media, information, the contemporary

The Wager on Cinema: Screening 8 – Ghashiram Kotwal

The Sarai Programme invites you to the eighth screening of the film series titled, The Wager on Cinema : Yukt Film Cooperative’s Ghashiram Kotwal

The respondents for this film are Dhananjay Kapse and Milind Wakankar.

Date: 24 November, 2017
Time: 4:30 PM (Tea will be served at 4:00 PM)
Venue: The Sarai Programme, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, 29, Rajpur Road, Civil Lines, Delhi – 110054.

About ‘The Wager on Cinema’

How do we estimate the value, aesthetic force, and meaning of cinema today? As media experience, technological change has transformed it beyond recognition, its material forms altered by analog and digital video formats, and the modes of circulating, viewing, accessing cinema and making it have expanded exponentially. And yet, the dream and ambition of cinema as we have known it has not dissipated, the desire to congregate audiences to participate in a distinct world of experience, whether to excite, amuse, to move or to solicit reflection and engagement, to bear witness and to mobilize.

For us at Sarai, the wager on cinema carries high stakes. It means renewing a pact with a bid to explore experience, to take film technique as a vehicle of the unexpected, making connections that take us aback, working out strategies to navigate media’s capacity to deceive – to sting the audience as much as expose secretive acts – through a forensic analytics, through ethical calibration, but also playfully, ironically. For us, such a wager also places emphasis on process, how things are done, how techniques are used, what evidence is presented, what judgments are made, how publics are engaged, framing the cinema as an act of research. In this series, Sarai will screen films to shift focus, to conjure up unusual images and sounds, novel techniques and subject matter, and will organise discussions with practitioners, researchers and an interested public to renew our investment in the cinema, to capture what it means in our times.

Synopsis of Ghashiram Kotwal (1976/Marathi/107 mins)

Directors: K. Hariharan, Mani Kaul, Kamal Swaroop, Saeed Mirza

Cast: Mohan Agashe (Nana), Om Puri (Ghashiram Kotwal), Mohan Gokhale, Rajni Chauhan, and members of the Theatre Academy Pune

The year – 1976. The place – Pune. Fifteen students from the FTII – four directors, four cinematographers, four sound recordists, three editors and one actor (under the mentorship of the senior director Mani Kaul) decided to form a Film Collective – a rare event in the history of Indian cinema – and embarked on the project of making a film “inspired by” Vijay Tendulkar’s play Ghashiram Kotwal. For nearly 4 decades, the film was considered lost, with no surviving negative prints – not even in the National Film Archives in Pune. The Arsenal Institute for Film and Video Art in Berlin recently discovered that a print of the film had been archived when it had travelled to Germany for a screening in 1978.

The Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema notes, “This remarkable avant-garde experiment in collective film-making is based on one of the most celebrated plays in contemporary Indian theatre, staged in 1972 by the Theatre Academy, Pune (members of which participate in the film’s cast). The play used Marathi folk forms like the Gondhal and the Keertan in an elaborately choreographed musical featuring the legendary Nanasaheb Phadnavis, the prime minister of Peshwa Madhavrao II and the real power behind Maharashtra’s Peshwa throne (1773-97). The original play, a transparent allegory referring to Indira Gandhi’s reign, was adapted in order to comment on Maratha and Indian history, starting from the enthronement of the child Peshwa Madhavrao II, until the final decline of the empire and the arrival of the British (cf. Ramshastri, 1944). It presents the decadent Nanasaheb (Agashe) and his lieutenant Ghashiram (Puri), a Brahmin from Kanauj, whom he uses to mount a reign of terror in the capital city of Pune. The main plot concerns Nana’s spy network, the rout of the British at Wadgaon (1779), Ghashiram’s rise and his fall when Nana sacrifices him, and the popular revolt against Nana’s henchman leaving the prime minister (and true culprit) unscathed. The film’s main significance resides in the way it adapts theatre to investigate cinema itself, a point underlined by the chorus at the beginning of the movie and, at the end, the quote from Glauber Rocha’s Antonio das Mortes (1969) as the sutradhara (chorus) suddenly enters into the present when a truck leaves the quarry.”

Dhananjay Kapse teaches at the Department of English, Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi. He has a long-standing interest in the poetics and politics of Indian performance.

Milind Wakankar teaches philosophy and literature at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, and works on the Marathi and North Indian bhakti traditions. He has just completed a manuscript on ‘Religion and Primary Narcissism’.