When the Bird Became a Wave….A Journey with Kumar Shahani

5:00–7:00 pm
UChicago Center in Delhi


Documentary | Digital | 72 min. | 2014
Direction: MR Rajan
Script: V. Sasikumar
Digital Recording: Sunny Joseph
Edit: Vijeesh
Production: Cinematograph Kerala


MR Rajan’s docu-film on noted filmmaker Kumar Shahani, When the Bird Became a Wave… is a beautiful tribute to the great director by a sensitive artist. Rajan has interpreted Shahani’s life, work and words with great understanding and imagination. The film is a journey with Shahani across Kerala, which was recorded through a span of four years, from 2010. Kumar discusses history, cinema, music, performing arts, politics, the growth of the market, traditional trade relationships across the country and the globe. He examines the human survival through the eyes of philosophy. Knowledge against the military-industrial complex, creativity against oppressive systems and establishments — Kumar’s eternal concern continues as a debate and an argument throughout the film. The film has been recorded and treated in a very personal style. Translating  Shahani’s exquisite aesthetic for the cinematic medium, Rajan has at once enriched it with the lucidity of moving images and sounds, and the gravity of a serious reflection. It speaks to us without speaking, and keeps its splendid silence through the words it employs.

Kumar Shahani is one of the pioneers of the New Indian Cinema. He is best known for his works in parallel cinema, Maya Darpan (1972) Khayal Gatha (1989) and Kasba (1990). Due to his dedication to the aesthetic form, and with the reputation of his first feature, Maya Darpan being considered Indian cinema’s first formalist film, he is frequently grouped by critics and film enthusiasts alongside Pier Paolo Pasolini, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Jacques Rivette. Shahani held a Homi Bhabha Fellowship to study the epic tradition of the Mahabharata, Buddhist iconography, Indian classical music and the Bhakti movement. Shahani considers Roberto Rossellini and Robert Bresson as major influences on his work and those who he learned the most from.

MR Rajan is a documentary filmmaker of repute. He graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune and holds a degree in Philosophy from the Sree Kerala Varma College, Trichur. He has made several films on the history, tradition and future of the performance arts of Kerala. Chhaaya (Shadows) (1991) looks at shadow puppetry and the visual continuity of Kerala imagery through the ages. Chenkallillil oru Sankeerthanam (Psalm in Laterite Stone), made in 1991, was a video on the sculptures of Shilpi Rajan. Continuing his work with performance artists embedded in a long tradition of practice, he made Pakarnnaattam in 1995. The film explores sounds and images of the ancient form of Sanskrit theatre Koodiyattam through one of its most important exponents – Ammannur Madhava Chakyar. In 1999, MR Rajan won the National Film Award for Best Biographical Documentary among several other awards for Nottam (Gaze), a film on the veteran Kathakali performer Sri Kizhpadam Kumaran Nair. Rajan made another portrait of a performance artist in the film Minukku (Incandescence) made in 2006, reframing visually the veteran Kathakali performer and specialist in female roles, Kottakkal Sivaraman. It won the Best Documentary film award from the Indian Documentary Producer’s Association (IDPA). His most recent film, Cinemayude Kalpadukal (Foot Prints of Cinema), is a long video that traces the spirit of the Malayalam film industry in the sixties and seventies through conversations with the veteran film producer Shobana Parameswaran Nair.