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Duvidha by Mani Kaul

Mischa

over 2 years ago

SPOILERS AHEAD

दुविधा (Duvidha a.k.a. In Two Minds) is a 1973 Hindi film directed by Mani Kaul.

It is based upon a Rajasthani folk tale by Vijaydan Detha. The story is simple: a lonely ghost falls deeply in love with a beautiful – but recently married – woman; after her husband departs home for business trading, the ghost proceeds to steal the identity of the husband in order to possess the woman’s love.


One thing which arrested my attention very early on was the various muted hues and textures of the cinematography, the set design and the costume design. Mani Kaul shot this film with a variety of slow camera pans, static shots, overhead shots looking down, and the occasional slow zoom – but no-where can there be found any tracking shots.




A trademark of the film is the use of the close-up on the face, and of the face occasionally staring into the camera.






There is the occasional voice-over narration, sometimes even by the characters themselves. The acting performances are specifically muted, influenced by Robert Bresson perhaps.

Much of the film was shot in the daytime, and the setting is characterised by white architecture, sandy-coloured barren landscapes and colourful clothing, veils, turbans and textiles; the film print is also very grainy. There is a relative lack of music throughout the film – in particular during the scenes with dialogue – but where there is music, it is of a very traditional Indian flavour. Lighted candles are noticably a recurring object throughout the film, even during the daytime.

In various scenes, decorative markings are noticable upon the woman’s hands, but to be honest I’m not sure of their significance, if any.

After the husband leaves his wife, his parents and his home for five years of business trading, the ghost arrives there in the husband’s physical form; he proceeds to confess his treachery to the woman he loves, but he keeps his secret from the husband’s parents. The woman accepts the presence of the ghost out of her loneliness, and five years pass between them with a cinematic montage of observational silence. She eventually falls pregnant to him.

The husband’s letters to his home are not being answered, and he eventually hears news of the ghost impregnating his wife. Upon his return home, the husband is believed by his parents to be a fake – perhaps out of their pride, they wouldn’t want to admit being fooled by the ghost for so long. In keeping with the muted style of the film, there is no dramatic flourish when the husband returns home, but he does challenge the ghost to confess his deception. The locals then decide to take them both to see the King in order to settle the dispute, but on the way, a shepherd stops them and solves the problem himself with a series of clever trick tests.

I for one can’t help but feel a level of sympathy for the ghost despite his treachery, as he confesses to the husband before his banishment: “I crave love and affection more than trade and profit.”

The woman then gives birth to a son, but she decides not to tell her husband of her disloyalty, instead commiting herself to him as his dutiful wife.


If anyone reading this has seen this film, please I encourage you to share your thoughts on it here.

Kenji

over 2 years ago

Tremendous post! Yeah, Bresson came to mind, but although it’s quite spare in terms of camera movement and compositional details, it also achieves its own distinctive, strange and quite beguiling atmosphere. And as you point out so well with these stills, the colour scheme is very much part of its appeal. With the close ups we are engaged with the characters and developments, in fact we are given some intimacy from the start. I prefer the ghost to the hubbie- who can blame him for taking the place of someone who doesn’t appreciate his young bride enough to be with her? Love v business. But there are social norms, can humans let ghosts get away with such things? Rather than mannered or alienating, the film’s style enhances the sense of mystery and intrigue.. I really like it.

Kenji

over 2 years ago

I think it would make an interesting double bill with Ugetsu Monogatari, which also has a lonely ghost seeking and giving love, whom we can sympathise with (more so than some of the living humans)- or say Snow Woman in Kwaidan.

Mischa

over 2 years ago

Yes Kenji, I found the colour scheme to be endlessly fascinating. I think that part of the reason it works so well on the senses is the predominately white/grey/sandy background, including the architecture and the mens clothing, which is then sort of overlayed with spots of both brilliant hues and muted (kind of washed out) hues, such as the overhead shot (posted above) of the group of women in colourful (washed out) clothing and veils, and also the colours of the mens turbans. The arrangement of colours is one of the most significant aspects of the film’s aesthetics, I believe.

