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Film review: Maya Darpan (1972)
Presenting history on celluloid is a daunting task. And the difficulty is not merely in terms of physical factors like the costumes, sets or locations but to understand the minds, cultures and circumstances prevalent at that particular point of time in history.
A serious austerity is required. Kumar Shahani's Maya Darpan is not something a filmaholic would like to miss. One of the earliest works of formalist cinema in India, Maya Darpan is a cinematic ambrosia. The narrative is simple, or rather the film does not have a narrative at all. It goes back to the period of India's independence when the princely states were being integrated into single political entity.

The protagonist Taran is the daughter of a wealthy landlord in one such province. The palatial house speaks loud of the glorious past of the ancestors. A civil engineer named Iqbal is creating political awareness amongst the oppressed labourers- this depicting the birth of Nehruvian Socialism and Iqbal is also one of the few beings in Taran's lonely world.

Taran's brother,who appears only through his voice, after an argument with the father has settled in plantation fields of Assam and wishes Taran to join him. As per the trends of a parochial society, Taran must get married to a rich landlord's son but this is contrary to her aspirations. The film breaks away from the conventional dimensions of a visual narrative and emerges as a work which is nor merely aesthetic but also tends to create a discursive field.

Shahani's deep understanding of spatial and temporal aspects of cinema puts him among the few who have laboured to define a new cinematic language. Further still he achieves a cinematographic grandeur by temporalising space and spatialising time. The usage of color in the film is vastly significant.

The red in Taran's Saree, the blue of the river, the amber of the mansion walls, the folk dancers performing in the dark background, the tint orange of the sunset, its purely aesthetic,visually tranquilising and at the same time generates contemplation. The film is downright lyrical. Nirmal Verma's poetry leaves a profound impact, la beau ideal, it pierces deep into the inner universe with a quiet subtlety.

As Robert Bresson says: Beautiful is not what is shown, beautiful is what's hidden. A remarkable scene in the film is the one when Taran is silently walking through the town at dusk and poetry going on in the background,describing the character seeking emancipation from the clutches of a society dyed in the wool.

Saying anything more about Verma's metrical composition would be futile, it will have to be experienced. Yet another riveting aspect of this forgotten work is the style of acting, to be honest it wouldn't sound very appealing at first because the actors have become devoid of face expressions and voice modulations.

It can be stated that the actors have been put under a burden to be excessively loud and expressionistic. They haven't been really free, a thespian's silent moves haven't found their place. It said that the sound hits the ears and goes to the head but the silences strike right into the heart.

"In silence, nothing is said but everything is heard"- this statement of Rajneesh crystallizes rather beautifully in the works of this author. The transition of time is well captured in the film. The cementification engulfing the empty landscapes, the roaring sound of machines and crushing stones intruding the quiet of the country side,the lower classes being no longer subservient to the Zamindars bringing an end to feudalism.

Upon its release in 1972 the film received a very enthusiastic response, many praised it and many more despised it. Satyajit Ray in a precipitant review hammered the film top to bottom.Its a harrowing surprise that the master of the craft misread the film. He analysed it with a very logical eye but what was needed was a poet's.

As opposed to this Ashish Rajadyaksh, a film scholar, has called the film "sole full-scale experiment with colour". Kumar was a student of Ritwik Ghatak at FTII and master's influence on the pupil is evident in this film. Rajadhyaksha further observes in his book Ritwik Ghatak - A Return to the Epic "One of the first experiences we are introduced to in the film is the tracking shot The camera slowly glides through the long corridors,showing the ceiling, the white pillars, in slow monumental manner.

Used throughout to set the ryhthm, as an extension of the gestural rhythm of the characters, the track is lifted to significance that immediately recalls Ghatak's use of the slow pan". Some attention needs to paid at the title of the film. Adi Shankaracharya in his ethereal Advaita doctrine explains intricate concept of Maya or illusion.

According to him, Maya is true but not the truth, the only truth is Brahma(the cosmic spirit pervading the entire universe), the difference that what is truth is truth forever but what is true is only true for now. This world is nothing but a mirror of illusion because while chasing the unending material ambitions one tends to forget that the world is transitory. So its not merely the outward journey of the central character that is under consideration but more importantly, its the journey inwards.

There has been a conscious attempt by the director to present the turbulence of thoughts in the young lady's mind and we definitely see a theosophical element in the film. Another moment of grace in the film is the seminal folk dance sequence with camera slowly panning downwards,dance being a symbol of freedom and vibrancy.

Its rather disturbing to see that films of such magnitude have been debarred from entering into mass cultures by the ugly distribution system that exists and has been existing. This solitary reaper struggled all through his career to raise funds for his films but one thing that cant be left unnoticed is that he never ever compromised with the market driven forces in our film industry, every single work of his deserves sincere salutation. Kumar Shahani doesn't make films any more but his valorous work will continue to inspire many a lonely walkers who like to take The Road Not Taken.

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