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G. Aravindan’s magic opens Electric Shadows

With two of his films, Kummatty and Thamp, the second edition of Electric Shadows Asian Film Festival zeroes in on the work of G. Aravindan, one of the great innovators of Indian cinema.

Kummatty like Thamp creates a playful choreography of gazes”, says film historian Amrit Gangar in a conversation with G. Aravindan’s favorite cinematographer Shaji N. Karun. In both instances, a local community in a small Indian village encounters an outside presence, provoking a sense of wonderment. Songs, dance performances and acrobatics enchant the characters, while G. Aravindan captivates his spectators in a feast for the eyes and ears.

In Thamp (1978), a travelling circus sets down in a village where people have never before seen a circus, or a film crew. G. Aravindan originally set out for a documentary film but ended up with a largely improvised interaction between the camera, the villagers and the circus artists. Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, filmmaker and founder of the Film Heritage Foundation, regaled about Thamp: “The beauty of the film lies in the reflective silences, the deeply observational, but delicate gaze of the camera, juxtaposing the pathos of the circus performers as they go about their everyday tasks and more starkly in impassive close-ups as they speak directly to the camera, against the innocent wonderment of the captivated village audience, in black and white imagery that stays with you long after the big tent has folded up.”

Kummatty (1979) too shows a wonderful disruption of everyday life. When a magical bogey man (kummatty) arrives in a village, the children are smitten. While playing with him, the children are changed into animals. One of the kids, who is transformed into a dog, runs away before he can be turned back. To the tunes of enchanting folk songs, Kummatty delivers an ode to folklore and fabulation.

Without formal training in film making, but with a background in painting, theatre and music, G. Aravindan made his debut film, Utharayanam, in 1975. Making both documentaries and fiction films, he nurtured a personal approach to cinema, one that is equally improvisational, contemplative and playful. “Film after film,” writes film critic and cineaste C. S. Venkiteswaran, “G. Aravindan excavated new experiential terrains, unfolded new connections, transgressed boundaries between genres, forms and styles.”