Writer and filmmaker KA Abbas called it a “waste of public money”, but the film has now become a bona fide classic.
Pramod Pati's short films date back to the 1960s and ’70s, but they remain strikingly fresh. A festival of Indian animation that is being held in Delhi on December 18-20 will showcase his films This Our India (1961), Trip (1970) and Abid (1970).
Pati was born in 1932. After his graduation from Utkal University in Odisha, he studied cinematography in Bengaluru and then went on to work with the Odisha government between 1952 and 1956. Around this time, Pati was awarded a government fellowship to study puppet animation in Prague, Czechoslovakia. There, he trained under master animator Jiri Trnka. On his return, Pati joined the government-run Films Division in Mumbai as the head of animation.
His contributions on the job included experimenting with the standard format of educational films on such government programmes as family planning and literacy. Pati preferred non-narrative ways of storytelling and mixing Indian and Western influences.
Trip, Violence and Explorer use styles prevalent in the 1960s (such as time-lapse photography), Russian-style montage editing and avant-garde traditions to juxtapose sounds and visuals. In Explorer (1968), Pati assembles a dazzling array of images and sounds, creating a video that is nothing short of a hallucinatory trip.
Film historian Amrit Gangar has said about his work, “He imbues these films with a deep sense of rhythm with his editing technique and sound. In those days, there were no sound designers like today. Pati conceived sound design in a unique manner, the only other example that I find in this realm is Ritwik Ghatak.”
Pati’s playfulness showed up in unexpected places. In Wives and Wives (1962), a man weighs his options for a good housewife at a marriage bureau.
In Abid (1970), Pati collaborated with artist Abid Surti to experiment with the stop-motion technique called pixilation, a technique in which live subjects are made to move like animated figures.
The buzz around the film had everyone talking. Surti said, “It was shot for 20 days, and was the talk of the town, you can say. It had heavy media coverage. So even Satyajit Ray had heard of it, and when he was passing through Bombay, he dropped in just to see what was happening at Films Division.”
The short film Claxplosion (1968) looks at family planning, using clay to symbolically construct a happy life.
Pati died in 1975, leaving behind a legacy that is still being unpacked. “His films seem incongruous for the time it was made; they feel closer to MTV’s graphics than FD’s documentaries,” Surti observed.