Pad.ma 2009: PriyaSen (The Knower of Secrets)
Duration: 00:20:42; Aspect Ratio: 1.366:1; Hue: 215.963; Saturation: 0.161; Lightness: 0.208; Volume: 0.187; Cuts per Minute: 1.980; Words per Minute: 128.537
Priya Sen, a film maker from Delhi, revisited a film that she had made six years ago called 'The Knower of Secrets' about Qawwali singers in Hazrat Nizamuddin, on Pad.ma (http://pad.ma/MV/info
). In her annotations, Priya looked at what it would mean to capture the experience of the filmmaker in the making of the film, an experience which is never exhausted by the end product that emerges in the form of the finished film.
Her annotation moves between the personal, the affective, the theoretical and the analytical. 'The Knower of Secrets' emerges as a text which opens out to different registers of experience and reflection which were not immediately available at the time of the making, or viewing, the film.
Priya Sen mainly works with non-fictional and experimental genres of video, photo, sound and writing. She is currently with Sarai-CSDS, New Delhi, where she works as a researcher-practitioner of experimental media with the Cybermohalla project - a network of media practitioners and writers in working class localities in Delhi - as well as with the Sarai Media Lab.
For a report on the event, see http://camputer.org/event.php?id=75
SA: Can I proclaim that the router is back on?
SA: ...I didn't get an answer! (smiles)
Voice: You can proclaim it...
Who are We hall, Nehru Centre, Worli
SA: ...Media Lab but also for very long has been working very closely with the CyberMohalla project, which is also a house invested by Sarai. Priya is a film maker. She and me went to Temple University together actually to do our MFA. And Priya actually is doing something in Pad.ma that I always thought one should do, but we decided to not...for various reasons, not go into the 'finished-film-into-pad.ma' in the first year because we were running into all sorts of problems with film makers saying 'Why do you want me to put my finished full-length film into Pad.ma?' -You can write...you can write over a finished film. And when I actually wanted Priya to use...bring in some of the footage from this film that she had shot 6 years ago. It was her suggestion that she wants to rewrite and reflect on the edit as it were, 6 years ago, and the film that she made. Priya,...
(discussion about mics)
Priya Sen: ...The film I made in 2004 as part of my thesis project, this was that. I was kind of ..ambivalent about the film that actually happened. It didn't seem to sort of take into consideration a lot of things like, you know all film makers have this experience of having to make a film a certain way and having a completely different experience of making the film. And so when I ...so...I'm just going to basically read my annotations and the film will play on that, softly but, because otherwise...it's going to clash ...you may want to listen to the sound, and also listen to, perhaps, listen to some of the ways in which I have responded to what I have done. So basically, that's up to you, you can choose.
PS: Actually, let's just go back to the 'Information'(info) page
Also, the point is, my work has changed significantly completely after...since this film. This is possibly the last sort of 'documentary' mode that I worked with. Because I realised through making this film, that one is always under this pressure to make the subject known in a documentary. But I feel that ultimately what works for me, is a layer that would possibly do exactly the reverse, and conceal more than it reveals. Because I believe that ultimately that is what keeps me interested, in the form, rather than just trying to assume that I can make something more known, than not. If that makes sense...
PS: I'll just read this...
"The Knower of Secrets" was my MFA thesis film from Temple University, Philadelphia. I decided to revisit this film, because the film, and the experience of making it had become two very separate things. The way I had shot the film, the process of knowing the people who it is about, and the anxieties and ambiguities that are a part of entering people's lives and leaving it, had no part to play in the construction of the film. Neither did the many stories, anecdotes, wanderings, tangents and moments of connection and disconnects that are so much a part of that journey.
I have tried to add a layer of annotation that brings to this film, some of what I wished it had. Much of the above. The annotations consist of journal entries, interview excerpts, anecdotes, poetry, references, and reflecting on some of the ways I had been, six years ago - making a film because I loved the idea of it, but not realizing the profound ways in which it was changing me. That is the experience I tried to recollect, when I decided to add to this film, the layers it was missing.
PS: We can start, but the thing is, the annotations start from...
SA: Tell us...just go "Next Next.."
PS: Not the first, but I think the third clip...next...next......next.....next...and.......(inaudible)...the first annotation actually in a way...starts from the next clip. The first annotation is what actually inspired me, the poem that I read first, before I made this film when I was sitting (?) And I thought that is how I really wanted the film int the end. But...and the title comes from that.
We can go to the next one...
AS: Just say 'Sanjay' or 'Ashok'...I'm playing your film and Sanjay is back there.
PS: OK. Just go back...
SA: You want to go behind? ...This is your start. Ya...ya.
PS: OJ we can play the film...
