Experimental films can stimulate senses

Abstract cinema

Four experimental short films were screened at a small café in Hauz Khas Village on February 2. Based on a complex theme, the treatment of the films was even more complex. If one had gone by the name of the event, ‘(Post) Memory of the Northeast, Experimental films on Nostalgia’, one would have given it a serious thought to whether attending it will match with their sensibilities.

But that is not as obvious as it sounds. The four films, On Memory and Forgetting, The Fern, The Linger and Bhal Khabar (Good News) open one’s eyes to whole new domain of cinema which will stimulate most and is a good start for someone who is new to this genre. Abstract they were, in structure and treatment, but as coherent as a poem. The filmmakers are professional and have a cumulative experience of more than 50 years.

Shaheen Ahmed, the curator is pursuing her doctoral research at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University. She is also an art practitioner mainly working with video art, text art, and photography.

“The films in this section are all about a certain sense of nostalgia. Straddling across time and space, they evoke the nostalgia of a moment that may or may not have existed. Memory is then the key concept to understand these films.” Ahmed tells Metrolife.

Working on her PhD thesis, Ahmed has developed various meanings within meaning nostalgia, and the films fit the meanings aptly. Altaf Mazid, through his film Bhal Khabar, evokes the words of writer Saurav Kumar Chaliha who is trying to look for good news in the time of the ‘Assam Movement’ in the 1980s. Mazid tries to historicise the memory of a traumatic time for him and building in the “postmemory” for the next generation. Postmemory is a term that Ahmed is proposing in her thesis.

“The director’s language is integral in experimental cinema and these four films have accurately done that,” says Ahmed. Though experimental cinema has gained a reputation that “modern art” for a layman has, but these films ascertain one that this genre is not dying.

For example, Mukul Holoi’s film On Memory and Forgetting was extremely abstract, with labyrinthine moving images on screen where the nostalgia can only be interpreted by the viewer and his past memory of the images he is viewing. The sepia tint gives the film a photographic quality, evoking nostalgia as seen in black and white and sepia analog photographs of a time truly lost. But Wanphrang K Diengdoh’s The Fern captures an aged Khasi musician Ma H K Wahlang, playing the duitara (four-stringed lute), singing a pastoral song, a song of and for nostalgia. The language is linear but at the same time cinematically experimental. The film is as long as the song, it opens with the song, gives no background except the lyrics as subtitles. The film is not more than three minutes long.

“The twin concepts of “restorative” and “reflective” nostalgia become useful in understanding the film by Shamtom Shar, The Linger, which deals with memory loss or amnesia, and in a while turns around the ideas of memory that has been interrogated by the rest of the films. This is nostalgia that has been silent. And Shar uses the amnesia to understand the memory of a historical time. Damaged memory is seen in the protagonist of the film, and this memory needs to be read as the damaged memory of not just an individual, but as a society’s memory too,” explains Ahmed. Growing up in Assam, Ahmed has witnessed violence closely, she says. “I was there during the disturbed times of Assam Movement and also 1998 to 2001, when killing was a common act.

I wanted to feature only Northeast, because I have a good memory of the place and what it has become,” she adds. Another facet of experimental cinema is that it is ambitious and borne from certain visceral experiences. According to Shar, dreams have fascinated him. The protagonist in his film also loses track between reality and dream. “Dreams don’t necessarily make sense but definitely have a deep connection with our lifetime experiences. I feel that unlike real life stories or events which are easily comprehensible or relatable, dreams can quite be a subjective experience no one else can decode. The Linger is what came into existence in my efforts to express these ideas. It deals with the world of dreams where the smallest bits of memories manipulate our hanging thoughts of reality; the degree of manipulation varying from the most rational to the least logical,” says Shar. These films are available online to watch for free. 

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