Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Notes on Madhabilata by Paramita Das, Great Britain/India: 2012


for Shaan Khattau

Paramita Das compared her film once with a Sufi-song, a kind of songs which are part of Indian culture. It is also about a difficult love between her, the filmmaker and her mother. Madhabilata is something like a “song about Herself” (this “song about oneself” I took from the wonderful essay by American blogger Niles Schwartz on Terrence Malick´s The Tree of Life)

The mother appears only as a voice on the telephone which distilled Paramita Das from phone conversations she had with her mother for a long period. Together with the voice of the filmmaker it sounds like a strange poetic duet.
The film is made in Edinburgh, Scotland at the film department of the College of Art. The voice of the mother doesn´t only seem from the faraway hometown Kolkata but as well as a voice from the past of the filmmaker and protagonist of this film. Just this over voice element in form of telephone conversations alone suggest at the same time alienation and longing to each other, separated by time and space. The images one has of each other evoked through the words of mother and daughter are separated. Just this one aspect reminds me not only in the unique and Sufi-like over voice in the last films by Terrence Malick but also in the poetic film essays by Vietnamese-American filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha.

As a film is always bound to the visible things of the physical reality (or at least a physical reality how they can be perceived by human senses) and it is also bound to express emotions or mental injuries through the things and living bodies we see. In this film, it is mostly the body of the filmmaker and its movements.

Once we see her on a swing. Only her feet and parts of her legs are visible. The swing is moving. We see, that she is standing on the swing and the parts of her feet and legs is exactly the same what we would have seen from our body if we were on her place. Paramita Das includes us directly in the movement of the swing.
Are we just watching a swinging woman, or are we swinging with her? 
The question which occupies my mind for quite a long time is: Is there probably beside cinema as the “art of seeing” (like the old exhibitor in Wender´s Kings of the Road said) another option of sharing? In this case and considering that cinema touches almost all the other arts – lets compare Madhabilata again with a song, a song which is shared between audience and filmmaker.

What we see of her body is mostly fragmented and if the body (her shaved head, hands, feet, legs etc.) When the whole body is visible in all its nakedness, than it is painted or stylized and always performed.
Once we see her hand with long fingernails that looks like a claw of raptor. A few moments later we see this “raptor´s claw" as something vulnerable; a bleeding fingertip and a broken fingernail. We don´t just watch a body in pain which is probably only a visible sign of a deeper pain. She is sharing this pain with us. Especially the moment with the broken fingernail evokes in me a strange kind of "phantom pain", a moment really hard to bear.
Her naked body appears once almost totally stylized and performed as a baby and one time even – despite all my reservations against western film semiotics – in an embryonic position.
 In another shot we see her again naked, but most of the body is covered with a big fragment of a broken mirror which reflects our gaze.

There is a moment when the mirror is broken in thousand fragments, a disturbing moment. For a while the contact between audience and filmmaker seems interrupted. The image of Herself and ourselves has to be rebuilt again.

Madhabilata is a journey in which we are participating for a limited time. Paramita Das uses some abstractions to focus on the essential. I remember for example that she explained once during a lecture at the Whistlewood film school in Bombay that she isolated the mother-daughter relationship from any patriarchal influence. It is evident in the fact that her father is not even mentioned. The same with the appearance of the filmmaker itself. She seems to be taken out of any social context and appears mostly isolated. Once we see her lying naked in a small river, she is surrounded only by natural landscapes. It is an image of Herself, totally uninfluenced by any social or cultural predetermination.
When the mother suggests her on the phone, to find a “man with a good profile” or when she is praising the “pleasures being a mother”, the body in the small river looks like a baby, almost a sharp contrast to the mother´s and probably the established image from a woman as a “mother”.

It is a film where you receive the gift of having the choice between  different options to find your own access into it. You can see it as a kind of mind-expanding essay like the films by Trinh T. Minha, but you can also experience the film like the heartbreaking emotional and very Sufi-like films by Terrence Malick,  Ritwik Ghatak, Yang Yonghi or Anamika Bandopadyay.
To express my journey with Madhabilata to the point, I have to lend some words of the great American poet Walt Withman (quoted again in Neil Schwartz´s essay on The Tree of Life):

“I celebrate myself,
And what I assume,
For every atom belongs to me as good belongs to you.”

Rüdiger Tomczak

I saw this film during a lecture at the Whistlewood Film School in Bomby where Paramita Das gave a lecture and screened her film in November 2012

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