Documentary channel

Kamal Swaroop on his Atul Dodiya documentary, ‘Pushkar Puran’ and the Phalke biopic

‘Atul’ will be screened at the PSBT Open Frame festival in Delhi this year.

In Kamal Swaroop’s documentary Atul, based on the works of Atul Dodiya, the renowned Mumbai artist says, “The biggest enemy of an artist is his own past, his own oeuvre.”

Keeping that enemy at bay, Dodiya, in a career spanning almost four decades, has switched formats, styles and themes over the years, moving from oil paintings and watercolours to installations and mixed media art and crowding his frames with his earliest memories and tributes to his favourite masters (Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Jasper Johns, among others) along the way.

A bit like Kamal Swaroop himself.

Since his breakthrough experimental feature Om-Dar-B-Dar in 1988, Swaroop has been making documentaries on varied subjects: the National Film Award-winning Rangbhoomi (2013), based on DG Phalke’s life and times after his retirement from filmmaking, The Battle for Banaras (2014), based on the electoral contest between Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal in Varanasi in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, and Pushkar Puran (2016), revolving around pilgrimage to the Pushkar lake.

Swaroop attributes the lack of a feature follow-up to Om-Dar-B-Dar to his rising ambitions. “My mistake was working on expensive projects after Om-Dar-B-Dar,” he said. “I started thinking big. I should have gone step by step,” he said.


Atul was conceptualised by Swaroop in 2012. He had seen Dodiya’s work in the 1980s at Mumbai’s Jehangir Art Gallery. In 2016, Swaroop began pre-production, shot for 10 days, and finished the 105-minute long film by December. Atul will be screened at the Public Service Broadcasting Trust’s Open Frame film festival in Delhi between September 13 and 19.

The film is divided into two halves, the first of which is a careful study of selected works. The background score includes off-camera sounds of the sloshing of water, the chatter of women, handmills, and audio tracks from such films as Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali and Ingmar Bergman’s Silence. The sonic universe corresponds to an inspiration related to the source of the sound. For example, Dodiya’s Night Studio is partially inspired by his memories of hearing the sound of handmills at his old home.

“Mr Dodiya talks so well that all I did was make him stand next to his paintings and asked him to talk about their relationship with his life,” Swaroop said, “Then, a little animation here and there… the simplest way to do things.”

The second half shows Dodiya interacting with fellow painters, including his wife and established artist Anju Dodiya and Sudhir Patwardhan, while they, in turn, comment on his paintings. The film culminates with scenes from an exhibition of Dodiya’s creations in Mumbai.

Courtesy Atul Dodiya and Vadehra Art Gallery.
Courtesy Atul Dodiya and Vadehra Art Gallery.

If Swaroop delves into Dodiya’s memories in relation to his art in Atul, in Pushkar Puran, the filmmaker goes back to the pilgrimage town in Rajasthan. Memories and history play a prominent part in Swaroop’s films too. Om-Dar-B-Dar, for instance, was set in his hometown Ajmer, and the film included references to many of his earliest memories, dreams and interests.

Swaroop had grown up seeing the chaos surrounding the days leading up to and during the annual Pushkar fair. By using image and sound and minimal narration, Swaroop captures the cacophonous milieu: the hordes of livestock brought in for trade, the theatrical performances, the swim in the Pushkar lake, and the seemingly eccentric characters who appear to have belonged to that place for ages.

“I was born there,” Swaroop said, “I was born in Puran. I am an ancient being, even older than Ram Rahim.”

Two highlights of the 140-minute long documentary include a compelling montage sequence in which a person reads out the origins of the ashvamedha, or horse sacrifice. In another sequence, scenes from the fair are edited to a fusion remake of the theme of Pyotr IIyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake.

Pushkar Puran.

Following Atul, Swaroop intends to chronicle Indian painting since independence. Staring from the Progressive Artists’ Group to the JJ School of Arts and taking in the Cholamandal Artists Village and Santiniketan, Swaroop’s canvas will encompass 40-50 years of Indian artistic traditions.

But will he go back to fiction? “Funding is a problem,” he said. “For funding, you need to be in a certain community in Mumbai. I am not related to that community. Probably they have no use for me. You are useful when you make a film and it makes money in return. Om-Dar-B-Dar might have artistic value but it has no commercial value so the market does not need me.”


But he does have plans for making fiction again. Swaroop is heading to the annual industry event Film Bazaar in Goa in November to raise funds for his script Om Niyam, an adaptation of Irish writer Flann O’ Brien’s philosophical murder mystery novel The Third Policeman. Swaroop estimated that the movie will require Rs 6.5 crores to produce. His script for the musical Miss Palmolive All Night Cabaret has also been around for years.

Meanwhile, the filmmaker plans to raise a few lakhs over the next two years and make short fiction films. “I will try to release them online or sell them to European film networks,” he said.

Then, there is the screenplay of his Dhundiraj Govind Phalke biopic, which has been in the works for almost 20 years. Swaroop’s longstanding obsession with Phalke has yielded two documentaries and a book about his films, called Tracing Phalke.

