The Idea of a Village
2008 90 min
By Oliver Husain
The village has been left behind. It doesn’t play a big role in official culture and economic decisions. The village which progress has forgotten is pushed out to the margins. Yet, the fictitious idea of a small, idyllic community is very much present in urban centres – in minds, dreams, flights and films.
To draw a line and to try to define the connecting qualities of contemporary short films and videos made by South Asian artist is of course, just as impossible as Ferwa Ibrahim’s attempt to pun down her shadow in Untitled. Like a choreography of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, the moment to be recorded is constantly changing through the presence of the artist.
A big old tree at a junction in a village, people sitting around it – staring into the lens at us, as if we’re not meant to be here. The camera moves backwards and forwards in semi circles. The movement turns the setup into a sculpture. It seems to open a third dimension, accessible, but not inviting. It dares us to enter, to walk down the road. The hallucinatory vision of an Indian village in Amit Dutta’s short film Kramasha (“to be continued”) is also created through moment like this – layers of movement, surprising cuts, dense colours and sounds. Buildings are half ruins, overgrown with plants, inhabited by fragments of legends, unfinished and to be continued through generations. Even the walls have stories. In fact, the Banyan tree has grown all through the house and taken over the role of the grandfather. “Father once told me about all of this in detail. In my conscious state. I find all these tales nonsensical. Only in my dreams are their meanings truly understood,” says the voice over. In dreams, or in this case, in the cinema.
The language of cinema employed by Dutta to full effect, is used to understand the trickles of fiction that seem to seep through the narrator’s surroundings since long before his birth. Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum writes: “The way that documentary merges with fiction n this setup is what seems Resnais-like about the drifting tracking shots and pans, which impose mysterious narratives on investigations of locations, locations that are imbued with a sense of inaccessible past.”
Kramasha’s fairy-tale village is contrasted with the very real fight for justice in rural Manjpur, as documented in Kavita Joshi’s Tales from the Margins. Manjpur, a border state of India, located between Assam and Myanmar, has been declared a disturbed area since 1958 when the Armed Forces Special Powers Act was implemented. Undet his act, army and security forces were given unrestricted and unaccounted powers, resulting in high incidents of custodial deaths, torture, rape, extrajudicial killings and “disappearances.” Joshi interviews victims’ families and human rights activists like Irom Sharmila, who has been a fast unto death since November 2000. Though the protests received a lot of attention in 2004, the Indian government has still not repealed the AFSPA and the Manipuri struggle has lost the attention of the urban public.
In downtown Kuala Lampur, we’re on the way to the kampong, the old village, walking form the bus station to the metro, in a video filmed in real-time. Street, cars, bikes, stalls, vendors, a young man with a big bad on his shoulder – the camera seems to follow him. His walk lasts long, long enough for us to watch – to observe – the get into this feelings of how it is to walk through downtown traffic in the heat with a big bag on your shoulder. Another man, slightly older, with a different haircut, enters the frame. Soon they are having a conversation. Azharr Rudin’s film Majidee slowly shifts gears. The blank documentary moves into a surprising and ambivalent story. Through simple staging, precise acting and restrained dialogue (written by Rudin in collaboration with the actors) Rudin achieves an exciting sense of realism. The humour is subtle, but effective.
There is subtle comedy in the next video too. A living room in a bungalow. Large windows and doors are opening to a garden. It is a family space – a cell within the city. The family and the dog pose in a simple set-ups between the foliage and curtains and sofa cushions. The painter’s eye sees colours, textures and tableaus within the domestic decorations. The camera’s eye sees fragments, traces, lines, zooms in on mom’s lipstick, her shoe’s sparkling sequins, suddenly distracted by the noise of a vaccum cleaner. If this is a competition between two different ways of seeing, in this case the camera wins. Saba Khan calls her film Paint anyway.
Debashis Sinha’s video Skin attempts to capture the skin’s transformations, mirroring Ibrahim’s attempt to fix her shadow in the film that opens this program. Digitally magnified and transformed into abstract pixel fields, the images escapes definition.
Listen to the music.
Oliver Husain is a filmmaker and artist based in Toronto and Frankfurt