That Discreet Charm of Bhaktism!Of Bunuel,Carrière's offer, FTII & Buunu by Ramchandra PN.
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie(1972).
A hard-core criminal locked up in a high security jail meticulously plans his escape, by jumping the high jail walls. Soon enough he is caught, the police try to recreate the crime scene by taking him to the same jail and asking him to demonstrate how he had accomplished the jail break. With great precision the criminal recreates the crime scene and the police make meticulous notes of it. 'And finally', says the criminal as he climbs the wall and looks back, 'I jumped the wall and escaped '. Saying so, he jumps over to the other side, never to come back again, leaving behind a stunned but impressed police team.
Those of us who were around at FTII studying there during the late 1980s would remember this story narrated by Jean-Claude Carrière at the preview theatre. He was visiting India along with Peter Brook; they were collaborating for a play on ‘Mahabharata’. The above plot was something that Jean-Claude Carrière and the prolific maverick director Luis Buñuel were developing together for a feature film most probably after their work ‘The Discrete Charm of Bourgeoisie’ (1972). Their uncommon collaboration that included regular mandatory script secessions in the mornings and evenings, discussions over long walks, chats in cafes and over drinks, attendance in film festivals etc had also a clause that if the other person does not like the idea had the veto power to reject it instantly.
The back story – mythical or otherwise - goes that both Jean-Claude Carrière and Luis Buñuel got struck after this point where the criminal escapes again under the guise of recreation of the first crime. They were at a loss to develop it further, because both used their instant veto power of rejection. Till they got an out of the box idea – what if they take up a plot, leave it midpoint point and then take off with an entirely another plot, leave that midpoint and follow yet another? The resultant film apparently was ‘The Phantom of Liberty’ (1974), where the interrupter of a particular plot becomes the protagonist of the next, its interrupter the protagonist of the one next to that and so on.
The Phantom of Liberty(1974).
All of us at the Film Institute had seen Bunuel’s early that he did with Salvador Dali ‘Un Chien Andalou’ (1929) and had cringed together when in the iconic shot a blade slashed an eye in an extreme close up. We had also seen of his thought provoking Mexican films and we were bowled out of our brains trying to grasp his stimulating last few films – including the two mentioned above - that he had by and large collaborated with writer Jean-Claude Carrière. And here was the writer of some of these films himself sitting in front and confessing to a few motley mortals like us the deeds and misdeeds of the eccentric and eulogized duo that they were. They had abandoned the idea of the criminal recreating the crime scene to commit the same crime yet again. Jean-Claude Carrière, jokingly made all of us an offer as he had apparently done elsewhere in the world, 'If any one of you can take this plot forward, you are free to do so'.
Some of us blinded by inspired ‘Bhakti’ sat and discussed the way forward to this plot over cups of bad acidity generating pints of canteen tea and when that didn’t suffice over large doses of ‘Santra’, the local country liquor, sometimes mixed with chilled beer to stimulate the ultimate nirvana of creativity. But none of us came up with a satisfactory follow up to this open ended plot and soon enough we too abandoned this idea. Maybe we must have vetoed each other’s thoughts taking direct cue from our bumbling gods. The kick was also something else – we were right in there in the thick of things - our failures too imitated the failures of the world masters. It was as if we were participating in the history of world cinema. Which filmmaker doesn’t want that to happen to him / her?
The ‘Bhakti’ showed up in some of the projects that I made or wanted to make at the Film Institute and during my early years of my career in the early Nineteen Nineties. My diploma film at the Film Institute had Lord Krishna coming down to earth through a mythological film poster to meet a group of dedicated fundamentalist devotees, in the process gets into an affair with an earthly married lady and takes her off with him back to the heavens. The first short film that I did after graduating from the Institute was about an accidental photographer whose photos tear by themselves. A documentary script ‘Story of a File’ that I tried to get funding for was about a lost file that tries to search for its owner in the crowded peak hour suburban train journey in Mumbai. The first feature film script that I wrote called ‘Yo Ya Gotam’ had all the spy agencies of the world run behind an escaped convict who had a nano sized fish with magical powers struck inside his brain. By the way, his escape from the jail was a result of a recreation of a crime scene where such an escape had occurred.
