A couple of weeks ago I watched a Marathi film (with English subtitles as I don’t know Marathi) titled, Katyar Kaljat Ghusali (translated, A dagger through the heart). Before watching the film, I didn’t know much about the plot nor had I read any reviews (as per my normal habit), except that I had seen some youtube clips which made me want to watch it. Like this (official trailer of the film) and especially this, the music video featuring what I think is the best piece from this musically enthralling film.
The very first time I listened to the song Ghei Chand Makarand I felt, and still feel, particularly drawn to the first, the more meditative version of this piece, shown in the first half of the video until 3:13. Somehow the second version, though it sounded intriguingly fine, didn’t do much for me, internally. The first version felt exceptionally soothing to my mind, bringing with it a beautiful sense of calm and inwardness. (And I must admit I had no prior idea about the history of this bandish or the original Marathi play on which the film is based — yes I know, it speaks of my musical ignorance but that’s a fact.)
Anyway, the contrast of the two versions of the same song was enough to make me curious about the film. As obvious from the trailer videos, the film’s story revolves around the rivalry between two musical geniuses, and directly or indirectly between two musical lineages (gharanas).
As I watched the film I mostly tried to stay focused on enjoying its various musical offerings, the kind you don’t get to listen or witness in most of the current crop of Hindi films (which, in my own perhaps biased opinion, more or less have succumbed to the lowest common denominator in contemporary musical tastes). And the fact that the film Katyar Kaljat Ghusali is able to bring this kind of classical music to modern Indian audiences, is in itself a great contribution to contemporary culture.
But as I reflected a bit more on the film afterwards, some things in particular stayed with me. As with some of the previous film-related posts on this blog (e.g., this, this, this, this, or this), this one is also not a review of the film. I only point out a few things about the film which caught my attention.
First up, about the visual appeal of the film since films are primarily a visual expression of art. This film being a period drama has a wonderful aesthetic appeal in terms of costumes, sets and overall ‘Indian’ feel. At a few instances, the film is an absolute visual delight. And this when combined with the soulful music adds a great deal to the overall experience of the film.
The visual appeal of the film, to me at least, is an important point. I deeply value and appreciate such Indian films, because they are a class apart from the usual Hindi masala films which subtly or not-so-subtly direct the average Indian moviegoer’s aesthetic imagination to always look to the ‘foreign’ locales for experiencing beautiful surroundings – natural or man-made. (Is it any wonder then that most upper-middle-class Indians prefer going to ‘foreign’ lands for vacations? Far-fetched causation, but nonetheless a point to ponder, I say.)
The film’s visual appeal is not only about external beauty, it is also culturally meaningful in the way it utilises the Indian symbolism. For example, the scene when the seed of egoistic rivalry is first sown in Khansaheb’s heart is well-conceived and beautifully executed in its use of the symbolism of Ravana (the symbol of Asuric ego), as Khansaheb looks up to the burning effigy of Ravana during Dussehra celebration, a day marking the destruction of asuric ego.
Then there is a scene in which Panditji realises that his voice is gone. He is shown walking deep into the river, as if he is about to take a jal-samadhi because for him losing his voice is akin to dying. There is also the scene in which Panditji’s disciple Sadashiv is singing and his childhood friend, Panditji’s daughter Uma, is unable to differentiate between her father’s singing (coming from the gramophone) and that of Sadashiv. The backdrop in which this scene is shot is enthralling, because it has a subtle connection with the backdrop of earlier scene of Panditji’s realisation of having lost his voice. The voice that was lost near water is now re-discovered, re-born so to speak. There are many such gems in the film’s visual narrative.
I can’t speak ‘technically’ about the music of the film but one has to listen to some of the songs to experience what it does to a listener. Some of my favorites are: Ghei Chand Makarand, Sur Niraagas Ho and Mann Mandira. But since music is truly the soul of this film, the entire soundtrack is a delight. Listen and decide for yourself, that’s all I can say!
And now for some of the side-issues regarding the film, points which made their way into my critical mind.
- The film’s plot needed two different musical gharanas to emphasise the point of mutual appreciation as well as a healthy (and sometimes not-so-healthy) competitiveness that is part of a diverse musical tradition. I could also appreciate the fact that the two gharanas needed to be quite different from each other. But did the plot also necessitate that one gharana be represented by a Muslim singer and the other by a Hindu? I am not so sure.
- Before anyone questions me about the ‘narrowness’ of my vision regarding this point, let me elaborate. In my opinion, the film’s plot wouldn’t have missed anything if both the characters were either Hindu or Muslim.
- The key point that the film tried to bring home for the audience was not about the outer identity of the two musical geniuses, but about the role a musician’s ego and greed for riches and fame can play in spoiling the purity of his music. By inserting this additional layer of such a marked difference in the outer identity of the two musicians, the film – again in my view – tries to tiptoe around or give hints of, at least metaphorically, a deep-seated conflict which is not necessarily about Music or Art but has its roots in historical, political and social realms. Though Art as such has never been totally removed from the prevailing socio-political contexts, yet there is (or there must be) always something more sublime about Art which makes such outer things irrelevant to both the creation as well as the experience of the Art. This is true both for the artist and the rasik.
