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Of Artist’s Ego, Art for Art’s Sake, Consciousness and More (a non-review of Katyar Kaljat Ghusali)

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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, thisthis, 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.  

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. 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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29 thoughts on “Of Artist’s Ego, Art for Art’s Sake, Consciousness and More (a non-review of Katyar Kaljat Ghusali)

  1. Ayn Rand’s definition of art is two fold.
    I’m paraphrasing here…

    She said art is not portraying what is or even why it is or what causes it. Art must be… what can be… and should be. Art is a leap of imagination to create something that has neither existed nor even conceptualized.

    To create a moment where the experiencer of the artist’s creation also vaults into ‘what could be’ (even if the artist’s imagination and that of the ecperiencet lands them in diffetent places) is the reward of the artist. To opena door

    1. To open a door where I perceived only a thick wall; to open it to something i had never seen nor imagined… giving me the delight of the novel… what a feeling!

      You also quoted Deshpandeyji saying that accolades to artists must not be given by the state but by society. I dont want to sound cynical but that does seem a little utopian to me.

      Lagta hai dekhni chahiye ye movie mujhe. 🙂

      1. Yes, you must watch the film, I am very sure you will enjoy it 🙂

        And as for the utopian dream, what is life without a little dreaming about a future evolved society! But seriously speaking, we see some movement in this direction already with community art fairs, artists’ villages, spiritual ashrams encouraging performing and visual arts. Maybe a long way to go, but every beginning helps.

    2. Quite interesting and thought-provoking. Thanks for sharing this perspective, Dagny. Having never read Ayn Rand (except through some quotes and excerpts shared here and there), I understand that her main philosophical stance is that of objectivism and rationality. Isn’t that correct? Art as primarily being an inspired or imagined movement coming from a subjective realm – emotional, psychological, spiritual – though there is an important role for technical expertise and skill, must certainly be about that takes the viewer/experiencer to an altogether different realm of objective reality. I like this image of ‘opening a door where I perceived only a thick wall”. Very perceptive. Thank you!

      1. Yes, her philosophical stance is that of objectivity and rationalism. She believed that there was nothing above the mind. Which is where I found many parts of her work contradicting her stance. She did believe in the wisdom of the universe. She did believe in a power above that of man’s perceivable cognitive capacity. It shows in her work but is denied in her stance. 😀

      2. Interesting. From a spiritual point of view it may be said that objective is an expression of subjective truth. Sort of like saying matter is matter because spirit has chosen to hide itself in it. If that makes sense to our rational minds 🙂

  2. I have actually heard the music score of this movie and found it quite enthralling. In fact many of my non-Marathi friends have recommended the movie. Unanimously everyone praises the different/offbeat story-line and the brilliant acting. Your review was a pretty in depth analysis on the movie. I think I will watch it after all….maybe on Netflix?!

  3. I love period films, they take us to an entirely different era that’s magical. You’ve made some good points, Beloo. Now I want to watch the movie. Music is enjoyable! I’ve often wondered why storylines must feel obliged to do the Hindu-Muslim mix when ti doesn’t really add a layer to the story, but then, there it is!

    Love how thorough you are!

    1. Thanks, Vidya! Yes I am sure you will enjoy the movie, given your love for music 🙂 Happy to hear that you enjoyed the ‘thorough’ review. I just couldn’t keep it short, I surprised myself when I started writing about how much I had to say about the film. I could have even written some more but then decided to spare the readers 🙂

  4. Sounds very interesting, Beloo. Yes the Hindu-Muslim angle sometimes is unnecessary and introduces unwanted complexities not required in the storyline. Seems like a movie worth giving a look.

    1. Yes, this film definitely is worth watching. I hardly expect anything good from Hindi cinema these days, so my preference is always for good regional cinema or old Hindi films or some selected Hollywood stuff.

  5. A very nice non- review Beloo.I am a lover of period films despite the storyline or the lack of it ! With me, they always score above any popular contemporary movie as at least I’ll get an aesthetic pleasure and a visual treat 🙂 being tone-deaf I doubt, if I’ll be able to understand the musical nuances here , but I did enjoy ‘Man Mandira’ from your link .
    Yes, the additional layer of religion made it a bit shallower instead of providing depth. But it definitely seems to be a ‘different’ one worth a watch. Enjoyed your post 🙂

    1. As I said in my post, the director did try to sort of hide the religion angle, but still it was there! But given the overall beauty and relevance of the film, I think it is a minor detail that can be ignored by anyone who wants to enjoy what the film has to offer 🙂 If you enjoy period films, you will surely like this one.
      Thanks Kokila for reading this one and for sharing your thoughts on it!

  6. Sounds like a movie to watch. I agree with Deshpandey ji’s call out on the evil that comes out on promotion of good. As humans who want to be very good in all that they do, evil becomes an unavoidable part of behavior and how we do things. Religion these days has become like a masala to add in movies. It annoys me cos most of the times the little details are missed and it appears superficial.

    1. Yes, it is always a battle (and an extremely necessary one) to keep this egoistic tendency under check, especially in today’s world where everything is becoming so aggressively competitive. Thanks for reading, Parul and for sharing your perspective. I think you will enjoy the movie, go for it 🙂

  7. This is a nice article. Katyar Kaljat Ghusali is my favourite movie in 2015 (not that I watch many movies). However I do not understand why many commentators here are overly focusing on the Hindu-Muslim aspect. The movie is based on a 1967 Marathi musical play (sangeet natak), also by the same name, written by Shri Purushottam Darvhekar. The characters and most of the story is true to the play. Hence the choice of the religions of the 2 musical gurus was made 50 years ago by Mr. Darvhekar and is not decided by the film makers. Also the story is set in central India, most probably near today’s MP-CG-MH border. The northern half of India in the 17th-18th century had many Muslim rulers whereas the southern half was dominated by Hindu kings. Hence the portrayal of both Hindu and Muslim artists in the same court is not far-fetched. Plus, remember that some of the songs (Dil Ki Tapish, Yaar Ilahi, Surat Piya Ki and Lagi Kalejwa Katar) with many Urdu words might have looked a bit out of place had there been no Muslim singer.

    Also, a minor correction. You have given the name of one of the songs as ‘Mann Madira’, whereas it is actually ‘Man Mandira’. (‘Madira’ changes the meaning drastically you see!)

    Thanks for this wonderful article. As a native Marathi speaker it makes me very glad that a number of ‘intellectual’ and meaningful Marathi films are being produced since the last 7-8 years which are striking a chord with non-Marathi audiences too.

    1. Thank you for this wonderful comment. I appreciate your reading this article and also the comments. First of all, let me thank you for pointing out the typing mistake (Mandira). I have made the correction — yes, a little ‘n’ can make a huge difference!

      I agree with you that Hindu-Muslim thing was carried over in the film from the original play. And I am not (hopefully) criticising the filmmakers for that. Nor do I have any criticism of the original playwright for this choice. These are totally an artist’s creative choices. I also agree with the point that this choice is probably quite in sync with the demographics of the region. My only point is that even without the introduction of this marked outer difference in the story, its plot and main message about artist rivlarly, ego etc wouldn’t have lost anything. This is just my opinion, of course, based on a little feeling that I had as I watched the film.

      I see your point about the use of Urdu words, but Hindustani language already is a mix of two Indian languages, Hindi and Urdu. In fact, now that I re-think about this point, perhaps there may have been in the playwright’s mind a deeper, subtle reason behind the selection of these characters – one Hindu and one Muslim. They represented the two streams which met and merged into forming what we now know as Hindustani classical music. So in that sense, this selection makes good sense. This is again just my interpretation, open to all possible re-interpretations/analyses/critique.

      I agree with you completely that there is no need to dwell exclusively on this one minor point when there is so much more, a whole lot more in this film to enjoy and appreciate. And for that I am indeed very grateful to the film-makers who brought out such a wonderful piece of cinema. What I didn’t mention in this post here is that in fact I enjoyed the film so much that I decided to watch it again the very next day! I wish we had more of such films coming out in many different languages.

      I would appreciate if you would let me know of a few more of Marathi films of such quality. I enjoy watching good cinema, and as long as there are English or Hindi subtitles, the language doesn’t matter to me 🙂

      Thanks again for reading and for your excellent comment.

      1. Thanks for your reply. I’m neither criticising your article nor saying that you are criticising the film makers, but I guess you know that already :). I agree with you that the core plot of the film wouldn’t have changed regardless of the religions portrayed, but perhaps that of the play would have (most of the same songs are much longer in the play). As for Mr. Darvhekar’s subtler reasons, you may be right. It’s difficult to speculate!

        In fact I saw that the KKG team has already appreciated your article on Twitter, where I found it in the first place. I too enjoyed the film very much, to the extent of listening to most of its songs every day for the past 1.5 months.

        As for more quality (mostly non-humourous) newer Marathi films, I can give a list off the top of my head. Most films released in the last 7 years or so were released with English subtitles, so shouldn’t be too hard to understand. (I really have no idea about Hindi subtitles though, sorry.)

        1. Natrang: The story of a farmer who starts a folk entertainment (Tamasha) company. Excellent music by Ajay-Atul.
        2. Harishchandrachi Factory: Story of how Mr. Phalke made India’s first feature film a century ago. The humour is good too.
        3. Balak Palak: About puberty and adolescent years.
        4. Shikshanachya Aycha Gho: About how the education system gives too much importance to studies and too little to other things like sports.
        5. Me Shivajiraje Bhosle Boltoy: Thought-provoking film about self-respect and patriotism.
        6. Deool: Showcases typical village life and how devotion to God often borders on gullibility. The dialogues are fast and in rural Marathi, quite unlike those in KKG.
        7. Dr. Prakash Baba Amte – The Real Hero: The name says it all. A biopic of Dr. Prakash Amte.
        8. Lokmanya: About the relevance of Lokmanya Tilak’s ideas in modern India.
        9. Balgandharva: A biopic of legendary actor Narayan Rajhans aka Balgandharva. The film most similar to KKG in this list, with some great Natya-geete (songs from plays).
        10. Kaydyache Bola: Great film about the judicial system, with enough comic relief too. It was released in 1999, so might be hard to find subtitles.
        11. De Dhakka: About the contrast in rural and urban culture.

        Plus, here are some movies which I myself haven’t watched (I plan to) but are just as much acclaimed.
        12. Kaksparsha: Story of a young widow set in the pre-independence period.
        13. Shwaas: The 2005 movie which is credited to start the revival of Marathi cinema.
        14. Court: India’s Oscar entry for 2015. A judicial drama.
        15. Fandry: About casteism. Said to be one of the best Indian movies ever.
        16. Killa: I don’t really know the plot. Something about a young boy without a father. This film also received huge praise.
        17. Jogwa: About the regressive social practice of ‘Jogta’ and ‘Jogteen’ (don’t know how to translate those). The songs are again a hit.
        18. Natsamrat: The big 2016 new year release which is said by many to be Nana Patekar’s finest acting ever. It is a remake of the famous play of the same name. If you live in MH you might be able to watch it in a theatre as it is still running (with English subtitles).

      2. Oh of course, I never thought of your comment as any criticism 🙂 I am actually happy to have such in-depth exchange of thoughts on this film. So thank you once again! And double thanks for the wonderful list of movies you have given. So many different themes. I am saving this list for future reference, will be soon searching for these, one at a time. From the list you have shared, I have seen Shwas, some years ago. I really liked that one. Very sensitively done, if I remember correctly.
        Thank you so much for taking the time and making this comprehensive list. I really, really appreciate it and am very grateful.
        Warm regards, Beloo

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