Impure Cinema of Mani Kaul

Andre Bazin’s 1951 essay ‘Pour un cinema impur: défense de l’adaptation’ which implies hybridization of cinema with other art forms expresses his disagreement of film as a self sufficient medium. Using the term ‘cinema impur’ to contest the polemical slogan in avant-garde film known as ‘cinema pur’, attributed to Henri Chomette, his essay states that ‘we must say of the cinema that its existence precedes its essence’ (1967c, p71)

One way in which cinema precedes its essence could be ‘pre-cinema’ as cinema is considered an extension of painting and photography. Indian experimental film-maker Mani Kaul’s films were adapted from Hindi literature and exhibited an intimate relationship with Hindustani music and representational forms from India which he used as multiple intertexts in terms of subject matter and construction. His oeuvres are literature (The Cloud Door), painting (Duvidha, Dilemma, 1973), architecture (Satah Se Uthata Aadmi, Arising From The Surface, 1980), music (Dhrupad[1], 1983) and poetry (Siddheshwari[2], 1989). It could be implied that for Kaul, cinema was not merely a combination of disciplines to arrive at specificity.


Like Godard, Kaul begins with the image. His acclaimed film Duvidha commences with a Godardian image of a woman in a red saree (a garment traditionally worn by women from South Asia) positioned in front of a white wall, gazing into the camera with Rajasthani folk song playing in the background. It implies a dilemma directed to the audience like the frozen frame of Truffaut’s adolescent criminal. Kaul adopts narration rather than storytelling as it provides him the freedom to emphasize on the image. Kaul uses a series of photographs, freeze frames, jump cuts that demonstrate the film’s fundamental notion of temporal and geographical dislocation to manipulate time. His “image track ‘inherits’ the history of painting and the visual art while the sound track ‘inherits’ the history of music” (Stam, 2005, p7).


By Sagar Chhatwani


Nagib, L. and Jerslev, A. (2014). Impure Cinema: intermedial and intercultural approaches to film. London, New York: I.B. Tauris

Srikanth. (2011). The films of Mani Kaul. The Seventh Art. Available from [Accessed 25 February 2017]

Filmistaan. (2015). Duvidha. YouTube. Available from [Accessed 25 February 2017]

[1] Dhrupad is a documentary about Dhrupad, one of the oldest forms of compositions in the classical Indian music.

[2] Siddheshwari is a documentary on eminent classical singer from Varanasi, India, Siddheshwari Devi.

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