The Cloud Door (1994)

The Cloud Door is a 1994 short Indo-German dramatic film, directed by acclaimed Indian director Mani Kaul and featuring Hindu and Muslim erotic literary themes. The film was produced by the German producer Regina Ziegler.

The International Film Festival of India, held in January 1995 in Bombay (India’s “Bollywood”), was in an uproar. For the first time, despite a treasury of native erotic art and literature, an Indian erotic film had been made by Mani Kaul, the aesthete among Indian filmmakers, and could be seen at the festival. Only one screening was allowed for the Erotic Tales program – Wet, The Dutch Master, and The Cloud Door – and, sure enough, the police had to be called out to prevent a riot at the doors of the Sterling cinema. IFFI director Malti Sahai resolved the dilemma by scheduling an extra press screening for The Cloud Door at the Little Theatre in the Tata Institute on Nariman Point. After the press screening, Indian Television interviewed co-producer Lalitha Krishna and actress Anu Arya Aggarwal, who had placed her career on the line by exposing a breast in the production. A taboo had been broken. Or had it? Two year later, the Indian distributor of the Erotic Tales was still trying to clear the films at the government censor board.

Mani Kaul drew upon three literary sources for The Cloud Door: Bhasa’s Sanskrit play Avimaraka (5th-7th century), Mohammed Jayasi’s Sufi epic love poem Padmavat (13th century), and the anonymous writer of the Erotic Indian Tales Suksapiti. Indians know well the story of the parrot Hermani leading Ratnasan to the bed-chamber of the Princess Kurangi, but they have yet to see it on the local screen.

The film was also screened at the Munich Film Festival, Locarno International Film Festival, New York Film Festival and the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar. Locarno wrestled München for the right of “first festival night” (München won), and both the New York Film Festival and the Robert Flaherty Seminar selected The Cloud Door for presentation – such invitations are high praise for any director.