And I agree with the intimacy aspect of the close-up shots of the characters, in particular at the start of the film in which camera spies, in a way, upon the newly wed couple in their horse-drawn cart. Also, the slow camera movements (and the lack of tracking shots) lends to this same impression of an intimate observation of the characters.

I’d agree that the muted acting and the “intimate obervations” of the characters and their social norms is far from alienating, because the expression of the film’s aesthetics in telling the sad story is somehow so powerful to me. I for one certainly wouldn’t blame the ghost for trying to replace the absent husband, despite the strict social norms! It’s interesting that the husband’s father tells his son upon his return to immediately leave in order to avoid the shame – he is clearly more concerned with keeping up social appearances rather than with finding out which one is his true son, which he could easily do with some simple questions about their past together, and this is very sad indeed.

Yes, the “lonely ghost” aspect does have some parallels with the story of Ugetsu, which is another beautiful film. I have yet to see Kwaidan though, so I’ll try to watch it soon.

Kenji

over 2 years ago

Not the first fine thread you’ve done that deserves more interest. Yes, it does get off to a memorable start in the cart. Red Sorghum has now come to mind, but that’s a very different film, bright, vivacious and less subtle. Duvidha has a folklore charm too, with the clever scene to catch out the poor ghost, but as you mention, there is also underlying social comment.

I call my wife Snow Woman- there’s a scene with two women discussing her appearance i often think of. Hope you enjoy (Hoichi the Earless my other favourite section of the 4)

greg x

over 2 years ago

It is an excellent post Mischa. Where did you find the film? I’d love to see it, but I suspect that won’t be easily done given my situation since downloading isn’t really an option for me.

Mischa

over 2 years ago

As far as I can tell Greg, there has never been a release of this film on any format. I downloaded it from the internet, and it’s obvious that it was recorded from television, because right at the end of the film, a voice-over says “next on 4, Luka and Abby are getting worried, ER on the way” (referring to the television show ER).

Cheers for the recommendations Kenji, I’ll check out Red Sorghum too.

Brian Davisso​n

over 2 years ago

Thanks for posting this, Mischa. Laali mentioned to me seeing some films by Mani Kaul, so I’d wanted to see something by him for a while, but this encouraged me to do so right away. I thought from the stills you posted above that there was a strong correspondence with the visual style of Paradjanov (more from The Color of Pomegranates than from Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors). The washed out colors and the use of tableaux, though here Kaul uses “frozen” shots (there’s probably a technical term for this that I don’t know) that seem to stand in for tableaux. I also enjoyed how he froze the screen not just for shots of “still-life” images, as in the third still above, which I think is in the cart, but also for characters ostensibly in motion. The close-ups of the wife’s face are wonderful in the film as well.

That said, I wonder if it’s entirely fair for me to compare his style here to Paradjanov or anyone else, as it stands on its own as an amazing film both visually and in its story. It’s one of those gems, perhaps a masterpiece, that has more or less escaped the notice of a lot of film viewers. (You can at least see clips of it on youtube, and maybe the whole film, if anyone is having trouble getting access.)

Mischa, you’ve mentioned a couple of times the lack of tracking shots. Do you think this is a logistical issue (no financial ability to film using tracks) or do you think it feeds into the reception of the film in a concrete way?

Mischa

over 2 years ago

@Brian

Possibly the lack of tracking shots has something to do with logistics, but I would personally interpret this as being an artistic choice on behalf of the director, and a very good one at that. I say this because the static shots, the still “frozen” shots, the slow pans, and the slow zooms are all obviously physically rooted to the spot, which strongly implies to me a sense of an intimate lazy observance, as if the camera is sitting tucked away in a comfy corner (but not hidden from view of the characters), kind of like a “people watcher” so to speak, and occasionally leaning in closer to get a more intimate view of characters’ faces. To me, this view is strengthened when one considers that oftentimes in the film, the characters stare (not just glance) into the camera, but of course another person may interpret this differently. I think that you’ll get a better idea of what I’m talking about when you view the film; that is, I personally feel that any tracking shots may have disrupted the overall “mood” that I felt whilst viewing the film, but I could be wrong.

I’d actually say that your comparison to the visual style of Parajanov is quite fair, even though their respective styles are still unique in themselves. Certainly, the use of washed out colourful costumes and of white/grey backgrounds/buildings in both Duvidha and Colour of Pomegranates is worthy of taking note. And yes, Duvidha has unfortunately been neglected and I can’t for the life of me understand why.

