Katho Upanishad – A Film at Chatterjee & Lal

Saffronart’s Sanjana Gupta responds to a screening of Ashish Avikunthak’s latest film

Katho Upanishad, stills from the three channel video

Mumbai: Chatterjee & Lal Gallery in Mumbai is currently showing Ashish Avikunthak’s film Katho Upanishad.

Avikunthak is an experimental filmmaker who loves to challenge his viewers. He has a PhD in cultural anthropology from Stanford University, and when he is not making films, Avikunthak teaches anthropology and film at the University of Rhode Island.

His latest film, Katho Upanishad, is screened in the form of a triptych, with the screen divided into three parts. The screen in the middle offers a philosophical conversation between Nachiketa, a young Brahmin boy, and Yama, the God of Death, in a forest. Nachiketa asks Yama to tell him about the ‘path beyond death’. The screen on its left shows Nachiketa dressed in a white dhoti walking deeper and deeper into the forest, and for most of the time the viewers can only see his back. As if in counterpoint, the screen on its right shows Nachiketa dressed in jeans and a t-shirt walking on a median between two roads, this time approaching the viewer. The cars on both sides of the road are moving backwards. This 82 minute film has been shot in a single take, with no editing at all.

Avikunthak is aware that this is an extremely difficult work. He notes, “…if anybody claims to have understood it fully after the first viewing, I won’t believe him”. Having seen the film once, I am still trying to completely understand Avikunthak’s message. At the beginning of the film, I found myself constantly looking at all the three screens trying to figure out why Nachiketa was only shown walking in the first and third screens, and if that image was ever going to change. But after a while, I became so engrossed with the conversation that was taking place on the centre screen that I forgot about the other two.

Avikunthak will be talking about this work at Chatterjee & Lal during the course of the screening, and will be responding to questions about the film and his oeuvre as well. This is a rare opportunity, as viewers will have a chance to listen to Avikunthak’s perspective on a first hand basis, and leave with a better understanding of the piece and its message.

For more information on the artist and the film, see the Chatterjee & Lal website.

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