The Nine Essences of Drama

The Nine Essences of Drama

10 Directors who capture these essences through their Films

In Nāṭyaśāstra, the oldest Indian text describing the creation and aesthetics of art of theatre, Sage Bharata lays down the theory of Rasa (Essence). It is said within this text that any form of art has within it one of nine Rasas, which are indispensable and without which nothing can have appeal. He defines Rasa as a mental state produced within the viewer free from all obstacles or blemishes and says that this aesthetic delight is the essence of art itself.

Of these Essences there are nine types: The Disgustful (Bibhitsa), The Peaceful (Śānta), The Comic (Hāsya), The Marvellous (Adbhuta), The Frightful (Bhayānaka), The Heroic (Veera), The Furious (Raudra), The Erotic (Śriṅgāra) and The Pathetic (Karuṇā). Of the Erotic there are two types: Eroticism-in-union (Sambhoga) and Eroticisim-in-privation (Vipralambha).

The following list of ten movies explains these Rasa’s in the context of cinema. For the art itself we remain indebted to these 10 great directors.

The Essence of Disgust (Bibhitsa)

In the Drama
Russia (1966)

Andrei Rublev is considered to be one of the great medieval Russian painters of orthodox Christian frescos – the movie Andrei Rublev (Андрей Рублёв) is his biography. Andrei Tarkovsky shows Rublev hurled by the tumults of the dark labyrinth that was medieval Russia whilst pursuing his passion for art. The time marks a treacherous period in Russian history characterised by the conflict of the princes of Moscow who were Scandinavian in origin and the Tartars – the Mongol invaders of Russia. Rublev for his survival and artistic pursuits is cast away, within this forlorn land, from one place to another befalling war, starvation and bloodshed.

One should particularly observe the scenes that show ‘Theophanes the Greek’ – the man who trained Rublev.  After the city of Vladimir is raided by its grand prince’s brother in a coup d’état along with the Tartars, Rublev, aghast and almost deprived of consciousness, imagines a deeply philosophical conversation with Theophanes, now dead. In the following sequence both of them are seen moving within the orbit of the same circle wherein the tracking shot shifts from one person to another. Rublev, having killed a man, although for a noble purpose, takes a vow of silence and says that he would never paint again. A similar degree of  philosophical intellect may be found in a prior scene that shows an argument between the two. Here Rublev questions as to how Theophanes could blame the tragedy in Russia upon the ignorance of people by calling them benighted. The latter part of the film consists of Rublev trying to make his peace with the world and regaining his passion for art. The film ends with the images of his paintings. 

 Tarkovsky, similar to Sergie Parajanov, advances the narrative with titled episodes that are filled with bird-eye shots, slow motions and enigmatic movements brimming with meta-physical context. The movie becomes a symbol of the depiction of cruelty and ignorance of man, unequivocally capturing and disorienting the viewers in order to make them understand the pain and disgust that was felt by the protagonist. 

One may see in this film why the great Swedish director Ingmar Bergman called Tarkovsky “The greatest of them all.” 

The Essence of Peace (Śānta)

In the Drama
Japan (1949)
The Essence of Peace (Śānta)

For all its emotional affluence, no film has yet been able to match the sentiment of Yasujirō Ozu’s Late Spring (晩春, Banshun). The plot of the movie, as has always been the case with Ozu-san, is based on the story of a family. It revolves around a father (Chishû Ryû) and his daughter (Setesuko Hara). Though the theme may not seem very appealing, yet to understand its greatness all one has to do is simply watch the movie. 

