Hiding in Plain View: Amit Dutta


By Suyash Kamat

Breathlessly I rushed from my desk at The Peacock to catch the 9.30 movie I’d been waiting for all day on the 22nd November. This was a huge IFFI 2015 highlight, and my anxiety about missing it was almost overwhelming. “Houseful by now for sure,” I said glumly to myself, as I pushed along past a crowd of delegates heading to other screens. But then I sat down for Amit Dutta’s latest movie ‘Even Red Can Be Sad’ (2015) and looked around in stunned dismay. There were maybe 40 people in the theatre, tops.
Dutta is “the most famous Indian film-maker you have never heard of” according to critic Shubra Gupta. Though his works have never been screened publicly in his own country, they have a cult following at the leading film festivals of the world and are shown at leading international museums like the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Museum of Modern Art in New York, and Tate Modern in London.
One of the most illustrious recent graduates of the Film and Television Institute of India, Dutta is now considered one of the most significant contemporary practitioners of experimental cinema. Though notoriously elusive – Dutta did not show up for a scheduled appearance at IFFI 2015 – in earlier interviews he admitted to struggling to find a voice before finding inspiration in the works of Robert Bresson, Mani Kaul, Kumar Shahani, Kamal Swaroop, and the work of Sergei Paranjov, whose film ‘Shadows Of Forgotten Ancestors’ (1965), which opened up a whole new way of thinking for him.
‘Even Red Can Be Sad’ explores the personality of distinguished artist (and part-time writer) Ram Kumar through his stories, and magnificent abstract paintings of Benaras and Himalayan landscapes. Like Dutta’s other films, which merge fact and fiction with literary texts and mythology, further layered with unique cinematic tropes, the viewer is made to go through a process that isn’t very easy to submit to. That might explain why I was nearly alone in the theatre. In fact, this unusual film-maker is a keen supporter of the laptop viewer. A single person watching on a laptop creates the greatest intimacy, he says. But what about a single person per row in a multiplex theatre, as happened on the 22nd? I hope ‘Even Red Can Be Sad’ is shown again at IFFI 2015, so more people can experience the work of one of the greatest experimental film-makers in the world, and one of the finest Indian artists (even if almost no one has heard of him).

It began.
A house, a bulb, a phone call and him.
Lost. Surrendering unknowingly to its world.
Valleys of Shimla echoing with the chants of Varanasi.
Mani Kaul’s Siddheshwari perhaps
We were now living his childhood
Strokes of green, red too.
Leaving his world, time lost its count
And I wonder, what changed by the end?

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