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Remembering Mani Kaul

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File photo of film director Mani Kaul. Photo: R. Ragu

Mani Kaul, noted film maker and teacher, died of cancer today. ET writes:

The angry young man of Uski Roti is gone. Mani Kaul, who, with directors like Kumar Shahani, brought a new genre of film making to Indian cinema, passed away at 1 am on Wednesday morning at his home in New Delhi . He was suffering for a fairly long time from cancer. He was just 66 years old.

A graduate from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, where he was a student of mercurial Bengal film maker Ritwik Ghatak , Mani kicked off his career with the absolutely offbeat Uski Roti in 1969. The film won the Filmfare Critics award for best movie.

More importantly, it brought a different brand of cinema in the country which veered away from all known cinematic form and style. “He was one of the finest film makers in India,” remarks internationally known film maker Mrinal Sen. “He shouldn’t have died so early. His thought process, as far as film making goes, was quite remarkable.

TOI notes:

Born in Jodhpur, Kaul was taught and hugely influenced by the famous director Ritwik Ghatak (Ajantrik, Meghe Dhaka Tara) at the FTII, Pune. One of his classmates was Kumar Shahani (Maya Darpan, Kasbah), who ploughed a similar school of filmmaking. Later Kaul also taught at the same institute; quite a few students later became key members of his film unit. During Emergency, the master director also showed political spine. “He refused to sign the documentary Historical Sketch of Indian Women doing the Emergency when its producers, Film Division, wanted him to change the last shot and the commentary,” write Rajadhyaksha and Willemen.

Vashisht, who worked with Kaul in Siddheshwari recalls how Kaul would constantly challenge her during the shooting. “As a director, he challenged every faculty in your body, your imagination. But when you were in his frame, you felt beautiful. Siddheshwari was one of the most powerful and moving experiences of my life,” says Vashisht. The film earned the best documentary prize in the 1989 national film awards.

The Hindu adds:

here is hardly any occasion of grief in Bollywood that is not met by solidarity. But strangely, the death of Mani Kaul evoked a mixed response, both in terms of bitter and sweet memories regarding the style of his filmmaking, and his personality. If popular filmmakers didn’t exactly see eye to eye with him, his students at the Film and Television Institute of India and the National Film Development Corporation that he pioneered, remember him fondly, even reverentially.

Kaul, who was suffering from cancer, died at the age of 66 after a prolonged illness in his Gurgaon home on Wednesday. A favourite student of Ritwik Ghatak, his films were invariably based on a serious novel, play or a story. So, he was more of an author’s delight than a source of joy for producers and even popular actors whom he never cast in his serious films.

Films like Aashad Ka Aik Din, based on Mohan Rakesh’s famous play centring around Kalidas, Ahmaq based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky novel Idiot (a young Shah Rukh Khan played the central character in it), Ghasiram Kotwal based on Vijay Tendulkar’s political satire on the life of Nana Phadnavis, a prominent minister in the court of the Peshwas, The Cloud Door on Hindu and Muslim erotic literary themes made under the German producer Regina Ziegler, and Dhrupad on the classical raga, marked the high point of his career.

Many find Kaul’s films hard to sit through because of the very slow pacing, although each frame is a visual treat. The few grainy and discoloured snippets on youtube are not what he should be remembered by.

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