World Cinema Can be Discussed Within the Framework of Indian Aesthetics: Prachand Praveer

Cinema through Rasa: A Tryst with Masterpieces in the Light of Rasa Siddhanta by Prachand Praveer (translated by Geeta Mirji Narayan from Abhinava Cinema by Praveer, published in Hindi in 2016) discusses the important works of world cinema in the light of the Rasa Siddhānta of Indian classical aesthetics.

When friends of Prachand Praveer suggested that he write a series of essays on World Cinema, he chose "the theoretical framework of Indian Classical Aesthetics, that too of Abhinavagupta as I was highly impressed with the metaphysical and epistemological system of Kashmir Shaivism. Therefore, I delved deeper into it and could relate the rasa theory to world cinema as a practical guide."

In an interview with CSP he talks more about this connection.

Do you think a study of Natyashastra would be useful for students in school to create an aesthetic appreciation of Indian texts, cinema, art?

I think Natyashastra should be taught to students interested in dramaturgy and related performing arts. There should be a serious consideration about the academic level at which it should be discussed as there is a lot to learn in a limited time. Introspecting on our education policy, I would advocate the inclusion of a compendium course involving a mandatory introduction to philosophy (dealing with ethics, logic, metaphysics), Natyashastra, Cinema, Classical music for curious students. We stress too much on empirical studies (science, engineering, social sciences) and very less on our daily conduct (aesthetics apperception, ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, logic etc.), which was not the case two hundred years ago across the world. We have limited our learning to earning capabilities and not to the joy of knowing.

The rasa theory is basic to all our performing arts. The West has incorporated it in theatre studies. But they admit that cinema actors are not grounded in any theoretical frameworks. What are your thoughts on this?

In a classical Indian discourse, there are two views on Rasa Theory application. Bharata Muni, author of Natyashastra, says that all arts are covered under Natya and therefore Rasa Theory is of paramount importance. There are contrary views which although they respect Rasa Theory but wonder if it is basic to music, painting, and others.

My view is aligned with Bharata Muni, which claims that any audio-visual playful medium is Natya. I perceive Cinema as an artwork, which caters to a large audience as a playful medium with both aural and visual at the same time.  We should understand that Natyashastra is a practical guide for poets and performers. As the 11th century Kashmiri scholar Mammata Bhatta says, talent for creativity involves all three aspects – a) Innate ability b) Teaching c) Practice, I believe a theoretical framework or teaching enables one to see unimaginable vistas.

As we know Cinema has brought unprecedented notions to performing arts such as selection of location, camera works, editing or careful rearrangement of images and sound, which was not present earlier. Therefore, I think that there are different kinds of trainings both theoretical and practical, desirous for actors, directors and others involved in Cinema. The rightful question here is, how many theoretical frameworks address Cinema and are they successful?

We must not forget that Cinema is a recent art, and it has piqued the interest of philosophers, social studies scholars, politicians etc. It is not being dismissed as mere entertainment. I am sure indigenous thinking will be helpful for the people involved in Cinema making.

Is there a difference in the way the rasa theory is used in classical arts and in cinema? Does your book deal with this?

The Rasa formulation theory states that with the fusion of the determinants, consequents and transitory emotions, rasa could be identified by the persisting/stable emotions. This theory undergoes various interpretations and explanations with multiple philosophical viewpoints. My book subscribes to the commentary of Abhinavagupta, the great Kashmiri Shaivite philosopher of 10th century, named Abhinavabharati.

As per the classical stand of Bharat Muni and Abhinavagupta, the Rasa theory does not undergo any change in its simple formulation. It is our understanding of Cinema and Classical arts that must engage with this theory for a careful analysis, which my book does in tryst with the masterpieces of the World Cinema. In Cinema, the determinants and consequents undergo changes as per the medium. So, there is a difference in the terms of treatment, but this difference is also present in music or painting where it is claimed that the determinants and the consequents are not explicit but very subtle.

