Jio MAMI 19th Mumbai Film Festival: Kamal Swaroop speaks about his documentary Pushkar Puran
Kamal Swaroop delves into the myths of Brahma's fifth head and the Ashvamedha yajna in his documentary Pushkar Puran
Director Kamal Swaroop is undeniably fascinated by the city of Pushkar. In 1988, he made a postmodern fiction film called Om Dar-B-Dar and shot it in Pushkar and Ajmer. It gained a cult status in India and received much critical acclaim when it made the rounds of film festivals. Later, he came up with the script for another fiction film titled Om and the Satellite City, which was also set in the fair town.
Even his latest work Pushkar Puran, which will soon be screened at the MAMI film festival, has taken him back to the same city in Rajasthan. "I've spent my school days and college days in this city. I keep going back to Pushkar again and again, I visit it every year during the mela to get a different take on it. It is a very fascinating place and I know it very well; I've been visiting it for the last 30 years," says Swaroop.
In Pushkar Puran, he explores the ideas presented by Italian writer Roberto Calasso in his book Ka: Stories of the Mind and Gods of India. He borrows from two chapters — one on Brahma's fifth head, and the other on the Ashvamedha yajna, which is a sacrifice that involves horses. Swaroop has also included meditations on prajapati and the origin of the universe, in an attempt to understand if these ideas have any resonance in Pushkar when the mela is held.
A few minutes into the film, and you are transported into the dreamy, colourful world of this sacred city. As per Hindu belief, the gods sent a swan carrying a lotus in its beak, and Lord Brahma would perform a grand yajna where the lotus fell. The name of the city means 'blue lotus', and is believed to be the place where this flower landed.
"This time the text is fictitious, but the place and events are contemporary," says Swaroop, when asked why he chose to tell a non-fiction story. Swaroop's reason for picking documentaries over fiction films is more rooted in an understanding of the realities of filmmaking, rather than philosophical. "Fiction films take a lot of money, but with a documentary, you can achieve quite a lot with a little bit of funding," he explains. He says that there is no difference in his approach when it comes to making a documentary as opposed to a fiction film, because he uses the "Shoot fiction like a documentary and documentary like it is fiction" formula, adding that he finds elements of one in the other.
Swaroop says that because mythological stories are generative, every time he reads about Brahma's fifth head, he comes up with a different take. "The story can apply in many different contexts. One interpretation I like is that the fifth head represents the Bharatnatyashastra, which is the entertainment industry, or the underworld. This head is chopped off by Shiva. There is also the interpretation of the incestuous head, according to which Brahma lusts for his own daughter. This time, I only took small references from this myth, and the head largely represents the mela in my film," he says. In his film Om and the Satellite City, he delves into another interpretation whereby the son kills his father, and then becomes his own father through patricide.
In Pushkar Puran, shots of people dressed up as mythological characters and gods are juxtaposed by the sounds of cell phones and rides at the fair, implying that the traditional and the modern co-exist. Speaking about this, Swaroop says, "They organise the mela representing the ancient myth; the material is contemporary, but the people, images and technology are all from today's times. And yet, it has resonance with the ancient myth of heavens descending on the earth. According to it, the Gods descended onto the Earth for a mela. The people at the fair play the same myth every year."
He says that his main study has been how mythology and the marketing for the mela operate simultaneously, because he believes that to sell any idea, a myth is necessary. "Using this philosophy, if we say that the heavens descend to Pushkar for five days in a year, you can say that in Mumbai it is heaven for 365 days!" he says, with a chuckle.
Apart from MAMI, Pushkar Puran will also be screened at Dok Leipzig and Experimenta Bangalore. It premiered at World Film Festival in Montreal.
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