Saturday, February 12, 2011
A Date with KMM and Connaught Place: A Photext Feature
This date was long over due; a date between the National Award winning film maker and artist, K.M.Madhusudhanan (Bioscope) and myself. We had called each other and fixed our meeting at Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi. From there we thought of going to Connaught Place, the enchanting shopping arcade of New Delhi.
Any artist who lives today in Delhi has something to do with Connaught Place. During the days of their seemingly endless struggles, they used to walk between Mandi House and Connaught Place, weaving dreams and scheming about life. Buildings looked grey and roads looked narrow then; people were absolutely uncouth. Artists walked along the footpaths thinking that they were Baudelaires in making and they were in the streets of Paris.
Times have changed. Connaught Place looks totally different today. Madhusudhanan says that it is more like Manhattan now. True, from the outer circle, you turn your eyes at the Barakhamba (Twelve Pillar) Road that leads to Mandi House, you see a different scene. The erstwhile greys have gone into hiding. This is the spring of urbanism. Each building there seems to have acquired a distinct identity, whether it is Statesman Building or Gopal Das Bhavan.
Madhusudhanan comes to Triveni Kala Sangam at the appointed time in his Versa car. One may wonder why he moves around in a van-like vehicle. He is a film maker and he carries a lot of books and equipments in his car always. His car, bags and brain are moving libraries.
I call him Madhu. Those people, who know him as a filmmaker, do not know his contribution as an artist. Madhu was one of the leaders of Indian Radical Painters and Sculptors Association (Radical Group). He was instrumental in formulating the manifesto of the Radical Group, which was titled ‘Against a Retrogressive Aesthetics’. Today some people call it as ‘Kerala Radicals’. One can twist history, but trust me, history has a lot of energy; it will straighten itself up.
During early 1990s (after the sad demise of K.P.Krishnakumar, who used to offer chocolates to pretentious art critics and books to artists, in 1989), Madhu, after his stint as a teacher at the NID, Ahmedabad came to Delhi. He joined as an editorial illustrator at the Economic Times. Simultaneously he worked with the noted theatre directors namely Prasanna,B.V.Karanth, Badal Sarkar, Mohan Maharshi and Kavalam Narayana Panicker in their well known theater prodcutions, as a designer. Besides, he designed the book covers for ‘Indian Literature,’ an inclusive journal of Indian Literature, which became quite influential during 1990s under the editorial direction of the poet, K.Satchidanandan who later became the Secretary of the Sahitya Akademy (National Academy of Literature). With Satchidanandan, Madhu initiated one of the alternative journals tiled, 'Pacchakkuthira' in which Madhu played the role as an art designer. He designed sets for several plays at the National School of Drama and designed posters of Sahita Akademy (National Academy of Literature). All these designs and illustrations could be considered as classical works now.
I remember Madhu telling me once in 90s’ that he was not an artist, but a film maker. Art had given him so much of pain at that point. I could understand him because he was one of those young people who had given their youthful days completely for art. What they got in return was disillusionment and a suicide. Madhu has always been interested in photography. This interested slowly turned into the moving images. Then he did a series of movies, cutting himself away from the mainstream art world. Now his works titled, ‘History is a Silent Film’, ‘Maayabazar’, ‘Self Portrait’, ‘Razor, Blood and Other Stories’ are all over the world. They all have featured in the international film festivals. Today Madhu calls himself 'an artist who paints, draws and films as he breaths'. Film is an extension of my art and my art is an extension of my films, says Madhu. He believes that all those experiences of being a Radical member and an agitated/agitating artist have contributed to his maturity. "Today, I am deeply involved in Buddhist literature and art. I am led by the compassion and philosophy of Buddhism. I look at this philosophy as an alternative practice. Through this I attempt to reach out to a language, which could reflect the wisdom and vision of the East. I am in a journey and it gives me a lot of energy to do my films and art," says Madhu.
‘Bioscope’ (2009) is his first feature film. This film deals with the life of a man who falls in love with a movie projector. The story happens in the first decade of the 20th century, almost the same time when cinema came to India. A young man gets a film projector from a French film projectionist who was leaving Pondicherry for France. The young man brings the projector to his village. He gets so involved with the projector and he shows movies to the villagers. In the meanwhile, his ailing wife develops complications. People believe that it is because of the projector that things go wrong in the family. The film speaks of the history of film itself, the arrival modernism and the conflict of it with conventions and superstitions. The film talks of a landscape changed by the arrival of moving images.
