Ujjwal Kanishka Utkarsh

The revolution is everyday

The Practice-based PhD project ‘The Revolution is Everyday’ is an attempt to observe protests. For me, the cinematic form is truest to its essence in the ‘observational’. Through this form the intention is to go beyond the statistical and the quantitative and even challenge the notion of the story as a driving or organising force/framework for cinema. Instead of getting tangled in the “truth game”, this approach is geared towards looking at, listening to, and focusing on the sensorial and eXperiential reality. It is an attempt to push cinema beyond the visible-aural world to be able to visibilise the invisible and sound the inaudible. What happens when the gaze of such a form which revels in the mundane and everyday life, is turned towards looking at a spectacle? The spectacle of the protest, for instance. In the contemporary Indian political situation, where the voice of dissent is under severe attack and suppression, this project emerged from a very organic space of urgency. 

As part of the process, the resulting film ‘Chalo Una’ (Come! Let’s march to Una) is an attempt to revisit an anti-caste protest that happened in 2016 in the Western Indian state of Gujarat. In trying to observe and evoke the ghosts of the ten-day protest rally, we retraced its path on its third anniversary. This has been juxtaposed with short excerpts from over a hundred hours of recorded conversations I had with people organising and participating in the rally. The 94-minute long film has around 25 shots and has been structured according to the protest rally’s chronology.    

Through the thesis, I reflect on this larger filmmaking journey. To situate and conteXtualise the project, the reflection begins from my earlier attempts at cinematic observational works. My previous artistic practice builds up a conceptual framework of this approach to cinema. In trying to show the difficulty and impossibility of ‘observing protests’, there is a reflection on the failed attempts to be able to do so. In reflecting on this interweaving of theory and practice, the attempt is to build a conceptual scaffolding for this approach to cinema. To analyze what has been done in and through the process of making ‘Chalo Una’. While the film is an attempt to evoke the ghosts of the protest rally, the thesis intends to evoke and point towards the various issues that emerge through such a filmmaking exercise. By relying on conversations, stories, anecdotes, diary entries, and using different knowledge systems and frameworks, it is also to challenge singular and limited narrow approaches to what is usually accepted as knowledge. In a similar spirit as the film, the thesis goes beyond the notions of the tangible and the rational, but rather pointing towards filmmaking and its reflection as an ongoing shared experience.

ujjwal utkarsh, 2021, (still from the film)
ujjwal kanishka utkarsh is a Phd-in-Practice candidate at the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna. He has been trying to develop a form that emerges out of the observational cinema tradition and he continues to do that through his PhD project. For ujjwal, this has resonances with John Cage’s ideas of beauty and he has explored that through various forms and themes. He has looked at ideas of nothingness, of being in transit and also at labour practices, specifically at peculiar farming practices.

In his current ongoing work, he is trying to see if and how through this form he can look at and reflect upon political activity. In the current political situation, where the space for voice of dissent is rapidly diminishing, truth is either viewed very simplistically and reality as objective or the post modern perspective renders all truth relative and all reality socially constructed. In this context, this is also an exploration to see if such ideas of observational form could create a space that avoids pitfalls of both these seemingly untenable theoretical extremes.

ujjwal primarily makes films while frequently dabbling into other forms like photography, sound and theater. He has also been a faculty of various aspects of filmmaking in several institutes across India.


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