A Love Supreme: Samosas and Memory

By Nilesh Patel

a-love-supreme-nilesh-patel.jpgA Love Supreme, 2001

A Love Supreme is a nine minute documentary of my mother’s hands preparing samosas, a traditional Indian dish of fried pastry parcels, filled with vegetables. She suffers from rheumatoid arthritis in her knees and shoulders, and my film was made in case the affliction spread to her hands. I did not want simply to record my mother’s hands but 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 deployed to achieve this. 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 100 years. I was interested in the dichotomy created by an amateur home movie made to Hollywood standards of sound and picture quality.

The concept and representation of memory was central to its development, and would be explored through five sets of relations: memory and… subject, film-maker, viewer, community, and cinema. My mother was taught by my grandmother, whom I regret not recording in a similar fashion, and I hoped that her memories of this would be triggered by viewing it, as she was the eldest of nine children and was responsible for feeding younger siblings whilst still a schoolgirl. The formal presentation 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.

This was one of the reasons why my mother’s face is not revealed in the film, and it also informed the film’s production design and use of black and white photography. Unlike most documentaries, little 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 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 to a plate of such cooking. 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 and appreciate the extraordinary skill expressed in its production.

I have vivid memories of first viewing Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull and Stranger than Paradise by Jim Jarmusch, one for the visceral possibilities of editing and sound design (in one of the last films, by a major director, of the pre-digital era), and the other for the adaptation of limited budget and resources towards effective film form and style. The generosity of experienced filmmakers and musicians enabled me to complete my film and festival and cinema programmers have presented my documentary to a wide audience. Like any other filmmaker, I hope that it will remain in the memory of all those who have seen it.

Nilesh Patel works as an architect.