Kenji

over 2 years ago

Yes, Paradjanov came to my mind too- the quirky humour on a film like Ashik Kerib as much as say Colour of Pomegranates. And fom there we have an Iranian film like Gabbeh. But Kaul makes something his own, not a strange hybrid of Bresson and Paradjanov.

Mischa

over 2 years ago

Indeed, one can detect influences such as Bresson and Parajanov, but Kaul’s style is his own. For such a unique artist to be so neglected is a shame. Hopefully we’ll see some quality DVD releases of Kaul’s films at some point soon, but I’m not sure of the logistics of such an undertaking.

I’ve yet to see Parajanov’s final two films, and Gabbeh also looks interesting, thanks Kenji.

thampu

over 2 years ago

Wonderful film! The bride, in particular, was perfectly cast, wasn’t she? She has a beautiful and a very uniquely expressive face, and some of the shots involving her are among the most painterly in the film. A perfect “model”, to use Bresson’s terminology. The spare aesthetic also melds quite perfectly with the rural Rajasthan milieu. The voice over is a joy as well, especially for those moments of droll humor; besides, it also seems apt considering the material’s folk origins.

Also, here’s a video of Kaul talking about Bresson, though there’s a good chance many of you have already seen this.

Mischa

over 2 years ago

Thanks for linking the video, Vikram. I actually hadn’t seen that video before; it’s very interesting for me to hear Kaul speak of Bresson’s methods with actors!

Yes, the casting of the bride was perfect imo; I was/still am captivated by her beauty – as you can probably tell by the images I posted in the OP ;)

Seanpas​bon

over 2 years ago

Nice post! I will definitely check back and comment after I get a chance to see the film

Mischa

over 2 years ago

In further response to Brian Davisso​n’s earlier question about the lack of tracking shots in Duvidha being a potential logistical issue, I’ve recently stumbled upon this article, which contains some relevant information concerning the production of the film:

Master of the Visual by Partha Chatterjee, 2011

Neither Uski Roti nor Ashad Ka Ek Din were commercially released. By then (1972), Kaul was a married man and a father and was desperate to work. Distinguished painter Akbar Padamsee came forward to help. He loaned his 16mm Bolex camera with a 16/86mm Switar zoom lens and gave him just enough rolls of Kodachrome film, a very slow emulsion rated at 25 ASA (daylight) and 40 ASA (tungsten), to shoot Duvidha, his third feature film and his first in colour.

It was based on a story by Vijay Daan Deta, a Rajasthani folklorist and writer. Duvhida, which came out in 1974, was one of the early feminist works in Indian cinema. It was about the young wife of a young merchant, who is away on his travels, sharing her home and bed with a ghost who is the spitting image of her husband. Kaul told his story with humour, elegance and an underlying seriousness.

The making of Duvidha also marked Kaul’s parting of ways with Mahajan. Mahajan, who had one the National Award for Best Cinematographer in 1969 for Uski Roti, had declined to photograph the film because it was being shot on a Bolex and under amateur conditions. Kaul, stung to the quick, decided never to work with him again. It was perhaps then that Kaul supposedly made the acid remark, Mai toh kisi paanwale ko cameraman bana sakta hoon (I can make a cameraman out of any old paanwala). Vain as this remark sounded then, it was not far from the truth. He caught hold of Navrose Contractor, a fine stills photographer who happened to be passing under his window one morning. The making of Duvidha is a saga in itself.

Kaul and his tiny unit landed up in Rajasthan with practically no money. Financial stringency forced him to improvise for all he was worth; he did so, brilliantly. He had four Sunguns, lights of 1,000 watts each, usually used for newsreel coverage. The reflectors were home-made and he taught villagers to hold them. The brightness of his lights was often affected because the voltage in rural Rajasthan was very low. Unfazed, he went through the shooting with unbelievable confidence. He told Navrose Contractor, who had done projects for the Ford Foundation and was a stringer for Life magazine, that motion picture photography was but an extention of still photography and that there was nothing to worry about.

