Do we need to make any sense ? Lecture on film at North Western University in Chicago

Was delivering ( I guess) a lecture on film at the Northwestern University in Chicago. This was a film history class and I am one of the most film illiterate people I know on the planet. By the time I got to be a film maker it was too late to catch up. Yet the students and I had a very interesting session. We plunged straight in to the ideas of ‘not knowing’. How do you approach story telling without knowing the outcome. How do you completely surprise yourself. Is any art, including film making, an attempt towards exploration of the unknown ? For if it is not, then it is not art is it ? How do actually go out and try NOT to make sense, but allow the inherent tensions that exist within that exploration to surface, the inherent contradictions within you to surface, and these contradictions then begin to tell the story. Or some semblance of a story. Something emerges that you cannot take credit for, for the film had, or the story had it’s own organic being. The story and you meet not in the realm of sense, but somewhere outside in the largesse of the universe where the story is not trying to make sense but is somehow provoking thought processes that have so much contradiction in them that they make sense and do not make sense at the same time. Like a boiling pot – with somehow sense coming to the surface but disintegrating into ‘no sense’ and sinking back, merely to give rise to the illusion and a tantalizing glimpse of sense again, only to fall back again into no-sense. Like all great poetry. Leaving the viewer/reader to connect the dots to try and create something of logic or of sense in it all. Or not.

21 thoughts on “Do we need to make any sense ? Lecture on film at North Western University in Chicago

  1. Andre Tarkoskvy comes to my mind when you question the film as an art form in exploration of knowing…
    But…Shekharji, today I find this question a puzzle because only two types of film makers will tackle the subject aforementioned…one who has nothing to do with commercial cinema or two…a rare case of a new film maker who explores the process…
    Shekhar Kapur can do it….if we film makers do it, its a professional suicide!

  2. Dear Shekhar
    I have just finalised a short film script which I will direct soon. I have finished the script off, letting the viewer to think of what the ending should be, hopefully making the viewer think and connect their own life in terms of their dreams/dharma/destiny.
    It will be called “Ice Cream Dreams”
    I hope to show it to the world very soon

  3. shekhar, what you are talking about is THE ONLY STATE OF MIND FROM WHICH ART EMERGES……..
    the surity and repetation ……..utilizing what clicked once is the commerce angle to things. the business of people, who are sharp at reproducing hits that seem commercially viable, yet are not artistic enough to create.
    creation comes from deep feelings of the heart and not clever calculations of the mind isnt it?

  4. Dear Shekhar,
    That’s a wonderful description of film as a organic being, for in every scene and it’s every take and every dialogue, the actor is different, what they are experiencing and displaying on screen is often beyond/different from what the writer has written or the director has asked them to do, even different for what they are themselves trying to do, and the whole film produces feelings and impressions in the minds of audience which often go in the realm of no sense, like seeing ‘The devil wears prada’ might propel someone to start making leather purses as Meryl Streep has so many of them and maybe that person would one day have a big purse factory and give credit to The Devil wears prada and that will make no sense, coz that was not the intent of the writer or the director. These two quotes out of the thousands that I have collected can surely help explain what I am trying to say here, coz it can only be hinted at, can’t be expressed, it has to be felt by each and every person watching the film.
    ‘Although knowledge of structure is helpful, real creativity comes from leaps of faith in which you jump to something illogical. But those leaps form the memorable moments in movies and plays.’ — Francis Ford Coppola
    “What is Cinema? We might as well ask “What is life?”, for film, like life, is made of moments; moments in time, held aloft for our perusal, imprinted on our soul, and then brought back to us from time to time as a memory — by an event, a vision, a sound, an emotion. The separation becomes trivial — cinema is life, and life cinema: around us, beside us, inside us. The cinema, then, is not to be consumed with haste; films are not to be digested simply as they unfold, like some plastic-wrapped fast-food. Created by light and celluloid, they live only in our minds and in our hearts, savored both during and after the fact. Projected onto the screen and into our consciousness, where they are replayed over and over — continually re-discovered artifacts which are constantly changing us. What, then, can we say is truly real? A memory? An event? A celluloid image? The answer lies in the cinema. All is real. Nothing is impossible.” – Glen Norton
    Best Regards,

  5. Even in not knowing one would require knowing a blueprint at the least? I think the knowing is knowing one’s core and craft and how to communicate. And then letting the story grow in that fertile space and being a part of it.
    Maybe knowing and not knowing are cyclical like day and night, each following the other, and creativity churns out of both but belonging to neither.
    For no apparent reason I’m reminded of this amusing poem that knows!
    “This is just to say
    I have eaten the plums
    that were
    in the icebox
    and which
    you were probably
    for breakfast
    Forgive me
    they were delicious
    so sweet
    and so cold”
    — William Carlos Williams

  6. dude…
    i always feel vulnerable while developing a script…and i know thats the fun part of it…it keeps happening…it keeps shaping up…
    i used to blame it on this vulnerable phase in which i constantly am as an artist and justify my smoking… ๐Ÿ™‚
    but now this vulnerability has become my strength…i no more blame anything on it… i smoke because i am weak and need support system…
    ‘NOT KNOWING’ is the best phase to be in…because then one can loudly, confidently, innocently, non- pretentiously say ‘ I FELT THIS and EXPRESSED IT’ when that person stumbles upon the end which he feels is the right one…this way it automatically becomes universal!

