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aka The Gaze 1989 124’ col Hindi d/p Mani Kaul pc Infrakino st Dostoevsky’s The Meek Creature sc Sharmistha Mohanty c Piyush Shah m D. Wood, Vikram Joglekar lp Shekhar Kapur, Shambhavi, Surekha Sikri

Kaul’s first fiction film since Duvidha in 1973 is based on both Dostoevsky’s story and Bresson’s version of it, Une Femme douce (1969). Set in Bombay but effacing its geographic location, the film starts, like Bresson’s film, with the suicide of a young bride (Shambhavi, the director’s daughter). Then we learn of her marriage to a middle- aged antique dealer (Kapur) and her growing estrangement. The only other major character in the film is the heroine’s impoverished relative (Sikri), initially a go-between before the couple’s marriage, and later a crucial third figure from whose perspective the disintegrating marriage can be viewed. The major part of the film chronicles the young wife’s alienation, as she first resists and then succumbs to the order of things in a world in which her place is determined regardless of her efforts to intervene. This aspect of the narrative is elaborated in terms of an orchestration of cinematic space, including the construction of ‘virtual’, unsuspected spaces within the frame. This device makes the narrative space itself dramatic, as claustrophobic situations are juxtaposed with ‘a reality’ within which spaces can suddenly acquire extra dimensions. The fragmented dialogue, often functioning as an interiorised soliloquy, is counterpointed by the extraordinary use of the camera’s focalisations which at times take the place of editing. Kaul continued his exploration of Dostoevsky with a vastly enlarged canvas in Idiot (1991).