All posts by Ashish Avikunthak

Ashish Avikunthak

Ashish Avikunthak is a filmmaker and cultural anthropologist who is an Asst. Prof. in Film Media at University of Rhode Island.

Dialogs before Suicide – An interview

In 2011, I made a single-shot feature film – Rati Chakravyuh (2013, 105 minutes) that was a summit of my life long engagement with the ontology of cinematic temporality. A “single-shot feature film”, also called “continuous shot feature film” is a full-length movie filmed in one long takes by a single camera. This is one of the most technological challenging, aesthetically provocative and complex cinematic feats in the history of cinema. Only less than a dozen such films have been made.

During the age of celluloid, few filmmakers pushed the ontology of the single-long-shot to the extreme – often shooting a whole canister of 1000 feet of 35 mm film from beginning to end, clocking a length of 11 minutes. Although full-length feature film in a single-shot was not possible, but long shots were methodically sutured by filmmakers like by Andrei Tarkovsky, Michelangelo Antonioni, Theodoros Angelopoulos, Werner Herzog and many others to create ontology of temporality in the cinematic representation. “Red Psalm” made in 1972 by the Hungarian master Miklós Jancsó stands out as an epic masterpiece of this form. This is an 87-minute feature film made of 26 meticulously choreographed long shots uncovering a history revolution in nineteenth century Hungary. Bela Tarr, a younger contemporary of Jancsó from Hungary also continued the same strategy, making feature narratives with carefully composed long shots.

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Maha Kumbh Journal during the making of “Kalkimanthankatha – Part 2.

5 Kalkimanthankatha Publicity Photo copy
Still from Kalkimanthankatha.

Saturday, Feb 2, 2013
I think Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” works very well in Kumbh. A post-modern text located in a pre-modern universe. The rupture is generated and almost organic to the film. This second Kumbh Mela of the 21st century is an ancient religious gathering gridded in the cartographic imagination of postcolonial town planners. It is a hybrid universe fatefully fluctuating between primordial impulses and rational compulsions. A pre-modern religious imagination controlled, ordered, and confined within the gridded universe of a Cartesian structure. Here faith is restrained by an eccentric postcolonial Foucauldian governmentality. Here religious belief is tightly fastened by the rational state. Here religion is gridlocked by the panopticon regimentation of postcolonial govermentality.

In this universe two men are searching for the tenth avatar of Kalki – the most ambiguous avatar of Vishnu. He is yet to come but he is probably already here. The avatar of Kali Yug. The avatar that will save the world from annihilation. Like Beckett’s Godot, he is here but he does not show up. Why will he show up? For whom will he show up? However instead of waiting, the two men are searching, because they know that he is here. And if he is here he has to come to Kumbh. For Kumbh is the place where all come: it’s a bombed-out, post-colonial, post-partition, post-holocaust refugee-camp of the faithful.

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Maha Kumbh Journal during the making of “Kalkimanthankatha – Part 1.

[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Ashish Avikunthak]

The early months of 2013 saw one of the largest congregations of mankind in the 21st century transpiring at the confluence of the rivers Ganga and Yamuna in the north Indian town of Allahabad. Maha Kumbh Mela, which happens once every 12 years, is one of the most significant Hindu religious gatherings. Millions of devotees assemble to take a sacred bath at a consecrated spot where the two rivers come together. An estimated 120 million people visited Kumbh over a two-month period including over 30 million on a single day, on 10 February 2013.

I, with a motley group of friends and collaborators, spent more than a month in Kumbh, shooting a feature length film called: “The Churning of Kalki” [Kalkimanthankatha] – in which, following on the footsteps of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”, two actors from Calcutta go in search for Kalki, the tenth and the final avatar of Lord Vishnu. Kalki is the most enigmatic of Vishnu’s Avatars, the one who has already been on earth but has never been found. However, there is an outbreak of a monumental war during their quest. The two actors prepare themselves for this war by reading Chairman Mao-se-Tung’s “Little Red Book”.

These are selected ethnographic journal entries together with photographs taken by my collaborators. Continue reading