On a tangential note, it may be of relevance to know that during the making of Ordet (1955), Carl Theador Dreyer was concerned about the disruption of unity that would befall a movie due to its scenes being composed by joining twenty or thirty cuts and hence, inspired by the floating close up, devised a method of long 8 to 10 minute shots. But Yasujirō Ozu plays with the cuts as musicians play with notes in their compositions. The cuts themselves become the source of emotions – its flow and unity. It is through these changes in compositions that the movie creates, within it what is, perhaps, the greatest narrative structure in cinema. The camera cuts back and forth, from one composition to another, with unparalleled beauty and fluency. This may be seen, for one, in the sequence where the protagonists are watching a Noh play; in the sequence that presides for over 10 minutes, there is no dialogue within the scene but just the camera cutting back and forth from the protagonists to the play. In an event that occurs within this sequence, Chishû Ryû sees a woman he knows and bows, and Setesuko Hara follows him – nothing atypical and yet the scene is so emotionally overwhelming that the audience cannot but fall for the repose offered by this poignant bliss. The viewer cannot but surrender to this emotional fulfilment that overflows the enfeebled brim of his heart.

In his Nāṭyaśāstra, Bharat says, “When human nature with its joys and sorrows, is depicted by means of representation through gestures and the like, it is called drama.” Therefore the role of the director is the depiction and furthermore the explanation of emotion. Through these compositions and cuts Yasujirō Ozu proves himself to be, within cinema, the greatest explainer of emotions. In Late Spring, Ozu-san portrays a combination of beautiful and emotionally enriched short-and-long comedic-and-sorrowful sequences in bars, streets and houses with the help of Pillow- and Tami-shots that when put together create this essence that beholds the viewer. 

However, the truth of the matter is that the film is never intended to leave one in such a state of lassitude but to guide gently and make the viewer understand the emotions of the characters. The film proceeds, not artificially laden with intensive pathos but naturally creating within one the feeling of empathy whose acceptance leads to the sentiment of peace. Ozu-san portrays emotion in their truest form, free from all adverse desires. As was explained in the Nāṭyaśāstra, emotions cannot be perceived but inferred and the means for derivation of these are given to the audience, at its richest, in Late Spring.

Late Spring is a depiction of emotion in its purest form; the purity of mind that befalls the viewer through the subtle emotions that are mirthful, wondrous and yet poignant. The cinematic beauty that brims within every cut of the movie only reinforces the fact that one doesn’t know what cinema is until he has seen the films of Yasujirō Ozu.

The Essence of Comedy (Hāsya)

In the Drama
France (1939)
The Essence of Comedy (Hāsya)

The Rules of the Game (La Règle du Jeu) is Jean Renoir’s most acclaimed masterpiece. The emotion of mirth that is seen within the film branches out from the follies and habits of upper-class French society. The source of the comedy is a wretched society that acts as if bereft of morality, only to  reveal itself as a disgustful morass. To them the world appears but like a cruel game played out only for their pleasure. 

The plot revolves around the character André Jurieux (Roland Toutain) trying to court Christine (Nora Gregor) and the multiple complications that arise due to this endeavour. The film is woven with a number of subplots and Jean Renoir has the viewer encircled at one moment by merriment, by sorrow in another and by disgust in the third. This can, at its best, be seen in a sequence which depicts the events that encompass the dance macabre. In the disguise of a comedy the film slowly reveals the true character of this corrupt society all while André Jurieux is trying to fit within the leaden nature of this community only to later find himself entombed by it.

The film marks a milestone in the evolution of camera technique and movements. Mr. Renoir uses deep focus lenses so that he is able to capture his compositions from a distance. It must also be noted here that the assistant director of the film is the renowned photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson.

The mood of the film, the use of Baroque rhymes, the uniqueness of the story are all emphasized by the underlying satire — a style which makes this movie one of the greatest films of all time. 

The Essence of Wonderment (Adbhūta

in the Drama
The Essence of Wonderment (Adbhūta)

Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu Monogatari (雨月物語, Tales of Ugetsu — Moonlight & Rain) is a cinematic depiction of two stories taken from Ueda Akinari’s identically named book. The movie is set in 18th century Japan, also known as the Edo period. The narrative beholds the events that ensue the success of a craftsman Genjûrô (Masayuki Mori) and his neighbour Tôbee (Eitaro Ozawa) who is shown as striving to become a samurai. As the film progresses the narrative divulges how ambition cripples the souls of these men. This excessive desire, whose roots though noble, branches out into greed, lust and fraud, inevitably corrupting the sprit of these men.

