Journal of Cinema and Cultural Theory
B-26, P.O. Mosabani Mines Bihar 832104 Tel: 0091-06585-75426
Editors: Asim Ratan Ghosh and Dr. Arup Ratan Ghosh
Theme: Cultural Theory and Cinema
Focus: Buddhadeb Dasgupta and Gautam Ghose
Speacial Feature: Articles by Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Ashoke Viswanathan, Malay Bhattacharya, SauravSarangi
Review Articles on: Kurosawa, Wajda, Brecht, Basu Bhattacharya
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Asim Ratan Ghosh, B-26, Mosabani, Bihar 832 104
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Cultural Theory and Cinema issue 1999
In our way of life as we pass our everyday - culture melts and simultaneously freezes into different shapes forming the popular culture, elite culture, middle brow culture, subculture etc. and melts again into mobility. For various reasons culture casts sensibility and sensitivity to all of us. In every sphere of life we feel its deep breathing. Culture has its developing time dimension in the areas of Arts too. Film or the moving images come in this context. The need for a theory for better understanding, study and observation of the subject encompassing the two important and apparently different domains viz. the social and the aesthetic - the cultural theory is constantly forming its shapes with its burgeoning ideas and implementations in various disciplines calling - postmodernism, Popular Culture, Feminism, and Post-Feminism, Marxism, and Post-Marxism, Utilitarianism, Culturalism, Formalism, Structuralism and Post- Structuralism, Psychoanalysis, Ethnographic Surrealism, Post- Colonialism, Literary theory, film theory, Subaltern studies etc. Film studies is considered as a branch of cultural studies. Since the 70s cultural studies come into the serious academic periphery of study and research - especially centre for contemporary Cultural Studies in the Birmingham University, U.K.
Now in the twilight years of the twentieth century and at the time of dawning of the twenty first we like to look back upon the escalating cultures cumulated in our time in the flux of the past centuries. Film is our subject in which we put our process of theorising film and culture with Indian sensibilities for finer understanding of our Time (or timelessness), Place (or placelessness) and Art. To shape this journal up to a reader of Contemporary Cultural Theory and Film both national and international scholars from various disciplines of Cultural Studies an film present their papers of high thought of culture in popular level for an interesting better reading of the subject.
Red DoorOpens: Viewpoints from
Cultural and Critical Theories
In this paper Dr. Arup Ratan Ghosh constructs a model of film analysis exploring various ideas and concepts from the cultural and critical theories of Freud and Lacan, Saussure, Foucault, Barthes, Derrida, Eco and of Postmodernism and Deconstruction.
Lal Darja (Red Door, 1996) belongs to the handful of films in the post Satyajit Indian film scenario. It remains in the always-waiting mode for special evaluation and analysis. Keeping this very first sentence of this paper in the utmost care for understanding and analysis diachronically or in the perspective of history let us advance step by step for re-visualising and analysing the film irrespective of time,i.e. synchronically. But indeed in its process the contemporary history will produce the chiaroscuro of its various nuances of light and shadow.
Lal Darja is the door of heart – what under the spell of pure simplicity opens up suddenly feeling one astonished. On the contrary, it never opens without the presence of innocent simplicity. Both the absence and presence of such kind of childhood simplicity are kept in numerous moments throughout the film for being developed to create a splendid visual sensation - sometimes with intensity and sometime in a subdued manner. In this context, we remember Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction theory specially its fundamental concepts of Presence/absence or Prolific tracing. If we deconstruct the film applying the model of Derrida’s deconstruction theory and film, then we find the deconstruction of the different signs used in the film and their inner differences. In this way, we also find that Lal Darja gradually gets its different new centres. This kind of shifting of centres with which Derrida created a big bang in the Western metaphysical assumption (which generally holds that a structure has a fixed centre) reading his paper "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourses of the Human Sciences" (1966).
Let us Observe Lal Darja through this kind of Derridean deconstruction. But before that it is required to have a look on the structure of events narrated in the film.
The textures of the narration
Dr. Nabin Datta is a dentist who is unhappy both in his family and marital life. From time to time he consults with a general physician. He discloses him that he has a peculiar disease and its symptom is a feeling of iron-like-body stiffening. His wife turns him down on bed for this reason. But the general physician cannot find anything wrong with his body.
