Song for an Ancient Land … The Joys of Seeing and Listening…

September 14, 2009 at 5:45 am (Cinema, Kiran David)


Light and darkness both reveal and destroy images as does focus or the absence of it. These destroyed images then become images of great beauty and power. Similarly sound – in its clarity or lack of it – creates aural textures which, along with the images, evoke varied possibilities in Kabir Mohanty’s two-part Song for an ancient land.


Clocking just under two hours, this is one of the great audio-visual experiences I have had in a long time, and without doubt, the greatest Indian work of its kind in ages. It is indeed a relief that one can say good things about a film currently made in this part of the world without being patronizing or dishonest, to say the least.


Though technically video art, I would like to call this cinema in a purer sense, with some of the images reminding me of experimental work done in Europe in the ’20s, but totally different in nature, context and intent.


What is truly gratifying is that unlike many practitioners of video art, particularly in our country, many of whom are dilettantes or painters who seem to have no clue of the medium, often claiming to be doing something ‘different’ (a dubious word), Mohanty’s work reflects a complete understanding of the medium of his choice, and reflects the use of its inherent aspects.


While watching the work, the viewer feels the images, both audio and visual, revealing possibilities, and sees the dynamics change, as time, so key to it,unfolds.


Part One explores the histories of the artist’s immediate neighbourhood, Pali Mala in Bandra. Images of traders, roads, sea shores, take on different meanings through feelings that evoke their poetry…


…And then Mohanty announces the arrival of Diwali with images so astonishing that you watch and experience pure joy. There are images where light flashes reflect on buildings, revealing textures till then hidden. A dot of light, travelling within a frame where time seems to expand endlessly on the screen, yet seems to stop for the viewer.


Part Two deals with images that look at a post-Babri Masjid world, the camera traverses over photographs being illuminated by a spot light or possibly a torch that highlights textures on these still images and almost simultaneously destroys the details only to create other images.


Time opens out possibilities and resonances in the sequence shot at the Darga in Mahim built in the name of Makhdoom Baba.


In an interesting shift in space, the camera observes the nature of sameness in diversity as New Yorkers walk in a busy area. This was one of the few places I thought the voice narrating the idea was not needed as the image evoked it in horrifying detail.


One of the joys of viewing Mohanty’s work is that it demands your attention and engages you in its very being. It respects its audience by assuming they are intelligent and have the ability to make connections. It is an invitation to an intimate dialogue, not a call to consumption.  Every time you view the film, it offers you more meanings and emotions that enrich you. The greatest triumph of Song for an ancient land is that it invites you to see and listen, unlike works that numb you to a point of indifference as you only watch and hear.  


– Kiran David


1 Comment

  1. Radhika said,

    Casual, yet intriguing way of writing. Liked the way you explored the director’s sensibilities, and tried to bring all the elements of the film onto one page. Enjoyed the read.

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