Akira Kurosawa called Mizoguchi-san the “truest creator” of Japanese cinema and this film is testament enough. Mizoguchi-san transforms poetry of words into poetry of images and achieves through atmosphere what Ueda Akinari had achieved through literature. It is but obvious why Mizoguchi-san is known as the “master of the long take” — his method and cinematography in this film percolates the emotion into the heart of the viewer. One cannot help but be taken aback by the scenes wherein Genjûrô is shown intoxicated with ecstasy, or when the boat slowly appears through the mist, or while the camera subtly makes the night flee at the sight of day. The mastery of Mizoguchi-san may be appreciated when one recognises how he instils a quality of wonderment within the audience. The scene when the lights from the rooms of the opulent mansion, which are being unhurriedly illuminated one after the other, befall the corridor beguiles the audience into a state of hypnosis.

The flow of emotion and atmosphere in this film Ugetsu Monogatari is ever so fluent and beautiful that it at first stifles the viewers, then intoxicates them and finally in their feeble state of despondence brings them resolve. 

The Essence of Fear (Bhayānaka)

in the Drama
Sweden (1957)
The Essence of Fear (Bhayānaka)

Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, set in medieval Europe, is a story that revolves around a knight, Antonius Block (Max von Sydow). Antonius, disillusioned upon his return from the Crusades, finds Europe dismayed by plague. In this state of lassitude, upon the arrival of Death (Bengt Ekerot) and recognising the inevitability of his demise, he invites Death to a game of chess with a hope to prolong his life.

The film opens with the shot of a cliff engulfed by the frail light of dawn. One sees the silhouette of two horses standing amidst the waves ebbing away. The next frame shows Antonius getting up, praying and then going to wash his face in the receding tide as the camera reveals a board of chess. Soon we see the apparition, Death, appear in form of a man.  One cannot but take notice of the fact that the film leaves oneself engulfed by its profound nature and mood. This serenity, created by Mr. Bergman in course of time, leaves the viewer staggered in trepidation.

The title of the film refers to the “Book of Revelation” in Christian eschatology, which describes the apocalyptic and prophetic visions of John of Patmos. The film is about faith itself and one’s inability to fathom the cause of suffering. In a scene where Antonius, unknowingly, confesses to Death, the latter questions as to why he wants to bargain for time. Antonius, within his answer, describes how he is unable to forgo faith in God, how he no longer wishes to believe in God and yet, his heart crumbles having within it this precariously natured belief of God; and that despite his longing for death he lies in despair at the thought of emptiness. Within the Book of Revelation, John of Patmos is instructed by God to write down the visions he sees and to pacify the people that despite the anguish of plagues and war that shall consume them one must remain faithful until one’s own death.  

While Mr. Bergman’s style guides the audience through the story it is besieged by emotions of fear and trepidations led by serenity all along the course of this movie. The Seventh Seal for all its intensity ends with a comforting yet poignant vision from one of its own characters that rejuvenates one’s belief in God.

The Essence of Heroic (Veera)

in the Drama
The Essence of Heroic (Veera)

Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (七人の侍) is a film that recites a majestic tale about a group of samurai warriors who offer their protection to a village that was often raided by bandits. Kurosawa-san is known for writing scripts and conjuring atmospheres that besiege the viewers to such an extent that it becomes impossible for them to loose focus of the events that happen in front of them. From the time the audience sees the blazing hooves of the horses, upon which ride the bandits, throng across the horizon, their heart is filled with intrigue. Although the movie runs for over three hours, the film comes does not loose its grip on the plot and narrative, keeping its viewers enchanted throughout. Many actors that had formerly worked with Akira Kurosawa make an appearance in this movie again; chief among whom is Takashi Shimura who plays the role of Kanbei Shimada, the samurai who upon being taken aback by the sight of the distressed farmers, decides to help them. 

