CinemaSpeak: Ashish Avikunthak on cinema as art

Exploring the expressions of cinema

Cinema

News - India & You

February 1, 2017

/ By / Kolkata

Ashish Avikunthak, whose recent film ‘Aapothkalin Trikalika’ is set to premier at the upcoming Berlin Film Festival’s Forum section, speaks on his art form of making cinema.

Ashish Avikunthak, an assistant professor of film studies at the University of Rhode Island, believes in exploring the art of making cinema. Having had a diversity of life experiences as a political activist, scholar of anthropology and film maker for over two decades, Avikunthak shares his strong vision on cinema as art, as opposed to a commercial entity based on formulas meant to bring market gains. Avikunthak has worked extensively to express his vision of the world through cinema, and has screened in various venues in the world through his journey, including Tate Modern in London, Centre George Pompidou in Paris, Taipei Biennial 2012, Shanghai Biennial 2014 and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.

Avikunthak discusses his film, ‘Aapothkalin Trikalika’ or The Kali of Emergency, which is set to premier at the upcoming Berlin Film Festival’s Forum section. The film is focused on the idea of a state of perpetual emergency the world seems to be in, while invoking the Hindu goddess Kali. Explaining why Kali fits the narrative of the perpetual emergency, Avikunthak asserts, “This film rethinks the idea of emergency. If the gods would come and see us, what would be the situation then?” adding, “In that sense, the film is then about the interaction of humanity and divinity. However, personally, the film for me has been a part of my personal sadhana (devotion).”

Avikunthak, an ardent lover of analogue filmmaking, mostly uses 16 and 35 mm films to shoot. This film was exclusively shot on analogue. “The distinction between analogue and digital goes beyond image fidelity. These are two different modes of work. It must be understood that they are not interchangeable. Like an artist uses oil or watercolour, digital and analogue express differently,” shares Avikunthak.

Commentary and narrative

Although Avikunthak takes inspiration from narrative filmmakers such as Andrei Tarkovsky and Jean Luc Godard, he explains his inspiration isn’t limited to filmmakers. With figures and ideas from philosophical traditions and cinematic masters alike, Avikunthak finds his inspiration all around. “Although my movies are in narrative form, spontaneity, as in the case of ‘The Kali of Emergency’, becomes a part. Evolution of the content of the film happens as it is shot,” says Avikunthak, explaining his process. As a political activist in his school days and a part of the ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’ in India in the past, he has a strong worldview which often manifests in his exploration of characters in his movies.

Religious themes are quite important for Avikunthak, who says that it is difficult to point out the exact source of inspiration for the same. A devoted student of Hindu texts and myths, and with parents who belong to two opposing spectrums within Hinduism, Avikunthaks’s enthusiasm and curiosity for exploring this vast umbrella term remains strong even today. “Religion has been hijacked by fascist, right wing elements all across the world, be it the RSS in India who provide the ideological base to the BJP, the Taliban or the Islamic State. Even Donald Trump for that matter, who is celebrated by the KKK,” states Avikunthak, when explaining his need for changing the understanding of religion in the world as the stark divide between values of secularism and religious belief grows deeper.

The trailers of the following films by Ashish Avikunthak have been used in the interview

Aapothkalin Trikalika | The Emergency of Kali
Kalkimanthankatha | The Churning of Kalki

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