classic cinema

Film flashback: The ghost in the tree, from 1973

Before ‘Phillauri’, Mani Kaul’s ‘Duvidha’ explored the dilemma of a human trapped in a relationship with an unwanted ghost.

Mani Kaul’s most acclaimed film Duvidha has acquired the reputation of being the quintessential Indian ghost film. Made in 1973 on a shoestring budget, it tells the story of a tree ghost who takes the appearance of a groom (Ravi Menon) and impregnates the bride (Raisa Padamsee) in his absence. When the husband returns, the wife is forced to make a choice between the real groom and the ghost. The film, based on a story by Rajasthani writer Vijaydan Detha, develops these characters through parallel, historically uneven and even contradictory narratives.

Kaul’s film is best known for its saturated cinematography by Navroze Contractor. The classical styles of the Kangra and Basohli miniature paintings inform the colour schemes as well as the framing and the editing. Most striking is the use of the color red, which symbolises pleasure or rajas in Hindu thought. An ode to the object-landscape schism found in the work of modernist painter Akbar Padamsee, as well as folk forms of art in Rajasthan, the film is also noted for its use of the Manganiyar form of music.


For Kaul, cinema provides a situation through which Indian feudal society interacts with modernity. The ghost represents a modernity that forces the earlier internalised modes of oppression to be projected onto society as a whole, immobilising the organic movement of history. The film formalises this withdrawal through deliberately slowed down movements of his actors, and in particular, the use of the freeze frame. Cinema is known for its ability to take material celluloid and transform it into a multiplicity of immaterial sensations. Duvidha literalises this conception and makes it the basis of the film.

Ravi Menon in Duvidha. Courtesy National Film Development Corporation.
Ravi Menon in Duvidha. Courtesy National Film Development Corporation.

The movie posits a radically original conception of cinema, in which the film is more like an object instead of a constructed subject. Kaul’s “cinema of object” posits a new logic of realism that simultaneously accommodates the metaphysical space time and the socio-historical space time through the medium of film. The realism of Kaul’s cinema is presented through the materialist conflict between the characters and idealised myth, which is represented by the immaterial ghost.

Similarly, the folk music forms in Duvidha are played off in contradiction to the classical visual forms. The two occupy each other’s fantasy worlds and disturb the space-time of the everyday as represented in the film.

Kaul often mentioned the difficulties he had in making Duvidha on a hand-cranked camera with minimal means. For him, the key to the film’s success was his improvised ability to use available light to create the sensorial effect of the ghost. Playing the part of the bride was Akbar Padamsee’s daughter Raisa, who had returned from Paris and could not speak a word of Hindi. The use of language in the film itself is curious – it uses a suggestive form of Hindi, taking a leaf out of Anandvardhan’s eighth-century text, Dhwanyaloka.

Duvidha. Courtesy National Film Development Corporation.
Duvidha. Courtesy National Film Development Corporation.

The film was released in 1973 and found several detractors, including Satyajit Ray, who found the cinematography to resemble advertising. On the other hand, the advertising industry in Mumbai had several admirers, including companies that gave their employees a holiday to watch the film for its use of color. Duvidha acquired a reputation abroad due to its regular broadcasts on a German television channel throughout the 1980s. It has since acquired a cult following among Indian cinephiles.

Detha’s story was also the source of the commercial Hindi film Paheli, directed by Amol Palekar and starring Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukerji.

Whereas Duvidha anesthetises the Rajasthani folk tale to cinema, Palekar’s 2005 film produced a fetishised version of Rajasthani culture and meandered from any true merit. Paheli caricatured Detha’s text and made it into a literal story, significantly removing its psychological crux.

Kaul best analysed the difference between the two films. “Whereas a paheli can be solved, a duvidha is a dilemma which is unsolvable,” Kaul said, referring to the questioning nature of the original that involves the audience’s aesthetic judgement instead of merely presenting a story.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Advice from an ex-robber on how to keep your home safe

Tips on a more hands-on approach of keeping your house secure.

Home, a space that is entirely ours, holds together our entire world. Where our children grow-up, parents grow old and we collect a lifetime of memories, home is a feeling as much as it’s a place. So, what do you do when your home is eyed by miscreants who prowl the neighbourhood night and day, plotting to break in? Here are a few pre-emptive measures you can take to make your home safe from burglars:

1. Get inside the mind of a burglar

Before I break the lock of a home, first I bolt the doors of the neighbouring homes. So that, even if someone hears some noise, they can’t come to help.

— Som Pashar, committed nearly 100 robberies.

Burglars study the neighbourhood to keep a check on the ins and outs of residents and target homes that can be easily accessed. Understanding how the mind of a burglar works might give insights that can be used to ward off such danger. For instance, burglars judge a house by its front doors. A house with a sturdy door, secured by an alarm system or an intimidating lock, doesn’t end up on the burglar’s target list. Upgrade the locks on your doors to the latest technology to leave a strong impression.

Here are the videos of 3 reformed robbers talking about their modus operandi and what discouraged them from robbing a house, to give you some ideas on reinforcing your home.


2. Survey your house from inside out to scout out weaknesses

Whether it’s a dodgy back door, a misaligned window in your parent’s room or the easily accessible balcony of your kid’s room, identify signs of weakness in your home and fix them. Any sign of neglect can give burglars the idea that the house can be easily robbed because of lax internal security.

3. Think like Kevin McCallister from Home Alone

You don’t need to plant intricate booby traps like the ones in the Home Alone movies, but try to stay one step ahead of thieves. Keep your car keys on your bed-stand in the night so that you can activate the car alarm in case of unwanted visitors. When out on a vacation, convince the burglars that the house is not empty by using smart light bulbs that can be remotely controlled and switched on at night. Make sure that your newspapers don’t pile up in front of the main-door (a clear indication that the house is empty).

4. Protect your home from the outside

Collaborate with your neighbours to increase the lighting around your house and on the street – a well-lit neighbourhood makes it difficult for burglars to get-away, deterring them from targeting the area. Make sure that the police verification of your hired help is done and that he/she is trustworthy.

While many of us take home security for granted, it’s important to be proactive to eliminate even the slight chance of a robbery. As the above videos show, robbers come up with ingenious ways to break in to homes. So, take their advice and invest in a good set of locks to protect your doors. Godrej Locks offer a range of innovative locks that are un-pickable and un-duplicable. To secure your house, see here.

The article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Godrej Locks and not by the Scroll editorial team.