Satah Se Uttha Aadmi (1980)

  • As Ramesh, the "Voice" of poet Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh, arguably Mani Kaul's best.
    Bharat-Gopy -Satah-Se-Uttha-Aadmi-1980

Satah Se Uttha Aadmi (1980)

Arising from the Surface ” – (Dir. Translation).

The film is based on the texts of the great Hindi writer Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh (1917 – 1964) and was fully sponsored by the Madhya Pradesh Kala Parishad. There is no formal plot to the film, and as such does not fit into a conventional synopsis. Based on four characters, the entire film goes against the technique of montage. Each shot is complete in itself. Several such diverse shots impart an inexorable sense of time unfolding and lends the film its own special movement.

Bharat Gopy
Fazal Tabish as himself
Vibuti Jha
Satyen Kumar
MK Raina
Rahul Barpute
Neeta Ahmad
Kulbhushan Dillauri
Shubha Modi, Usha Diwan, Pradnya Mukherji, Shyamsundar Sharma & Benu Ganguli
Director Mani Kaul
Producer  Ashok Vajpeyi
Banner MP Kala Parishad
Story Mani Kaul
Screenplay Mani Kaul and Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh
Dialogues Mani Kaul
Lyrics Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh
Music Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar
Cinematography  Veerendra Saini
Editing Ashok Tyagi
Bharat Gopy as Ramesh in Satah Se Uttha Admi (1980)
Given its textual diversity, the film is structured around three main players : Ramesh, Keshav and Madhav. Ramesh approximates the first person narrator of a number of Muktibodh’s stories, poems and essays. Keshav shares an intellectual rapport with Ramesh. Together, they form a significant dialectic of tradition and modernity – Ramesh identifying himself with the former and Keshav with the latter. Madhav, on the other hand, suffers in his struggles against compromise as he is unable to form such an interaction.

The film begins with an account of the writer’s spiritual struggle as stated in the opening verse of Muktibodh’s ‘Andhere Mein.’ In a surrealistic environment in the middle of the film, Keshav recites another extract from the poem. The verses here stress the tragedy of an idealist in the material world. The last extract is juxtaposed against images of the country’s largest steel plant in Bhilai. This brings to fore the contradictions between labour and capital.

Structurally, the film moves from the individual struggles of various people to conflict indicating class struggle. One such individual, Krishnaswaroop, is taken from the story ‘Satah Se Uttha Admi’. He rises from the lower middle-class by sacrificing his integrity to a set of false relationships involving a rich friend Ramnarayan. Keshav who comes to know them both realises that they are obverse faces of the same coin.

So far, Muktibodh has remained a shadow of himself in the fictionalised role of Ramesh. With the appearance of passages from one of his essays, ‘Ek Lambi Kavita ka Anth’ (The End of a Long Poem) and three black-and-white photographs of the writer (taken at three different stages of his life), the film concretises its subject.

Following this is an epilogic excerpt from the poem ‘Is Chaude Oonche Tile Par’ (On this Tall Wide Mountain) set in a colonial bunglow. The emphasis here is on the disenchantment experienced as a result of the compromises made.

A Movie Clipping from Satah Se Uthata Aadmi (1980)

The Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema on the film

Kaul’s film addresses the writings of Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh (1917-79), one of the main representatives of the Nai Kavita (New Poetry) movement in Hindi. Muktibodh also wrote several short stories, one of which provides the film with its title, and critical essays. The film integrates episodes from Muktibodh’s writings with material from other sources, including a reinvented neo-realism derived from Muktibodh’s literary settings. The narrative is constructed around 3 characters. Ramesh (Gopi) is one who speaks and enacts Muktibodh’s writings, functioning as the first-person voice of the text; his two friends, Madhav (Jha) and Keshav (Raina), are Ramesh’s antagonists and interlocuters, especially in the debates about modernity.

Kaul gradually minimizes the fictional settings, until in the remarkably short sequence of the factory, the audience is directly confronted with the written text itself. Kaul had begun his studies of Dhrupad music, the classical North Indian music known mainly for its extreme austerity, and derived a number of cinematic styles from this musical idiom. These have continuously influenced his films since the use of changing light patterns and the importance of improvisation – for example, the continuously mobile camera.

Satah Se Uttha Aadmi is a candidate alongside such other works as Chattrabhang and Maya Mrigaya as being one of the most obscure Indian films particularly in the contemporary DVD era. The film on the literature of Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh, a left-leaning Hindi author from India’s turbulent ’60s and ’70s, recreates Muktibodh’s literary settings quite effectively. However, the concerns in both the form and content of the film, including lines from Muktibodh’s iconic poem Andhere Mein are adapted by the director to create a work very much in line with his previous masterworks Uski Roti (1969) and Duvidha (1973).

