DIR: Amit Dutta | Cinema of Our Time | India , Switzerland | 2010 | 96 mins | In Kangri and Dogri with English subtitles
Thu, Oct 6th 11:00am | Empire Granville 7 Th 2
Sun, Oct 9th 9:15pm | Vancity Theatre
If I had to use literary terms, I would describe this movie as more of a poem than a novel. The director, Amit Dutta, is spare with dialogue, plot, and character development in this film about Nainsukh, a Northern Indian artist living in the 1700s who was commissioned by an Indian prince during the Mughal era as a sort of court painter.
Dutta doesn’t focus on Nainsukh’s life. He only briefly touches upon the artist’s family (all painters) and mentions in passing that his style was more “realistic” than was common at the time.
Instead, he chooses to focus on restaging Nainsukh’s work in poetic snapshots, creating a sort of tableau vivant of various scenes involving the everyday life of the prince—looking out the window from his palace; smoking a hookah and watching a woman play an instrument; taking part in a tiger hunt.
A large portion of the film also includes lingering scenes of Nainsukh or the prince traveling the Indian countryside, or of the prince at the palace staring pensively into the distance, or of various courtiers walking up and down the stairs and serving and entertaining the prince.
However, a majority of the scenes are very structured re-creations of Nainsukh’s paintings set in the ruins of the Jasrota palace as well as throughout the Indian countryside. Throughout the film, Dutta cuts away from these immaculate reconstructions to the real thing—Nainsukh’s own delicately-wrought and finely-detailed paintings.
The set design and costume are particular down to the the last detail—even the prince’s facial hair and accoutrements are identical to those in the paintings. Dutta also expands beyond the boundaries of the visual, giving special attention to capturing the sounds of fire crackling, cows mooing, and the sharp metallic clomp from a pair of heavy shears; through the medium of film creating a living, breathing painting.
Parts of Nainsukh felt more like a very conceptual video that would be shown in art history class than a film, and I must admit I almost dozed off in the beginning while I waited for the film to complete the staging of the ‘setting’ and get started on the plot—before realizing that the whole point of the film was the ‘setting.’
There isn’t much character development either, except for a few scenes near the end that subtly indicate that there was some measure of care between the prince and the painter. However, like I said, this film is more poetry than fiction; after I got a handle on the its purpose, I was able to relax and enjoy the work for its own particular sensibilities. Much like poetry, it is distilled to its most aesthetic and evocative essence.
Patricia Lim is Managing Editor for Ricepaper Magazine and a part-time librarian. She likes to meet weirdly interesting people and attend artsy events to stretch her mind. You can see what she writes on Twitter @ricepapermag.