A film by Nilesh Patel from Architects Film Studio.
A Love Supreme is a nine minute documentary of my mother’s hands preparing samosas, a traditional Indian dish of filled pastry parcels.
My Mother came to the UK aged 19 in 1966. She worked as a Lockstitch Machinist in knitwear factories in the 1970’s and 80’s and used to sew zips and pockets onto cardigans. She developed rheumatoid arthritis in her knees and shoulders and had to stop working in her early forties. A Love Supreme was made in case the affliction spread to her hands: I selfishly thought that if she could not make samosas in the future, watching her prepare them on film would be the next best thing and that future generations of my family could watch also her make samosas, forever.
I did not want to simply to record my mother’s hands, or recreate a television cookery demonstration, with my Mother replacing a celebrity chef. I wanted to make a film which recreated the sense of extraordinary speed and strength I had observed as a child, and the grace and precision appreciated when older. Some of these qualities were fading, and techniques such as rapid montage and various camera speeds were used to both record and highlight these skills.
Although not a filmmaker, I approached the documentary film form as document first, and the use of 35mm film as an archival medium which could survive for 100years or more. In 1999, Digitial cameras were becoming cheaper however the long term storage capability of digital media was unknown. They were also unable to film at high speeds or produce slow motion effects.
The concept and representation of memory was central to its development, and would be explored through five sets of relations – memory and the subject; the film-maker; the viewer; the community; the cinema. Mainstream action films, action usually equals violence in cinema, were filmed with the latest technology, multiple cameras, helicopters steadicams. I felt that a short film about a 50-year old Mother deserved to made with the best picture and sound quality. I was also interested in confounding people expectations of a first time filmmaker making what might be easily dismissed as a ‘home-movie’.
Black and white photography was used to emphasize materials, surfaces, textures. . Unlike most documentaries, almost no factual information is provided about the subject, such as names, dates, times or locations. In fact, the subject is removed from any context and placed in a carefully designed but neutral setting.
My mother was taught how to make samosas by my Grandmother, whom I regret not recording in a similar fashion, and I hoped that my Mother’s memories of this would be triggered by viewing my film of her. She was the eldest of nine children and was responsible for feeding younger siblings whilst still a schoolgirl. The films unconventional framing enables viewers to project an image of their own mother, grandmother, daughter, wife, sister or aunt onto the isolated images of hands at work. This enables them to recall memories of similar labour intensive dishes, observed and consumed, whether they be dim-sum, artisan pasta or the perfect apple pie.
My intentions were to produce a film which I and my family could view in the future. If my Mother’s arthritis were to spread irreversibly, my film would preserve the many hours of samosa-making carried out over several decades and on numerous special occasions, such as birthdays and exam successes. Mothers feed you before you leave the womb and, for those of us fortunate to have been nourished by lovingly prepared hand-made food, nothing prepared by any celebrity chef or Michelin star winner compares.
Former immigrant communities are abandoning traditional practices. Some become redundant, some are updated, but others will be lost and, as a documentarist, I hope the film will be discovered by future generations of my family, and Asian communities, and that contemporary viewers might re-evaluate this everyday object, now seen in every British sandwich shop and petrol station, and appreciate the skill expressed in its production.
The film was inspired by two key precedents, Martin Scorsese’s ‘Raging Bull’ and ‘Stranger than Paradise’ by Jim Jarmusch. Both films are black and white but represent different approaches to filmmaking. One is about domestic and sporting violence and uses a wide variety of editing techniques, lenses, camera speeds, movement, angles, music and sound effects to vividly recreate the sensations of being in a boxing ring. The other uses short ends of black and white film almost static scenes, interspersed with fades to black.
In terms of music, we used a collage, a classic Bollywood songstress, new British Asian music and a blind sitar player, based in London. We had a mainly female crew and did not show my Mother the film until it was completed, 18 months after filming. I hired a screening room and had catering for 80 people, as I did not know whether it would be selected by any film festivals. By this time, my sister had has her first child. My 9 month old nephew attend the screening, so his first film was made by his uncle and was about his Grandmother.
Now, over 15 years after the film was made, my Mother has turned 70 and the film has been added to the City of Leicester Museum and Art Gallery’s portrait collection.