Sunday, September 7, 2008

Kosambi's influence on Indian Cinema

A very fine article by Amrit Ganger that starts with a quote from DD Kosambi's talk with Einstein and then goes on to indicate DDK's influence on Indian cinema, particularly that of Kumar Shahni.
"In 1949, Einstein pointed out to me during one of several long and highly involved private technical discussions that certain beautifully formulated theories of his would mean that the whole universe consisted of no more than two charged particles. Then he added with a rueful smile, “Perhaps I have been working on the wrong lines, and nature does not obey differential equations after all.” If a scientist of his rank could face the possibility that his entire lifework might have to be discarded, could I insist that the theorems whose inner beauty brought me so much pleasure after heavy toil must be of profound significance in natural philosophy? Fashions change quickly in physics where theory is so rapidly outstripped by experiment." – D.D. Kosambi

The late Prof D.D. Kosambi was perhaps one of those few Indians who had grasped the modern transformation of science and its implications, particularly for India. He was, perhaps, the only one who had endeavored to act on a wide canvas, to make the scientists of this country realize their tasks and catalyze their tradition-bound society. Through his studies and writings on Indian history, mythology and religion, literature and sociology, he not only applied scientific methods to these areas but also showed that new explanations to age-old beliefs were desirable and possible.

Interestingly, Prof Kosambi has left a profound influence on some of our progressive, innovative filmmakers – Kumar Shahani, in particular. Prof Kosambi lived in Poona (Pune), close to the Film & Television Institute of India (FTII). As Shahani told me once, Prof Kosambi had good insights into cinematography, too. As a great teacher he would take young Shahani to the surrounding areas; on the way he would pick up a pebble and start narrating history. History, for Prof Kosambi, was at one’s doorstep. ‘History at the Doorstep’ was his radical concept to study and understand the past. Some of his field works are extremely significant.

Einstein’s dilemma or self-doubt also reminds me of Stan Brakhage in an interview, regretting his underestimation of ‘the historical flypaper’ he was stuck in. “I didn’t realize until much later how people in their daily living imitate the narrative-dramatic materials that infiltrate their lives through the radio, TV, newspapers and, certainly, the movies.” He also felt that “despite all the evolutions of his film grammar and his inclusion of hypnagogic and dream vision, they were still tied to the more traditional dramatic-narrative framework!” It is, I think, a trial and error game that one keeps playing, always in pra-kriyā, the process, creative or post-creative. But there is a difference between empirical sciences and the plastic arts such as cinematography. What, however, puzzles me is Brakhage’s repeated use of the term ‘film grammar’, which is essentially rules-bound, whereas avant-garde, to my mind, is iconoclastic. It is interesting to note from Prof Kosambi’s comment that even in physics, fashions change quickly and theory is so rapidly outstripped by experiment. Does this, or has it, happen/d in the praxis of experimental cinematography? Later in this essay and in the context of Cinema of Prayōga and the Euro-American avant-garde and underground cinema, I propose to refer to the kind of unsteady axes that these terms have always stood on, floundering.

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