Within the movie is a scene where Heihachi (Minoru Chiaki), another samurai, displays the banner painted by him to other seated samurai, in order to uphold their sprits during the upcoming battle. This scene that is simple but cheerful later acts as an excitant, as the banner waves throughout the varying tides of this battle, even as some of them succumb to death. It is with such connection in events and scenes that Kurosawa-san imbues the characters with emotions of courage and grief that ensues into valour; ultimately creating within one the passion of heroism itself. 

The action within the film is neither swift nor sudden but is a paced progression, which is made up of strategic and tactical events that are woven with an ineffable atmosphere. The deafening rains, the blistering winds, the ranges of mountains and the tranquil farmlands are the foundations upon which scenes and actions stand brimming with emotions; all while the battle advances. Akira Kurosawa ’s Seven Samurai is perhaps the greatest epic created in cinematic history and leaves the viewer overwhelmed.

The Essence of Wrath (Raudra)

In Drama
U.S.A. (1980)
The Essence of Wrath (Raudra)

Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull is a biographical film of a boxer, Jake LaMotta (Robert de Niro). The film, like many other great movies, resembles to a certain degree the old Chinese Shan-shui (mountain-water) paintings. The several boxing scenes serve as a focal point and the events that occur in the rest of the scenes are like the lines of meandering paths that help heighten this central theme, eventually leading, not only LaMotta but also the audience, to an emotional liberation. Jake LaMotta seems to be unaware of all other occurrences within the film; the only consciousness of his that perhaps remains lies within this consumption of a profusion of irascible and intoxicating unease.

Inspired by Buster Keaton’s Battling Butler (1926), the progression of Dutch angles, freeze frames, sounds of flashing cameras and droplets of blood engulf the audience and suggest to them the primary mood of the film. One may notice how these scenes give shape to all events ensuing this blaze of ambition.

The story of the rise and fall of ambition centered around the protagonist’s career and social life resembles Citizen Kane (1941) to a high degree. Towards the end one sees that LaMotta’s life, now deprived of purpose, casts him into debility whereby his ambition and rage seem to ebb away into an abyss of darkness. The film may not only be noted for its direction but also the complementary performance of Motta’s brother Joey (Joe Pesci).

In order to understand the genius of Robert de Niro’s acting, one need only see the prison scene in which LaMotta laments in self-disparagement. De Niro instills a state of wretchedness based upon the intensity of Jake LaMotta’s jealousy and resentment, which expresses forth the passion of wrath. Raging Bull, for more reasons than one, is truly one of the greatest works cinema has produced. 

The Essence of Eroticism-in-Union (SambhogaŚriṅgāra

In the drama
USA (1927)
The Essence of Eroticism-in-Union (Sambhoga-Śriṅgāra)

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans is perhaps the pinnacle in the career of the great German-American director F. W. Murnau. The film revolves around a man (George O’Brien) whose soul is left but defaced and mangled by the abhorrent vices lust and greed. His mind lays consumed by this immersive blaze of desire. All his senses lie mouldering and his thoughts, engulfed by another woman, are bent on killing his wife. The story progresses as O’Brien devises a plan to kill her but in this endeavour rediscovers his love for her. The plot though simple creates an emotional flow of beautiful and structured sequences.

Murnau was the pioneer in the use of camera angles or as he preferred to call them “dramatic angles”.  Murnau used these angles to “photograph thought” and one may see its illustration in Sunrise. The movie’s narrative follows a style that greatly resembles the Neo-realist techniques, which came into existence decades after it. The sequences occurring during night, the boat rowing in the river and the trolly slowly entering into into the city truly leave the view in an exalted state.

The film, as its reels run through the projector, has the states of unsteadiness, trepidation and dementedness ebbing away, leaving the pure emotion of love within the characters thereby evoking within the viewer this essence of Eroticism-in-union.  This relish, once unveiled, imparts shape and gives direction to all events that precede its revelation as well as those all that are to ensue it. The film, for its cinematography, atmosphere and pre-eminent use of camera movement truly marks a milestone in cinema.

