Ami on Mani Kaul’s Duvidha

I recently saw Mani Kaul’s Duvidha-This is the film that served as an inspiration for Paheli and the plot is almost identical.

Duvidha is the only Kaul film that I have seen- and it provides ample evidence that he is one of India’s most visually skillful filmmakers. Each frame of the movie is painstakingly composed like an impressionist artwork. I read that he could not afford the equipment that is needed to take tracking shots and this absence of tracking shots- combined with the abrupt transitions, jump cuts and freeze frames- beautifully brings out the fluid, circular idea of timelessness that is central to the film’s universe and also serves to emphasize the protagonist’s sense of isolation. At the same time, the warm, earthy color palette and the affecting close-ups created a very effective air of intimacy.

The motif of duality runs through every aspect of the protagonist’s dilemma- the contrast of the unencumbered innocence of her childhood with the restrictive disillusionment of her marital life, the contrast between the humane appeal of the ghost and the mechanical security that her human husband represents, the contrast between the uncertain freedom of defying social norms and the monotonous safety of conforming to these norms.

These choices are presented subtly but as a distinct dichtomy and this rigidity juxtaposes wonderfully with the fluidity of the nature of time in the film- and the implied message about the manmade rigidity of society vs. the fluidity of natural human emotions and desires is clear.

Despite the picturesque, folkloric nature of the film, the inner workings of the protagnists mind always remain very accesible to the viewer mostly because of the extraordinary effective use of visuals.

I think that it would be great if Satyam or GF could watch this film and do an analysis of a few shots. I really enjoy your pieces that focus on specific shots and this film has some extremely compelling shots.

25 Responses to “Ami on Mani Kaul’s Duvidha”

  1. Saurabh:

    Ami, this was truly a fantastic note which once again proves your value to this blog- Absolutely impeccable writing. And consider this a request from my side- I believe you have understood the finer points of Duvidha pretty well, it will be a sheer case of a missed opportunity if u don’t do a full write-up on the film. Also as stated above Satyam and GF have not seen Duvidha so it will be great if we can have a piece on the film, which from ur note, seems deserving of it. So think abt it

    As I mentioned before, I had seen Duvidha more than a decade back on DD so have a faint memory of it. But ur note is making me ponder abt revisiting it i.e. if i can get a dvd of it.


  2. Wonderful note Ami, I’ve long wanted to watch this film but couldn’t get my hands on a copy.

    Paheli which was a rather flat film.


    • Just checked, it’s there on youtube Satyam (this film used to come on DD during the 90s). Btw found that dvd of Khanna’s Dhanwaan but the ‘print’ is horrible (not watchable at all and it stops every now and then)- but the guy has promised me that he will manage to get a decent copy in a month or 2 (he will order it from Bombay)- will send it to u then


    • Kaul made a TV film on the Idiot in the very early 90s. SRK was a part of this.


  3. I think both Duvidha and Paheli were inspired by a Rajasthani folklore.
    I haven’t seen Duvidha, but have heard it’s very good.
    I liked Paheli a lot, of course ignoring quite a few concessions made for box office.


    • yes it’s based on the same folk-tale but…

      “Yes, ‘Paheli’ is based on Vijaydan Detha’s story. I had seen Mani Kaul’s ‘Duvidha’ and liked the thought behind it. ”

      My problem with Paheli wasn’t the commercial stuff that was added but that film was pretty flat. Admittedly it’s not the kind of subject that can be very easily ‘juiced up’. But this film fell between two stools. Not really attempting to be an art-house deal and not effective enough as middle cinema.


  4. Thanks much Saurabh and Satyam- and if you’re interested in purchasing a DVD- there’s a 3 disc DVD set of Mani Kaul’s films available online-


    • And Satyam- very kind of you to create a seperate post for this- it’s more a comment than a note really. 😛


    • fantastic.. thanks!