“My ideal Phalke would be a Chitpavan Brahman from the Konkan region,” Swaroop said, “I would like to cast someone from Marathi theatre, but that won’t fetch me money. At one point I wanted Shreeram Lagoo. Phalke’s family wanted me to take Anupam Kher. But today, if I get to cast somebody, it would only be Aamir Khan.”

Tracing Phalke.
We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

The perpetual millennial quest for self-expression just got another boost

Making adulting in the new millennium easier, one step at a time.

Having come of age in the Age of the Internet, millennials had a rocky start to self-expression. Indeed, the internet allowed us to personalise things in unprecedented fashion and we really rose to the occasion. The learning curve to a straightforward email address was a long one, routed through cringeworthy e-mail ids like You know you had one - making a personalised e-mail id was a rite of passage for millennials after all.

Declaring yourself to be cool, a star, a princess or a hunk boy was a given (for how else would the world know?!). Those with eclectic tastes (read: juvenile groupies) would flaunt their artistic preferences with an elitist flair. You could take for granted that and would listen to Bollywood music or read Archie comics only in private. The emo kids, meanwhile, had to learn the hard way that employers probably don’t trust candidates with e-mail ids such as

Created using Imgflip
Created using Imgflip

And with chat rooms, early millennials had found a way to communicate, with...interesting results. The oldest crop of millennials (30+ year olds) learnt to deal with the realities of adolescent life hunched behind anonymous accounts, spewing their teenage hormone-laden angst, passion and idealism to other anonymous accounts. Skater_chick could hide her ineptitude for skating behind a convincing username and a skateboard-peddling red-haired avatar, and you could declare your fantasies of world domination, armed with the assurance that no one would take you seriously.

With the rise of blogging, millennial individualism found a way to express itself to millions of people across the world. The verbosity of ‘intellectual’ millennials even shone through in their blog URLs and names. GirlWhoTravels could now opine on her adventures on the road to those who actually cared about such things. The blogger behind could choose to totally ignore petunias and no one would question why. It’s a tradition still being staunchly upheld on Tumblr. You’re not really a Tumblr(er?) if you haven’t been inspired to test your creative limits while crafting your blog URL. Fantasy literature and anime fandoms to pop-culture fanatics and pizza lovers- it’s where people of all leanings go to let their alter ego thrive.

Created using Imgflip
Created using Imgflip

Then of course social media became the new front of self-expression on the Internet. Back when social media was too much of a millennial thing for anyone to meddle with, avatars and usernames were a window into your personality and fantasies. Suddenly, it was cool to post emo quotes of Meredith Grey on Facebook and update the world on the picturesque breakfast you had (or not). Twitter upped the pressure by limiting expression to 140 characters (now 280-have you heard?) and the brevity translated to the Twitter handles as well. The trend of sarcasm-and-wit-laden handles is still alive well and has only gotten more sophisticated with time. The blogging platform Medium makes the best of Twitter intellect in longform. It’s here that even businesses have cool account names!

Self-expression on the Internet and the millennials’ love for the personalised and customised has indeed seen an interesting trajectory. Most millennial adolescents of yore though are now grownups, navigating an adulting crisis of mammoth proportions. How to wake up in time for classes, how to keep the boss happy, how to keep from going broke every month, how to deal with the new F-word – Finances! Don’t judge, finances can be stressful at the beginning of a career. Forget investments, loans and debts, even matters of simple money transactions are riddled with scary terms like beneficiaries, NEFT, IMPS, RTGS and more. Then there’s the quadruple checking to make sure you input the correct card, IFSC or account number. If this wasn’t stressful enough, there’s the long wait while the cheque is cleared or the fund transfer is credited. Doesn’t it make you wish there was a simpler way to deal with it all? If life could just be like…

Created using Imgflip
Created using Imgflip

Lo and behold, millennial prayers have been heard! Airtel Payments Bank, India’s first, has now integrated UPI on its digital platform, making banking over the phone easier than ever. Airtel Payments Bank UPI, or Unified Payment Interface, allows you to transfer funds and shop and pay bills instantly to anyone any time without the hassles of inputting any bank details – all through a unique Virtual Payment Address. In true millennial fashion, you can even create your own personalised UPI ID or Virtual Payment Address (VPA) with your name or number- like rhea@airtel or 9990011122@airtel. It’s the smartest, easiest and coolest way to pay, frankly, because you’re going to be the first person to actually make instant, costless payments, rather than claiming to do that and making people wait for hours.

To make life even simpler, with the My Airtel app, you can make digital payments both online and offline (using the Scan and Pay feature that uses a UPI QR code). Imagine, no more running to the ATM at the last minute when you accidentally opt for COD or don’t have exact change to pay for a cab or coffee! Opening an account takes less than three minutes and remembering your VPA requires you to literally remember your own name. Get started with a more customised banking experience here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Airtel Payments Bank and not by the Scroll editorial team.