Many lives of creative artists| countercurrents

There is a flow in all of us, a free flow of ideas, thoughts carried by our active mind, everyday attempts to capture the frontiers we live in. In the souls more attuned to the inner life, this river roars, rushes wildly, spreads tendrils and tirelessly tastes forbidden fruits. But in fertile minds, this flow becomes a source: of vitality, beauty, tender feelings, spook; tendency to tend to pebbles underwater; Amazement, self-reflective, about one’s own feet, skin, tendons; analytical drives to fathom connections, innovations yet to be formulated. Creative artefacts become Free Floaters – rethought/revised/taken up. To recall the figurative reference of British poet John Keats – the chameleon poet, a changing entity, is relevant here. William D. Brewer extended the interpretation of this pictorial reference to the creative process in Stage romantic chameleons and impostors (2015) making it easier to understand that a chameleon poet is a creative artist, “autonomous from his surroundings but free or bound, suggestible theatrically or passively, creative or derivative”.

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MS Banesh’s deep dive into his own flow, powered by Joshy Joseph’s genre-bending film walking on water (Bangla Title: Obhimani Jal) has resulted in a novel in Malayalam titled Jalabhara Dinaraatrangal (Watery Days and Night), his first adventure in fiction, and another poet-illustrator, Soman Katalur, were provoked into creating images for the novel after reading but before watching the film. The novel is not a written response to the film, i.e. not an ekphrastic work, nor are the line drawings illustrations of the fictional writing. Film+novel+visual art is what you could call it multimodal combinatorial iterations — The frame story is developed tangentially from a film to which another creative response uses the line art — a combination of multiple actors’ creative responses using multiple media, colliding, sometimes merging, breaking each other (not reflective, not mise en abyme), mutually admiring but independent, unhindered articulations. Perhaps because the film provides an important glimpse into family life, extends to the social, political and cultural life of all of us in contemporary times, while also pointing to the past and saluting the future – that these multimodal combinatorial iterations have become activated.

Of course, there have been notable ekphrastic writings that have been attempted with such convincing success that only deeper research can uncover them. URANanthamurthy’s inspiration from Ingmar Bergman’s film The seventh seal (1957) in writing Samskara (1965), is a prime example.

In the literary setting, Vaikom Muhammad Basheer occupies an important place for using a close observational style to create local characters and evoke situations stalam (rooted in a place, place) Malayalam fiction. For example, Basheer effectively threaded his own experiences and autobiographical elements into his film The walls. Banesh adds a relevant leaf to this rich literary tradition by writing the Zeitgeistby expanding the location, whereby the protagonist in the fictional work is not a representational figure, but rather a medium of experience for the author and the reader. This central backbone also represents a hybrid of historical and contemporary familial and illusionary relationships, political and social scenarios that determine individual choices (also latent). The moment one begins to believe in the fiction of a naturalized order of self, family, nation, and humanistic principles, an awakening is waiting around the corner. The sharpness of Banesh’s analytics is laced with lyricism, a hallmark of his aesthetic style, which simultaneously flirts with magic and logic.

to draw

Another artist, Mahasweta Devi, appears in the film, novel and most prominently in the drawings. Her presence is that of a muse – which evokes numerous reactions in the work of chameleon artists. But she is a chameleon presence herself in these multimodal combinatorial iterations and also stages her independent performance, almost like a kennel in poetry – a withdrawn presence. Katalur responds to this limited presence of Mahasweta in his drawings, particularly for Chapters 2 and 11. But the dematerialized Devi is also an overhanging presence in the River Hooghly, sitting on top like an immersive viewer, sometimes overlooking the Kolkata skyline, sometimes as the binding cement for all artistic iterations. She’s the mothership, but she’s also a disinterested witness.

Japanese filmmaker Yasujirō Ozu is present through the name of the protagonist, whose father, the filmmaker, named him that. A piece of the history of Indian film consciousness also emerges through the filmmaker’s father. Joshy’s multilingual and multiperspective film style emerges in Katalur’s lines, shades and shapes.

I am recalling my own collaboration with a group of British, Polish and American-Korean filmmakers on a short film entitled Most 72. All four of us worked at the same time, in the same place, but separately. The film and audio material was recorded on location in Auschwitz-Birkenau (Poland) in a single day, on June 17, 2013, with post-production completed within 72 hours: reactions collided, visions blurred, memories imperfect, traces of voices were marked and tagged. It was an experiment in bringing attention to reactions and thoughts that were not marked by post-processes – a propensity of Chris Markerist that interacted with Deleuzian striving.

Again, I see similar resonances.

The magical klew flowing through Joshy Joseph, MSBanesh and Soman Katalur connects with a diverse array of writers, poets, filmmakers, painters, visual artists, thinkers and cinephiles. This klew intersects with the political, cultural, and social arenas of our lives. It flies across decades, resonating with the inner music of our daily lives. It dives back on tiptoe into the river from which it sprang, you begin to hear the water singing, the music spills over, our senses wander…

(Surbhi Goel teaches Film Theory and Culture and Indian Literary Criticism at Panjab University, Chandigarh. She also writes poetry and is actively involved in curating and producing films.) Email:

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