Can a bleak existence devoid of love be called life? Is marriage once in a lifetime issue? Does it mean that once married one does not have the right to love (other person) if not loved? Along with these questions raised subtly, art especially painting is recreated on screen by the images in Mani Kaul’s 1973 film Duvidha. It is one of the ever shining diamonds of Parallel Indian Cinema.
Duvidha, or dilemma in English, means a crisis arising from unable to choose between alternatives. A bride (Raisa Pamadsee) and her groom (Ravi Menon) are coming to the house of her in-laws, the day after her marriage. While resting under an enormous banyan tree, a ghost spellbound by her charm falls in love with her. The introductory scene has a frame with the face of the bride, a still shot, shows a face lacking the urge to act, to accept fate as it is. The shots shown during and just after the titles are composed of stills from various parts of the film, most comprising the bride except the first the last frames. The first one shows a dia (oil lamp) burning in a dark groove against a white wall; the bride is going to a place where there is no happiness, freedom for her while the outside world is at liberty; where the dia represents the woman, the darkness her gloom, the groove her in-laws house, the white wall the liberty of the outside. The next frame of the bride against the same white wall ratifies this resemblance. The view of acceptance of fate can be traced in Robert Bresson’s works, whose films influenced Kaul. This submission to fate is one of the characteristics of Kaul’s early works and can also be noted in his other films.
The groom does not pay her the required attention as he is busy trying to manage some accounts work. He leaves his father, the Seth’s house early the next morning, which is highly auspicious, for town to make trade there for five years. The ghost takes human form to know the affairs of the groom. After understanding of the events, the ghost guised as the groom comes to the Seth’s house; he cooks a story about some holy man blessing him with five gold coins every morning. The Seth’s lust for money makes the ghost successful; he is allowed to stay in the house; the plan of doing business cancelled. He confesses everything to the bride; he feels that deep within she is suffering from the detachment from her husband. She does not forbid him to stay with her. Together they build a loving, caring relationship based on love. This is a film in which the voiceover is the major part of the narrative, which takes the story forward. The visuals are paintings; beautiful, expressive, artistic; they convey the mood, the bits of emotions and epitomizes the inner level in which the film works.
When the woman is pregnant with a child after a few years, the merchant’s son comes to know of this bewildering news. On visiting his father’s house, there is confusion about the true son. While going to the king to sort out the matter, a shepherd takes some tests and captures the ghost in a water bag. The bride is now a very obedient daughter-in-law, a caring mother. But the dilemma remains on whether she can forget the memory of the ghost, who removed her loneliness when she needed the most and be a good wife to her husband. Other than the narrative, the film explores the freedom of women in rural areas, who are kept inside the home; the exterior domain is forever closed for their elegant presence. It highlights the patriarchal nature of Indian society.
This is one of the few Indian films which try to present an alternate idea of filmmaking, detached from a clear narrative style, yet telling of a story in a way visualized by the director. This is one of the best formal experiments in Indian cinema. The dark shades used in the film by Kaul and his cinematographer Navroze Contractor brings out their visual taste. Their use of shadows and colours brings the visuals as a complete picture and hits the realms of our senses. The use of close ups of faces, hands and other body parts convey in their own way a narrative so distinct that is difficult to express in any other way. The use of jump cuts, freeze frames creates petite pinnacles, which makes us ponder on the characters’ internal dilemma of choice, of the confusion in their mind and their emotional turmoil.
In the initial scene, when the banyan tree is shown and the legend of the ghost is told, the tree is frozen; as if devoid of life. When the ghost gets the quiet nod of the bride to stay with her, the branches are swaying; it is as if the internal emotions of the ghost is represented by the tree’s movements. The shots in which the camera continues to linger even after the subject has moved out of the frame are used with aptness to create calmness in the atmosphere of the scenes.
The ghost is called by the name bhoot (meaning ghost and also past) throughout the film. It may be her past happiness, her dreams of liberty that makes up a ghost, whom she loves; her dreams, the ghost, are imprisoned by the norms of the society and she is forced to carry on. One of the important visuals in the film is the red bride against a white wall; the emotions, love, sensuality represented by red and the purity, innocence of white juxtaposed to recreate the turmoil of the bride, whether to accept the ghost or not; the perfect image of Duvidha.
Film Score: 86
Director: Mani Kaul Story: Vijayadan Detha Music: Ramzan Hammu, Saki Khan, Latif Cinematography: Navroze Contractor Editing: Ravi Patnaik Cast: Raisa Pamadsee, Ravi Menon