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Mani Kaul - Unconventional filmmaker, influential teacher

Though I had lost touch with Mani Kaul since the past few decades, I did get a chance to briefly know him during the 70s.

He has been one of the finest filmmakers our country has ever had. One particularly knew him as a filmmaker who made unconventional films. He had radical ideas for cinema. The stories that he told did not cater to set patterns. His first film Uski Roti was unconventional. It was a complete departure from all Indian cinema in terms of the narrative technique and its picturisation. Mani Kaul’s films had an accomplished vocabulary. And though his films never had proper releases, they were revolutionary in their own right.

In his career spanning three decades, Kaul had made very few films. I remember watching Siddehswari, based on Siddheshwari Devi’s life, the noted thumri singer, who had won several awards in her career. The award winning film was a poetic documentary and had a fine sense of humour

The other brilliant film that instantly comes to my mind is Muktibodh based on Hindi writer Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh. It was an extraordinary film and was screened at Cannes in 1981. It was Mani Kaul’s finest experimental work done in India.

He was one of the most impressive and influential teachers at the Film and Television Institute in Pune. He even taught at the Duke University in Virginia, USA. He was also lecturer at Harvard University, USA. He used to also teach music in the Netherlands and worked as the Creative Director of the Film House at Osian’s Connoisseurs of Art, Mumbai. He enjoyed a very good reputation as a teacher. He had moved to Holland long ago and was staying there all these years. We had never heard of him after that.

I am not a great scholar of Mani Kaul’s films. But his death is a huge loss to Indian cinema.

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