One of the most prominent and artistically challenging Indian filmmakers whose works are admired all over the world, Amit Dutta has been redefining what Indian cinema means for years now. His films have been screened at some of the most prestigious film festivals around the world but they remain largely unknown to Indian audiences at home.
This is primarily because Dutta’s vision of cinema is very different to the mainstream mode of cinematic thought in the country. Like many of the greatest filmmaking pioneers of the world as well as the directors who ushered in the Indian New Wave, Dutta’s films are meticulously arranged in such a way that every frame is a painting.
“I didn’t come to cinema from cinema. In my family, we watched Bollywood only once a year. I didn’t watch great films and decide I wanted to make films,” the filmmaker revealed. “I discovered a book on Satyajit Ray, which had a photograph of his study. I was very struck by his personality, and his beautiful but functional, not overly decorated study. I thought it was possible to live a normal, middle-class or upper-middle class life, and still be a profound filmmaker. That it was possible to make cinema as a personal activity.”
For this edition of Short of the Week, we have chosen Dutta’s 2019 documentary Notes on Guler which focuses on the remnants of a once great but now extinct cultural centre in India. As if chronicling the vestiges of a civilisation that has been washed away, Dutta picks up the pieces of history through stories narrated by descendants of that lost society.
“My primary work is filmmaking,” Dutta insisted while explaining his artistic goals. “I’m fascinated with cinema. It is the most recent art form and it has to go to other art forms to learn. It is still very underdeveloped. Filmmaking to me is a philosophical quest, for lack of a better word, a spiritual quest. I want to use it to explore that which escapes you.”
He isn’t even interested in theatrical viewings of his works, claiming that he wants his audience to connect with his films individually: “Watching a film on a laptop, on the other hand, is as controlled as you can make 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.”
Watch Amit Dutta’s 2019 documentary Notes on Guler below.