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ASHISH AVIKUNTHAK RETROSPECTIVE


  • Wolf 59 Weserstraße Berlin, Berlin, 12045 Germany (map)

The Intentions Behind The Retrospective
I first met Ashish Avikunthak in the framework of research project United Screens. Ashish in the interview with me, described films in three main categories and I paraphrase -

Coca-Cola films : mass produced, mass distributed, exploitative and appropriative of the local sensibilities and resources. This is crass entertainment.

Wine films : crafted for a niche group, requires acquired taste to palate the serving and hence barriers to access are high. This is high-brow culture.

Moonshine films : Moonshines are brewed for the community/tribe with love, passion and local ingredients. This is radical art. Ashish considers himself to be a moonshine filmmaker who is uncompromisingly independent.

His films and his practice, have been primarily discussed in either an academic and/or theoretical framework. And with this retrospective event series at Wolf Kino, we intend to share five of Ashish’s special brews, with the cinema community in Berlin. And just like how the moonshiners are eager to gather reactions from different tribes about their brew, we along with Ashish, are eager to learn what Berlin audience thinks of these five films that we have programmed.

Another intention of this retrospective, is to highlight the long friendship based collaboration between Ashish and his co-producer Kristina Konrad (Weltfilm), that supported four of Ashish’s films since 2012. Such collaborations are very important, where the market and nations have made us believe that only commerce and diplomacy are grounds for long term collaborations. Kristina and Ashish’s sustained collaboration stand as an example of transnational collaborations based on mutual respect and artistic admiration. Such a close collaboration with an Indian filmmaker and German film production company is unique. Arguably, this collaboration between a German production company and an Indian filmmaker is one of the most long-standing Indo-German collaboration in the history of Indian cinema since the partnership between Franz Osten and Himanshu Rai in 1930s under the aegis of Bombay Talkies.

A major motivation for this program to come to fruition is the passion, dedication and enthusiasm of the team at Wolf Kino, who have consistently innovated the idea of ‘cinema programming’ to provide us with multiple lenses to look at cinematic arts of varied forms.

- Abhishek Nilamber

Begegnungen mit Ashish und Basab – und ihren Filmen

Ich lernte Ashish 2011 in Locarno bei den OpenDoor meetings kennen. Das Projekt, das er damals vorstellte, „a psycho-political film that symbolically explores penetrating violence by the state in Indian contemporary society onto the intimate spheres of individuals“, faszinierte und interessierte mich, die ich noch nie Indien gewesen bin, und wir verstanden uns auch persönlich sehr gut. Seine Arbeitsweise: Mit kleinem vertrautem Team und wenig Geld, unabhängig zu produzieren, passt(e) mir sehr. Wir blieben in email-Kontakt. Nachdem ich seine Filme, in die ich fasziniert eintauchte, ohne sie zu verstehen, gesehen hatte, beschloss ich, Ashish’ Arbeit zu unterstützen.

Statt des oben genannten Projektes, realisierte er ein Jahr später Rati Chakravyuh, der hochkonzentrierte „one-shot-film“, bei dem ich half, die Postproduktion fertig zu stellen. Normalerweise steige ich früh ein, lese die Treatments oder Drehbücher, gucke Rohschnitte, nicht so bei Ashish’s Filmen. Seine rigorose formale Bildsprache, seine eigenwillige und eigenständige Arbeitweise und natürlich auch die örtliche große Distanz, brachten mich gänzlich davon ab, mich einzumischen. Wir sprachen nie darüber.

Alle 4 Filme, bei denen ich auf diese Weise beteiligt war, führen mich in eine mir unbekannte Welt, die Ashish auch nicht versucht, in eine mir vertraute Sprache zu „übersetzen“, so dass ich gar nicht in Versuchung komme, sie „entschlüsseln“ oder interpretieren zu wollen. Sie berühren etwas Existentielles, Untergründiges, sie sind für mich düster und wunderschön.

2017 sahen wir uns in Berlin wieder, als Aapothkalin Trikalika | The Kali of Emergency im Forum Expanded aufgeführt wurde. Und ich lernte den Kameramann, Basab Mullick, kennen. Basab wohnte bei mir, spät nachts, todmüde von der Berlinale und ihren Wanderungen durch Berlin, wo sie die Stadt neugierig und aufmerksam erkundeten, redeten wir noch stundenlang über Indien, Deutschland, den Holocaust, Politik, Filme, Literatur, Musik...Ich kenne wenig Menschen in Deutschland, die so viel wissen von der deutschen Geschichte, Philosophie und Kunst wie Basab. In diesen nächtlichen Streifzügen habe ich viel von Basab’s und Ashish’s Indien und ihrem künstlerischen und filmischen Ansatz erfahren.

