Filmmaker Kumar Shahani has a unique identity. Especially he is the pioneer of parallel cinema (art cinema). He has been discussed worldwide as an avant-garde film director. When the Film Institute was started in Pune in the sixties of the last century, he trained in film direction with Mani Kaul, another famous film director of parallel cinema. In the institute, he got the companionship of the great film director Ritwik Ghatak. They consider Ghatak as their guru.
After training, Shahani went to Paris on a fellowship and worked as a co-director on the famous French film director Robert Bressan’s film Un Fam Douce (A Gentle Woman, 1969). When he returned to India, he directed his first film- ‘Maya Darpan’. ‘Maya Darpan’ (1972) is his most popular film, which is completing fifty years. This film was made with the help of Finance Corporation.
When the story of the same name (Maya Darpan) written by eminent Hindi writer Nirmal Verma was made into a film, cinema scholars and critics appreciated the director’s original vision and cinematic language. In the 70-80s of the last century, his and Mani Kaul’s films (Uski Roti, Ashadh Ka Ek Din, Duvidha etc.) were widely discussed for their experimental style of storytelling. His films were also discussed in prestigious newspapers like La Monde of Paris, New York Times of America. However, ‘Maya Darpan’ also received the National Award for ‘Best Film’ in Hindi.
What is the reason for the uniqueness of ‘Maya Darpan’? Why this film has got an important place in Hindi cinema? The cinema world created by the use of colors and sound in this film is different. Pakistani poet Zia Jalandhari has said: ‘Speak colors and let things smell’. Kumar Shahani says in conversation ‘Colour defines the fragrance of our being.’ Incidentally, Shahani often talks about his birthplace Larkana (Sindh, Pakistan). Also underlining the combination of colors and its centrality in Indian civilization and culture.
Despite the plot being based on the story of Nirmal Verma, this film encroaches on it. Cinema is a technology-based art, but technology does not dominate the director here. At the center of the story of ‘Maya Darpan’ is Taran (Aditi), who lives in a small town with her father (Deewan Sahab) and widowed aunt. The sound of industrialization and social changes coming in the Indian society after independence has come in this story through migrant engineer Babu.
In one episode of this story, Bua says: “I wonder when today Babu talks about your high caste and big family, is it okay? Where is that thing today, which was there years ago? What respect is left today, who gets a boy from a big family! But who will explain this to them? Apart from the story, Shahani also brings the marginalized society in this film, where his class-conscious vision is revealed. Engineer Babu runs a ‘literacy program’ among the laborers. Taran breaks the caste-class distinction.
Nirmal Verma’s story depicts Taran’s loneliness and depression in a feudal and patriarchal environment, but in this story, Taran is unable to decide to get rid of his loneliness. He is bound by the limitations of the feudal environment, while his brother has broken through them. Feudalism was opposed in the film. is, which is not in the story. All these things have come in the film in an artistic way, where the director’s singleness towards ‘form’ is visible.
In an interview a few years ago, when I asked him a question about the film’s ‘treatment’ apart from the story, he said: “I have tried to show feudal oppression in ‘Maya Darpan’. There is a dance sequence at the end of this film, through that I have tried to break this oppression. The energy in that dance is against the feudal system. It is also in the color of Kali.
Kumar Shahani says that ‘when you make a film, you aspire to do a specific thing – especially when you talk about freedom, which is desired by all.’ In a way, individual freedom is the basic spirit of this film. Shahani’s film explores the form in which this freedom came in art.
Like Mani Kaul, the images in Kumar Shahani’s films are loosely inspired by Indian paintings. There is a clear influence of these avant-garde film directors on contemporary filmmakers like Amit Dutta, Gurvinder Singh, which they openly accept. The Taran of ‘Maya Darpan’ itself shows the influence of the central character of Robert Bresson’s film ‘Mouchet (1967)’, which was criticized by Satyajit Ray. Along with this, Ritwik Ghatak’s films also have influence on his films. Despite all the influences and criticism, the style of storytelling in Kumar Shahani’s films makes him stand in a different line in the history of Indian cinema.
Along with the use of sound in the film ‘Maya Darpan’, the use of music should also be discussed. The ‘time-space’ of the haveli is beautifully enhanced by Bhaskar Chandavarkar’s music and Vani Jairam’s vocals. Kumar Shahani says, “Obviously, you will see that after this film, all my films are ‘musical epics’.”
‘Tarang’, ‘Kasba’, ‘Khyal Gatha’ and ‘Chaar Adhyay’ are his other famous films. There is a need for serious discussion in Hindi on his films. These films are steeped in Indian aesthetics, political ideology is included here. In fact, Shahani has been skilfully moving between the two.