The dancer Ram Gopal wants to see himself in colour, 8mm, 1938
Director: Ayisha Abraham
Duration: 00:09:34; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 3.410; Saturation: 0.046; Lightness: 0.378; Volume: 0.255; Cuts per Minute: 93.058; Words per Minute: 1.358
Summary: Ram Gopal, Indian dancer, choreographer, and teacher. Often considered one of the most important ambassadors for Indian dance around the world in the middle of the last century. He studied kathakali with Kunju Kunrup, Bharata Natyam with Sundaram, kathak with Misra, and Manipuri with Nabakumar.
Ram Gopal. was born in 1912, had a Burmese mother and Rajput father, who was a barrister. He was one of many children and his father oppossed to his passion for dance that developed very early in childhood. Instead, he was encouraged to dance by the Yuvraj of the
Mysore royal family. His mother adoring of him, supported him as well.
In 1948, attracted to living in the West he moves to London permanently. He was gay and would have found life in the cosmopolitan London of the 40's and 50's exciting. He dies in 2003 in an old peoples home in Surrey, at the age of 92.
A portion of this footage of Ram Gopal dancing, appeared as a part of the film "Straight 8", made in 2005, by Ayisha Abraham, which is about Tom D'Aguiar's amateur film making. The film is being used in a larger film on Ram Gopal himself. The working title of the film is "You call it Dancing, I call it Rhythm" and includes interviews with some of the dancers who traveled and danced with him.
Classical Indian dance history
gay identity in the 1930's.
new hybrid traditions
stop motion animation
These are the title cards painted by Tom D'Aguiar for his film on Ram Gopal. Tom D'Aguiar a dilettante, an amateur was versatile person. He worked as an engineer in the Post and Telegraph office, and the boredom of his job inspired him to take up numerous amateur activities. He was a photographer anf filmmaker and he painted, wrote poetry for a the daily newspaper, acted , directed and designed costumes for plays, hunted, bred dogs and collected motorbikes among other past times.
This fragment of 8mm footage was found in a residential neighbourhood in Bangalore. In this unusual strip of found footage that could date back to the 1930's, the colour and the legibility of the film has survived all these years due to Bangalore's dry and cool climate.
The footage is filmed outside on a terrace of his home, and the reason for filming outdoors must have been considerations of light. At a closer glance, the visible skyline is of old bungalows that then dominated the sparsely populated and minimally built up areas, around the military cantonment of Bangalore.
This particular piece of dance footage is performed for the camera. Ram Gopal is said to have strolled up to Tom at the opening of a photographic exhibition at Town Hall in Bangalore in the late 1930's and admired the colour photographs that were on display. He says that as he had never seen himself in colour, and would it be possible for Tom to film him dancing.
This footage is a result of that request made by Ram, and could be said to be a self portrait of a kind.
There is little footage like this in any public archive.
Ram demonstrates the mudras of Bharat Natyam to Tom D'Aguiar, as he uses his 8mm camera to film him. Here, Tom is able to experiment with the basic tenets of filmmaking by using stop motion animation to illustrate the specific mudras being presented. Two layers of representation come together here in this footage. Ram's desire to see himself on film; an autobiographial impulse, and Tom's enthusiastic love for the medium and his desire to experiment and learn new techniques of filmmaking. When he edits this black and white footage on his small splicer ( a primitive editing machine with a blade that helps cut and splice film together), he inserts real life examples of what is symbolically being represented. Making these equivalences is a challenge to Tom and he speaks of this in subsequent conversations with the filmmaker. The lotus is observed and filmed over days, as it gradually opens from bud to flower. The butterfly is waited for and followed with the camera. The elephant was hard to come by and a small statue had to suffice. The fish are shot from his aquarium, another one of his passions. The processing of this film is all done by hand in his house. Under the beds to expose the film and in the courtyard, clipped to the clothesline, to dry the exposed film. This film can be said to be as handcrafted as it gets for the times. While Ram moves into making a career as a dancer internationally, Tom continues his amateur activity during what is then war time in Bangalore's British Cantonment. Once scarcity sets in, filmmaking comes to a halt.
Accompanying musicians to Ram Gopal's dance.
The footage could date back to 1938 and shows the dancer Ram Gopal perform for Tom's camera, on the terrace of his home, a mansion called Torquay castle, situated at Benson Town, Bangalore. The dance is stylistically not specific and is eclectic and yet includes many forms, (like Kathakali, Bharat Natyam and Kathak). He was known for presenting Indian dance to the West and shaping traditional dance for proscenium theatre performances. His dancers as a part of his troupe included Mrinalini Sarabhai, MK Saroja, Bhanumati Rao, Kumudhini Lakhia, among others.
so how is that looking?
I think it lost some of its colour?
Ram Gopal is describing through mudras and gestures:
Your lotus eyes shame the bees, shimmering in their radiance.
Ram Gopal performs in Europe for the first time in 1938. He is said to have opened the eyes of the audience, in London, in 1939, according to Cyril Beaumont a dance historian and publisher, to the varied styles and rich vocabulary of Indian dance. He may have performed on the terrace of his home prior to this trip overseas.
Beaumont draws attention to the detail and specificity that Ram Gopal presented noting the effect it had on the audiences and to the change in the perception of Indian dance. In reviews across the global he is often referred to as an unearthly beauty.
(courtesy Ann David, London, UK)
Tom talking about the footage he shot of Ram Gopal the dancer.
In 2001 the filmmaker had interviewed Tom D'Aguiar for a series of films she was making titled "Film Tales".
Film Tales are short films about amateur and small format filmmakers. Tom had spoken of this film but had been unable to find the films in his house, cluttered with things accumulated over the 60 odd years he had lived in the neighbourhood of Richards Town, Bangalore. He had thought that they may be in a storeroom, and though an attempt was made to find them, this never happened until his children came back from the UK to sell his old bungalow to developers. A small plastic bag was lying outside the house amidst the junk of so many years. In this bag, handed to the filmmaker, were all of Tom's films and this fragment of 8mm film of Ram Gopal, roughly 8 minutes long and all cut up in pieces. It had not been viewed from about the 1960's and was kept in a metal box. The natural and chemical processes of weathering that marked this film, can be seen when projected. The film is brittle and could barely be threaded through the projectors gates.
In this interview Tom recalls this film he made of Ram Gopal and it could have been recorded around 1938, before Rams international tours.