Director: Amit Dutta
Writer: Amit Dutta
Genre: Biography | History
Cast: Manish Soni, Nitin Goel, Rajesh. K.
Streaming on Mubi.
Every frame a painting is such a liberally used cliche I tend to refrain from using the phrase. But if any film were worthy of that title, Amit Dutta’s Nainsukh is. I chanced upon it during an afternoon browsing of Mubi’s Indian catalogue. Nainsukh is a carefully crafted gem of slow cinema based on the life of miniature painter Nainsukh and premiered at the Venice International Film Festival in 2010.
The film is a spiritual experience; a meditation of sorts. We are dropped on the banks of Ganga, few feet above the ground, spying on Nainsukh from a vantage point. He is immersing the remains of his patron Balwant Singh. From there, Dutta takes us by our hand and guides us through eighteenth century Guler state in all its beauty and poignancy. And every time we try to make out a progressing narrative, Dutta is quick to point us toward a beautiful castle, an endless river, mustard fields. Asking us politely to forgo cinematic conventions.
There is some plot in the form of Nainsukh’s artistic conflict with his brother Manaku, who betrays Nainsukh’s style of portrait drawing and earns a reward for his interpretation of Gita Govindam. Following this, Nainsukh leaves his father’s workshop to paint for the Rajput princes of Jasrota, where he masters his style and sees increased productivity. But the film’s primary occupation is with paying a stylistic homage to Nainsukh’s work. Once fixed on a stretch of land, the camera refuses to move, stopping still like a painting, till the cows, horses and people of Guler make their way successfully from one end of the frame to the other. The atmospheric sound design captures exquisitely, the chirping of birds, clopping of horse hooves, burbling of streams and so on – giving life to the flatly embossed visual world of Nainsukh. With the beauty of light, composition and sound, Dutta creates a series of moving paintings that only the medium of cinema can allow.
The editing is a refreshing change from modern mainstream editing that is high-strung in time and space. Instead of frenzied cuts that demand the viewer be the centre of the action, the edits in Nainsukh provide an experience similar to that of lingering at a piece of art, then moving on to the next one, taking considerable time, as if the viewer were in a museum.
The only thematic concern other than that of doing justice to the painter’s work seems to be the honest recreation of a time gone by in the dry Lower Himalayas. The film’s lacking action and movement, and celebration of idleness is an antithesis to the modern experience of life. Swiss scholar Eberhard Fischer’s research and work on Indian history sees its zenith in his input to the story and art of the film. The story is based on Pahari Masters, an essential Indian art history read, penned by B.N. Goswamy. The art is one of the best to come out of Indian experimental cinema. The characters inhabit a world of Fischer’s research and vision; his interpretation of architecture, clothing, dance and hookah-smoking in Rajputana Guler. Dishari Chakraborty’s music is the kind that is not meant to stand alone as a soundtrack but to perfectly complement the mood of the film.
Cinema, at its most figurative, is still too literal. In a sense, one wonders if the film, or any film for that matter, does justice to the books or paintings they are adapted from. Nainsukh interprets both in parts. Amit Dutta’s sophomore film comes very close to this sense of justice and leaves us craving for more at the end of its eighty minute runtime. Nainsukh, as the name suggests, is a joy for the eyes.
Verdict : 6/7 stars.