Kaul turned every hurdle into an advantage. There was no money to do sound, so he reduced dialogue to a bare minimum and used the aesthetics of the silent cinema to great effect. He cast Akbar Padamsee’s half-French daughter , who knew no Hindi, as the silent bride. He managed to complete the shooting and practically shamed the National Film Development Corporation into releasing Rs. 2,50,000 to complete the film.

L. V. Prasad, a self-made man and owner of Prasad Productions and Prasad Film Laboratories in Chennai, was so impressed that he set up an Oxberry animation film stand for Kaul, who then proceeded to copy the 16mm Kodachrome footage frame by frame onto 35mm negative film himself and make a beautiful 16/35mm blow-up copy possible. Apart from its quiet, subtle narrative, Duvidha was widely appreciated for its visual quality.

The Invisible Man of Indian Cinema by Srikanth Srinivas, 2011

Kaul’s most acclaimed film Duvidha (1973) opens with a rather flat, Godardian image of a woman in a red saree standing in front of a white wall, staring determinedly into the camera, as high-pitched Rajasthani ethnic vocals grace the audio. Like the frozen image of Truffaut’s juvenile delinquent, it suggests a predicament addressed to the audience. Based on a folk tale, Duvidha speaks of a love that is beyond time and space. The presence of the ghost, which falls in love with the new bride, is not an exotic delicacy served to us but a given. And so is the ‘story’, which is read out verbatim to us by the narrator, freeing the film from the burden of storytelling, so to speak, instead allowing it to experiment with the imagery.

Employing a number of photographs, freeze frames, jump cuts and replays, which illustrate the film’s central notion of temporal and geographical dislocation (and save on the budget) and manipulating time like an accordian player, Kaul weaves a narrative where the past, the present and the future are always in conversation. (The ghost is simply referred to as ‘Bhoot’ (ghost), which is, of course, the word for ‘past’ as well). The predicament of the title, then, involves a choice between the spiritual and the material, the bride’s past and future, her childhood and adulthood, her freedom and honour and her love and security.

Bewitchingly shot like a Dovzhenko film (and composed like Cézanne’s still lifes), and impressively designed, with a simple yet striking interplay of red and white, Duvidha builds on both Kaul’s feminist leanings and highly personalised aesthetic.

Mani is a cinema genius by Navroze Contractor, 2010

Mani is a cinema genius. He stands alone. Strong words but true. His style of functioning depends entirely on what subject he is tackling. Mani had seen a lot of my still work done in Punjab when he was scouting locations of Uski Roti. We would have long discussions about B&W, lenses, movements, light and concepts. Very little technical stuff. More of ideas and things like that. I am not a technical geek, nor is he. Technical stuff can be solved as and when we faced problems. Anyway, those days we had very little means and so had to make do with very little, too. It is from these evenings and showing him locations for his film that he promised I would shoot, if he ever made a colour film. He stuck by his word. That’s how I got to be on Duvidha. It was my first ever film.

The first thing I noticed was that he never had a script. It was all in his head. Most he had was the short story that he would privately consult when in doubt. Mani had studied Rajasthani miniature paintings so he had selected such locations and we made them as flat as we could, to get that perspective. Mani is also a very serious student of Indian classical music. I too have studied classical music but not as much as him, so often when a camera movement had to be made he would sing in my ear, that was my speed, rhythm of the shot. This was real fun, as no one else except the two of us knew what was going on with the camera.

I remember the night scenes well. We shot Duvidha on Kodachrome Reversal film. Daylight was 25 ASA and artificial was 40 ASA. Today no one can imagine such slow stock. The village in which we shot could not take the load of lights. So all the sequences were shot only with two sun guns and oil lamps. The film was so slow we had to place the lights very close to the actors, often so close we thought the clothes would catch fire. Whatever we did, the results were beautiful.

Oh yes, he said he was influenced by Bresson but I think except for working the actors, I didn’t notice anything else.

Brian Davisso​n

over 2 years ago

Thanks very much for these pieces, Mishka!. This is all very fascinating and adds to the brilliance of Kaul’s film. There’s much to be said for being constrained by money and access to technical resources and yet still producing a work like this. Now I’m eager to watch it again soon.

The reflectors were home-made and he taught villagers to hold them.

