1981-1990DocumentaryExperimentalIndiaMani Kaul

Mani Kaul – Siddeshwari (1990)


Summary from The Hindu:
On paper, Siddheshwari, like so many films commissioned by the Films Division, is a cine-profile, of the Hindustani singer Siddheshwari Devi. However, Kaul turns the genre inside out, and amalgamates literary, theatrical, musical and cinematic forms together to construct an experience of music, instead of simply presenting biographical details or passively documenting the singer’s artistry. The sprawling film blends multiple timelines, realities and geographies to sketch a unique portrait of the artist.

This hauntingly beautiful visual poem is ostensibly about Siddheshwari Devi (1908-77), the sublime vocalist of the vaunted Banaras gharana. But from the onset, it is obvious Kaul dispenses with any notion of the conventional bio-pic. Among this singular auteur’s works, this is a unique beauty.

Kaul is not interested in presenting the elusive life of a person, rather he is concerned with illuminating the experience of Siddheshwari’s music itself: particularly its transmission from guru to shishya, from filmmaker to viewer, and back again. The ecstasies and tragedies of a life within the sensuousness of the thumri milieu, where the theme of absence (of the object/beloved) dominates.

Kaul blurs any boundaries between documentary and fiction in recognizing and exploring the possibilities of form (cf. Dhrupad (1982)). Literature, painting, architecture, music, theater and poetry are layered within this filmic experience. For Kaul, a film is not a visual document, rather it’s a temporal process. His is a cinema of fragments beyond conventional logic, meaning or chronology which unfolds like an open-ended tapestry, not necessarily needing solutions/endings.

As temporal alienation is key in Kaul’s self-reflexive process, the film is bound to confound. The juxtapositions of conflicts can be overwhelming in their fragmentary non-resolution. The soundtrack consists of overflowing waves of sounds: birds, bells, everyday found sounds and multiplicities of voices, from whispered to crying to spoken to sung. The tension between innocence/experience. The slow moving camera vs. the relentless fragments, where one shot takes meaning in the context of the other. Each lovingly-crafted sequence so beautiful but then the constant, necessary movement to the next. The contrast and diffusion of colors and monochromes. The recognition of the ethereality of the experience capped off by the coup de grâce final sequence, with Mita Vashisht alone, in her alienation (from herself? from her role?) watching footage of the titular “subject”, in the archives.

These waves after waves of fragments do unveil some recurring motifs: the empty, spinning, resounding loṭā … the cat meows (a nod to Chris Marker?) … the Bressonian dwelling on hands/feet … the recursive mirror images … the drifting boat … the pervading hues of blue … most poignantly, the sensoriality of the thumri/tawaif context of Banaras/Kashi, eternal river city of death/light.

The kernel of the film is revealed within the sequences encapsulating the opening credits. The sarangi’s (with cat meowing) plaint to the hennaed, bejewelled hand of the tawaif. Then the counting fingers of the luminously tranced shishya. Then to another hand fragment with the color blue making 1st appearance (in a sari) in yet another transformation of Siddhi, which leads into further credits. At 3:20, a table of contents(!) of the “chapters”. Then at 3:30, Siddhi’s key voiceover: “Kaumudī, ham ye nahīṃ jānte ke kaun gā rahā hai” (“Kaumudī, I do not know who is singing”), which then reappears at 4:20! And then prime Siddheshwari, soaring in baithak at 4:35…

True instant light!

Further notable sublime moments abound: the drifting lovers on the blue boat 10:07; the majestic music/film-improvisation sequences 4:35, 15:15, 36:11 & 42:33; the supine Guru ji playing sarangi 66:00.

1.16GB | 1h 32mn | 762×572 | mkv



If you enjoy this blog, you can support it by buying a NITROFLARE premium account from the links above. Thank you for your support

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button