Uski Roti


MANI KAUL: When I made A Day’s Bread, I wanted to completely destroy any semblance of a realistic development, so that I could construct the film almost in the manner of a painter. In fact, I’ve been a painter and a musician. You could make a painting where the brush stroke is completely subservient to the figure, which is what the narrative is, in a film. But you can also make a painting stroke by stroke so that both the figure and the strokes are equal. I constructed A Day’s Bread shot by shot, in this second way, so that the “figure” of the narrative is almost not taking shape in realistic terms. All the cuts are delayed, thought there is a preempting of the generally even rhythm sometimes, when the film is a projection of the woman’s fantasies. 

SEMINARIAN: When you were shooting A Day’s Bread, did you mentally picture those shots? Or did the specific shots come along as you rehearsed?

MAIN KAUL: With a A Day’s Bread, it was strange. I had a dream. In the dream, I saw a filmstrip lying on the floor, and on it I saw all the shots. So I had a very strong sense of what I was going to do.

A Critical Cinema 3: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers

Many years after Uski Roti (Kaul, 1969), in a set of aphorisms titled “The Director Reflects” (Kaul,1991) indebted to his master Robert Bresson’s Notes on Cinematography (Bresson, 1977), Kaul listed a set of rules on how he thought films should be made. These rules and the accompanying body of filmmaking famously went on to assemble not only a substantially worked out aesthetic practice, butalso a manual or guidebook that could be titled, I have always imagined, “How to Make Films with Material that Exists Purely on the Margins of Realism.” The “rules” were later accompanied by a series of extraordinarily dense and varied theoretical formulations. Three of these enumerated “rules” are especially important for the arguments I am making here.

The first rule, functioning contrary to any existing manual on how films should be made, is to relent-lessly assume that the space of all organization exists exclusively within a domain of visual-textual marginality. This kind of marginality has a privileged presence in Kaul’s schema. Central to his rule book are the means by which such organization, far from being an eruption or excess threatening that center from someplace else, may reverse this marginality. It may do so by producing on its own organizing principle, declare its independence from the center, or even develop a lexicality of its own. In positing such a possibility, Kaul is, of course, primarily contesting realism’s raison d’être, which is to set up the conditions of a particular kind of frontal center–periphery spectatorial encounter. Since realism provides only one possible ground for the encounter to take place and negates the possibility of any other, his cinema will resolutely search for other means of achieving this encounter.

But any such alternatives can only be realized if a critical fallacy is first overcome, namely, that of confusing the apprehension of objectivity with the production of the subjective self. Presenting his second rule, Kaul claims that, contrary to the commonplace idea that cinema produces objects “before us” and, so to say, “in our image,” what is produced is not so much the object as the shared space—a space between object and spectator—that permits the object to be apprehended, received in an individuated way. The object itself, he says, was always there: it has not been invented by the cinema. What the cinema invents is the space that permits that object to be apprehended (“The object exists. It needs to be internalized”) (Kaul, 1991).

A third move is yet more critical. In shifting his emphasis entirely upon the production of space, Kaul is also able to technically calibrate a shift in his shooting, editing, sound-recording, and mixing conventions. We have an enumerable description for the fundamental nature of the cinematic apparatus,the production of what Kaul calls “qualitative space–time variance”—which comprises the “basis of allcinematic achievement.” In Uski Roti, such variance was realized partly by the horror film convention of attributing thematic content to lenses. However, in incarnating the story’s multiple knowledge as differential registers of spectatorial knowledge, the spatial strategy also enumerates what realism excludes, evicts, marginalizes, as much as it lists all that its representational iconic lexicon supposedly contains.

If this is acceptable, then a number of formal methodologies open up by which spectatorial knowledge may be docketed into representational registers. Many sequel definitions, especially around space, permit Kaul to produce his own laundry-list of the properties of his “store” of marginalia on the edges of the screen, and to name “how-to” manuals for producing them. For example, to produce empty space,you need to typically produce a short field-in-focus that remains unoccupied well into the shot, until someone or something occupies it; you have to use light (“Do not light up the path of the actor”; “Upon the actor who is a part of an ambient whole, light falls incidentally”); and you must have the ability to cut into shots, notably moving shots (“Cutting at angles and curves. Cutting into”) (Kaul, 1991).

As I said, I saw Kaminey last night.

Ashish RajadhyakshaA Vision for Screen Studies
  (BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies)