1. Et cetera
1997, 16mm, Color, 33 mins
‘Et cetera’ is a tetralogy of four separate films that seek to examine the various levels at which the reality of human existence functions. Shown at Dhaka Short film festival, 1999, and Cinema Nova Brussels, 2005.
Avikunthak’s foray into filmmaking was directly an attempt at playing with time — all the four films in Et cetera, are directly an attempt at engaging with real time, the fact that they are single shot, single take, unedited films. For him, as a temporal experience they are most linear cinematic narrative, most pure. These films, rather than sculpting in time, were slicing time. However video art has been more successful as an engagement with real time, he says, “I look at my films as an attempt at invoking ‘kaal’ as a metaphysical entity, rather than ‘kaal’ as a temporal category; Et cetera and Kalighat Fetish being articulation of such an invocation.”
2. Kalighat Atikatha aka Kalighaat Fetish
1999, 16mm, Color, 22 mins
The film attempts to negotiate with the duality that is associated with the ceremonial veneration of the Mother Goddess Kali. It ruminates on the nuanced transsexuality that is prevalent in the ceremonial performance of male devotees cross dressing as Kali. This is interwoven with grotesque elements of a sacrificial ceremony, which forms a vital part of the worship of the Goddess.
Kalighat Fetish is contemplation on two ideas — transgression and morbidity. They are connected by the act of transformation, leading to death. Both the violence of sacrifice and the performance of transformation are transgressive acts performed as an engagement with morbidity. They are part of the same act of reverence and anguish. For Avikunthak, Kalighat Fetish is an outcome of his own interaction with the memory of death and dying. The ‘brutality’ of the sacrifice is for him a meditation on the morbidity of death. For him, the film is a cinematographic rendition of memory. The film has been shot in two spatial formations that are an integral part of his memoryscape — the house he was raised in and the famous neighbourhood Kali temple in Kolkata – the Kalighat.
3. Brihannala ki Khelkali aka Dancing Othello
2002, 16mm, Color, 18 mins
Shakespearean theatricality meets the subtlety of Kathakali subverted in the dramatic space of street theatre to give birth to a performative ‘caliban’ – Khelkali – a hybrid act of articulating the post colonial irony of contemporary India.
A political film, which stands apart from rest of Avikunthak’s work. The idea of the film took roots when he saw Arjun Raina perform in Stanford. He then decided to make a film on his Khelkali, which was juxtaposition between Kathakali performance and Shakespearian dramaturgy. The core concept of the film was to subvert both the traditions of classical art to bring out the irony of postcolonial situation.
This is done throughout the film as the narrative moves between Kathakali, Shakespeare and the performance of postcolonial mimesis done by Arjun. The film ends with a self-reflexive turn with the last monologue that Arjun delivers, where he gesticulates and mocks the filmmaker for making a self-indulgent film. This film is most influenced by Avikunthak’s academic training as a cultural anthropologist. Through this cinematic text he attempts to grapple with the irony of the postcolonial situation which cultural theorists such as Homi Bhaha and Gayatri Chakrovorty Spivak have tried to enunciate in their scholarly works.
4. Antaral aka End Note
2005, 16mm, Color, 17 mins
Three women reminisce about their times at school and rekindle and affirm old friendships. They share a strange secret about each other that is never made known to us. The film is a cinematic interpretation of Samuel Beckett’s 1967 dramaticule, ‘Come and Go’.
Avikunthak likes to use space as a metaphor for existential predicament and it recurs constantly in all his films. “Technically I do that by using wide-angle lenses, hand held movements and high-speed film. The spatiality becomes an implicit way of exploring space between relationship as in End Note and way of investigating the self in Kalighat Fetish. In both the films, spaces become memory spaces, as metaphors for an inconceivable loss. The usage of b/w, hi-contrast stock and colour, edited in an in-concerted way is also a formal process through which I try to weave temporal and spatial disjunctions to produce a form of existential predicament that is located in a loss, a bereavement of past, that is not only nostalgic but is also traumatic. I tried this very consciously while making the short fiction End Note.”
5. Vakratunda Swaha
2010, 35mm, Color, 21 mins.
In 1997, Ashish Avikunthak filmed a sequence — a friend and artist, Girish Dahiwale, immersing an idol of Ganesha at Chowpati beach, Bombay on the last day of the Ganapati festival. A year later, he committed suicide. After twelve years, Avikunthak completed the film. Using his footage as the leitmotif, this film is a requiem to a dead friend, and metamorphosises into an “existential inquiry into the idea of death”.
“Sometime in 1997, Girish, Riyas (Komu), Justin (Ponmany) and I decided we would write a manifesto together—a critique of the commercialisation of art in Mumbai. We would meet on and off at the JJ (School of Art), or at the Bandra hostel and sometimes at my kholi in Dharavi,” reminisces Avikunthak about his early days as an artist. The manifesto never materialised but Avikunthak did succeed in getting a two-minute shoot of Dahiwale submerging a Ganpati idol in the sea on Anant Chaturdashi. It remained in the recesses of his mind until the following year when he heard of Dahiwale’s death. “Almost immediately, I was aware that I had this footage. A real memory.”
As in all his previous films, there is no cohesive thread of narrative in Vakratunda Swaha but it is rather a dense cacophony of imagery and symbolism. “I’m not a storyteller,” clarifies Avikunthak. “What I’m doing is thinking through ideas cinematically.”