- This Hindu-Muslim thing, though not overtly emphasised in the film, still adds a touch of altogether unnecessary ‘common-ness’ at a few places, to what could have been a more sublime representation of the purifying and unifying role of Music. I may also add that at a few places, the filmmakers deliberately tried to hide or brush away the fact that the rivalry between the two geniuses could have anything to do with the religion. For example, we have a scene in which Khansaheb says that he would have gladly agreed for his daughter’s marriage to Sadashiv, Panditji’s disciple, but he could never accept Sadashiv as his student because of their inter-gharana or inter-personal rivalry. But then there is a rather nasty British character in the story who, like the representative of the infamous British ‘divide and rule’ policy – actually nurtures the hitherto somewhat-concealed seed of Ravana-esque ego that is there in Khansaheb. Though these scenes in the film are rather ‘in passing’ yet the fact that they are put in there says something about the subtext that must have been there in filmmakers’ minds. This bothered me a bit, perhaps because it took away from the pure enjoyment of the main text of the film – which is about the way an artist’s excessive ego and pride can sometimes lead him or her to do something drastically evil in the guise of rivalry.
To be honest, I had been reluctant, mostly out of mental laziness, to write about this film. But then this morning, I was led to a Facebook post which gave me the necessary motivation to write it all out. The post made by Shri R. Y. Deshpande, a noted litterateur, educator, widely published author and poet, a man of Science and a disciple of Sri Aurobindo, brought out another important point made by the film’s narrative – that of the role of state patronage to Art and Artists.
According to him, “the film presents a powerful metaphor for the Evil that springs up in the promotion of Good, though it would have been more effective with judicious editing making the presentation of just some 100 minutes.” (I fully agree with him on this last point, the film’s editing could have been better).
To quote further from Deshpande ji: “There is a lesson to be learnt [here] in sponsoring awards by the State. It should be a recognition by the society. Awardwapsi [type of dramas like we recently witnessed in India] will not happen then.” This is a particularly relevant point in the Indian context where we have this tradition of Indian State recognising and awarding eminent artists in various fields – music, dance, theatre, visual arts, literature (as well as eminent scientists, humanitarians, scholars, etc).
But the heart of Deshpandeji’s analysis is about something else. About something much deeper. In his words:
“Is then Art for the sake of Art alone, as posited by Tolstoy? Is Art for receiving accolades, awards, fame, money, special honour, applause, that is, is Art to be sold?
“But the only aim of Art could be, should be, to give expression to Beauty, to Harmony, and that itself becomes its Reward. It has to be for the enrichment of the soul, for the growth of the soul in the possibilities of new expressions.”
Deshpande ji then quoted a wonderfully remarkable passage from Sri Aurobindo, which illuminates this point further and makes us contemplate on some deep questions – Why Art? What is Art? What is the consciousness-value of Art? What makes Art truly an expression of the Highest, the Spirit?
“Art is not only technique or form of Beauty, not only the discovery or the expression of Beauty, — it is a self-expression of Consciousness under the conditions of aesthetic vision and a perfect execution. Or to put it otherwise there are not only aesthetic values but life-values, mind-values, soul-values, that enter into Art. The artist puts out into form not only the powers of his own consciousness but the powers of the Consciousness that has made the worlds and their objects. And if that Consciousness according to the Vedantic view is fundamentally equal everywhere, it is still in manifestation not an equal power in all things. There is more of the Divine expression in the Vibhuti than in the common man, prākṛto janaḥ; in some forms of life there are less potentialities for the self-expression of the Spirit than in others. And there are also gradations of consciousness which make a difference, if not in the aesthetic value or greatness of a work of art, yet in its contents value. Homer makes beauty out of man’s outward life and action and stops there. Shakespeare rises one step farther and reveals to us a life-soul and life-forces and life-values to which Homer had no access. In Valmiki and Vyasa there is the constant presence of great Idea-Forces and Ideals supporting life and its movements which were beyond the scope of Homer and Shakespeare. And beyond the Ideals and Idea-Forces even there are other presences, more inner or inmost realities, a soul behind things and beings, the spirit and its powers, which could be the subject-matter of an art still more rich and deep and abundant in its interest than any of these could be. A poet finding these and giving them a voice with a genius equal to that of the poets of the past might not be greater than they in a purely aesthetical valuation, but his art’s contents-value, its consciousness-values could be deeper and higher and much fuller than in any achievement before him. There is something here that goes beyond any considerations of Art for Art’s sake or Art for Beauty’s sake; for while these stress usefully sometimes the indispensable first elements of artistic creation, they would limit too much the creation itself if they stood for the exclusion of the something More that compels Art to change always in its constant seeking for more and more that must be expressed of the concealed or the revealed Divine, of the individual and the universal or the transcendent Spirit.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 27, pp. 122-123)
I now have some work cut out for me. I must do some serious pondering whether the film Katyar Kaljat Ghusali succeeds, in some small way, to bring to the surface some of these questions, such as:
- Does the film represent only aesthetic values or does it also speak of certain life-values, mind-values, soul-values making into a greater piece of Art?
- Does the film only succeed in speaking of certain Ideals or Idea-forces, or is there some ‘presence,’ a certain inner conscious reality which can be experienced by a more conscious viewer?
- Does the film help the viewers appreciate that the highest purpose of Music, or any Art for that matter, must be about this “constant seeking for more and more that must be expressed of the…individual and the universal or the transcendent Spirit”?
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