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Ashwatthama:Between Matter and Thought by Devdutt Trivedi

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

-Devdutt Trivedi Cinema has as its two poles matter and thought. Matter produces movement. Movement-images are those where the movement in the shot and story become one. On the other hand cinema is a temporal medium, so that the sound and images are signs of the “desert of the real” that produce thought. In India, Satyajit Ray produces movement-images by filming the character, location-space and object before him. Storytelling for Ray occurs in-between the various apparatuses of filming.On the other hand, Mani Kaul produced time-images by trying to purify the image to reach a“cinematic object.” Ashwatthama drives a wedge between the two by contrasting thought to movement and finding an in-between space. This in-between space is one where the camera is placed at a distance, giving the matter in the frame a shot-form, whilst creating a relationship with the out-of-field that is not suggestive but adds to the sections of space in the frame from close-up to long shot. In other words director Pushpendra Singh conjures up a hyper-realism where the soundtrack denotes a space that is before and beyond the camera. This before and beyond is precisely the space of the metre or chhanda in which the pre-emption and delay occurs. In his film Dhrupad, Mani Kaul refers to ritual and sacrifice as well as times of the day as being the two sides of the chhanda. Singh carries this logic forward by linking the sequence shot with the everyday and relating it to the matter in the frame (reminiscent of Kaul’s Uski Roti), but unique in its ability to form a layering in the image through sound. The exterior is referred to through the fixed distance sequence shot whereas the interior is symbolised in the shot with the machines forcing the color imagery that is filmed underwater. What does this sudden shift to color suggest? We will read the color images in Ashwatthama as Jasperian boundary-situations or Deleuzean limit-images, in which the immanent (or conditions of possibility of all real things) becomes transcendental i.e. beyond space and time. We will draw upon Wenders distinction between the function of black and white and color. For Wenders, black and white represents essence whereas color represents surface. Pushpendra seems to be saying that cinema is a surface often liquified that produces a diffusion of matter across this depth represented on the surface i.e. the screen. In other words, a diffusion through depth represented on a surface. Ashwathhama, the character(s) from the mythic Mahabharata, is the unknown, indiscernible in- between becoming-animal, that removes intentionality from the storytelling. We must note, as in Ray’s cinema, that storytelling in a cinematographic grid occurs between the portions of filming. In this sense storytelling in cinema is rhizomatic and therefore Deleuzean. The liquification of the image is contrasted with the shot of the boy climbing up to spy on the interior. Scopo-philia for Pushpendra is an activity that defies gravity and frees the Newtonian problematic of singular perspective. This singular perspective is a transformation of the object from an epistemological search to a more devotional form of cinema, eventually to emerge in a topographical ontology of space. The epistemological search is established in the early camera distance sequence, which via the chhanda result in a devotional approach to ritual and sacrifice; culminating in the final crane shot of the road: a map that produces a thinking subject in a devotional landscape.

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