Director's cut

The films of Mani Kaul continue to enchant and educate us

His films are seen as the benchmark for formalist cinema in India.

The films of Mani Kaul, born on December 25, 1944, have single-handedly established a concern for film form within the context of Indian cinema. Kaul’s films were directly in dialogue with forms of high art, both plastic and performative, through the linking of text and cinema mediated through language.

His first film Uski Roti (1969), based on a short story by Mohan Rakesh, contains most of the formalist vocabulary of Indian formalist cinema carried forward in the films of such directors as Vishnu Mathur, Kamal Swaroop and more recently Amit Dutta and Gurvinder Singh. Uski Roti is renowned for its use of preempted and delayed editing and use of non-actors, not very dissimilar to the films of Robert Bresson.

Most famously, the film has been made with seven camera distances, like the octave. Kaul borrowed Bresson’s approach to using the retake not to capture the perfect shot, like in Hollywood cinema, but wait for an accident to capture random elements in the image-sound combination or in the performance of the non-actor.

‘Uski Roti’.

Whereas Uski Roti modelled itself on the paintings of Amrita Sher-Gil, his next major masterwork Duvidha (1973) was an ode to the paintings of Akbar Padamsee. An adaptation of a folk tale by Vijayadan Detha, the film used the form of the freeze frame to establish a society in which the introduction of a new element transforms its material basis. The ravishingly shot film, made on a minuscule budget, used Rajasthani folk music to establish a sense of authenticity where the location-space overtook the act of telling the story.


Kaul’s films challenged the theatrical basis of cinema. Ashad Ka Ek Din (1971), made immediately after Uski Roti, attempted to do away with the limitations set by theatrical cinema, by paradoxically taking a play by Mohan Rakesh and capturing its documentary aspects by shooting according to a pre-recorded soundtrack.

Kaul’s masterpiece is Satah Se Uthata Aadmi, based on the writings of Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh. The film completely established the split between location and narrative space. Kaul systematically reduces the narrative element until the final sequences, in which a factory is filmed after placing his actors in it reciting lines from Muktibodh. Kaul also attempted this approach in the documentary Mati Manas (1985), in which the cinematic elements were brought into a single constructed location space, with each shot serving as an opening shot.

‘Satah Se Uthata Aadmi’.

All of Kaul’s films, but most importantly Satah Se Uthata Aadmi and Mati Manas, capture lower middle-class angst through the dissonant use of language. The sound of the words is more important than the collective meaning of the sentence.

Kaul continued this exploration in his Fyodor Dostoevsky adaptations Nazar (1990) and Ahmaq (1991). These works dealt with a concentration of events, thus forcing Kaul to be interested in story-telling. Inspired by the theories of time in the texts of Gilles Deleuze, Kaul attempted to create a cinema of pure randomness in which the notion of the climax was challenged.


Kaul’s intermediate docu-fiction films dealt directly with his practice of Dhrupad, the austere North Indian form of classical music. Whereas Satah Se Uthata Aadmi was based around an elaboration of raga Bilaskhani Todi by Zia Fariduddin Dagar, Kaul’s documentary Dhrupad (1983) dealt directly with the relationship between the image-sound combination and Indian classical music through the use of a constantly mobile camera and the use of changing light patterns.

On the other hand, Kaul’s Siddheshwari (1990) was based on the form of the thumri, by transposing ideas from Bharata’s Natyashastra that separated the distinction between pure theatre and text.


Kaul’s later films, such as Naukar Ki Kameez (1999), did away with the attempted intention of his earlier films. He had reached his ideal of looking at only the films of Bresson and Yasujiro Ozu. For Kaul, the two masters had done away with constructed intentionality by deliberately constructed shots without intending any textual metaphor or metonymy. Kaul attempted to teach these newly formulated theories when he was no longer able to find funding for his films at such institutes as Duke, California Institute of the Arts and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Perhaps the essence of Kaul’s work is best captured in a piece for the Jammu and Kashmir tourism department titled Before My Eyes. Based on the form of the Japanese haiku, Mani Kaul denotes his interest in the link between image and sensation through shots of a hot air-balloon that is eventually collapsed.

Today, Kaul’s films are seen as the benchmark for formalist cinema in India. His approach to language and sound in particular has inspired several filmmakers to introduce such formal elements in commercial films as well. Mani Kaul, who died on July 6, 2011, remains, after Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak, India’s most celebrated filmmaker.

Mani Kaul.
Mani Kaul.
We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Why should inclusion matter to companies?

It's not just about goodwill - inclusivity is a good business decision.

To reach a 50-50 workplace scenario, policies on diversity need to be paired with a culture of inclusiveness. While diversity brings equal representation in meetings, board rooms, promotions and recruitment, inclusivity helps give voice to the people who might otherwise be marginalized or excluded. Inclusion at workplace can be seen in an environment that values diverse opinions, encourages collaboration and invites people to share their ideas and perspectives. As Verna Myers, a renowned diversity advocate, puts it “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Creating a sense of belonging for everyone is essential for a company’s success. Let’s look at some of the real benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace:

Better decision making

A whitepaper by Cloverpop, a decision making tool, established a direct link between inclusive decision making and better business performance. The research discovered that teams that followed an inclusive decision-making process made decisions 2X faster with half the meetings and delivered 60% better results. As per Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino, this report highlights how diversity and inclusion are practical tools to improve decision making in companies. According to her, changing the composition of decision making teams to include different perspectives can help individuals overcome biases that affect their decisions.

Higher job satisfaction

Employee satisfaction is connected to a workplace environment that values individual ideas and creates a sense of belonging for everyone. A research by Accenture identified 40 factors that influence advancement in the workplace. An empowering work environment where employees have the freedom to be creative, innovative and themselves at work, was identified as a key driver in improving employee advancement to senior levels.


A research by stated the in India, 62% of innovation is driven by employee perceptions of inclusion. The study included responses from 1,500 employees from Australia, China, Germany, India, Mexico and the United States and showed that employees who feel included are more likely to go above and beyond the call of duty, suggest new and innovative ways of getting work done.

Competitive Advantage

Shirley Engelmeier, author of ‘Inclusion: The New Competitive Business Advantage’, in her interview with Forbes, talks about the new global business normal. She points out that the rapidly changing customer base with different tastes and preferences need to feel represented by brands. An inclusive environment will future-proof the organisation to cater to the new global consumer language and give it a competitive edge.

An inclusive workplace ensures that no individual is disregarded because of their gender, race, disability, age or other social and cultural factors. Accenture has been a leading voice in advocating equal workplace. Having won several accolades including a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate equality index, Accenture has demonstrated inclusive and diverse practices not only within its organisation but also in business relationships through their Supplier Inclusion and Diversity program.

In a video titled ‘She rises’, Accenture captures the importance of implementing diverse policies and creating an inclusive workplace culture.


To know more about inclusion and diversity, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Accenture and not by the Scroll editorial team.