Amit Dutta’s films have never been screened for the public. Which is possibly why most people have never heard of him. But go to a film festival in Rotterdam, Venice, or even in Kerala or Mumbai, and you’ll find at least a few people talking of his cinema with bated breath.
An FTII graduate from 2004, Dutta has made several short experimental films, full length features, and documentaries which critics have extolled for an idiosyncratic style of merging fact, fiction, myth combined with literary text and cinematic tropes unique to him.
For instance, in this early short film titled Kramasha (To Be Continued, 2007), Dutta uses various stylistic devices to film a story that fuses dreams with folk tales, creating hypnotic images and capturing environmental sounds. Festival-goers were so spellbound when they watched it at the Oberhausen Film Festival in 2007 that it was hailed as a defining moment in world cinema.
The film won several international awards, also picking up the Golden Conch for Best Film at Mumbai International Film Festival, 2008. Kramasha was included in the list of 1,000 best films of all times compiled by American film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum.
Of the film, Rosenbaum said in a review for the Chicago Reader, “Kramasha from India – a dazzling, virtuoso piece of mise en scene in 35-millimeter, full of uncanny imagery about the way the narrator imagines the past of his village and his family. Camera movements, compositions in depth, colours, editing, changes in focus: these are important parts of Dutta's technical arsenal, marshalled together to yield a highly suggestive synthesis of documentary and fiction in which the main preoccupation is a myth of origins.”
Dutta comes from Jammu. He is rarely seen or heard. In an interview to The Indian Express film critic Shubhra Gupta he said of his reclusiveness, “Festivals are the only place I can be seen, and I’m grateful to festivals, especially Oberhausen but the whole thing takes away my focus.”
Film Comment magazine rated his 2010 film Nainsukh as one of the top ten films of the 67th Venice Film Festival. The film was based on the life of the 18th century painter of the same name. Apart from its festival screenings, Dutta’s films are invited by museums too. Nainsukh was showcased at the MoMa in New York. He is a favourite of film critics and art historians alike, who believe his films combine the best of both worlds.
But, as interestingly titled as some of his recent films are – Saatvin Sair (The Seventh Walk, 2013) and Lal Bhi Udhaas Ho Sakta Hai (Even Red Can Be Sad, 2015) – there’s little chance of watching them in movie halls.
How then does an acclaimed filmmaker find audiences without theatrical releases? Dutta has a solution for that too. He is a keen supporter of the laptop viewer.
As he put it, “I’m getting very interested in that kind of viewing. This very intense, one-on-one viewing – that is my ideal viewer. It’s as personal as reading a book. You pick up a book and read and don’t attend a collective reading session.”