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Pushkar Puran review: Kamal Swaroop’s tryst with the historical yet commercial city

Release Date: 24 Nov 2017 / 01hr 39min

Cinestaan Rating

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Sukhpreet Kahlon

Swaroop sets out to find the echo of the city, which Calasso’s works mention, in Pushkar as it stands today. 

“Ayodhya, Mathura, Illusion, Kashi” begins the chant in Kamal Swaroop’s latest film, Pushkar Puran as legends, myths, reality and the supernatural collide and contemplate the history and the present of the city of Pushkar. 

A pilgrimage site, Pushkar finds mention in early Hindu texts that suggest its religious significance. During Karthik Purnima, a holy festival that fall in November-December, one of the largest animal fairs in the country is organized here, drawing visitors from all over the world to witness the revelry and activities, such as folk dances, animal races and other traditional sports.

Bearing these dual characteristics, Pushkar Puran delves into the past; juxtaposing the ancient past with the contemporary reality of the city. 

Swaroop’s fascination with mythology, which is seen in several of his works, permeates Pushkar Puran as the film is inspired by Roberto Calasso’s Ka: Stories of the Mind and Gods of India.

The mythology of Pushkar is superimposed with Swaroop’s contemplation of Pushkar today, where the traditional collides with the mechanical, and myth, reality, nature, the supernatural get enmeshed in a vortex of images, creating a very distinct Pushkar Puran.

Speaking about the film, Swaroop said that he had set out to find the echo of the city, which Calasso’s works mention, in Pushkar as it stands today. 

In Swaroop’s surrealist imagination, the interaction with mythology, which concentrates on the story of Brahma’s fifth head and that of Ashvamedha (a horse sacrifice ritual), opens up in the film as it engages in a dialogue with technology.

Experimenting with form and narrative, images are formed, broken, looped, and let loose, as we are reminded of earlier technologies of capturing movement even as these images are juxtaposed with panoramic aerial shots of the city. 

The discordant clanging of machines and ticking of time suggest changes in the historic city as broken, discarded objects speak of forgotten pasts. Sharing his relationship with Pushkar, Kamal Swaroop expressed his dismay at the way in which the city had transformed to become an overwhelmingly commercialized place, pandering to tourists during the annual fair. 

The story of Ashvamedha is juxtaposed with the celebration and events surrounding the animals at the fair and how both people and animals are consumed as commodities, just as the town of Pushkar itself.

The comment is woven through the film and in the city that is teeming with people during the fair, Swaroop’s film offers moments of stillness as he lets nature take over echoing the words of the song, “Hey human, just hold on or nature will laugh at you.” 

One of the distinctive features of the film is its effective use of music where a range of instruments evoke a spectrum of emotions with the clash between tradition and modernity superimposed through the clamour of the saxophone and the shehnai.

In the end, as one contemplates the story of the red mouths of white horses, which according to mythology are the marks of the wounds left by knowledge, one wonders about the marks of human greed borne by Pushkar today.

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