Filmmaker Ranjan Kamath’s Mitra Tantra—Archive of Personal Narratives and Oral Testimonies interweaves first person narratives and oral histories to present unique stories of individuals. As part of the project that was started earlier this year, Kamath hosts free-flowing conversations with participants at their homes and then uploads the video on social media sites such as YouTube and Instagram.
“The stories include events from their childhood, school and college life, careers, failures, day-to-day life, relationships, collaborations, witnessing the Partition and Emergency first-hand and views on marriage and family. It is a fascinating variety of topics,” he says. Prominent names which have been Kamath’s subjects so far are filmmaker MS Sathyu and Girish Kasaravalli, author Shashi Deshpande, artist Balan Nambiar, scientist CNR Rao, historian S Theodore Baskaran, journalist Sakuntala Narasimhan and theatre director Prasanna.
Mitra Tantra was born when Kamath realised that all tangible records of his mother’s memories vanished after her death. His friend, the British filmmaker Christopher Sykes, had done a project called Web of Stories to immortalise video interviews. It seemed the perfect solution. “Author Vladimir Nabokov, actor Richard Pryor and the writer Philip Roth shared their life stories with Sykes,” he says. Kamath wanted to expand the range of his subjects. “Speaking only to prominent people will make my project too exclusive. I am looking for ordinary people, too, to tell their stories,” he adds. Participants include local workers and taxi drivers. The videographer briefs them before every shoot. “I tell them that nothing is too insignificant or inconsequential. I want them to talk the way they feel.
They find it a liberating experience to speak spontaneously.” The result is an emotional trove. The sincerity, truthfulness and vulnerability shine through more often than not. It’s not an easy project, in spite of the rewards. “The immediate problem is funding. I’ve already spent a few lakhs doing these recordings so far.” The clips range from 90 seconds to three minutes. “The attention span these days is short. Sathyu has 78 videos, mostly averaging one minute each. Viewing all the videos is like getting a university degree, in terms of knowledge and insights,” he says. Memory museums, whether in Latin America or about the Holocaust, are avenues to seek the truth in politics and culture. They can consolidate or inflame. Kamath’s camera seeks the truth of the human condition through the voices and faces of the times.