I love this idea!

Bewitchingly shot like a Dovzhenko film (and composed like Cézanne’s still lifes); he said he was influenced by Bresson but I think except for working the actors, I didn’t notice anything else.

Dovzhenko is a strange comparison for me, and I agree with Navroze Contractor (this is the “I”, I’d guess?) that there’s not much direct influence from Bresson, though this might be more a question of my interest in the camerawork, editing, and story, than in the acting style. “Bresson” often feels to me like shorthand for minimal emotion, but not much else. There is little sense in this film of the religious grounding in Bresson’s films, for example.

I’m also interested to know if anyone has read the source story by Vijay Daan Deta. In particular, does Kaul’s film stay close in spirit to the story, and how are this story and Deta in general received in Rajasthan or in India in general?

Mischa

over 2 years ago

There’s much to be said for being constrained by money and access to technical resources and yet still producing a work like this.

I agree, Brian. I personally believe that creativity is, at its essence, problem solving to a large degree i.e. creating solutions to problems. That is, whenever an artist is faced with a problem, the onus is on him/her to create a solution to get around the problem, and I feel that Mani Kaul certainly did this very well on Duvidha by creating interesting formal expressions to overcome the many logistical problems on set… perhaps there were also some other artistic problems relating to the content of the story which we are unaware of.

I’m also interested to know if anyone has read the source story by Vijay Daan Deta.

Seconded.

this is the “I”, I’d guess?

Yes, that quote comes from Navroze Contractor, Duvidha’s cinematographer.

I’ve not seen any Dovzhenko yet, but I agree that the Bresson influence on Duvidha lies largely in the acting style.

Filmy

over 2 years ago

Despite having heard so much about Mani Kaul, I never saw any of his films.

This post is a big push to find and watch his films, I found Cloud Door and Drupadh on YT but not Duvidha, online links to dload have expired as well.

L.V.Prasad mention is interesting, he was the doyen of Telugu Cinema (regional Indian language cinema) made some fine social dramas and comedies in the 50’s.

Filmy

over 2 years ago

I was a fool to have depraved myself from Kaul’s epic work for so long.

Probably one of the Indian cinema’s only folk tale that truly sticks to the roots in every aesthetic sense – music, tradition, ambience, surreality and even the behavior and methods. The subtitles did preserve the rythm in the words but I for one can assure this is an example of the best written hindi words, simple, effective, rustic and poetic.

Apart from Bresson influence with using actors as models, I also had an uncanny feeling that architecture, landscape and setting had a distinct Antonioni flavor.

@Mishka, the decorative patterns on woman hands is a tradition that is upheld during auspicious ceremonies of her life. I think the more rich the red color of the Mehendi/Henna turns on the skin, the more conjugal her relationship with the husband and prosperity she brings to the home that she now belongs (relativity in superstition must be observed)

Ritwik Ghatak considered Pather Panchali as prime example from India of committed cinema as he calls it – committed because of its truth, its sense of beauty, visual ecstasy and passion, I think Duvidha belongs in that pantheon.

I will be watching his Siddeswari next, something about Kaul’s expression that makes me want more.

Mischa

over 2 years ago

Yes, I agree that Duvidha is a very unique expression of an Indian folk tale, at least from what I have seen.

I also had an uncanny feeling that architecture, landscape and setting had a distinct Antonioni flavor.

Interesting observation, Filmy… now that you mention it, the locations in The Passenger (from memory) do seem similar… I’ll have to watch some more Antonioni films soon.

the decorative patterns on woman hands is a tradition that is upheld during auspicious ceremonies of her life. I think the more rich the red color of the Mehendi/Henna turns on the skin, the more conjugal her relationship with the husband and prosperity she brings to the home that she now belongs (relativity in superstition must be observed)

Cheers for the info!! To be sure, this aspect of Duvidha’s aesthetics has always intrigued me very much, and now I can see that it’s related to wedding ceremonies, etc.

Siddeshwari is probably my next favourite Kaul film; a very beautiful expression indeed.

Josef Kupka

almost 2 years ago

Here is a new digitally mastered DVD pack of Mani Kaul’s Uski Roti, Duvidha and Nazar with English subtitles.