Jag Mandir: Das Exzentrische Privattheater Des Maharadscha Von Udaipur (1991) (aka Jag Mandir)
Werner Herzog

“Culture in India is a basic life-sustaining force “


Jag MandirJag Mandir is a quiet and often overlooked film in the vast oeuvre of Werner Herzog. Apparently, 20 hours of footage was shot that covered the whole fest and the film hardly presents us a twentieth of that. A native walking into the film in between may well fail to immediately realize that it is his country that is being shown and these are figures from the mythology of various sections of his nation. You might take if for a scene from a procession in Thailand or a sketch from festival from Africa or even a snapshot from the gala celebrations in Brazil. Such is the diversity it presents that it reminds us of those clichés about Indian culture.

Werner Herzog’s Jag Mandir begins with an extended take of André Heller giving an introduction to the project (on which the film is based). He recollects his experiences organizing the folk-art festival called for by the Maharana of Udaipur, who the wishes that the succeeding prince sees the artistic diversity of the country before it succumbs to “mcdonaldization”. This is a mesmerizing section and Heller’s monologue contains observations that will leave you ruminating for a long long time. Being a native, I am always skeptic of westerners’ cursory probing of the country and the life-changing-experience it seems to give many. But Heller’s piece, though romanticized, gives everyone something to think about the way we live. The speech lasts for well over seven minutes and dissolves into the titles. Herzog then takes us back to the actual events which unfold without any demarcations between reality and fiction, as always with the director, The greater part of the film presents us footage of performances that run the gamut.

You have classical dancers in unison, street players wielding everything from swords to artificial horses, a man who lifts weights with his eyelids, a woman who balances a kid standing on a ten foot pole on her chin, a little girl who swings blazing torches with nonchalance and what not. It is highly likely the average Indian today hasn’t seen any of these folk art forms. The saddest and the most surprising part is that it looks like many of these art forms and skill sets aren’t seen around in the country today and may even have gone into oblivion without a trace. May be the Maharana’s nightmares have indeed come true.

P.S: Call it an obsession with a man obsessed with obsessions, but you’re going to be seeing more of Werner Herzog’s name on this blog. Trolls beware.