Beside that, Dr. Datta’s only child studies in a school residing in a hostel at Darjeeling, communicates only with his mother through telephone thus totally ignoring his father. He even refuses to talk with him. Gradually we come to know that the dentist’s wife feels herself unhappy in her family and from time to time goes to her old lover secretly. But one day Dr. Datta comes to know about her secret affairs. As the events in the family roll on, her wife goes to stay somewhere. She tells her husband that she is going there at least for a period of time. Coming from hostel their son goes to her mother and Dr. Datta has to leave him to her new home.
Dr. Datta tries to compare his unhappy interpersonal relationship which has almost shatters into pieces-with the out and out successful marital life and love affairs of his driver Dinu. He has two wives in two different places and moreover he has a teenage lover somewhere else. On Dr. Datta’s request he lets him introduced with all his counterparts. Dr. Datta astonishingly comes to know that each of them knows everything about her husband or beloved without feeling any problem. Dr. Datta can not understand how does the driver can manage to lead a smooth life with three women. He poses a question how he manages so much expenditure for them.
The director of the film Buddhadeb Dasgupta emphatically begins the film creating a forceful dimension of the social milieu of the film showing the sudden killing of a woman in a city - street in open daylight. Sitting in his car, Dr. Datta stares at the incident feeling himself very much uneasy. His uneasiness spreads throughout the film. One day a patient comes to his chamber. Surprisingly we see one day Dr. Datta asks him whether he will be able to murder someone in lieu of money. He agreed to the proposal and we see, that guy and Dr. Datta going out by car downtown in search of a professional murderer known to the patient. But Dr. Datta makes him get down from the car midway changing his mind. Considering him a whimsical man the patient goes away at a distance. It is shown as if the whole murder assignment venture is but an imaginary vision of Dr. Datta or revelation of some of his unconscious feelings. In the end as well as from time to time we find Dr. Datta and the physician sit face to face. Coming for consulting about the ‘iron like-body stiffening disease’ Dr. Datta is actually telling his own story of life. So they appear altogether occasionally in the film but actually this consultation all through the film is mere imagination of Dr. Datta.
Occasionally intercutting the linear narration of the film the scene of televiewing comes in. Sometimes we find programmes like news telecasting. From these we listen ‘Recently a type of disease has been spreading quickly whose symptom is iron like body stiffening’. From the T.V. bulletin we come to know that the investigation for the murder of the woman in the street is going on. It is also assumed that behind the murder there lies love affairs. Dr. Datta is seen to hide his uneasiness listening to that in the T.V. news because he is one of the eye witnesses of that murder and also for the reason that he is about to take a move to murder his wife by the help of a professional murderer.
Reading and analysis after Lacan
Besides these, the TV-screen often becomes very much appealing in different modes with the individual style of the director. Time and again an innocent face of a boy appears in the midst of television flow wearing red dress. His close-up magnifies covering the whole screen. Probably he is the image of the childhood days of Dr. Nabin Datta. He calls Dr. Datta who is tired of and dissatisfied with his life to return to the reality of his childhood (which in a sense is a kind of surreality to us). The image beckons him mysteriously ‘Rise up Nabin, rise up!’ Nabin the aged mirroring in his other self feels himself restless. What he visualises in his mind’s eye appears in the TV screen. There we find a boy wearing a red sweater wandering in the open natural surrounding of Cherapunji. The total frame overlaps with spectacular sights of fields, mountains and clouds of Cherapunji. There we find the boy is uttering a kind of magic rhyme ––
Oh, little fatty ant
Let the door open
He thinks (as per the local popular folk belief) if someone being in front of a door or a gate chants the rhyme sincerely making a fist of his hand, then the door or the gate opens surprisingly. His father also confirms that to him.
