In the mid-1950s, Pramod Pati left India for Czechoslovakia to study puppet animation under the tutelage of Jiří Trnka. He returned to head the animations division of the state-run Films Division in Mumbai. During his brilliant but tragically brief career, Pati made a bunch of innovative educational films, documentaries, and animations characterized by rapid editing and inventively rhythmic use of sound. Titled after its subject and sole character, the artist Abid Surti, the pixilation piece “ABID” (1970) is five minutes of kooky delirium sound-tracked by the percussive psychedelia of Vijay Raghav Bao.
The idea came to Pati after reading a magazine story about Surti’s single-room apartment-cum-studio, which he had turned into a unified artwork – painting not just the walls and ceiling, but the furniture, the overhead fan, and everything right down to the smallest utensil. This “experiment of living within a painting”, recalled Surti, treated “that whole space... like a canvas”. Visiting an exhibition of Surti’s collages made using broken mirrors, Pati approached the artist and proposed the idea of a film inspired by his work.
The pair embarked on a 20-day shoot that recreated Surti’s apartment in the Films Division studio. The plotline follows the life-arc of an artist, who emerges magically from the floor (birth) and then returns there (death) after a manic burst of hyper-active creativity that fills the cramped space with a dizzying number of canvases. Surti recalled Pati as “a giant of a worker... he used to work about 19-20 hours a day while we shooting it... He was completely committed.” Sadly, Pati died in 1975 at the age of 43.
More Pramod Pati films can be found here - which is where the text below is taken from:
Pramod Pati was born in Odisha in 1932 and studied there and Bangalore and worked for a few years in the Odisha state government. He was awarded a scholarship to study in Czechoslovakia under the legendary puppet-maker, illustrator, motion-picture animator and film director Jiri Trinka.
Emboldened by this experience and a growing artist-driven milieu at the Film Division, he joined the Films Division and put his ideas into practice. While previous Films Division documentaries were narrative-driven and didactic, Pati infused his films with non-narratives storytelling techniques and a broad range of influences from both India and the West.
The Films Division of India was started by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in the late 1940s. Nehru’s guiding vision in launching it was for it to document the new socialist and scientific India that his government was building. The style of these initial films was of the straight documentary with an obvious message. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Films Divisions’s output moved in a more experimental, artistic direction. At the forefront of this shift was Pramod Pati.
A BRIEF FILMOGRAPHY
The selections below eschew traditional storytelling techniques and represent a breakthrough in independent Indian cinema.
“Explorer” (1968) is a series of jump cuts juxtaposing abstract imagery, religious ceremonies, and traditional iconography set against a soundtrack of cut and pasted excerpts of classical Indian music, found sound, and sound effects. The result is a dizzying exploration of different methods of acquiring knowledge.
The style shows the influence of the Western psychedelica and growing subversiveness (notice the “fuck censorship” snuck in) while trying to connect these “new” trends with Indian tradition. Similar techniques are utilized in “Abid'' and the other selections below. Arguably the “trippiest” aspects are inherent within Indian life itself and Pati used these avant-garde techniques to bring these elements to the foreground.
“In the late 60s, Indira Gandhi appointed this producer Nagary to head Films Division, and he was critical of that kind of straight documentary filmmaking. He felt the country needed more film artists so he created an atmosphere at Films Division where people could experiment. They started doing found-footage stuff, crazy animation, some radical montage work. . . . He orchestrated for [Indian] filmmakers to train with Czechoslovakian filmmakers [who were doing more avant-garde work at the time]—like, this one guy, Pramod Pati, trained with the great animator Jiri Trnka. And Pati is one of the leading pioneers, in my book.” - Shai Heredia (Source)
Abid (1972) A short showcasing the artist Abid Surti
“He imbues these films with a deep sense of rhythm with his editing technique and sound. In those days, there were no sound designers like today. Pati conceived sound design in a unique manner, the only other example that I find in this realm is Ritwik Ghatak.” - Amrit Gangar (Source)
These films represent a continuation of the traditional purpose of the Films Division to inform and educate a newly independent nation. Although seemingly more staid than his overtly experimental works, the subtle introduction of contemporary animation techniques to what was usually a banal presentation of facts, figures, and instructions, does produce a certain delight.
This Our India (1961)
“In the early 1960s there was a little-known man in Films Division [Government of India’s film-production house] called Promod Pati, who defied the prevalent principles, norms and laws of establishment and let loose a burst of madness on the screen. The results were varied but I was fascinated by the youthfulness and verve of the filmmaker and by the fair amount of gay abandon that he seemed to display.” -Mrinal Sen (in Montage: Life, Politics, Cinema, p.5).
Hamara Rashtragan (1964)
The avant-garde turn at the Films Division has its fair share of critics, too, with some, such as the writer and filmmaker, K.A. Abbas, decrying that the “waste of public money” that were the films of Pati’s and other experimentalists. (Source)
Wives and Wives (1962)
A Fable Retold (1965)
“Unlike a cartoon film, which is a rapidly moving series of photographed drawings, in pixilation, a moving object is shot frame by frame, and then through clever editing made to appear in motion. By its nature, this movement is agile, energetic and unpredictable just like the pop art movement.” - Pramod Pati
Mansube Machilidhar (1963)
Pramod Pati died from cancer at the age of 43 in 1975.