By Aranya Sahay, Student, Ctrl Alt Cinema 2017
I once came across this YouTube video titled ‘Perspectives: A conversation with Rohail Hyatt’. Rohail Hyatt happens to be the founder of Coke Studio Pakistan. In this talk, he spoke about an encounter he had with an ‘Ustad’ he chose not to name. While practicing for a show in Lahore, Rohail felt like the ‘Ustad’ was singing a little off the key that he was playing the keys in. On being asked the same, the Ustad smiled and replied “Son your ears aren’t as well trained. Don’t play the keys, just tell me if it feels off to you without having to look at the notes”. Rohail Hyatt closed his eyes and heard the Ustad sing for a while. He didn’t feel that the Ustad was off, which baffled him. The Ustad told him that before the ‘standard’ tuning set by the West was 440 Hz, instruments were tuned to all sorts of tunings. Some of these tunings, he said, were ‘natural tunings’ and that because the tuning was now set to 440 Hz certain notes that were earlier compatible with other tunings were now lost and irked our senses whenever they were played or sung. So in a way our senses were/ are dumbed down by a certain standardization.
This struck a chord with me especially when I was doing a course called ‘Ctrl Alt Cinema’. The most crucial revelation of this course for me was the realization of how my body and my senses were used to and in turn dumbed down by a certain standardization in the cinema that I had been exposed to. And whenever a certain scene or film broke that ‘standardization’ my body felt uncomfortable and senses felt out of place. Film screening and discussions were an absolutely essential part of this course.
During one such screening, while we were watching a film called ‘Cemetery of Splendor’ I realized how my body was fidgety, shifting positions, turning on one side of the bean bag to the other. I asked myself why this was happening when I had tried to pay complete attention during the screening. The answer revealed itself during the discussion that followed the screening. Somebody brought up the fact that each shot of the film was at least 2 mins long. The camera was placed at a single point without being moved for almost 2 mins in every scene. Only actors were moving as per the blocking decided by the director. In a particular scene the camera didn’t move over 4 mins. This brings an issues to the fore. One, in the ton of movies that we watch in a year the length of a shot doesn’t exceed 40 seconds followed by a cut. The film may or may not go back to the same shot after this break but it makes sure that the length of a particular shot doesn’t exceed 40 seconds. Our bodies and our senses are conditioned and accustomed to this duration. And whenever an edit/ a shot with no movement exceeds these 40 seconds our bodies/ senses start reacting and feeling uncomfortable. My reaction was changing my seating position.
Another example of ‘visual conditioning’ stemming from standardization in cinema is our tendency to look for a causal relationship between different aspects of a film. We are conditioned to find a relationship between two possibly unrelated aspects in a film. Whereas, life, where cinema derives everything from, has instances where event A and event B might be unrelated. It is difficult to derive a causal relation between the two (because of the sheer possibilities and probable permutations of those possibilities) and the fact that looking for cause and effect in everything often snatches away the beauty of looking back at life and looking ahead at it. The same is true for cinema.