“मैं हूँ पानी के बुलबुले जैसा
तुझे सोचूँ तो फूट जाता हूँ”
I am but a bubble
I think of you, I burstDushyant Kumar
In 2015, the opening lines of Dushyant Kumar’s ghazal “Tu kisi rail si guzarti hai” (You pass like a train) were taken up by writer and lyricist Varun Grover, who wove it into a beautiful and evocative song for the movie Masaan (Crematorium). The metaphor is charming in its simplicity. It is about the act of passing by, of crossing paths and of registering presences. In that moment when two worlds collide, some things come full circle. The unique therefore, becomes universal. Nothing is quite outside the bubble of familiarity.
Hence, we thought we might recreate some moments from Masaan through an artistic rendezvous. Every frame is a memory and we selected some of the following.
Riding and Resting on Ripples
If Masaan were to be described in brush strokes, one would probably draw ripples. Each character rests on one and is continuously transferred to the next. Much like how we live through life and move through the world. The sum of all our actions, in varying measures, is to stay afloat.
At one point in the movie, when Deepak’s character is caught at the crossroads, he lets himself float on his back. Sometimes a loss as profound as the one he experiences can only be eased by water. Perhaps because, as writer Kathrine Norbury believes, water has “amniotic qualities”. Amniotic fluid is the liquid that surrounds a foetus in the womb. As the wellspring and guardian of life, water for many provides a very real and deep comfort, like being held securely in the mighty womb. British artist Billy Childish’s ‘swimmer’ too seems to experience just that. In his series of paintings of water bodies and figures floating or submerged in them, the sense of losing oneself in this element of nature is palpable. In fact Childish’s long association with the Medway River can be traced throughout his eclectic oeuvre.
Leaning towards the Light
Devi is one of those rare female characters in cinema who stand up so unapologetically for themselves. There is almost a phoenix-like quality to her, a self-healing and regenerative power that makes her way more profound than the poignancy that her tale conveys. In this still, as she makes her way beyond the confines of her given reality, her partially illuminated face conveys a certain despair and defiance. A despair for how women have been betrayed by art and a defiance against the same.
The women in Edward Munch’s portraits are similarly resilient, taking on a life of their own. Munch’s understanding of the female subject was somewhat influenced by the theories of sexual differences that subtly reinforced the prevailing stereotypes of women as either dark, mystical and complicated or as helplessly devoted caregivers. However, his canvas betrayed him. His portraits of women were his own insecurities writ large; his unfulfilled desires and failed relationships.
Have you ever held a helium balloon in your hand? If you have, you would know what it feels like to touch transience. To viscerally feel a sense of being on the edge of a loss. It is like holding on to an ever fleeting time; a slip of a finger and the loss is absolute.
But the helium balloon also heals. As you gently release it from your fingers, your heartbeat adjusts to its motions. There is a strange buoyancy that keeps both afloat. Love, longing and loss freewheel. While Deepak and Shalu (two characters from the movie) set sail their hearts on the red balloon, so does Bansky. In some ways both are acts of transgression, in love and in art.
Beyond the Isle
When looking afar from a boat, it seems as if the ancient city of Varanasi abruptly rose by the river. Rows of magnificent edifices, crowded steps leading to the water, smoke and fire from funeral pyres, all combine to form a formidable excess of both life and the underworld. For Deepak, a character belonging to a marginalized community of corpse burners, such excess means little. At a crucial point in his life, as he sits on the edge of the boat drifting by the riverfront, mourning the death of a tomorrow, he is also metaphorically on the edge of a rite of passage, much like the white figure in Arnold Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead.
This hauntingly mysterious painting by the Swiss painter has been widely reproduced across mediums and has inspired numerous artists. Comissioned by a widow in memory of her late husband, the appeal of the painting made Arnold produce three additional versions of it. While presenting the painting, he wrote to the widow, “you will be able to dream yourself into the world of dark shadows”. In this dreamscape, a boatman seems to row the dead to the netherworld. This is the ultimate rite of passage, an irrevocable one.
Following the Sun
The closing shot of Masaan is a visual translation of the elemental harmony that the movie ultimately restores. To go back to where we had started—staying afloat is also like following the sun. As with both, it is about carrying on with life. Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise, much like Masaan, is a visual verse on rejuvination. Art Historian Paul Tucker illuminates on the painting’s possible connection with the state of France after its defeat in the Franco Prussian War of 1870–71. He suggests, “Monet may have seen this painting of a highly commercial site as an answer to the postwar calls for patriotic action and an art that could lead. For while it is a poem of light and atmosphere, the painting can also be seen as an ode to the power and beauty of a revitalized France.” Masaan, likewise, is an ode to the power and beauty of a revitalized spirit. While Deepak and Devi follow the light, Monet literally does so by creating a series of paintings depicting the port of Le Havre at different times of the day and from different viewpoits.
“zindagī kyā hai anāsir meñ zuhūr-e-tartīb maut kyā hai inhīñ ajzā kā pareshāñ honā”
What is Life, an ordering of elements
Death, but a moment of their disturbanceBrij Narayan Chakbast