Cinema worldwide has changed dramatically in the last 50 years. How can we understand these changes through theoretical frameworks and societal evolution/change?

If we look at the changes in Cinema, it has primarily to do with technical advancements and consumption of the movie making e.g. big budgets, use of computer graphics, complexity of editing, worldwide release and a two-week euphoria etc. In spite these changes, cinema is not what it used be in the times of great masters.

I see Cinema as an artwork, as the executed vision of a creative mind which is primarily led by the director. Social scientists try to find an answer as to why a genius was born in a certain age. We can lament that with so much evolution we have forgotten to laugh as we do not have any one equal to or even close to Charles Chaplin or Buster Keaton. Should we blame the soap operas or social media, mobile phones or OTT? Frankly, I do not have any answer to this question.

There are cultural differences in the treatment of emotions, but some scripts have universal appeal. Is that where training and theory come together?

I think this is where the idea of transitory emotion, stable emotions and determinants come into play. Natyashastra lists thirty-three kinds of emotions of lesser significance which help in bringing forth eight stable/permanent/persisting emotions viz. love, laughter, enthusiasm, wonderment, anger, pathos, disgust, and fear. This is a crucial feature of Rasa Theory and a very important point of reflection.

You mention many films from the West and how they can be seen through the lens of rasa. Could you talk about how you analyzed this? 

In continuation to the above answer, there are eight stable emotions and eight rasas (often translated as sentiments) viz. Shringara, Hasya, Veera, Adbhuta, Raudra, Karuna, Vibhatsa and Bhayanaka listed in the Natyashastra. Almost all the major cinematic works of the world can be discussed within this framework.

Excerpt from the book:

Study of World Cinema from an Indian Aesthetic Perspective

A discussion on films based on the ancient Indian aesthetic principles will show that drama is closest in nature to films. Drama has to be rehearsed and its destiny is the stage. Films though have a different life, unlike on stage, the actors in a film do not have to emote everything all at once, their act can be done in bits and pieces. Films have to be recorded, edited, background music and playback music have to be synchronized, only then they can be shown to the audience. Of course, it is a given that drama and films both are used to convey, within a stipulated time, some message to society. Drama too has the same characteristics, world over at all times. In the Indian context, drama has been called as the best form of poetics. It has been seen that through the ages poetry has primarily remained a form that is heard while drama gives us the audio-visual pleasure of poetry, all this of course is taking us away from our main point of debate and discussion.

The following verses in the epic work Nāṭyaśāstra, written by Bharata Muni, explain the utility of drama:

Drama teaches the glory of duty to those who have forgotten their duty, it guides us on the path to find love, to the ill-tempered and uncouth, it shows how punishment can improve them, to the disciplined it shows how to live in regulation, cowards are taught how to be brave, the brave are shown the virtues of energy and enthusiasm, a person who is unwise is given wisdom and the intelligent are made further wise. The ones who are burdened with sorrow are taught how to be stable in their grief, those who are waylaid are taught discipline and the poor are shown the means to a livelihood.

Nāṭyaśāstra 1.110-16; Ghosh 1950: 15

Drama, in Bharata Muni’s words, is an emulation of the work and conduct of the people; it is fulfilling in emotions and highly

descriptive in nature. It is bound to the works and life of all people be it good, bad or in-between. Drama brings people together; it gives them the courage, entertains them, brings happiness into their lives and also counsels them whenever required.

The great Sanskrit poet Kālidāsa has expressed his view in the beginning of his play Mālavikāgnimitra that drama is such a medium that, on a single platform, fulfils the desires of all the people gathered irrespective of their varied interests.

According to the Nāṭyaśāstra, in the Indian tradition, dance, music and playing of musical instruments are an inseparable part of drama which have been unknowingly carried through into films. Due to many differences in the moral and ethical values the Indian traditions seem very queer to the Western eye. This does seem to be one of the reasons why Indian films have not been so popular the world over.

