BEST EXPERIMENTAL FILM – Ashim Ahluwalia
In 1969, Akbar Padamsee, one of the pioneers of Modern Indian painting, made a visionary 16mm film called Events In A Cloud Chamber. This was one of the only Indian experimental films ever made. The print is now lost and no copies exist.
Over 40 years later, filmmaker Ashim Ahluwalia worked with Padamsee, now 89 years old, to remake the film.
Director: Ashim Ahluwalia; Producer: Ashim Ahluwalia ; Collaborator: Akbar Padamsee
Director bio: Ashim Ahluwalia is a filmmaker based in Mumbai, India. His directorial debut, the feature-length documentary John & Jane (2006), had a world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival and a European premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival. This was followed by his first narrative feature, Miss Lovely, which premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.
Ahluwalia works across mediums and formats, often blurring the lines between documentary and fiction. His work has shown at the Tate Modern, the Museum of Modern Art, Centre Pompidou and at the Venice Architecture Biennale.
Ahluwalia was named “one of the ten best emerging film directors working today” by Phaidon Press in “Take 100: The Future of Film.”
Director statement: When I met Akbar Padamsee, he was 87 years old. I knew he was one of the pioneers of Indian modernist painting but I had no idea that he had made two forgotten experimental films.
The first film – Syzygy – is an absolute beauty made up solely of lines and dots and the connections between them. His films are pure abstraction. There is nothing else in Indian cinema history like this.
He showed Syzygy around, a few private screenings, a gallery or expo screening here and there. But it was basically laughed at. He was so ridiculed for making it that he put it away and forgot about it. And now the negative is completely damaged and only a really horrible VCD copy exists.
And when he lost Events in a Cloud Chamber, his second film, he just didn’t care anymore because the response to his first film was so bad. He never bothered to even search for it.
Akbar was really keen to collaborate on something cinematic because he knew I was interested in that sort of thing. And he loved the idea of working on something filmic again after a gap of almost 45 years.
I really wasn’t sure what we could do together until he just happened to tell me about his second film – Events in a Cloud Chamber. After just a handful of screenings, this film was shipped to an art expo in Delhi in the 70s where it was misplaced. There was no negative and the film is now long lost. This could have been the start of an entirely different kind of cinema in India but I suppose that was never meant to be.
I wanted him to try and remember this film so that we could both attempt to make it again.
He couldn’t completely remember how exactly the film was made, and that was what made the process so fascinating and collaborative for me. Events In A Cloud Chamber now exists only in memory. But can one rebuild a film from memory? Trying to remember a lost film is a strange thing. Because on one hand film is so concrete, but memory is so dreamlike. But he did manage to make the painting again – after not lifting a brush for ages. He chose the colours and drew the stencils and cut the pieces himself. We just filmed it. But, of course, I also got into the process of memory and decay and forgetting as we filmed this.
Through his film I discovered Geeta Sarabhai, another forgotten figure. She had made an abstract electronic soundtrack for Events in a Cloud Chamber in the late 1960s. I even found the 1/4 inch spool but it was totally corroded. It turns out that she was great buddies with John Cage and influenced him greatly by introducing him to Hindustani classical music and Vedic mathematics. I find this stuff more inspiring, and future-looking than anything going on today in the art or film world.
It’s like ghost stories – so many missing links, mysterious artworks, lost films. But I’m not trying to be nostalgic, just trying to look to the past to find inspiration because there were so many directions started and never finished.