From the recreation of Events in a Cloud Chamber.
(Written by Ashim Ahluwalia)
When I met Akbar Padamsee, he was 87. He was still sharp, but also gentle, and secure in his own art practice. I knew he was one of the pioneers of Indian modernist art but I had no idea that he had made two forgotten experimental films. He had showed them around when he made them, but they were laughed at. He was so ridiculed that he put the films away and never mentioned them. I was keen to dig out that side of his career and we ended up collaborating on a film. It was truly beautiful since we were so many years apart but we got so much joy working together.
His film that survives, Syzygy (1970), is a beauty, made up solely of lines and dots and the connections between them. There is nothing in Indian cinema history like this. It has recently been rediscovered and museums have screened it internationally. It is now seen as something remarkable in world cinema, so his impact cannot be overestimated.
His other film, Events in a Cloud Chamber (1969), was lost. I wanted him to try and remember this film so that we could both attempt to make it again. He couldn’t remember how exactly the film was made, and that was what made the process so fascinating and collaborative for me. Trying to remember a lost film is a strange thing. Because, on the one hand, film is so concrete, but memory is so dreamlike. But he did manage to make the film with me again — after not lifting a brush for ages. He chose the colours and drew the stencils and cut the pieces himself. We just filmed it. But, of course, I also got into the process of memory and decay and forgetting as we filmed. The film was already engaging with conversations about death, and both of us knew that.
His affinity for the most essential forms and colours came from early childhood impressions, and his work, despite being quite abstract, can be very emotional. I find this more inspiring, more future-looking, than anything in the art or film world today.
The writer is a filmmaker who collaborated with Padamsee to recreate his lost film, Events in a Cloud Chamber