Has one ever wondered why a sad scene makes you cry or why a good drama makes you feel elated and full of joie de vivre? The answer lies in philosophy and particularly aesthetics. The extensive and proper study of reality and what governs consciousness, the study of how to gain knowledge and the study of language is not possible without the knowledge of aesthetics. Many Western philosophers believe that it is impossible to know exactly what an audience feels when they see a work of art as such feelings are unknowable.

Cinema has to be understood in the context of poetics, dramatics and aesthetics. Both poetics and dramatics are explained within aesthetics. In the Indian philosophical system, aesthetics and truth do not oppose each other. In a traditional discussion, if truth is scrutinized then we can see that virtue or the right path and pursuit of the worldly pleasing path both are questioned. Our sacredntexts, i.e. the Vedas and the Upaniṣads, are the right path chosen to learn the truth (śreyas), whereas poetics is akin to the pursuit of the worldly pleasing path (preyas). The great poet Jaishankar Prasad has said that poetics is the imaginative experience of the soul, it has nothing to do with any kind of analysis or inference or science. The thinking power of the soul accepts the virtuous path to the truth in its original and elegant form in its exceptional state and in poetics this conviction is the true realization. Hindi poetess Mahadevi Verma has enunciated on poetics and art, thus: “In poetry, the art has reached such an eminence that it can now help knowledge, because truth can be attained through it and beauty helps to achieve it”. Traditional literature of the Indian poetics has been divided into eight sects as under (Paranjape and Visuvalingam 2006: 101):1

  1. Rasa
  2. Dhvani
  3. Aucitya
  4. Rīti
  5. Vakrokti
  6. Guṇa
  7. Doṣa
  8. Alaṁkāra

Many Indian philosophers do not prescribe to the above eight traditions of poetic and literary criticism, they feel that the Buddhist and other doctrines have not been given due credit here. Poet Jaishankar Prasad has referred to Rasa, Dhvani and Rīti as the delightful or pleasure-giving sects, whereas the no-soul theory proponents Buddhist art forms have been graded as agonizing ones. Among the above eight schools of poetics, Rasa is considered as the most important. The learned teachers have declared that in poetics rasa has been called as the most lively or charming, while the others are parched (जयशंकर प्रसाद 1939: 34; रस्ताेगी 2012: 249).

Historically too, it can be said that rasa has always been the most discussed and effectually important of all the aesthetic doctrines. The sentiments, which are felt whenever a drama is seen, 1 Rajnish Mishra, 2006, “Agamic Assumptions of Indian Literary Theories: An Exposition Based on Abhinavagupta”, Evam, 4(1/2): 91-129.  have been quantified or listed down, according to the rasa theory as against the unknowable feelings described by the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant. Out of these listed sentiments some have been categorized on the basis of the exceptional way they make one realize the feelings shown, they are: anger, laughter, fear, etc. These are above and beyond characters like pride, laziness and worry. The exceptional qualities mentioned above are defined as the sthāyī bhāvas which literally means feelings that stay. They are not named so because they are the static feelings which are always prevalent throughout, but they are the most enduring feelings noticed.

Kashmiri Śaiva philosopher, Abhinavagupta opined that every social being is conscious of eight types of distinctive feelings already present in his/her psyche. In the course of watching a drama, a compassionate spectator feels drawn to the emotions being acted out on stage, these emotions (rasas) can be recognized from the sthāyī bhāvas explained earlier. The spectator loses himself in the feelings which are aroused in him. He feels sated and experiences pleasure which are distinctly different from his day-to-day life experience and personal happiness or sorrow (पारेख 1974: 46-48).

The word rasa has been used variedly; as in the juice of a fruit or the extract of vital force in the context of the Ayurvedic medicine, etc. (पाण्डे2003: 95), but while alluding to drama or films we can say that the word rasa has been able to bring together a very distinctive, diverse and peculiar meaning to itself. It is an experience of aesthetic emotions and also the subject of these experiences itself (रस्ताेगी 2012: 27 4).