Everything is always in the middle

A screening and conversation exploring cultural story-telling and duration in cinema


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Artistic legacies
  • Memory
  • Pedagogy

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Penn Cinema Studies


Rahul Mukherjee


School of Arts and Sciences, University of Pennsylvania

Opens to public



3:30pm, 6:30pm


4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Slought is pleased to announce "Everything is always in the middle," a film screening and conversation on Thursday, October 22, 2015 at 6:00pm featuring filmmaker Ashish Avikunthak and Cinema Studies scholars Rahul Mukherjee and Shekhar Deshpande in conversation, preceded by a short excerpt of Ashish Avikunthak's Rati Chakravyuh (2013, 102 mins). A full screening of the film will take place prior to the public conversation at 3:30pm.

In Avikunthak's film, young couples gather together in a circle on their wedding night and talk about life, death, and everything in between: it is going to be their last conversation. Their exchanges are tracked by a camera in a circular trolley for 102 minutes in one long take; once their conversation ends, the trolley stops, they commit mass suicide, and the film ends. Avikunthak's film is thus both a meditation about duration in cinema and an exploration of Indian mythologies and marriage customs. It is at once an ambitious cinematic experiment with the long take, and at the same time an examination of the possibilities of cultural story-telling.

Conversation among the couples range from epics to contemporary trivia, confessions of sex and deceit to whimsical fabricated stories from their own lives and others they know. Slowly orbiting these couples exchanging anecdotes sitting in a circle, the film camera creates the feeling for spectators of both being in a Vedic yagna and in a game with a macabre ending. The lack of a cut in the film and the knowledge about the imminent death of the couples after the ritual/game ends will make audiences recall both the cinema of great masters of duration like Pasolini and Rocha and situations in The Last Supper and Katho Upanishid. Ashish Avikunthak's films are unique in India, for they are neither Bollywood creations nor parallel art cinema. They are neither creations of a visual anthropologist nor a socially-committed documentary filmmaker. And yet, they engage these practices, through experimentation both with ritual and form.

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Ashish Avikunthak is one of the most prolific experimental filmmaker from India, who has been making films for the past 20 years. His films have been shown worldwide in film festivals, galleries and museums. Notable screenings were at the Tate Modern, London, Centre George Pompidou, Paris, Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, Taipei Biennial 2012, along with London, Locarno, Rotterdam, and Berlin film festivals among other locations. He has been the subject of a series of retrospectives, and in 2011 he was short listed for the Skoda Prize for Indian Contemporary Art. He has a PhD in cultural anthropology from Stanford University and is currently an Assistant Professor of Film Media at the University of Rhode Island.

Shekhar Deshpande is a Professor of Media Studies and Film at the Media and Communication Dept., Arcadia University. He is completing the book Anthology Film and World Cinema(Bloomsbury) and co-authoring the book The New World Cinema (Routledge).

Rahul Mukherjee is Assistant Professor of Television and New Media Studies. He teaches in the Cinema Studies program at Penn and his research interests include media infrastructures and platforms.

"This is a film of one death: or more accurately, thirteen deaths. At midnight during a lunar eclipse, six young newlywed couples and a priestess meet after a mass wedding. This will be their last conversation, and after it lasts for some time, they commit mass suicide. This is how the film is described.

[...] But what is the agenda here? It remains in a curious way an open question, with perhaps an answer in both ritual and sacrifice, from both of which the cinema has over its existence sought answers. And perhaps that does remain the curious, unanswered, final question in a film that ends in mass-suicide."

-- Ashish Rajadhyaksha, from The Circular Trolley: Duration in Cinema (2013)