Extending Arts Practice

Grant Period: Over one year

In January 2005, documentary filmmaker Soudhamini received a seed grant from IFA to collaborate with Adishakti, a Pondicherry-based theatre group, to research the feasibility of adapting their play Brhannala into a film. During this period, Soudhamini shot significant portions of Brhannala and the related play Bhima. She also shot interviews and demonstrations with the artists exploring their unique Kalaripayettu and Koodiyattam-based performance language. On recognising that the experiential ‘charge’ of live performance would be absent in a mechanical re-creation/film coverage of the play, the installation form therefore became the creative middle ground for Soudhamini. This grant supports her to extend her practice beyond single screen filmmaking to design, produce and exhibit a video installation, ‘Improvisations on Brhannala’, which will engage not just with the way theatre ‘presents’ itself in its external form, but with its inner language and structures.

Through this installation, Soudhamini will attempt to “unravel the play and hold it in suspension”, and thus “open up all kinds of engagements with process and theory”. She explains how this could happen by giving an example of a video extract of Brhannala in which the first unit is a set of two shots, one with an actor demonstrating breath technique with a voice over, followed by the same technique used in performance without a voice over. This simple juxtaposition of rehearsal and performance, process and product, helps one understand how theatre is constructed. The second unit is the spectacular Shiva sequence from Brhannala nested within demonstration shots showing how the iconic representation was reached. While demystifying the ‘spell’ that performance casts, these video extracts will simultaneously illustrate how traditional martial arts movements become expressive rather than combative in theatre. In this manner Soudhamini will create a series of units that will each study the conflict between the languages of theatre and video by exploring repetition, scale, dimension and rhythm.

The final unit of this installation will involve a theatre exercise wherein the actor moves his centre of gravity to different breath centres in the body like the navel, the heart, the throat, and thus extends his body in space. However, for this she plans to break away from the conventional use of track and trolley to monitor camera movement and instead emulate the extension of the actor’s body in space by shooting in an outdoor location like the forest in Wynad. Soudhamini feels that the use of digital video for shooting has been an essential component for this installation, as it gave her the freedom to “assemble myriad fragments from the materials and the working process… and to offer them up for serious scrutiny”. Her effort in this project will be “to create fragments that can be joined together in various ways and keep their number open ended, to change each time the work is mounted”.

Soudhamini is also aware that as a filmmaker, her approach to installation is time based, not spatial. She explains: “If painters were stepping out of their canvas and performers their stage, then as a film-maker I step outside my timeline with this form. She plans to inaugurate the work over a long weekend at the Goethe Institute, Chennai, followed by a longer run at The Park, Chennai.