masterpiece of his life time’. He took one commandment each in every film and interpreted it in a manner where simple Godly truths when placed in day-to-day contemporary life, turned out to be so complex and full of so many possible meanings that a kind of any simplistic analysis of the films almost vanished the way it had happened in the case of ‘Vyasa’ of Mahabharata.

            How ‘Decalogue’ came to be a critical point of convergence needs special mention. The Decalogue is a series of ten short, almost unconnected films but all films have been screen played in such a manner that one can find three types of traces in all the movies.

1)                  A trace of common field of Camera.

The entire film series has been shot in a very large housing project in a modernizing Poland where tall and multi storey buildings have hundreds of concrete flats having vibrant and sensitive lives hidden inside them. There is a very specific circumstantial, existential and temporal framework within which all the characters operate. This is a sort of invisible boundary beyond which no actor can go. This is a non-dictated space which is not constructed by any particular force. In simple terms, this is an action-field of an urbanized, atomized and decultured human of a somewhat post-modern or post-materialist world.

All films operate in this context. Though all films have been shot by different cinematographers yet these ten visual perspectives belong to a common origin which is yet to be defined. It contains films, determines the pace and boundaries of all stories yet it is beyond transcendence. The co-ordinates of the praxis are drawn on the canvas of this space. The number of the films whether it is ten, five, fifteen or any, is not that important because throughout the series, the number never becomes more than just a factual entity. It might have been more or less even.

2)      A trace of earlier film in the next film.

It is quite interesting to find a character from an earlier film in the next film. Though for a split second or a brief unimportant moment, the character enters the frame, interacts or simply registers presence for a while and then vanishes. There is a very subtle play of our memory in it. No story carries exclusiveness to itself. A part from the earlier recollections of our memory is repeated. A kind of non-invasive inter-textuality is presented here. As far as the literary function of a particular actor is concerned, it is not needed. His or her job has been completed in the earlier film. Still, the character crops up. It does not disturb the independence of the story but it definitely disturbs the textual autonomy of a story. We are not used to such kind of interventions which do not obey the theoretical rules prescribed by contemporary understanding. That makes Kieslowski’s film philosophy quite unique. It does not build a structure rather it builds a collaboration of structures and anti-structures in such a manner that to find any single definition of their narrative form becomes rather impossible.

3)      A trace of a mute character.

Of all the film of the series, there is one very strong presence of a character that     does not speak, does not participate in the story and does not register any reaction from the actors. He is a nameless character played by Artur Barcis who comes in various forms like that of a strange wanderer, a sweeper, a labourer etc. He is not the part of the story yet he is there looking into the eyes of the actors in a somewhat sad manner. In no film, he appears for more than 20 seconds yet he is there in almost all the films. People have only tried to guess who he is. There is no successful or a certain answer to it. Some call him the alter-ego of the director, some call him the latent self of the characters and some simply call him god. It may be an attempt at over-interpretation but Kieslowski definitely poses a challenge here before us. If there is any strong resemblance to such kind of narrative codes, it exists only in Mahabharata where the author or the narrator presents the stories in codes which need to be understood before comprehending the story itself.

                         These three kinds of traces have a kind of narrative structure quite like that of Mahabharata where the continuity and autonomy are both pursued as non-violable principles. At the outset, the normal tendency might be to reject or ignore such a kind of hypothesis. It can easily be said that Mahabharata can simply have no relation with this analysis especially when people have re-interpreted this that many a time through many forms e.g. Peter Brook made a theatre as well as film version of Mahabharata; Vijaydan Detha, an eminent Rajasthani Folklorist, developed a folk version of this text; Shyam Benegal made ‘Kalyug’ precisely as a modern adaptation of Mahabharata; Habib Tanvir made a Duryodhana series on the same and S.K. Panikkar developed Kathakali versions of this great tradition of Mahabharata. Naturally, a researcher should have developed comparative analysis of such experiments. Instead of choosing any of these mentioned enterprises why a film-series is being selected which by any reference has no connection with Mahabharata.

             There is no complaint about these great attempts but the fundamental point about Mahabharata is that it does not ask you to remember it rather it urges you to understand the source of all creative forms. The entire Mahabharata begins with a two fold exchange of conditions between Vyasa and Ganpati when Vyasa is almost ordered by Ganesh not to stop while speaking and Vyasa counter acting by the condition that he should write only when he has understood the meaning of his utterances. This is the source of Mahabharata i.e. the thousands of stories that are there but to my understanding, it is actually not the case. Stories are not that important rather where are they contained, is more important. The moment we understand it this way, our definitions of text and author start fumbling and demand a new way of conceptualizing these terms.

             Here enters the cinema of Kieslowski’s kind.

             He is not a director whose philosophy is to make a film and forget it. Rather he re-memorizes a film in his subsequent film and continues on and on in this way, developing a “theory of traces”. Thus, he is always reminding us what was before a story and what is after a story. He is not predicting the future rather he is only saying that a link exists. The way it was working in the past, it shall also work in the future. He limits the autonomy of human actions and still upholds the value of their criticality. He seems to be driving us towards a course where some sort of coincidence is waiting for us. He deprives the essential human role of its absolutism. That makes it quite like-minded with the philosophy of Mahabharata. Decalogue is an attempt to reframe Mahabharata in a totally original way by forgetting the story of Mahabharata in a total manner. This is also a consolidation of the fact that history can delete authors and can erase stories but no history has ever been successful to eliminate the creative spirit ever present and ever working in the nature. The year 1988, when Decalogue was made, is a time when such a successful example of textual reincarnation happened. An Indian getting rebirth in that part of the west(i.e. Poland) which is somewhat midway between Europe and Asia. Perhaps, it is the land where the west and the east are in constant Pratishruti ( mutual listening) as late Nirmal Verma would have liked to call it so.

No comments: