Mani Kaul, pioneer of new age cinema dead


7 Apr 2011
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The angry young man of Uski Roti is gone. Mani Kaul, who, with directors like Kumar Shahani, brought a new genre of film making to Indian cinema, passed away at 1 am on Wednesday morning at his home in New Delhi . He was suffering for a fairly long time from cancer. He was just 66 years old.

Agraduate from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, where he was a student of mercurial Bengal film maker Ritwik Ghatak , Mani kicked off his career with the absolutely offbeat Uski Roti in 1969. The film won the Filmfare Critics award for best movie.

More importantly, it brought a different brand of cinema in the country which veered away from all known cinematic form and style. "He was one of the finest film makers in India," remarks internationally known film maker Mrinal Sen. "He shouldn't have died so early. His thought process, as far as film making goes, was quite remarkable.

I knew him very well. Among his films, Uski Roti is my most favourite," observes Sen. Director Buddhadeb Dasgupta is effusive. "Immediately after Ray, Ghatak and Sen, a crop of different film makers hit the scene. Mani was surely one of them. While living in Mumbai , there were so many producers around him. But, he was never allured by the commercial kind of films. That was unique about him. There were also people like Shyam Benegal and Kumar Shahani. Together with them, Mani refused to compromise with the system," says Dasgupta.

Dasgupta remembers he met Mani in Calcutta when Uski Roti was screened by the film societies. "I was part of the film society movement and not a film maker at that time. Then, we became good friends. Mani was never successful in the traditional sense, because he was more interested in chasing his dream." Mani's last film was Naukar Ki Kameez.

"I think I saw it at the Locarno Film Festival as a jury member and I liked his approach to the film. The problem that people sometimes found in Mani is that he deliberately wanted to be different. Whether Mani Kaul was great film maker is a matter open to debate," says Dasgupta. Then, he "mysteriously" disappeared from the scene. "I bumped into him in Berkeley University where he was teaching films. Mani could lecture on any cinematic subject and World Cinema at length. He was a great speaker and conversationist. He may not have got too many awards, but that's because he pursued his own style of filmmaking. He's a man who can never be forgotten," expresses Dasgupta.

Mumbai-based actress Meeta Vasisht , who played the lead role with Mani Kaul in his 1989 National Award winning film Siddheswari, says it's a "creative and emotional loss" for her. "I'm going through a strange feeling. Siddheswari was my first major and full-length film. It was a great blessing that I got to do such a film so early in my career after I had done a small role with Kumar Shahani. Mani would inject a sense of joy and creative satisfaction in an individual. I also later acted with him in the id*ot." Incidentally, Mani Kaul's other works embrace Ashad Ka Ek Din and Duvidha, which also won awards.

"He reached the audiences despite his experimentation. He was a student of Ghatak at the film institute," says Pradipta Sen, vicepresident of the Calcutta Film Society (CFS). CFS was the first film society set up by the master film maker Satyajit Ray and his likeminded friends and has screened quite a few of Kaul's films. "Mani Kaul changed film form with Uski Roti," observes Sen.

"This is a great loss to the film pedagogy. I had met him some years ago when he had conducted a class at FTII and I have not seen such a wonderful class after that," recalls Kedarnath Awati , former dean, films at FTII.

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