By Prithvijeet Sinha
I had promised my readers that I would discover this lost gem sooner rather than later while writing about Smita Patil’s priceless repertoire. I did just that few days ago and it was such a moment of triumph for this cinephile and viewer. I believe it is what I strive for: to bring home-grown classics to public attention and rescue them from utter, abject anonymity.
Teevra Madhyam, relating to a form or rhythm of Indian classical music that is sublime and subtle, is an apt title for this twenty minute short, directed as a diploma film back in 1974 by Arun Khopkar for Film and Television Institute of India. As usual, Ms. Patil’s first ever screen appearance is a clear indicator of her innate restraint and graceful, almost fluid body language. As a tanpura player and practitioner of classical music, her stance embodies a ‘sense of thehraav’ (restraint) perfectly. It is hence reflective of her peaceful state of mind and way of seeing the world. The first three and a half minutes expertly set the mise-en-scene where she plays her beloved instrument, settles into the mundane rhythms of the day in her modest room and listens to the sound of commotion and a passing plane. Her stillness and facial transparency are to behold. I also love how there is focus on the items in her room, symbolic of a modest living shorn of materialism, including a photo or sketch of Karl Marx. It is also how she is framed like a modern day Saraswati sans the divine halo, without make-up, in turn showcasing her natural beauty with effortless ease.
That modesty and simplicity is revelatory of her alliance with her beloved’s (Nachiket Patwardhan) Marxist ideals, as I see it. Her stillness then holds an internal turmoil as her pursuit of classical arts is at odds with the beloved’s fight for justice and protests. It is captured so beautifully in the scene where she expresses how akin to the movement for justice giving him purpose, the tanpura gives her agency and peace. However, both their ideologies cannot be symbiotic. There is tension generated through that. The core for addressing these issues is subtle, never at the boiling point, just like these young lives on the verge of changes. She expresses that he seems to be quoting lines sometimes just for effect.
Cue the scene where she is the lone female in a meeting presided over by party members and the final one where her state of uncertainty is naturally integrated to the larger social churn of the day and age. We must remember that this film is set during the politically turbulent ’70s when youth participation in protests and social justice initiatives was at a historic high.
To me, that one take of her changing eye movements and expressions while practicing the tanpura packs in so much of what her internal conflicts have to communicate on the surface. The vocal playback in the background befits that. She is at peace while practicing yet knows that she may have to renounce her creative gifts for the larger cause of social consciousness.
Teevra Madhyam is ultimately about how women are often expected to cast themselves in a mould similar to the men in their lives, leading them to give up their innate vocations. Also, how creative individuals have to recast their pure priorities in the practical realm of the world. It is hence stirring as a generator of multiple viewpoints even though there is no definite decision on the part of protagonists here to choose their future course.
Indian cinema has so many riches to offer and I am glad I can contribute by reviving a conversation directed towards these unsung gems.
Prithvijeet Sinha is from Lucknow. After completing his MPhil, he launched his writing career by self-publishing on the worldwide community Wattpad in 2015 and on his blog ‘An Awadh Boy’s Panorama’. He has published in several journals such as Gnosis Journal, Reader’s Digest, Café Dissensus Everyday, Café Dissensus Magazine, Confluence, The Medley, Thumbprint Magazine, Wilda Morris’ Poetry Blog, Screen Queens, Borderless Journal, encompassing various genres of writing, ranging from poetry to film reviews, travel pieces, photo essay, and culture.
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Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, born in New York City and currently based in India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.