Indian new wave pioneer Kaul dies

Film veteran served on Berlin jury

Filmmaker Mani Kaul, who was in the vanguard of the Indian new wave movement of the ’70s, died July 7 in Delhi of cancer. He was 66.

Kaul was a graduate of the state-run Film and Television Institute of India, where he was mentored by Bengali master Ritwik Ghatak. Kaul’s debut feature, “Uski roti” (1970), polarized Indian audiences: The intelligentsia embraced the film but the mainstream media criticized it for moving away from the standard Hindi film song, dance and melodrama formula.

In 1971, Kaul served as a jury member at the Berlin Film Festival. During his career Kaul made 24 features, documentaries and shorts including “Ghashiram kotwal” (1976), “Siddheshwari” (1990) and the Dostoevksy adaptation “Idiot” (1991). In 1975, he won the Interfilm award at Berlin’s forum of new cinema for “Duvidha,” and in 1999 he won the Netpac award at the Rotterdam Film Festival for his last feature, “Naukar ki kameez.”

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Kaul taught film and music in the Netherlands in the ’90s. During his time in Europe, he directed one segment of Danish portmanteau film “Danske piger viser alt” and the short “The Cloud Door” (1995) for Germany’s Ziegler Film.

He returned to India and was director of the Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival of Asian and Arab Cinema at the time of his death.

“Mani loved nurturing and sharing ideas with young minds, trying to make them question in that ancient philosophic sense, which today few teachers even bother to explore,” said Neville Tuli, chairman of Indian arts and cultural institution Osian’s. “He seemed lost in his world of ideas. His journey of nurturing one’s freedom so as to continue to ideate and not having to find any acceptance from the general public was an inspiration to many.”

Kaul was “one of the pioneers of the new wave in Indian cinema who explored new language and expression in his films,” said Ambika Soni, India’s minister for information and broadcasting. “Kaul, through his innovative imagery, vocabulary and experimentation started a new movement in Indian cinema. His untimely death has left a void in the film industry, which would be very difficult to fill.”

He is survived by two sons and two daughters.