K.M. Madhusudhanan

Extending Arts Practice
2008-2009

Grant Period: Over one year

For the past few years, award winning artist and filmmaker, K M Madhusudanan, has been working on a visual series, comprising of several paintings and two films, based on silent Indian cinema. The first film, History is a Silent Film, examined the partition of India through the eyes of a cinema projector repairman. The second, Bioscope, explored the arrival of the tent cinemas to Kerala. This grant supports Madhusudanan to extend his study of the pre-cinema period by producing a fiction film that rediscovers one of the greatest visual traditions active in India before the origin of cinema––the Shambarik Kharolika or the Indian magic lantern.

In India, the impulse to create and experience the moving image existed much before the arrival of visual gadgets. The Ajanta murals create an illusion of movement as sunlight flickers on them. Patua art from Bengal, and shadow puppet forms such as Tholubommalata from Andhra Pradesh, Togalugombeyata in Karnataka, Ravana Chhaya in Orissa and Tolpavakoothu in Kerala are examples of India’s long and culturally complex history with the moving image. The magic lanterns, however, were first seen in second century China and then in the West in 1671. Also, the ghost show Phantasmagoria, which was staged around the end of the eighteenth century in France, was very popular. It involved projections of ghosts, skeletons, demons and other frightening images across semi-transparent screens to create an illusion of movement to the accompaniment of sound. The Shambarik Kharolika or the Indian magic lantern has been influenced by all of these precursors. It was in the 1860s that Mahadevrao Patwardhan developed the first Indian magic lantern. As Kharolika means hand lamp, Patwardhan named it Shambarik Kharolika meaning ‘the hand lamp of Shambarasura’ or ‘the ghost that carries a lamp to entertain itself at night’. The Shambarik Kharolika or ‘cinema projections’ were made with painted images on glass. Though the equipment was modelled after the magic lanterns of Europe, it was only used after several modifications and improvements were made. Shambarik Kharolika became a super hit right at the time it was first introduced in 1884, as children and the elderly were kept spellbound for the entire three hours.

Madhusudanan’s fictional film will analyse moving images in the pre-cinema period by navigating through the lives of the Shambharik Kharolika practitioners. He will depict how the Patwardhan family conducted screenings in a completely Indianised manner, proving that even before the British brought their films to India, there were large scale ‘cinema projections’ that influenced almost all the forerunners of Indian cinema. By weaving a visual narrative through images and stories depicting the pre-cinema era, the performance of Shambarik Kharolika will be recreated, with several of the techniques used to incorporate the movement of the pictures. Madhusudanan’s film will unfold through a sutradhar’s narration which will guide the audience through a sequence of events following two thieves who are made to steal the Patwardhan brothers’ Shambharik Kharolika by other magic lantern practitioners jealous of their success. Stylistically, the film will reference the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma and the painted curtains of Parsi theatre that influenced the practitioners of the Shambharik Kharolika at the time. As colour is significant to furthering both the content and form of the film, Madhusudanan will shoot on 16mm celluloid format so as to get the visual detail and depth needed for a film with this period style.