SA: Should we make it big...the text?
PS: And the sound...softer....
(Clip from Knower of Secrets
PS: (reading description)
.. so I went to see Meraj Sa'ab. He was alone. The door was slightly ajar - he was on his bed as usual - hidden partly by the cooler and partly by the curtain. Small against the light from the window. The room has red floors and is cool. The cooler sound drowns out the stillness of the outside heat sounds. He said to come in. Moved to wear his kurta but then decided not to. He looked to see if Shabnam was coming down the stairs to keep him company in asking me to go in. I took off my big slippers - big in that room and big in general. It was evening. Maghrib. And the tubelight above him was on. That light is always on. It takes on the light from outside and becomes the colour of things. Meraj sa'ab looks sad these days ever since his wife passed away. "Khairiyat?" he asked. As always my inability to speak makes me say something inadequate and usual. I asked him how he had been. He got up to light an agarbatti. He said his wife's spirit came into the house everyday around that time. During Maghrib. And would continue to for a year. He looked out of the window like he usually did, not necessarily at anything in particular. There wasn't much to see from where he sat. Just the light that was fading, perhaps, to let his wife in. For him and no one else really. ..
SA: Next annotation?...Sound?
PS: The thing is that the annotation for this basically came in ...you see I always visited Meraj Sa'ab, and he would be sitting in a certain way, and whatever, and at least what I managed to do in the film was this explanation of how Qawwali started and all of this stuff that one is supposed to do.
Can we go to the next clip if this one has stopped....?
SA: Let it play...
This is more like a journal entry and going back to many years. I wanted to make a film about the guys who sit at the back and clap and join in the chorus.
I had imagined meeting the fictional Salim and Rahaab. I had written about them endlessly in Philadelphia. One day in Delhi, I went to listen to Qawwali at Sufinayat's Dargah in Nizamuddin Basti, and there they were. Except, there were three. And they were called Saqlain, Sohraab and Tahir. I spent the next 15 months with them and wrote about them endlessly.
(I am aghast at my journal entries.)
Sufinayat's dargah - 15th Nov. 2002.
"It's Friday and there's Qawwali here.. I heard them singing "Allah Hoo" from the stairs. I am the only other person here. So do they sing here here even when there's no one listening? But doesn't that go against what Qawwali is supposed to be? Gaanewale and Sunnewale?? But what do I know?! They're even a little off-key.. the pitch.. it's hard to tell tho at this pitch."
(Later in the week at Sohrab's house)
"Sat in the midst of people asleep because of Ramzaan. Think it was about 1pm. Got an invitation to treat it as my home, to treat the family as mine. Realized my jeans were torn and felt shady."
PS: ...Go down...
(then continues reading)
Wondered long and hard about shooting Iftaar on Friday. Why so much thinking? My first doc. I am told to establish relationship, wait, then shoot. Enjoy the access. Oh Please! I am only researcher no. 72 to pop into their lives.
I don't shoot. I journal instead. Only to cringe at it 7 years down. I have learnt never to journal again.
PS: We can go to the next annotation....can we go to the next one?
PS: This is from an interview excerpt with Meraj.
Meraj Ahmed Nizami : I am engrossed in watching Iraq. It is causing me great pain. I am praying. People of all faiths are praying. Yes, they have strength (America), and these people have belief. They are weak. There was a song, The war between the strong and the weak, is the story of a candle in the midst of a storm.
("Nirbal ki ladai balvaan ki, yeh kahani hai diye ki aur toofan ki.")
PS: (proceeds to read)
There is no humanity anyway. But this will change. The generations to come will not know there was ever such a place as America. God does justice. There used to be a land by the name of Yunaan. It had no bombs or armies or machines, but its people had the gift of intelligence and shrewdness. Allah-pak ordered his angels to go and cap...
((continuation of description Priya reads: ...capture the land of Yunaan. The angels protested. Allah said, "Vo humare raaz se vakif hona chahte hain! Hum apna raaz kisi ko dena nahi chahte hain.." [ They want to unravel the the mystery of the world and I do not want anyone to know it. "
Now Allah-pak had sent his favourite angel, Jibreel, to three children in Yunaan. Jibreel in disguise, asked them, "Can you tell me where Jibreel is?". The children started looking. One went up to the skies but couldn't find him. The other went to the seven heavens. The third went to the depths of the earth. Jibreel was nowhere. Then one of them pointed his finger at Jibreel and said, "You! You are Jibreel! We have looked everywhere. So either you are Jibreel or I am Jibreel!"
So you see..He doesn't want to give his Raaz away. He has given you life, and death will come to you too. So enjoy your life, pray, and more will come after you and it will go on like this..))
