Frames be­tween black & white

film­maker Sarah Singh feels, as an artist, one wants to work on some­thing that is time­less

India Today - - FILMS - By Sukant Deepak

Aseies of pho­to­graphs de­pict­ing nu­mer­ous sto­ries hit the screen. Sounds take the nar­ra­tive for­ward. Some­times char­ac­ters speak to them­selves, and to those around them. The deaf­en­ing si­lence be­tween frames com­pletes the tales and tragedies of those play­ing parts and half-parts.

New York-based film­maker Sarah Singh’s A Mil­lion

Rivers (2016) star­ring Om Puri and Lil­lete Dubey is nei­ther a doc­u­men­tary nor a par­ti­tion film as de­clared by most crit­ics. Del­i­cately touch­ing ex­ter­nal and in­ter­nal con­flicts, dis­place­ment, frag­men­ta­tion of iden­tity, con­trol over land­scape and alien­ation, the film, like a car­tog­ra­pher, maps var­ied emo­tions through shad­ows, ex­treme-close ups, smoke, mir­rors and half lit ob­jects. Just like her pre­vi­ous film, The Sky Be­low, she again proves that there are many ways of telling a story, the most in­ter­est­ing be­ing– hold­ing back and let­ting the au­di­ence de­cide. “Also, for me, a film is not just about show­cas­ing the plot but also about evok­ing a se­ries of ev­ery­day emo­tions and sit­u­a­tions in a cer­tain di­rec­tion. Un­pre­dictabil­ity and in­di­vid­ual points of view there­fore be­come para­mount in the scheme of things,” she says.

The 45-year-old film­maker who was re­cently in Chandi­garh on the in­vi­ta­tion of Chandi­garh Lalit Kala Akademi, in­sists that there is a des­per­ate need of vi­sion­ar­ies in art as the chal­lenge is not just to tell a story. Ev­ery time she is be­hind the cam­era, she wants to tran­scend time, and that is the only way she ap­proaches work. “In this world, too many things are just pro­duced. There is no time to con­tem­plate. As an artist, one wants to work on some­thing, over­all core of which is time­less.”

Singh, who was born in Pa­tiala and moved to the US in 1974, has com­pleted two-fea­ture length films, sev­eral short films and is in the de­vel­op­ment stage of her third fea­ture; she has al­ways pre­ferred to shoot in black and white al­lows her to work with what is hid­den and what is re­vealed. “For me, light and dark­ness con­vey pres­ence and ab­sence. With colour around, you can get dis­tracted and caught up in glit­ter,” says Singh, who is also a painter and pho­tog­ra­pher.

Talk­ing about her ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing with Om Puri, the film­maker says that for the late ac­tor, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some­thing new was al­ways

im­por­tant, and that mak­ing a frame for him­self was ef­fort­less. “The one-take ex­cep­tional ac­tor, who never shied away from im­pro­vi­sa­tion didn’t need a back story to de­liver his best. He would al­ways give more than what you asked for. De­spite his grandeur, he was ap­proach­able. A gen­tle­man who was al­ways present in the true sense of the word.”

All set to work on her next film, A West­ern Sum­mer, to be shot in Por­tu­gal with some prom­i­nent In­dian ac­tors, Singh is op­ti­mistic that she will be able to sur­vive in the space she op­er­ates in. “I’ve al­ways had this clar­ity that there is more to art than ap­peas­ing a mass au­di­ence. In that way, my pri­or­i­ties are pretty clear.”

As a per­son of In­dian ori­gin, liv­ing in Trump’s Amer­ica is not re­ally com­fort­ing for the film­maker, es­pe­cially in the con­text of in­creased racial at­tacks on Asians. She says it had to hap­pen un­der the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion, con­sid­er­ing that the Pres­i­den­tial cam­paign was based on divi­sion, so­cial dis­rup­tion and fury against groups of peo­ple. “When a wave of rhetoric like this rules, you tap into peo­ple look­ing to cause harm to those rep­re­sent­ing in­clu­sion as a way of life. The Kansas shoot­ing and many other re­cent in­ci­dents are just the begin­ning. We will wit­ness more,” says the as­pi­ra­tional film­maker.

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