- Kristina Konrad (Weltfilm)

Biographies
Ashish Avikunthak has been making films for the past 24 years. In 2014, He was named Future Greats 2014 by Art Review. Its citation succinctly describes his films: “In an artworld where an increasing number of critics are arguing that much globalised art takes the form of hollowed-out visual Esperanto, Avikunthak’s works insist on an Indian epistemology while utilising a rigorously formal visual language that is clearly aware of Western avant-garde practices such as those of Andrei Tarkovsky and Samuel Beckett. These are self-consciously difficult works that are filmed in a self-consciously beautiful way”. His films have been shown worldwide in film festivals, galleries and museums. Notable screenings were at the Tate Modern, London, Centre George Pompidou, Paris, Taipei Biennial 2012, Shanghai Biennial 2014, Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, along with London, Locarno, Rotterdam, and Berlin film festivals among other locations. He has had retrospective of his works at Centre for Moving Image Arts, Bard College (2015), Apeejay Arts Gallery, New Delhi (2015), Rice University (2014), Signs Festival, Trivandrum (2013), Festival International Signes de Nuit, Paris (2012), Yale University (2008), and National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai (2008) and Les Inattendus, Lyon (2006). In 2011 he was short listed for the Skoda Prize for Indian Contemporary Art. He has a PhD in Cultural and Social Anthropology from Stanford University and has earlier taught at Yale University. He is now an Associate Professor in Film/Media at Harrington School of Communication, University of Rhode Island.


Abhishek Nilamber (1987, Hyderabad - India) works with projects and products which catalyses democratisation of knowledge. He is a curator and project manager at SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin and programmer and creative consultant at Backyard Civilization, Kochi, India.
Nilamber has been living and working in Berlin since May 2016.

 
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With the support of the Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan Kolkata
Mit Unterstützung des Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan Kolkata

Fr 7.6 19:00
KATHO UPANISHAD
Regie: Ashish Avikunthak, mit Ram Gopal Bajaj, Suvrat Joshi, Indien 2011, 80 Min., OmU bengalisch mit englischen Untertiteln

Teach me the path beyond death,” asks Nachiketa to Yama, the God of Death. ‘Katho Upanishad’ is a film that expounds on this basic quest of human existence. It is a film about a man's pursuit for nirvana. The film centers on the metaphysical dialogue between Nachiketa and Yama. It is an adaptation of a two and half thousand years old Sanskrit treatise of the same name, where Yama instructs Nachiketa about the path towards enlightenment. Structurally, the film is a triad with three chapters – the quest, the dialogue and the final liberation – each of which is an uninterrupted continuous single-shot.

Sa 8.6. 19:00
RATI CHAKRAVYUH
Regie: Ashish Avikunthak, Indien/Deutschland 2013, 103 Min., OmeU bengalisch mit englischen Untertiteln

This is a single-shot feature film – one of the earliest to be produced in the world and first in India. On a lunar eclipse midnight, in a desolate temple, six young newlywed couples and a priestess meet after a mass wedding. They sit in a circle and talk. This is their last conversation – an exchange about life, death, beginning, end and everything in between. After a discussion that lasts more than an hour and a half, they commit mass suicide.

So 9.6. 20:00
Cinema of Prayoga: Theory against experimental from India - Talk by Ashish Avikuntak
Cinema of Prayoga is a radical gesture in the history of world cinema. It argues for a definite theory of practice distinct from the experimental or avant-garde cinema of the West to comprehend the idiosyncrasies of Indian cinematic avant-garde. This term coined by Amrit Gangar, attempts to establish in Indian cinema a practice of robust experimentation whose genealogy he locates in indigenity of Indian philosophy rather than the derivative mimesis of Western avant-garde. In this talk, I will introduce, expand and explicate Cinema of Prayoga as an alternative, non-western theory of cinematic practice.

Mo 10.6. 19:00
THE CHURNING OF KALKI (KALKIMANTHANKATHA)
Regie: Ashish Avikunthak, Indien/Deutschland 2015, 79 Min., OmeU bengalisch mit englischen Untertiteln

Following the footsteps of Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot", two actors from Calcutta go to the largest gathering of humans on earth - the Hindu festival of Maha Kumbh of Allahabad in 2013, which occurs once in 12 years, to search for Kalki - the Tenth and the final avatar of Lord Vishnu. The most mysterious of Vishnu's Avatar who has been on earth but has never been found. However, an outbreak of a monumental war occurs during their quest. They then prepare themselves by reading Chairman Mao-se-Tung's "Little Red Book."

Di 11.6. 19:00
THE KALI OF EMERGENCY
Regie: Ashish Avikunthak, Indien/Deutschland 2016, 79 Min., OmeU bengalisch mit englischen Untertiteln

During social and political turmoil what is the manifestation of divine intervention? How do the Gods and Goddess act in the volatility of the contemporary world? If they walk on earth as men and women, how they endure the chaos of modernity? Centering on the terrible and the majestic incarnations of Goddess Kali and her celestial avatars, this film is a metaphysical contemplation in times of perpetual emergencies.

Mi 12.6. 19:00
DISPASSIONATE LOVE
Regie: Ashish Avikunthak, Indien/Deutschland 2018, 91 Min., OmeU bengalische mit englischen Untertiteln

Recalling memories of a friend who committed suicide, three lovers slowly slide into an anguish labyrinth of desire, loss and longing. They entangle in a colliding maze of forsaken loves, failed expectations and imperfect anticipations. A disintegrating web arises in which love exists, but as dispassionate yearning. Here affection is an indifferent desire that burns the soul to death.