And then the Bunuel-ish twist – Both ‘Story of a File’ and ‘Yo Ya Gotam’ got rejected left, right and centre, by both public and private players. Why would anyone be interested in a file or a fish when they had a Madhuri Dixit or a Meenakshi Sheshadri to make their films with? Funds had dried up at NFDC, which by now unknown to us had outlived its utility. We had then ungraciously thanked PV Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh for their desperate privatization push – which also required them to cut national expenses in favour of austerity measures. I too got into the private mode, working for producers who made TV programs for the newly set up private TV channels. Very soon Jean-Claude Carrière and Luis Buñuel; and their unfinished plot were forgotten – except perhaps during a once in three year addiction relapse of the ‘Bhakti’ intoxication towards the duo.
So much so that years later when I made ‘Suddha’ (The Cleansing Rites, 2005) my first feature film, it had no traces of either Luis Buñuel or Jean-Claude Carrière. Sandeep Chatterjee, my class fellow at FTII, had almost chided me, ‘In our attempts we have to go beyond the realism of Satyajit Ray!’ I remember him say so with his trademark smile. It hits you bad in such tough times - there was no getting away from Luis Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière. The ‘Bhakti’ gets invoked and kindled again, so does the need for ‘Nirvana’. And then you suddenly remember the unfinished plot of the hard core criminal who creates the same crime yet again as he demonstrates how he pulled off his earlier crime.
By 2020 I had shot and made my fourth film, ‘Buunu K. Endo Maye’ (The Maya of Buunu K. Endo). My experiences with not finding a producer for my odd ideas filled with blind ‘Bhakti’, made me self-produce this one too, at minimal costs. A runaway couple get struck in an empty flat in a city where time and space themselves alter as per the eccentricity of a nameless multinational company. It was my most bizarre and bold film till date, if you take away the fish in the brain plot out of the equation. But by now even Film Festivals too were not interested in uncommon and odd ‘Bhakti’ films, unless it was one from the old masters. But what does it matter to a ‘Bakth’ seeking ‘Nirvana’? Only he knows that the ‘Bunnu’ of the title stands for Bunuel, the ‘K’ stands for Kafka and ‘Endo’, I can’t reveal unless I incur the wrath of the organisation that it stands for. That is not meant for the audience.
The Maya of Buunu K.Endo(2020).
And then the completion happened. I was back at FTII for a short teaching assignment, in between the two covid lockdown eras. The institute has restarted but there was this fear of another imminent lockdown looming large. The ADPD wing (Art Direction and Production Design) was not getting people to do its Mise en Scene workshop, so they requested me to do it at a very short notice. We decided to make a short film in a single take format so that the Production design learning could materialise. The result was a 10 minute film called ‘Bunni, Munni and Sunni’.
And what was the plot? A hard core female prisoner oppressed by a male jailor escapes from her captivity, gets caught, is made to recreate the crime scene by the law, escapes yet again, gets caught yet again and is now made to recreate the second crime scene. Just when she is about the recreate the second escape, the jailor gets suspicious and offers to do the demonstration himself and lo, he himself escapes from his own prison only to be caught by oppressed woman and her fellow prisoners and brought back to the jail and dumped into the very cellar that they had been held captive. Now that the jailor is jailed the prison wall breaks by itself and the prisoner ladies run free into the horizon. Needless to say ‘Bunni’ is the female version of Buñuel and it is supposed to deciphered only by hard core ‘Bakths’.
Both Jean-Claude Carrière and Luis Buñuel are dead and gone. I do not feel the need to inform them of this plot; especially to Jean-Claude Carrière who had made us that offer that evening many years back. But thirty odd years later it was pure Nirvana at Pune, that discreet charm of Bhaktism!
Ramchandra PN is a Mumbai based independent filmmaker & faculty.