In fact, the work can be studied as a combination of the two distinct approaches, that of the pure object in Uski Roti and its sensorial effect on a constantly changing society in Duvidha. Kaul starts by appropriating the events according to the text, but gradually reduces the narrative signifiers until in the gorgeous factory sequences, the spectator is confronted with the written text itself. Kaul used Dhrupad’s leading vocalist Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar to render Raga Bilaskhani Todi. Kaul transforms this form of music into a cinematic idiom, where the form emerges first through exacting (calculating) and then by approximations (improvising). A remarkable film by Mani Kaul.

– A brief review of the film from The Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema by Ashish Rajyadhyaksha and Paul Willemen:


The Seventh Art on the film

Satah Se Uttha Aadmi (1980) begins with a shot of a serene lakeside landscape being abruptly shut off from view by a closing window, following which, the camera gradually withdraws deeper into the eerily empty rooms of a dilapidating house where the central character of the film – a poet – resides. This notion of the artist being far removed from reality, and retreating further into himself, resonates throughout the film. Based on the deeply personal texts of Gajanan Mukthibodh, Satah Se Uthata Aadmi presents a world where the revolution has failed, idealism has died out in the name of practicality and the role of intellectuals and artists has been vehemently questioned. Rekindling the question of theory versus practice, the film attempts to examine if residing in certain social frameworks to make a living amounts to a sellout of oneself. (Like Godard-Truffaut, Ghatak-Ray, does Kaul have anyone in mind?). This fragmented, post-socialist state of society that the film depicts – through its vignettes of urban Indian individuals – is reflected in the Malick-like disunited voiceover which spans three characters and which conversely, unites the narrative together. A remarkably sustained tone poem, with brooding surreal passages (including a hypnotic documentary sequence inside a factory and an unabashedly allegorical finale) and minor experiments (sections from Muktibodh’s texts displayed on screen), reminiscent of Godard’s work of the 90s, rife with strong verticals and perspective compositions (which is odd, given Kaul’s resistance to it), Satah Se Uttha Aadmi is both Kaul’s most stringent and most affecting work.

– Courtesy : The Seventh Art

Festival de Cannes – 1981

Cannes Festival Selection 1981
Featured in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival.

Mani Kaul's note on Satah Se Uttha Admi (1980)

Image Credit : Indian Express Archives via Tehelka

Films based on works of literature ( such as short stories, novels and plays ) as a rule, merely abstract a set of characterisations and a chronological movement from the narrative to obtain an engaging unfolding of events and only indirectly present the literary content of the work ( say through actors emoting, symbolic imagery, music distancing etc), This parasitical relation between cinema and literature leads to their mutual destruction. A direct encounter with the text as literature not only helps us preserve the natural specificity of the literary word but also frees cinema to construct its own logic – cinematically.

The plan behind this film is to present the text of Muktibodh and not a biographical account of his life.This aspect needs to be emphatically cleared since more often than not a film on a litterateur tends towards another extreme to present his chequered life and attempt establishing certain half-baked or otherwise mythologised connections between his circumstances and work : thus, brushing aside the crux of the problem – the text,which was anyway not widely read while he lived. And now that he is no more, we plan to make a film on his life !

Another absurd consequence of a biographical work is of the mythifying of the artist’s struggle which with all its lament was in fact his strength. A biographical outline makes sense only when embedded in its historical time, articulating historical necessities behind an individual’s sensibility. But then it would turn out to be an entirely different project, far removed from the object of even disseminating Mukthibodh’s text.

In short, from the text the film should construct a possible sensuous/intellectual environment that may have surrounded the writer. If the text is an externalisation of his anguished vision, then, treating this text as our raw material we plan to return to the text to internalise it and unearth its creative origins. The process of internalising coincides with the fundamental specificity of cinema. Only when appropriate angle, distance, lens, color, light, masses, volume, contrast, texture, movement ( of the camera or the object ) – in short, when the means of producing the image adequately internalise the exteriorised object, the effort can be termed cinematic.

In other words, an unsuccessful internalisation of the object in cinema destroys the very reality being filmed and most often is at the very root of uncinematic efforts.

– From the project proposal initially submitted to Madhya Pradesh Kala Parishad.

Bharat Gopy as Ramesh : An Overview

Bharat Gopy in Satah Se Utha Admi (1980)
According to Mani Kaul’s vision for the movie, he thought of the enactment thus: “Just as a painter works with paints on a finite surface, so also the actor must work with the words and the objects in real and existing spaces – and not become a character. Like music retires now and then into silence, the actor must retire into himself. The film must equally enter into itself at the given moments.”

Suffice to say, Bharat Gopy onscreen did exactly that, and more.

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