Pahla Adhyay: The phenomenological praxis of cinema             

Karl Jaspers defines phenomenology as the process of using the psychiatric apparatus to measure the difference between phenomenon ‘A’ and phenomenon ‘B.’ In this paper I wish to emphasize how the cinematographic consciousness emphasizes ‘A’ and ‘B’ as the psychic state of the actor responding to the camera, through a reading of Vishnu Mathur’s Pahla Adhyay.


Gilles Deleuze emphasizes cinema as a pre-linguistic form of communication comprising of ‘utterables’ coming from the larger mass of ‘information’ as opposed to an ‘utterance’ that is structured like a language. For Deleuze, this information can be rarefied (as in Ozu or Antonioni) or concentrated (as in sequences in Hitchcock’s Spellbound). The entire discourse around ‘cinema as a temporal medium’ (Mani Kaul) has to do with dealing with ‘the before’ and ‘the after.’


Whereas Citizen Kane emphasizes the point in space in which we can gaze, with a perspective at the ‘before’ through utterance (“Rosebud”), La Jetee emphasizes the withdrawal of movement through static shots where time is out-of-joint. Conversely Uski Roti is a documentation of the in-between i.e. between the ‘before’ and the ‘after’ that is stretched along the duration of the film. Deleuze talks about the whole of accumulating movement and the limit-image which is in between two smallest possible movements. The relationship between the whole of the accumulutating movement and the smallest possible movement provides a metre (chhanda) for the pre-empted and delayed editing that one witnesses in the shot of the guava falling in Uski Roti.


Pahla Adhyay signals the aesthetic of Yasujiro Ozu, in the same way as Uski Roti signals the influence of Bresson. Instead of capturing the interval between two shots, Vishnu Mathur in Pahla Adhyay emphasizes the whole of the before and after in a single shot until this ‘after’ is allowed to exhaust its own life and reach its decimation creating a condition of potentiality of the next shot. In other words, each shot is a complete unit and the link between one shot and the next is completely destroyed. The shots either flatten out the space, provide a geometricality of the everyday or are simple archeological documents that film ‘one event in the cosmos that never repeats’ (Kumar Shahani).


Cinema as Badiou points out is a purification of the image, in such a way that this image comprises a combination of art and non-art. The phenomenological praxis of cinema chiefly addresses the relationship between representation and intentionality. Deleuze points out that cinema has a double intentionality. I would like to emphasize the nature of this double intentionality for which I would have to indiscernibly fragment the relationship between the acting subject (intention) and the object acted upon (intentium). In Pahla Adhyay Mathur reduces the intentio to a void (no intention) so that the intentionality of the acting subject is emphasized. At the same time, the actor is devoid of all emotion so that his face is a Body without Organs: what remains when everything else is taken away so as to become matter occupying space to a degree that corresponds to the intensities produced.

In Pahla Adhyay, as in the films of Ozu, the entire film is a centering on a single event (the fight at the party). Everything before the fight at the party signals a surge towards pathology that is able to document the ‘real’ psychic state of the actor. The psychiatric condition defined in Pahla Adhyay is borderline personality disorder, which is between neurosis and psychosis and is documented throught the relationship between the inside and the outside. Therefore corridors, shots of interior space from the outside and vice-versa emphasize this borderline condition.


On the other hand at the aesthetic level, the sensory bags that the utterables form link character, location-space (matter) and utterance so that a key delay is emphasized between action and reaction, outside the domain of intentionality. The sensorial collapse is at the level of utterances, which eventually creates a material collapse where the rock breaks the glass creating a suture in the forwarding of events.


As Deleuze points out, Ozu is a critic of everyday life so that ‘a little time in its pure state’ emphasizes the image (the isness of the character) and sound (what the character says). This sound points to the sensorial collapse, in Pahla Adhyay, which finds its corresponding icon in the shot of the balloon deflating in Mani Kaul’s Before My Eyes. Mathur captures this geometricality of the world which is in a dialectical relationship with its own filming, until in the closing sequences Kala Ghoda is shot through the front of a double decker bus i.e. the location-space is reduced to the narrative space. The last sequence is an epilogue in which obsessive framing makes the rarefied collapse into a concentration as the door closes and the whole of the door concentrates the frame.

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