Documentary channel

Documentary ‘Santhal Family To Mill Re-call’ offers a sideways glance at sculptor Ramkinkar Baij

RV Ramani captures the behind-the-scenes collaboration that went into the 2015 art show 409 Ramkinkars in Delhi in 2015.

Followers of Indian art will recognise the references contained in the title of RV Ramani’s 2017 documentary Santhal Family to Mill Re-call. These are the names of two of acclaimed sculptor Ramkinkar Baij’s best-known works. Santhal Family, made in 1938, features a set of parents, their child, their dog and their worldly possessions. Mill Call, created in 1956, is another monumental work, showcasing a family setting out for work.

Ramani’s documentary, however, is not the story behind these artworks, which rank among the greatest examples of Indian modernist sculpture. Rather, Santhal Family and Mill Re-call is about the story behind a story about these works – the multi-genre show 409 Ramkinkars, which was held at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in Delhi in 2015. The show featured artworks, a stage performance and installations that responded to and reflected upon Baij’s creations and approach. The show included the involvement of such heavyweights as Vivan Sundaram, Anuradha Kapur and Rimli Bhattacharya.

Ramani’s documentary will be screened at the national competition section of the Films Division’s Mumbai International Film Festival, which will be held between January 29 and February 3.

Play
A conversation between Rv Ramani and Vivan Sundaram about Santhal Family to Mill Re-call.

Ramani was commissioned by the Vivadi Collective, of which Kapur is one of the founders, to shoot the setting up of the show as well as the actual event itself. The film involved “being witness to the efforts made by Vivan and his group of artists, in re-creating the works of Ramkinkar, in their own terms, with different materials in Delhi”, Ramani said. “The theatre directors Anuradha Kapur, Santanu Bose, working with actors, to evoke the period of Ramkinkar, his thoughts on art making and also at the same time. In fact the film is like multiple mirrors, reflecting each other. I saw my role too in a similar way, as someone who is doing a re-take on the process of re-creation, re-interpreting, of not only Ramkinkar and Vivan, but also of the theatre directors, actors, other artists involved in the process, sometimes moving away from the main narrative, bringing in other elements of documentary filmmaking.”

One of the early shots establishes the 112-minute documentary’s ambitions. As a poster of Baij is unfurled, the camera moves in close to his face. This poster soon gets covered with collages from MF Husain’s paintings.

The documentary captures the behind-the-scenes energy, collaboration and give-and-take of ideas that go into the performances and the interpretative artworks. Ramani familiarised himself both with Baij’s sculptures as well as Sundaram’s approach to art and installation for the documentary. “I had seen a few images of Ramkinkar’s works, and had heard a lot about him from friends who had studied at Santiniketan,” Ramani said. “Though I had seen some of Vivan’s works done many years back, which I found fascinating, it became important for me to familiarise myself with Vivan’s body of work too. It became clear to me that I was dealing with two artists, Vivan and Ramkinkar.”

Ramani visited Santiniketan in Bengal, where Baij lived and worked for the bulk of his life, and where many of his sculptures still stand. The film evolved into “one artist looking at another artist, and me looking at both the artists, the process of interpretation, in my own perspective, bringing in the process film-making as another conscious element of interpretation in the whole process”.

Play
Saa.

Several of Ramani’s documentaries, including Saa (1991), Nee Engey (2003), Nee Yaar (2009), My Camera and Tsunami (2009) and Hindustan Hamara (2014), are about the making of a making. His films capture the often abstract process of creative expression, the ways in which performance pieces come together through discussions and rehearsals, and the energy that is generated during this process.

“The process of creativity and imagination lies in everybody,” Ramani explained. “Its expression comes often through other parameters rather than stated parameters. I also look at the contexts around which an artist functions. It is about how I express what I experience.”

A trained cinematographer, Ramani shoots his own documentaries, and use his hand-held camera to scoop up the often invisible truths that underpin the creation of art. Ramani’s fluid camerawork follows the spirit of the moment rather than adheres to any rulebook about how shots should be composed and how much light should enter the frame.

Play
My Camera and Tsunami.

“Cinematography is very much the fulcrum of my work, I am almost re-discovering it all the time,” said the director, who trained at the Film and Television Institute of India. “The image making process is so volatile and everything is important. An NG (not good) shot is as good as an OK (okay) shot. I almost sculpt my film through shot taking. My camera becomes a pen, an audio recorder, a pulse, a companion, a looker, an engager, a philosopher, a recipient, a friend, a lover, a magician. For me, every film is new, starting my career all over from zero. One is always in a process of negotiation with your characters, which is very exciting and challenging.”

Would Ramani have approached Santhal Family and Mill Re-call differently if it were not a commissioned film? “When I embark on a film concept, the filming just starts and I end up completing the film,” he explained. “I am generally scared bringing in a funder, thinking it might alter the film. But in almost all my works, I look for a funding source, which does not interfere with my own process. In this film too, I felt proud to be associated with such great artists and people, who invited me to be part of the process, and allowed me to create my own perspective and experience of a film.”

RV Ramani. Courtesy Busan International Film Festival.
RV Ramani. Courtesy Busan International Film Festival.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

When did we start parenting our parents?

As our parents grow older, our ‘adulting’ skills are tested like never before.

From answering every homework question to killing every monster under the bed, from soothing every wound with care to crushing anxiety by just the sound of their voice - parents understandably seemed like invincible, know-it-all superheroes all our childhood. It’s no wonder then that reality hits all of a sudden, the first time a parent falls and suffers a slip disc, or wears a thick pair of spectacles to read a restaurant menu - our parents are growing old, and older. It’s a slow process as our parents turn from superheroes to...human.

And just as slow to evolve are the dynamics of our relationship with them. Once upon a time, a peck on the cheek was a frequent ritual. As were handmade birthday cards every year from the artistically inclined, or declaring parents as ‘My Hero’ in school essays. Every parent-child duo could boast of an affectionate ritual - movie nights, cooking Sundays, reading favourite books together etc. The changed dynamic is indeed the most visible in the way we express our affection.

The affection is now expressed in more mature, more subtle ways - ways that mimics that of our own parents’ a lot. When did we start parenting our parents? Was it the first time we offered to foot the electricity bill, or drove them to the doctor, or dragged them along on a much-needed morning walk? Little did we know those innocent acts were but a start of a gradual role reversal.

In adulthood, children’s affection for their parents takes on a sense of responsibility. It includes everything from teaching them how to use smartphones effectively and contributing to family finances to tracking doctor’s appointments and ensuring medicine compliance. Worry and concern, though evidence of love, tend to largely replace old-fashioned patterns of affection between parents and children as the latter grow up.

It’s something that can be easily rectified, though. Start at the simplest - the old-fashioned peck on the cheek. When was the last time you gave your mom or dad a peck on the cheek like a spontaneous five-year-old - for no reason at all? Young parents can take their own children’s behaviour available as inspiration.

As young parents come to understand the responsibilities associated with caring for their parents, they also come to realise that they wouldn’t want their children to go through the same challenges. Creating a safe and secure environment for your family can help you strike a balance between the loving child in you and the caring, responsible adult that you are. A good life insurance plan can help families deal with unforeseen health crises by providing protection against financial loss. Having assurance of a measure of financial security for family can help ease financial tensions considerably, leaving you to focus on being a caring, affectionate child. Moreover,you can eliminate some of the worry for your children when they grow up – as the video below shows.

Play

To learn more about life insurance plans available for your family, see here.

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