The Essence of Eroticism-in-Separation

In the Drama 
India (1957)
The Essence of Eroticism-in-Separation  (Śriṅgāra-Vipralambha)

The film Pyaasa (literally, Thirst; but used here to mean Wistful — an unfulfilled longing) is a story about a struggling poet Vijay (Guru Dutt, who is also the Director). The narrative of the film is shaped by Vijay knocking trying, albeit in vain, to publish his works. In this endeavour he stumbles upon Meena (Mala Sinha), a woman whom he had loved but who in turn had left him to marry another man while still possessing feelings for him.

Flung around the city by his pursuits, both artistic and personal, Vijay comes to realise the emptiness of his desires and the ephemeral nature of the affluences he seeks within this unforgiving world. In his journey is woven the plot of the courtesan Gulabo (Waheeda Rehman) who is an admirer of his poetry and who is soon shown to fall in love with him; something which remains unrecognised to Vijay. 

The film ardently conveys its emotions through glances, embellished with lyrical songs and sequential close-ups. Within this sequence of close-ups, the film to a degree, resembles The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). Neither was Pyaasa a musical nor did the songs serve the purpose of an interlude; nevertheless the script demands the music and lyrical poetry that is seen woven into it. In fact, the songs, its lyrics and the events that occur during its visualisation only proceed to exalt the emotions. The film itself, as if, plays on only for its songs and the shape that they imparts to the narrative.

The story, on its periphery, revolves around the longing for love by both Meena and Gulabo while at its core, the story portrays the struggle of its protagonistVijay. The sentiment of love, though common to Indian cinema, is reflected in its various manifestations — fulfilled and unfulfilled, across its three main characters. Pyaasa, if only for the direction of Guru Dutt — especially his floating close-ups, is an essential study for any filmmaker.

The Essence of Pathetic (Karuṇā)

In the Drama
USA (1940)
The Essence of Pathetic (Karuṇā)

Orson Welles, when asked about the films that influenced him said, “I prefer the old masters, by which I mean John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford.” From Yasujirō Ozu to Federico Fellini and from Satyajit Ray to Ingmar Bergman, there is perhaps no renowned director who has himself not learnt from the mastery of the great John Ford.

Mr. Ford, who was known for his westerns, turned to John Steinbeck’s novel to make The Grapes of Wrath. The story in the film is set during the great depression. Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) after being released from prison finds his land evicted and his family displaced and repressed by poverty. In their impoverished state Joad, along with his family, travels in search for work but his pursuit lies in vain for they are but cast asunder encountering loss and tragedy. 

John Ford said, “Anybody can direct a picture once they know the fundamentals. Directing is not a mystery, it’s not an art. The main thing about directing is: photograph the people’s eyes.” One can infer from this quote the character and genius of this man and how he intends to convey emotions to the viewer. It is said and rightly so that in a film directed by Mr. Ford it is not possible to have the camera at a better position than that in which it already lies. The Grapes of Wrath is such an exemplar.

The essence of a John Ford film lies within its music. Towards the end of the movie there is a scene wherein a dance has been arranged in one of the government housing camps. Death unfortunately beholds some of Tom Joad’s acquaintances and family members. The mood at the beginning of the scene, forestalling certain events, is slightly tainted with tension. But then the song Red River Valley — a melody iconic to Mr. Ford’s films, is played. Even a simple scene like this leaves the viewer overwhelmed with sorrow. This feeling of pathos is then exalted when later the disillusioned Joad decides to leave the family in order to help others who, like him, too were suffering. The camera cuts to a long shot showing Fonda walking across the horizon and the same melody is now played in the background. It is sequences like these that, while piercing the viewer with morose, reveal the mastery of John Ford. 

The Grapes of Wrath won Mr. Ford his third (out of six) Oscar. And the film holds its place among the greatest ever made.

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