This was the best film of 2009 for which Madhu received award from the President of India in 2010. In the meanwhile, the film went to the international film festival circuit, heaping awards and accolades from many countries. Currently Madhu is working on his second feature film, ‘Karuna’ (Compassion- The Return of Buddha) based on a long poem written by Kumaran Asan, which is based on a Buddhist story. National Award winning actor Mammooty plays the lead role in this movie.
Madhu washes his hands at Triveni and while showing me a few books on Buddhism, including one by Aswaghosha (an out of print book, which he could cajole out from a bookshop in Karol Bagh after much persuasion) and one by Anand Koomaraswamy. Motilal Banarasi Lal Books- They publish history and academic books. They publish coffee table academic books too, a lot illustrated with beautiful picture; India beckoning types. “Those books are clean as people handle it quite often. Books on Buddhism are pushed into the back racks where dust romances with parchment. Look at my hands, full of dust,” Madhu tells me.
I flip through the books. A sudden urge to read them all engulfs me and I know I cannot do that in one go. I want to buy the copies for me too. Madhu agrees to go with me to the store again on the same day. But I keep it for another day and we have the famous kebabs and not so famous parathas from Triveni’s Restaurant. I notice a notice board hung there. It says. ‘No Smoking and No Meeting Here- Entry Restricted’. I smile because this is the place where people meet up. Between the dirty canteen of Lalit Kala Akademy (by the way this ‘dirty’ canteen was the only place the artists and critics could afford once. I mean, the migrant artists and critics) and the busy Bengali Market’s Nathus and Bengali Sweets, Triveni’s Restaurant is quite attractive and it is very arty too. And people do come here for ‘Meeting’.
I am not a photographer. However, at times I carry my camera with me. I love men and I like to take their pictures and I like them taking my pictures too. That does not mean that I don’t like women. But I don’t like to take their pictures. Nor do I want them to take my pictures. I don’t want to leave too many forensic evidences behind. Also I believe that memories are the best albums, especially when it comes to preserving sensations, and words are the best colors, tones and textures that could relate the picturesque moments, as if these words were secret codes, which could be cracked only by those partners who have tried their private moments of alchemy.
Connaught Place is ravishing. Versa drops us at the inner circle. We walk and talk. And for the first time, we talk less than in our other meetings. Connaught Place has different stories to tell different people. I look for a different story. I find this road getting dug up and I remember myself going to the same lane a few months back and the digging up was still on. Even if we go after fifteen years, some part of Connaught Place must be getting dug up. Delhi is a permanently unfinished city; as the arty people say, it is a project in process.
I see a hug wine and beer sign board and click a few pictures and get clicked too. Then I catch a glimpse of this authentic Chinese Restaurant. Madhu says that it ‘was’ the ‘authentic’ Chinese Restaurant.
We have abundant pot holes and falling walls.
Here wealth and filth live together. This photo is very suggestive because the vaults of banks will always remain closed for those people who collect garbage.
A rusting sign board offers you everything with communication.
The hinder sides have another story to tell.
At the N Bloc, our own Banksy has left something for imagination.
The city authorities always ask others inform them of the missing people. People keep missing in a city.
A bit of window shopping.
A caged Natraja. This is when Madhu remembers Stella Kramrisch, the art historian. She witnessed the Natraja sculpture for the first time and wrote: As if a huge butterfly was captured inside a huge hall covered with stain glass windows, and fluttering its wings frantically. “If you read these lines, you will love art history. I don’t think many have read it,” says Madhu.
Here you can change your money.
A meadow of magazines.
Life goes on as in Victor Hugo’s novels.
A spry paint compressor machine left alone.
Just do it. Do what? Shop.
If you are an artist, you would remember QBA. During the market boom, this bar and restaurant was a permanent party joint after exhibition openings.
Spittoon in the liminal spaces.
Madhu looks at the wares of a peddler.
Trees in CP.
Finally, we come back to Mandi House. Once we reach the Mandi House circle, we could see young children practicing Taekwando at the lawns. “The moment I touch this circle, I feel like home coming,” Madhu says. I cannot have another feeling about it.
(All pictures by JohnyML)