Saturday, 23 March 2013

Roll Call

A personal account that focuses on how the camera reflects the way one connects with the world; someone chooses to capture minute movements, some others a larger picture

Anushka Meenakshi

 The Tetseo Sisters, at their house in
Kohima, Nagaland, getting ready
for a performance
Filming performances has been a fascination for me for some 
time now. I usually sit and watch from a fixed space in the audience, and while the sound, light and action on stage may give me clues to guide my eye in one direction, I always have the liberty of casting my eye somewhere else, letting it wander, observing the twitch of the person in the seat in front of me, wondering whether that precariously placed light is going to fall, catching a glimpse of the backstage actor getting ready to run in for her moment, or reacting to the temperature of the AC. Having my attention distracted by something else is as much a part of the experience as watching the action on stage, riveted.

The Camera gives one great freedom in terms of perspectives and angles - one can catch all the action from the best vantage point, one can turn the performance on its head, bring in views from backstage for example that give the whole thing new meaning - but what you lose is the immediacy and the choice. As a filmmaker or Camera person, I’m making the decisions about what the audience should see, what emotion should be highlighted, and which action is important at a given moment.

Honza and Sieve, students of the
Subbody Butoh School in McLeod Ganj
So when one tries to create something that is beyond just a document or record of the performance, one watches rehearsals, one tries to get a sense of what the performance is trying to evoke, what the performers are trying to convey. Finding a frame is often more work off the camera than on it. Filming Sangathi Arinhya (Have you Heard!), a play based on the stories of Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, I tried to get to know something of Basheer and his stories, of the director interpretation of Basheer’s writing and to understand the actors’, especially Chennai-based Paul Matthew, who played Basheer. But I found, later, that what gave me an entirely new perspective, both while filming and while editing the performances was speaking to Basheer’s family and friends who had known him closely. The most rewarding experiences have been where I have known the performers and the production closely, where I have even been involved in the creation of the production in some way.
The most beautiful example of performance translated to film that I have seen is Wim Wenders’ Pina. The way he has woven the choreography into the landscapes of Wupertal is mind-blowing. Wenders watched Pina Bausch’s work for over twenty years before starting work on the film, and for me, the understanding that he gained of her work shines through in every frame.

Young monks waiting to perform at the Buddh Jayanthi celebrations,
Kaza Monastery, Spiti Valley

For the last two years, my friend Ishwar and I have been filming performances as part of a project we were working on, a nonverbal film. The idea has been not to look at performances merely on the stage, but to also find music and rhythm in daily life, as well as to see the performer in the everyday. The focus of our project is on everyday music and rhythms, and a large portion of it is dedicated to work music – music that accompanies or is closely connected to a specific form of work. One of the fascinating things about work music is its theatrical quality. Work music has a strong visual and dynamic quality to it. The swing of the spade, the tap of the feet on the loom, the swish of the broom, the turn of the potter’s wheel, these movements are an integral part of the rhythm of work music. Our visual focus is on these physical movements that accompany the music, looking at what these body movements are, where they originate from, how groups of people move through a certain space, their choreography, how they move the tools of the trade, and how patterns are created.

Filming this has brought into acute focus how differently different people see the world and the use of one’s Camera reflects the way one connects to the world. What Iswar often sees and captures through the Camera are minute movements and emotions - a tick, a nervous or impatient gesture, a small detail that tells something of the personality of the performer. What I look for is a larger picture, stories, and interactions between people.

Passing time at the community sit-out, Phek, Nagaland
Using a DSLR Camera for video has completely changed the way I film and also the way people interact with me. The ease with which one can set up to start filming changes your content matter quite dramatically. Even though people know we are shooting video, that small-sized Camera is still linked with photographs in people’s minds, so the way they go about their work or interact with the Camera is quite different. There are people who are still very uneasy in the presence of the Camera, for whom its presence can never be ignored, but for the most part, people tend to forget its existence very quickly, or – and this is often quite interesting – they are enough at ease with it to interact with it or confront it. The size of the DSLR, and also its technology is becoming more accessible. For instance, people don’t even seem intimidated to take over the Camera from you. There have been some incidents where someone we are filming with will themselves step behind the Camera and turn it around on us. And this for me is exciting because it opens up a new level of interaction, changing, even if just for a moment, the dynamics between the performer and the filmmaker.

The writer is a film-maker and is a collaborator in the project U-RA-MI-LI, which documents music and rhythm in everyday life

No comments:

Post a Comment