('Knower of Secrets
' on Pad.ma)
Priya Sen: ...where we played with shooting and all of that. I wonder the about the sequence, in fact, I didn't have it in one version of the film. To me it felt like part of the process, that we would film and then watch the footage. I would film and sometimes the guys would film, or something or the other. Of course, thoughts of what this other image would be read as crossed my mind once in a while. The thing that gets written in stone in documentary is the question of who makes the image. The hierarchies and the assumptions that get created make it very difficult to get to the heart of image making. It is as though the image has already been made, and the same image will be made over and over again.
How does one learn to shoot- By learning the rules of the visual sequence, of allowing affect, and the experience of looking at something formulate its own relationship to the image. To have a visual language emerge, that is more to do with this relationship to seeing and listening, rather than the logic of the sequence. I wanted to find ways to intervene, but ultimately this sequence as I understood it then, ...itself with a certain kind of image that spoke of itself and of nothing else.
PS: We can go to the next annotation....
(Seeking video and discussing...)
PS: The 2 things I always think about when I watch this sequence, are a friend of mine saying, "Priya I do hate all your subtitles and ,the fact that I had the wrong microphone for all the performances. A highly directional Sennheiser, and a camera input that couldn't handle it. The peaks clipped in every performance I recorded. My friend and amazing sound recordist, Umashankar, tried to explain to me on several occassions but I never got it right.
Umashankar is also a poet. This is a poem he wrote that I wish I had read before I started making this film. The poem is called- 'This Epic Needs'-
This epic needs
The story gathers strength only in the third
Repetition, circularity, redress
Observe the pattern
Of heroic young and vengeful old
what happened in the middle?
And what happens to the third
When it has sung its song
Slayed the enemy?
The story (for them) ends midlife
-And the poem was from his collection of his poems called 'From previous century' (September 18, 1993)
Ashok: Can we have little bit sound?
Ashok: ...just for fun.
(clip plays, we hear a Qawwali)
PS: These are the subtitles that are.....
Subtitle: Here a gurdwara (Sikh temple)...There a church...
Subtitle: ('Girja' means 'church' as well as 'to fall')
Subtitle: you fall here...you fall there...
Subtitle: And if to pay homage is your goal, then you can fall anywhere at all!
(Meraj speaking) Subtitle: The map of Qawwali kept changing every 50 - 100 years. The Qawwali that is being sung now is more about the performance, the music, the show...
PS: Is this last one? Is there one more? Shaina.......how much time?
Ashok: Another one after this...
PS: Ya, I think this is the last one. OK. And this goes with ..ya...this sequence...
OK. This could be an interview transcript. And its about Nizamuddin Auliya.
Meraj Ahmed Nizami says:
Seven emperors came to meet him (Nizamuddin Auliya). But he didn't meet them....
PS: (continues reading)
He said.... he was there to give hope to people who didn't have much. Once there was a Sahib. He was very educated, very capable, but was unable to make a living. He had been to several Sufis and elders, who had told him that he was not destined for a life of comfort and ease. One day someone sent him to Mehboob Pak (Nizamuddin Auliya). Mehboob Pak recognized the man's fate. He gave the man a goat. Now the man worried that he would have to feed and take care of the goat, while he could barely feed his family. He would take the goat to graze in the jungle. This was....
PS: ...(the translation is not as wonderful as he said it...)
PS: (continues reading)
This was at the time of Alauddin Khilji. One day, his procession was passing through the jungle. People lined up to see it. Suddenly the Emperor's Wazir stopped and went to this Sahib, and recognized him as his childhood friend. He exclaimed, "What has happened to you?! You, a capable, strong, educated man.." and told him to go to the darbar the next day. That day new clothes arrived for him, and he went to the Darbar. The Wazir then told Alauddin Khilji of the Sahib's capabilities and suggested that he be made the Kotwal. Now you see, the man's situation entirely changed! Inspite of what everyone said was fated for him. So the Sahib went to one of the Sufis and said, "You had told me that this was not my destiny. Now look at me!". The Sufi told him, "This is still not your destiny, brother! This is how Nizamuddin Auliya tinkers with things! He has attached the goat's destiny to yours! As long as that goat is alive, you will have all this. But as soon as it dies, you will go back to how you used to be. " ... : So you see, this was Sarkar Mehboob Pak..
Subtitle, speaker#1: And when our Saqlain bhai went, his manner of asking was altogether different. See how he asked. He asked, he received, he even went away.
Subtitle, speaker#2: So these are the ways of asking. The saint tells us to ask for him. "Ask from me", he says,"And you will receive what you ask for".
Subtitle, speaker#1: But we're the ones don't know how to. Not because there is anything lacking in his assembly.
PS: Thanks a lot.