Cinema gives us a view of the world, in which the profane is mixed with the everyday. This presence of absence creates a situation where the historical work of art is precisely free and against the force of history. Cinema starts with matter and ends with thought; through concentrated or rarefied information that is a pre-linguistic code. The film has layers and layers of intentionality and is simultaneously “made on it own.” The panopticon gaze of the inhuman eye assembles the continuity of movements that transform matter.
It is of prime importance for the film critic to observe the conditions of potentiality for the production of a shot. It was both a privilege and pleasure to observe Gurvinder Singh working on Khanaur (Bitter Chestnut)
Singh’s approach is to primarily break the film into chunks to free the shot from the whole. This free object becomes a speed and slowness that relates matter to intensity (ideally 0). The mould is formed and remoulded so that it is broken from its own logic and the destruction of the script during the shoot (cf. Bresson) produces its own creationism during the edit of the film.
In Khanaur, Gurvinder Singh,a Punjabi, takes an outsider’s view to the Himachali subjects. The approach is to “observe and correct” instead of ‘direct.’ The “sculpting of spaces” and “casting of locations” is perfected so that all the information in the image can be captured in a single take or two takes. The protagonist Kishan is the phenomenon for the noumenon Himachal Pradesh to capture the Himachaliness or the essence of the Himachali people, which forms the thing-in-itself. In the Holi sequence, the inhabitants transform their postures to the tune of a Bollywood song until they settle into a Himachali folk song. In this way Singh captures the transformation from inauthentic Existence (Dasein) to authentic Being-in-the-world.
If we assume film as moving from phenomenon A to phenomenon B, we automatically assume a thinking subject that can ‘measure’ the difference between A and B. Much like the opening sequence of Mani Kaul’s Ashad Ka Ek Din, Singh communicates the birth of a baby as physiological aspect of the world-forming Self much as the brain is the physiological aspect of thought or the thinking subject. Like his teacher Mani Kaul, Singh is keenly interested in random or chaotic elements that capture the entropic states of the subjects-in-transformation as they move from order to disorder The accident, which Robert Bresson captures through the retake, is made part of the story i.e. it is the discordant note in the landscape that takes the noumenon outside the domain of intentionality.
Similarly flies are used to capture randomness whereas the cycle is a symbol of Deleuzean line-of-flight as it moves from rotation (of the axle-wheel) to translation (of the whole cycle). The image here is what the character is, the sound what s/he says. The cut is the physical aspect of the medium to remind the audience of the materiality of the image, whilst simultaneously leading them to thought.
The temporality of the film is structured in such a way so that it is slightly faster than the everyday of Himachal Pradesh specifically of Bir and Baragram. This Deleuzean time-image, formed once the sensory-motor collapses, forms different sides of a crystal that allows for total internal reflection i.e. crystalline image. In a time image, the actual and virtual coincide to form a crystal. This is the case with Khanaur where the reverberations beneath the surface of the image produce a multiplicity of information conveyed.
As in the films of Roberto Rossellini, Singh films the construction to unconstruct it and take it outside the domain of intentionality. In the sequence in which Kishan’s recollection of the fire is represented, Singh set up the fire (the event) and recorded the responses of the non-actors to the event. In this way Singh attempts a Badiouan cinema, which is a (purified) “combination of art and non-art” in which the event is simultaneously an affirmation and a void.The film is constructed at the level of History (the history of fires in the village), Myth (we are told about Kishan’s birth which was accompanied by a storm much like the birth of Lord Krishna) and Reality (Singh’s crew interviewing the inhabitants of Baragram).
In Chris Marker’s La Jetee, the author emphasises the pathological nature of time passing to conclude that all self-knowledge is self-destructive. Sensory-motor connections produce a continuity of time manifesting itself in the limit-image of the future ie death. What Marker misses out is the necessity of sensorial collapse to arrive at the Self.
Contrarily the Self for Singh is precisely the documentary arrived at through pratyahara or sensorial collapse symbolised in the shoot of the balloon deflating in Before My Eyes. In the case of Khanaur, the professor explains the mechanics of the paragliding equipment which are nothing but the mechanics of pratyahara.
Much like Kiarostami, Singh creates an assemblage of information (Deleuze) that is constructed precisely so as to suggest transparency. A key element of this is changing the narrative-space (the script) according to the reality of the location-space. In Kiarostami, the only-profane is captured in the space through the Iranian author’s fascination for the death-drive. Singh on the other hand wants to arrive at the in-between, that which lies between shot and reverse shot and make this shot between shot and counter-shot, the entire film
A thing has no intentionality: camera, cycle, cooking equipment: these are all equipment present-at-hand. The Balthazaresque donkeys are animals that are poor-in-the-world but possess a capacity for captivation (Heidegger). The weaving equipment is present-at-hand whereas the gun suggest a plot that will result in murder. On the other hand, the human beings have the ability for world-formation and appropriate the animals according to the capacities and the things as equipment.
Much like early Godard uses elements of popular culture to fragment the consciousness of the thinking spectator, Singh emphasizes the non-actors’ laughter as capturing a psychic state that fragments the consciousness of the spectator and is able to enter her subconscious. This is ultimately the function of cinema, to reach out into and transform the subconscious of the spectator.
Ultimately Khanaur is about the construction of history that taking a shot becomes. This history documents a history which is narrated in film through the utterance. Singh’s primary contribution is structuring a shot against the force of history so that it is precisely a-historical, so as to be able to comment ‘objectively’ on issues such as nationalism and gender. This issues are Lyotadian referents that the film refers to suggestively without making them signifiers. The issues presented, whether they be gender, patriarchy, feudalism or nationalism, are limit-images (Deleuze) or boundary-situations (Jaspers) in which the transcendental film praxis returns to the immanence of the issue brought up for a cinematographic discussion.
Devdutt Trivedi is a film studies lecturer at Whistling Woods International and DICE Vancouver Film School. As a film critic he has written for such publications as Scroll and Film Critics Circle of India.