  7. thanks kedar – have been meaning to ask you – how is the film shaping up ? shekhar

  8. Dear Shekhar,
    I am trying to reach you for the script that i have thought. In which India declare it to be the spiritual source for the world. If you look at the history of India, it has thought the world the Idea of non-violence and acceptance. All the attempts that used violence as there weapon for freedom struggle were not successful. Doesn’t it tell you that India is chosen by GOD himself to play a unique role in the continuous changing world. People look towards India as the land of gurus and saints.
    I had gone through your blog achieves. Where u have tried to define Ego, Faith, Meditation, Prayer, Ghosts, Time etc. But after going through all these heavy words you came out with a character called Snake women. Where she has some different kind of power to kill. In other words we are telling world that we too have different means of killing humans. I am aware that it’s a billion dollar industry. But do you really want to be part of that ?
    You tried to make Buddha. Now you have put that on hold. But even if you make it, you will please certain sect of humans civilization. One those who are Buddhist and other who has knowledge to understands the film. Unfortunately such people are very less. What about a film in which we can define the universal religion ?
    Now you are working on Panni. Well according to me humans are always on constant struggle with nature which is both outside and inside. When they melt there soul together into one they come out as champions. So when people try to address outside nature they are called Karmayogi and when they try to address inside nature they are called Rajayogi and when they want to go to the root cause they are called Gyan yogi and when they have acquired the ultimate knowledge, then for mukti, bhakti is needed. It is not necessary that a person will be practicing one yoga at a time. He might be practicing all of them together but one taking precedence over another.
    We have lots of spiritual stories to tell. But they have lost there meanings because they have been repeated so many times. Similarly words like peace, happiness universal brotherhood are so many times repeated that they have lost there meaning. Now if we set out to make a spiritual movie it will only be the teachings from the sacred text. It will be like pravachan. In this country you will find at least one person at every square doing it. Can we make a film which tells truth behind all these teachings?
    You must have heard about Ram Bahadur Bomjan. The boy so called incarnation of Buddha. He said that he will meditate for 6 year and detach himself from the body. Which roughly translate to 2011 or 2012. Astrologers around the world have also predicted that 2012 will see spiritual progress of human civilization. I am sure that I want to be part of it. It is also predicted that by 2020 India will be the super power of the world. What difference does it make to the world if we have more nuclear power than the current super power or more scientifically advance. But we will surely rock the world if we justify the role that has been written for us. Every nation has a soul and a purpose.
    I really want to write 1000 more words but I would again request you to devote some time for my script. I can assure you that this will be the biggest bollywood hit.

  9. Dude…
    Edit will start from tomorrow…rushes are good…all the shots are there…everything in focus… ๐Ÿ™‚
    meanwhile Music is getting ready…
    it will take another month’s time to complete it.

  10. Hi Kedar,
    Have you already finished the film and do you plan to put a promo or the film on youtube? You can also put the film on where Mira Nair is diplaying all the 4 AIDS related short films she has made, and you may even be able to sell the film there.
    Take Care,

  11. Very well said..I agree…Knowing comes from the logical mind, and prevents art from unfolding as it should, from the unfathomable depths of our being…Life too, it seems, should be lived in that manner…

  12. Dear Shekhar,
    Whenever you write about that Shekhar, who has no pretensions about understanding life better than any other man on the street, it touches my heart. It’s that ordinariness and vulnerability of yours which make you so special.
    What you wrote made me think a lot. As a budding filmmaker myself, I always wonder that how much one has to really know about his characters and his story before one starts penning down his script. One part of me wants to understand as much as possible about my story, my characters, my exact motivation in telling that story and wants to be in control of my script.
    The other part of me just wants to feel vulnerable and get deep into the waters without worrying about telling the perfect story.
    I think my present conflict is between these two parts of me..
    But, I think I have to draw a line somewhere and believe in myself, believe in my little knowledge and believe in my passion of exploring unknown rather than try to control..
    I remember many years back I read your short interview in India Today just after the release of Bandit Queen..suddenly, the world had known what a great director you are..
    In that interview, you were asked that what’s your biggest regret and u had answered that your biggest regret was that you wasted 10 years thinking that there were more talented people than you to direct movies & that you were not ready yet to make that really good movie..
    I never forgot that answer of yours, but still it seems I dont want to learn from your experiences..
    What do you think about my predictament?

