Kaul’s debut is an adaptation of a short story by the noted Hindi author Mohan Rakesh and is perhaps the first consistently formal experiment in Indian cinema. The burly bus driver Sucha Singh (G. Singh) travels through the dusty, flat Punjabi countryside. His wife Balo (Garima) spends long hours waiting for him at the bus-stop with his food packet. One day her younger sister is sexually molested, causing Balo to arrive late at the bus-stop. Sucha Singh is upset by her late arrival, rejects her food and drives away. She remains standing at the roadside until nightfall. The original story uses many stereotypes for both its characters and situations. The film, however, integrates the characters into the landscape, evoking an internalised yet distanced kind of realism reminiscent of Robert Bresson, cf. the shots from within the bus showing the road and the countryside going by while a little sticker on its window intrudes in the corner of the frame. Kaul wanted to discover ‘what was truly cinematic in the filming of a play’ (1974) and he used a minimum of gestures to enact the rigidly notated script. The two registers of Balo’s physical and mental environment are represented by two camera lenses: the 28mm wide-angle deep-focus lens and the 135mm telephoto lens leaving only a minute section of the frame in focus. This schema was gradually reversed through the film, making it Indian cinema’s most controlled achievement in image composition. Its use of spatial volume refers to the large canvases of the modernist painter Amrita Sher-Gil while the soundtrack isolates individual sounds to match the equally fragmented visual details. The film, financed by the FFC, was violently attacked in the popular press for dispensing with familiar cinematic norms and equally strongly defended by India’s aesthetically sensitive intelligentsia.
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This film won the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Movie in 1970, and is considered a seminal work of the Indian New Wave. Read More