Observations on the films screened at CPI 2021 Cohort Film Screening, AIB 2021-22

Observations on the films screened at CPI 2021 Cohort Film Screening, AIB 2021-22

I remember watching the ground-breaking Kalpana, a film written and directed by Uday Shankar and I wonder to myself about how far the Dance Film scene in India has come. In those times we did not have the bandwidth or technology to create dance film work, but pioneers like Uday Shankar fought those odds and I’m glad he did. I am curious to know whether the work today will have an equally resounding impact in the future. 

After watching the films presented at the CPI 2021 Indian Cohort Film Screening at the Attakkalari Biennale, I realized that this was something I wanted to explore further (All participating filmmakers were selected for an online training course on screendance, which was a Cultural Partnership Initiative (CPI) supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of the Republic of Korea along with SIDance, S Korea; the Korea Foundation for International Cultural Exchange (KOFICE); and Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts, India.) I wanted to dive into the question of how far we had actually come, if at all. The films covered an array of topics from the personal to the political and four films stood out for me; Stinking Legacy by Lalit Khatana and Rekha Rani, Romance by Prashant More, Fight | Flight by Mayuri Upadhya, and Reside by Rohee Uberoi, Sonia Soney and Priyanka Lokhande. 

Stinking Legacy was a visual and choreographic response to rag pickers who spend almost all of their lives living in a dump yard. The film stresses upon the conditions of poverty that push both adults and children into this hazardous work. A genuine attempt to expose this garbage ecosystem that exists and how these people, who are trying to earn a livelihood with dignity, deserve to be treated with the same respect and equality as the rest of us. The dancers have created this work right in the core of garbage dumps, and some of the images, close ups, and the visible keenness with which it was shot left me disturbed. For me, only really great work leaves you in an unsettled state and pushes you to want to do something about it. The film rattled me and shook me up, there were moments of so much authenticity in the choreography and movement that it felt almost real, bare, and raw. It had a lasting impression that lingered and demanded its space into my thoughts even long after. It also made me think about how savagely we put these beings aside, how easily they go unnoticed, and how the work that the rag-pickers do actually makes a very large impact on sustainability. The film evoked a certain sensitivity in me that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. The film makes a loud and clear statement, the narrative is hard hitting, and the aesthetic or physicality of it sets it apart. 

Romance by Prashant More, unravelled the story of love. The ups and downs, the small simple moments and the fleeting attractions. The film felt like a breezy take on romance and its connotations. It was simple, raw, real and that gave it its sense of truth. Moments like walking on the beach, finding the ‘little dance’ between the lovers made me travel and go somewhere into a dreamy mind space. The scene on the table also carved its path into my mind, ‘the table’ being such a statement in contemporary dance- something that is used widely was now being explored differently. The film overall did justice to its title, it brought to me the many shades and layers of romance in all its honesty.

Fight | Flight is a film with two parts. FIGHT addresses the inherent battle that goes on within us between the body and the mind. On one end, our body is an instrument of the mind looking within. On the other, it is bound by external perceptions and circumstances that trap it in fear. FLIGHT exhorts its viewers to break free of these traps and find the wind beneath our wings. 

The film has exceptional visuals and was very beautifully shot, a montage of some stunning scenes, images, and breath-taking venues. I’m not quite sure what I expected while watching the film, but I found myself drawn to the exquisite style in which it was shot. The film had a certain grace and panache that I haven’t witnessed in other dance films created in India. The themes that Mayuri was trying to interpret were strong and what one saw was a metaphoric and poetic version of ‘Fight’ and ‘Flight’ responses. These responses are triggered by trauma and stress- however what was seen in the film was a somewhat glorified, aesthetic, and romanticized version of this. The film was shot in black and white, and had an extremely visceral style, with close ups of the dancers’ skin and body; maybe this was intending to make a comment on the bodily triggers that one goes through as an after effect of trauma.

Reside grapples with ideas of liberation. And the dichotomy that exists in letting go or holding on. When is it good to hold yourself back? When is it good to speak up? Sometimes, it works to put up a tough exterior, but then there are times when you must allow yourself to surrender, to heal.

The film unlocked moments of absolute authenticity and a very real exploration with ideas of liberation. We see the dancers physically working to experiment and embody the processes of letting go and holding on, through deep connections with themselves and the other. Large parts of the film were shot on a terrace that sort of looked out upon several other terraces, buildings, and part of the skyline, a very raw and likable approach. There were also sections in a dark studio space and a small cubby hole/shelf- this seemed to me like a suggestive statement on the dichotomy that exists in the concept of liberation, being explored through physical spaces. The dancer in the restricted shelf could be seen having a constructive physical dialogue with herself, while the silent conversation of the bodies in the other scenes/scapes also made statements about how freedom too can be restrictive. 

I come back to my opening sentence, how far have we come? The Indian Dance film scene has definitely come a long way. We now have access to almost all kinds of technology, courses, equipment and film methodologies, but are we doing enough justice to this access? After having watched several films at many different platforms I see a sensibility emerging that I hope remains, but also this is variable. While some films have managed to make their impact and carve out their spaces, there still are countless number of films out there that have not reached the mark. Does that mean we stop creating? Or does that mean we push ourselves more to create impactful work on screen? 

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