Cinema of Prayoga
Conference at the Visva Bharati University

*Dedicated in the memory of Mani Kaul (1944-2011)*

19-21 August, 2011
Kala Bhavana, Visva Bharati University Santiniketan, India

Amrit Gangar

Conference Organizers:
Sanchayan Ghosh, Associate Professor, Visva Bharati University
Ashish Avikunthak, Assistant Professor, University of Rhode Island

With Support of:
Kala Bhavana, Visva Bharati University
Bikshan Film Society, Santiniketan
Rishi Barua, Arpan Mukherjee, Saumik Nandi Majumdar & Gautam Das


Cinema of Prayoga: A Statement
Cinema of Prayoga is a conceptual framework that locates the history of experimental film in India within an ancient history of pre-modern tradition of innovation, of prayoga. In fact, it locates itself within kaal (time) in-continuum without dissecting it into prachin (ancient or pre-modern), arvachin (modern) or anu-arvachin (post-modern) since the so-called parampara or tradition is an uninterrupted series, a continuous flow in time. Both pre- and post- prefixes keep shifting in the locus of quintessential time, and space.

Cinema of Prayoga is a theory of filmic practice, which challenges the dominant forms of filmic expression in contemporary India, including the all-pervading contemporary Bollywood or the social realism of Indian New Wave. Cinema of Prayoga celebrates a cinematographic idiom that is deeply located in the polyphony of Indian philosophy and cultural imagination. It is an intuitive transformation of cinema to articulate a sensibility that engages with the essence of prachin of Indian culture, by retrieving its essences of time of space, by offering its intrinsic temporality to cinematography. It employs cinematography to inaugurate anew a conversation with idiosyncratic heterogeneity of Indian traditions. Cinema of Prayoga is a radical gesture in the history of Indian cinema. It is distinct from the experimental, underground or avant-garde cinema of the West because it locates its sensibility in a pre-modern Indian intellectual universe to explicate a distinctive cinematographic form of the so-called post-colonial modernity.

Film scholar Amrit Gangar has developed and theorized Cinema of Prayoga by reconfiguring the generally accepted notion of the experimental and the avant-garde in Indian cinema by conjuring the term ‘Prayoga’ from Indian philosophical thought. Etymologically, the term prayoga in Sanskrit refers to a theory of practice that emphasizes the implicit possibility of any form of contemplation – ritualistic, poetic, mystic, aesthetic, magical, mythical, physical or alchemical. It can be defined as an intensive process of ‘fore-action’ of any practice. In cinema, it is a practice of filmic interrogation that is devised as a quest toward a continuing process in time and space.

This is a cinema that involves Indian music, poetry, mythology and performance to examine the relationship between their status as filmic texts and the ‘fictions-in-progress’ of their subjects unlike similar invocation seen in mainstream cinematic formulations anywhere in the world. Here representation usurps reality. Cinema of Prayoga, Gangar argues, thus has the quality of being intuitive and congenial, capable of achieving a certain unity of emotions that is profound – both formally and metaphysically.

Prayoga's Etymology
The loosely equivalent word for the English ‘experiment’ in Sanskrit is prayoga, which has several different connotations, including design, contrivance, device, plan; application, employment (esp. of drugs and magic); use, practice, experiment (opp. Theory), exhibition (of dance), representation (of a drama), recitation, delivery; prayogartha means ‘having a sense of prayoga.’ If we deconstruct the word Prayoga, we get Pra+Yoga, where the prefix ‘pra’ in a way is an engine. As a prefix to verbs, it means ‘forward’, ‘forth’, ‘in front’, ‘onward’, ‘before’. In other words, it carries the sense of vanguard. With adjectives, it means ‘very’, ‘excessively’; and with nouns, whether derived from verbs or not, it is used in various senses including, commencement; power, intensity, source or origin, completion, perfectness, excellence, purity, etc. depending on what noun it is prefixed to. Among its many interpretations, yoga also means uniting, combination, contact, touch, employment, application, use, charm, spell, incantation, magic, magical art, substance, deep and abstract meditation, concentration of mind, contemplation of the Supreme Spirit, which in Yoga philosophy is defined as cittavritinirodha. Unlike avant-garde, prayoga is a non-military word; it is, in fact, artistic and meditative. The word finds place in all major Indian languages (northern or southern) and with some interesting derivatives.

The Conference at Santiniketan
In this conference Amrit Gangar and the filmmaker/artists of Cinema of Prayoga shall come together to share their works and their thoughts with a small group of invited respondents who are thinkers working in the area of Indian philosophy and cinema. This conference marks a significant moment in the journey that began at the Experimenta Film Festival, Mumbai in 2005, followed by the Tate Modern, London Cinema of Prayoga retrospective in 2006 and the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai Cinema of Prayoga screenings of 2008

Cinema of Prayoga Artists
Kabir Mohanty, Amit Dutta, Vipin Vijay, Ashish Avikunthak and Arghya Basu.

Image courtsey Karen Mirza and Brad Butler.