Don't feel bad if you haven't heard of Mani Kaul; you're probably not the only one. Even in India, where the late filmmaker broke new ground in the country's relatively unknown avant-garde scene, Kaul isn't well-known. "I don't think a Mani Kaul film has been screened in Houston," says Ratheesh Radhakrishnan, organizer of the Festival of Contemporary Films from India. Radhakrishnan, a post doctoral fellow at Rice's Chao Center for Asian Studies, says that Kaul is better known in Europe. "Apart from very small film institutions, his films aren't very fashionable in India because of his slow, brooding style,” he says.
A centerpiece for the festival is Kaul's recently remastered 1973 Duvidha / In Two Minds, Kaul's take on a Rajasthani folktale. In it, a ghost falls in love with a bride and moves in with her by taking on the husband's appearance. Things get complicated when the wife gives birth to a baby fathered by the ghost and her real husband comes home.
The festival will also include work by other directors, with five other films in three different languages (Hindi, Bengali and Malayalam) on the schedule. Filmmakers Moinak Biswas (Sthaniya Sambaad / Spring in the Colony) and Shalini Usha Nair (Akam /Within) will introduce their films and stick around for Q&A sessions.
Radhakrishnan is especially excited about Gandu (Asshole) by the filmmaker known only as Q. Radhakrishnan says it will probably never have an official showing in India. "There are sequences of full-frontal oral sex," he says about the film that has become sort of an instant cult classic, thanks to screenings at the Slamdance Film Festival and Oakland Underground Film Festival, as well as a musical score that's heavy on Calcutta rap.
Duvidha / In Two Minds screens today at 7 p.m. The festival continues through November 6. Rice Cinema, 6100 Main. For information, call 713-348-4853 or visit www.ricecinema.rice.edu. Free.
Nov. 4-6, 2011