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Umbra is a quarterly newspaper on screen culture published by Lightcube out of India. Its pages feature major developments in the sectors of film preservation, film archiving, film society activism, funding for alternative films and film literature. Its focus is to establish a broad narrative or a lineage between the state of these areas in the past and their condition in the present. To this aim, Umbra runs a number of interviews, essays, program notes, festival coverage, listings and annotated filmographies in its issues.

BLOG

Umbra Blog presents excerpts from its issues, special interviews and writings.

WRITERS

Anubhav Dasgupta, H.N. Narahari Rao, Isabel Stevens, Kartikeya Jain, Pawan K. Shrivastava, Purti Purwar, Rahee Punyashloka, Ramesh Hambram, Shaunak Mukhopadhyay, Shivarth Pandey, Sudarshan Ramani, Sudipto Basu, Suraj Prasad Mahato

ARCHIVE

Please use the arrows on the right-edge of the screen to access previous issues.





A Movable Island - An Interview with Sourav Sarangi

by  Ishan Banerjee and Anuj Malhotra

The narrative of post-independence India is marred with mass migration, displacement and exodus. With the Nehruvian focus placed firmly on the ‘city’ as the portal to the future, rural centers all over the country have eroded as generations of people have mobilised towards the city. Over the last few years, however, the ‘direction of looking’ has been reversed - increasingly, local filmmakers from these smaller centers are using the tools at their disposal to study the individual and existential consequences inherent in this transfer of population. The first part of the two-interview series is out. Read about Char, a film by Sourav Sarangi.  

This essay is part of the third issue of Umbra titled 'Exile'. You can buy the whole issue here.

Sourav Sarangi’s Char is  the story of islands that are disappearing due  to the erosion and weathering of the riverbanks on the Sundarbans delta on the Bangladeshi border. People who live on the delta often refer to themselves as citizens of ‘no man’s land’. The protagonist is Rubel, a boy from Char.  Aged merely fourteen, a music lover, the  brother of   a sister whose marriage depends on the dowry amount,  the son of a hard working mother and a hernia-inflicted father and  also, the primary rice-winner for the family. He smuggles corex and rice into India for existence. If he doesn’t, they will all starve to death, so he must resist the increasing pressure to desist from the military forces deployed in the area. Rubel is the perfect witness for his environment - he sees and sees. Sarangi sees him. Strangely, Rubel has the courage to look, but the audiences cannot look at him straight in the eyes - this is how Sarangi’s Char is constructed. 

Did your study of geology ever influence, in even a brief manner, your idea or approach to films?

No, I don’t think so. I did study geology formally, but I am not sure if it bears any connection with my study of film. Geology was a subject I took up in my college, after which I went to film school in Pune – there isn’t a connection.

The reason I ask you this is because of the strong interest in changing landscapes in your films, especially Char, where the idea of a disappearing village and being devoured by land features strains of Hindu mythology, but also a very clear interest in the science of the situation.

Perhaps my study of geology does help me in this regard, but it is still a story about human beings – the relationship between man and nature, or with another man. I am interesting in contemplating just how the river came to represent a border, and how large groups of people migrated across it, transporting with them their cultures and their circumstances. It’s important you stay in the village called Char to understand this entirely unique situation.

In one of your interviews, you very interestingly state a use of the news camera to shoot archival footage that represents the past. Can you tell us which camera this is?

We used a PMG CAMERA, Sony POP – it is quite excellent. I used it for the last film I made as well (Erosion, 2006 – set in Malda and Murshidabad); its images seem to imply a history, a past, so I used it to ‘create’ archival footage within the film.

The news camera and its stark, digital image is often thought of as a record of the present, of the current impulse. What made you reverse its commonly stated purpose and employ it instead to capture a memory?

To be honest, we didn’t have much of an option in that regard. I shot my first film on a hand-cranked 16mm Bolex, while Char was shot in high-definition; it sort of had to be. There was also the fact of having a Japanese broadcasting partner on board – that liberated us in one way, but also restricted our choices in another. It made it mandatory for me to employ the high-definition format; but in hindsight, I do not regret this, I think it helped me tell the story visually, as I would have liked to.

We believe a film like Char is essential. The idea of India in the 21st century is that of mass transformation and overhaul, of replacement, construction, of the refurnishing of its exteriors - all of this is typified by the process of ‘erosion’ in your film. An excellent metaphor. Do you think it is the paramount responsibility of any filmmaker today to document and observe this grand shift. 

That is a difficult question. I am not certain if I can analyse my own film of course, I can merely create it. You do see a metaphor on the screen; the erosion in the lives of the families, the erosion in the values of these families. The film negates the notion that a river can connect people; I think of it instead as a geographical entity that flows through the land, nothing more. It represents in my mind the partition, a historical blunder. One has to realise that the times are changing – the process of erosion, the river itself seems to represent that transition. Centuries ago, if a man was bitten by a snake, they had to locate a shaman to treat him, because there was no hospital that could cure him, but this will strike one as being deeply unnecessary today. Why is that? It is because something did change in the middle. As for whether this is the responsibility for any filmmaker, it is a rather heavy-handed word. I wouldn’t like to be ‘responsible’, I’d like to merely ‘practice’ – you see, we work with the documentary form, which is not rigid at all, since different people approach it in methods that are their own.

The second of the part of the series, an interview of the film maker Pawan K. Shrivastva will be out soon. 





COLUMNS:ARCHIVAL, INTERVIEW, FESTIVAL, TECHREVIEW, FUTURE TRENDS, CAMPUS, EXCLUSIVES, REAR VIEW
EDITOR: SUMEET KAUR    MANAGING EDITOR: ISHAAN BANERJEE
CONSULTANT: SANJAY WADHWA    WEB ARCHITECT: SURAJ PRASAD
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Umbra is published by Lightcube Film Society
UMBRA@LIGHTCUBE.IN | 9851737307 | 7838340196

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Individual, Print          

Print editions of the current issue and future issues delivered by post for a year.

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Print editions of the present and future issues along with access to download the journal's current issue, along with its archive of past issues.

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Institutional access to download the journal's current issue, along with its archive of past issues.

Institution, Print        

Print editions of the current issue and future issues delivered by post for a year.

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Print editions of the present and future issues, along with institutional access to download the journal's current issue, along with its archive of past issues.