    • Ami, i did download Duvidha from ytube yesterday. But since i had just returned from hospital after a night posting, i dozed off within 5 minutes of the film. But my roomie ended up watching it and he liked it a lot. Will watch it tomorrow. Btw Ami sorry for constantly poking u regarding this but like Sophy i still think u should do a full piece on it. And thanks for the info abt the dvd though frankly i am not so interested in spending 350 bucks of my pocketmoney over the other 2 films


    • Finally saw this Ami. Can’t say i enjoyed though i could definitely see Kaul’s skill which u already deftly pointed out- i think the jump cuts and freeze frames illustrate the film’s central notion of geographical and temporal dislocation. Also liked the way Kaul methodically manipulates ‘time’ so that the past, present and future are always in conversation (the ghost here is simply called ‘bhoot’ which of course is also the hindi word for ‘past’)- also imo the film does have ‘feministic’ leanings


    • Ami,after i had read this superb note of urs I saw this fine but little known art house-cum-ghost/horror film “Gehrayee” (i mentioned it here since it belongs somewhat in the same genre as Duvidha and has good visuals- and i enjoyed this much more than kaul’s film) which had art house veterans Anant Nag, Indrani Mukerji, sriram lagoo and padmini kolhapuri- what makes it a must see is the fact it’s written by none other than the great Vijay Tendulkar- i guess the entire film is now available on youtube too


  5. Thanks for this brief but memorable note, Ami. That image above is rather appropriately haunting. Thanks also for the induna link. Kaul is a filmmaker I’ve neglected and it’s time to rectify that.


  6. Alex adams Says:

    Good piece Amy :though haven’t seen the film & know zilch about it!
    Btw who is this lady with the head (& everything else) covered in this pic–I assume Amy has put herself on this cover to hog the limelight lol


  7. Ami, I checked this out today, it was only 78 min and I was afraid someone would take it off youtube! But yes this is a visually interesting film for sure. Didn’t know that he wasn’t able to afford a trolley but his tight shots throughout the film are very interesting and I think the lack of tracks works for this film (or I should say Kaul is a good enough filmmaker to adapt). Even otherwise the low budget shows, this would have been an extraordinary film at the same visual level without those constraints. I found the film engaging from beginning to end and it’s fascinating how Kaul reveals himself to be a descendant of Pasolini (in turn perhaps Brecht). You have here the same ‘dead’ performances, a great deal of ‘stillness’, and the narration is really like a dull reading. All of this is hard to pull off and I am unsure if some other choices might not have served Kaul better (incidentally I am not a fan of Pasolini at all) but the film is brief enough and the visuals important enough that I found this compelling overall. Equally there is a certain air of mystery that is preserved throughout.

    I’ve always felt that this story should perhaps be set alongside the Return of Martin Guerre. There you have a man who returns after a long time and he looks ‘like’ the woman’s disappeared husband. This is based on a true story. Anyway by the end the man’s ‘fraud’ is revealed but it’s clear that the woman herself knew the truth all along. In Duvidha the ‘ethical’ ghost tells the woman right away that he isn’t the husband and she nonetheless accepts him.

    On that note was it the very same way in Paheli? I don’t remember this too well. Does Rani similarly know from the outset?


    • Great comment Satyam- I don’t remember if it was the same in Paheli as well. But what I found extremely interesting about this film was that the ghost was basically the spiritual manifestation of the young bride’s ‘illicit’ desires and it was portrayed as the most ethical being in that mileau!


  8. tonymontana Says:

    impressive note Ami..


  9. Very interesting piece since Mani Kaul is all but forgotten (i.e. I haven’t heard anyone mention him in ages). The lady in the picture reminds me of a Kishangarh painting:

    Hope you or Satyam will do a follow -up piece.


  10. rockstar Says:

    fine read ami but there was one more adaptation(the loose one) in recent time and it was girish karnad’s nagamandala(in kannad) and its before paheli and much better though but with same essenced thoughuvidha was the original

    (The film touches one of the most sensitive issues of marital life. In folk style and form, the film throws open a question as to who is the husband – the person who marries an innocent girl and indulges in self pleasures or the person who gives the real and complete experience of life.)


  11. rockstar Says:

    The Shah Rukh Khan-Rani Mukherjee starrer Paheli has striking resemblances to the screenplay of Nagamandala[3]. Paheli’s director Amol Palekar was accused of plagiarizing the screenplay and storyline from Nagamandala. However, Amol Palekar dismissed the accusation saying that Paheli was adapted from a short story written by Vijayadan Detha


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