  13. Hi HImanshu…
    no…i am still into the post production…will try and cut a promo…
    But,this is encouraging…i never knew short films can sell… ๐Ÿ™‚ for now i have just listed down a list of Film festivals…
    thank you

  14. hi shekhar, thanks for this post….what you say about starting without an actual story/plot/structure in mind and let things unfold themselves, in the largesse of the universe and indeed with intangible inputs from the universe is true not just for film or poetry but for any form of art, or even science and probably true about life as well. the way you describe it is very eloquent and poetic.
    i was away for a bit and just read your other post re the question kaveri asked you. well did you not tell us once that you have been on spiritual quest since you were ten? like father like daughter then ? i wish her all the very best in the years to come.
    indeed the maya self is just as important, otherwise we would not be born. sometimes i feel that the emphasis some schools of thought put on the futility of life/desire is probably not true in its entirety and the real answers are not to be found in renunciation/total solitude but indeed in nuturing our ‘maya self’ in a detached balanced manner.
    i was reminded of a poem i had read many years ago by bharat thakur:
    when a saint and a wordly man met,
    each looked at each other,
    silent and mocking.
    both laughed at each other.
    each said the same thing:
    what have you done to yourself?
    love, shivani

  15. Any discussion of filmmaking is incomplete without knowing who we are as human beings. We are unique as human beings, completely unique, completely unique.
    Every idea of filmmaking is unique to us, completely unique. We are one with that idea when we are making a film. Being one with that idea is the central point.
    I am not the road, I am the traveller, only a traveller. The world defines me, my road defines me, it takes where I want to go.
    My road is attached to me completely. It is the road I have created in my mind and heart. I have created that road completely and completely and completely and completely.
    There is no ignorance in the world. There is no artistic freedom or artistic binding. There is nothing that exists like that. No artist can be free or bound. You are unique as an individual, unique as a soul, unique as a thing, unique as a non thing. That uniqueness is the main thing.
    Our uniqueness is the one that we talk about. Ek Onkar is one one one, Om is one one one, Amen is one one one. Every unique is one. It is infinity also at the same time. That oneness is infinite completely and completely and completely and completely.
    When the artist feels he is different from the world, he thinks about unique expression and the road he is traveling. When he feels one with the world he doesn’t say those things. He says I am empty, and you take me, the world you take me.
    These are the yin and yang of the process. The yin and yang are both needed depending on the time and place, and energy and soul.
    We need both of them. But, we need you Shekhar a lot, you are a great teacher in this work.
    Ever since I have seen you in your work, and your power and concentration, I am astounded and beautified, thank you so much for your work, and your own self.
    Amit Singh

  16. dear mr kapur,
    how about making a film (a serious-comic film, not hilarious like the guru) on the loves, losses, misadventures of a young sikh guy in a beautiful french town in france? about how people look at this turban wearing guy in france before & after 9/11? this guy is crazy about jazz and women & wine and has some pretty negative views about india.
    i have the story. please get in touch if interested. i need to make some money so i can open my own avant-garde performance space.

  17. I’ve been slowly developing an epic adventure film, for which I kept getting visions and flashes of music that fit pivotal moments… I’d already decided that I wanted the music to be from a wide range of influences, and when I sometimes stand back and view them as placemarks of the “symmetry” of the film, I get a very clear look at the predominant transitions of emotion that take place…
    I’m big on symmetry in a film, no matter what the concept or material, there’s just this “feeling” of perfection in what happens next that I’ve valued as “the key” to storytelling… music can be a powerful influence in this way.
    Most of the time, I lay out the major sequence of events first… like painting the blueprint on canvas… and see if it all fits the spirit of the film…
    Some of you may be aquainted with the term “the ghost of the film”.. it’s a term coined by hardcore filmmakers (I first heard it from Terry Gilliam), to describe that right from the start the FILM already knows what it is.. it is what first appears to you as a faint idea… it appears as an “essential state” within the filmmakers/scriptwriters mind… in raw potential of all that it can be! Otherwise known as the director’s vision.. but that isn’t as accurate. And the task of the creators of the film is to realise, materialise this ghost into a living construct.
    Some films go all the way…And sometimes… is nearly perfect in meeting the film’s full potential…: three examples that come to mind are: Schindler’s List, American Beauty, Goodmorning Vietnam. Others only achieve 70 percent… and these are the ones where you just feel like something is “off” when you watch it.. it could be an enjoyable watch, but something was still missing. And other films just don’t get that far…
    From experience, I find great truth in this… the essence of the film is already alive in the mind… it is in realising it that we fall short or succeed. That is the intangible “perfection” that in a strange way is extremely real.
    This is perhaps why even the music starts to fall into place… to help guide in creating the sculpture that is film.
    I have pondered/meditated upon this often with great emancipating wonder… the fact that the film is already complete before it has even begun.

  18. Hmm.. I just realised that that site may have buffering issues.. it streams much better on this site:
    A quick outline:
    Sanity Catch revolves dimensionally around free-will – in its tangibly raw, real, hectically tragic yet simultaneously liberating essence. A positive message is often more powerful when it touches base with the damningly dirty, primal nature of man, when it trancends a dreamscape to engage the observer with situations that hold for them a moral rigidity. It is where the question of free-will – often considered a pseudoscience – truly arrises, coupled with a dash of spirit.
    The objective of the film is not to provoke thought. The objective is to still the mind and touch the soul. Where nothing needs be spoken. Where a deep seed of insight within the subconscious of the observer is sprinkled with perspective.

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