FOR THOSE WHO HAD BEEN CLOSE to Mani Kaul (1944-2011), it is difficult to make him the subject—of a newspaper article, an obituary, a talk. His visions, for they are overwhelmingly various, have infused our work as writers, cinematographers, directors, musicians, actors; they have infused our ways of seeing. I worked with Kaul on his feature film Nazar (The Gaze, 1989), for which I wrote the screenplay. Perhaps it was chance that this was the film through which my friendship and learning with him began, because it is above all his gaze that was profound. If it was chance, it is the kind of chance or accident that Kaul believed in. He welcomed it in the work, in the making of a script, the gesture of an actor and in the many random things that could occur when he was shooting. As a film director, his singular ablity was to include the unexpected. As a result, he was utterly calm when actually shooting a film, because he was never executing something he had already planned. Only the gaze never faltered.
Nazar was based on a masterful story by Dostoevsky, ‘The Meek One’. We adapted a screenplay from it in which each event was true to the original, but was opened up and stretched by Kaul’s own sense of time. As we read and reread the story, he came up with a deeply original idea. Everything that in the story was interior monologue should in our screenplay be turned into dialogue. Cinematically this was a masterstroke. It immediately exposed the subterranean movements which would otherwise have been hidden, and gave a heightened inwardness to everything on screen. He asked me to write a screenplay to reflect the way we both had understood it in this case, and I wrote it as a series of very short prose texts, an evocation, in his words, “of the ebb and flow in the film, a poetic ensemble of words that is at once visual and internal”. I felt then, when I was much younger, as I do now: that I gave little but received so much.
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