Due to the cinematic representation of the beautiful natural scenes and surrounding of Cherapunji the ‘Space’ becomes dreamlike, What appears to child Nabin as real but to the aged Dr. Datta who envisages these in the screen of his remembrances and probably even to us is surreal. In the midst of conflicts and transitions of the real and the surreal the child Nabin as well as we find in surprise that the gate of an abandoned house opens slowly. In astonishment and in joy he runs to his father to reveal the wondrous truth. But now-a-days it seems impossible to happen again neither to Dr. Datta nor to us who exist in the postmodern time. In this age or time which has lost its innocence no ‘Red Door’ or the gate-of-heart opens or no one or nothing in the junction of our present time and space calls in innocence and simplicity to reach the depth of the inner core. Probably we have lost any feeling for having an urge for this kind of inward simple drive. But for the absence of it we feel a sort of pain or suffering, possibly this mixed feeling makes us nostalgic or explorer, for searching out something. But exactly for which we as well as the characters are searching is nowhere clear or developed in the film. This kind of characteristics of the films of Tarkovsky come in our mind contextually. The word anweshhan or ‘search’ has a special connotation to Buddhadeb Dasgupta. He reflects –
– Cinema – to me is a kind of search.
– For which? Is this a search for getting the meaning of life ?
– No. I don’t want to explain the word anwesan or search. I don’t want to club any word with it, if any thing is put beside ‘search’ the mystery of this word spoils.
The image of child Nabin chiefly develops into the TV set put in the drawing room of Dr. Nabin Datta. As sometimes after the news telecast we get the image of child Nabin and his innocent simplicity which are gone for ever from Dr. Datta’s life as well as from our postmodern time. So it is no more possible to open the ‘Red Door’ or the door of the heart. So Dr. Datta failing to keep the inter personal relationship properly becomes an unhappy man in his family. He stares at his other self in the cathartic escape of nostalgia. Either the other self of him or the phase of his loving past, he has lost all for ever. One can compare the consciousness for this phase of life with the concept of ‘mirror stage’ of Jacques Lacan (1901-81). Chiefly the psychiatrist Lacan holds that a baby within six to eighteen months gradually learns to identify different objects surrounded by him. He gradually begins to identify his ‘I’ differentiating from the other objects. With the concept of ‘mirror stage’ and the other works of Lacan the tradition of Lacanian interpretation on the works of literature, art and film continues. In Lacanian reading often we get the process of the subject being dead losing its identity as it faces with the re-presentation of the subject or of the other self or of the other re-presentations. Here in Lal Darja we find similar face to face positions of the subject and its representation. The TV screen appears as a mirror through which Dr. Datta looks back upon the lost other self of him or presentation of his by-gone phase of life or re-presentation of the Other. He becomes able to identify himself and his image. As we see in the film the image of his other self emerges covering the whole screen which actually in secretly all-pervading in his life making re-presentation as the ultimate. This condition is remarked in the cultural theory as ‘The death of subject’.
The child Nabin is the other-form or the ‘The Other’ of the middle aged Nabin. The name Nabin which generally means ‘new’, ‘fresh’, ‘very young’ etc. makes a feeling of the Other of the aged dentist who in spite of his age is heard to be called as Nabin creating a contrasting impression of his two selves. On the other hand, the driver of the dentist who is very much successful in making interpersonal relationship and everybody of his class or type in the society are ‘the Other’ of Dr. Datta and the people belonging to his class or type who fail to maintain proper interpersonal relationship (among whom probably many of us belong). In this way looking at Lal Darja as a whole through the mirror of Lacanian reading, we find our postmodern time as the other or different presentation or re-presentation. Again if we look at the representation of all these images magnifying, them we find ourselves being hidden behind these re-presenting and gradually submerging into the "fathomless" depth.
From the technical point of view the screening of a film is actually the assimilation and revelation of electronic images. In a more complicated way television is also like that. Television, video, electronic display board, computer, internet etc. are dominating all around us. Being networked by circuits and electronic images we also have become something like electronic terminals. We pass signals through us. Through simulation we are often creating make believe worlds. Virtual reality appears as concrete. The TV images of child Nabin is a kind of virtual reality to Dr. Nabin Datta. To the director it is the entrance of surreality into reality what he also observes in the films of Buñuel.
"Buñuel presents simultaneously the real and the non-real with much ease as if he is playing with these elements. To speak of anything like surrealism or extension of reality – we always find him to develop them with his extraordinary skill of presenting the film in exceptionally smooth easiness. But whenever his films face the audience they look upon their inner selves about their interactions with the moving images." 2 We may also consider it to be a dream sequence or a dream like sequence. But the construction of this dream has been manufactured electronically. Nabin, the boy develops through television screen. Unlike Ramprasad the worshiper of goddess Kali in the film Sadhak Ramprasad (Ramprasad the worshiper) where Ramprasad who sees the goddess helping him construct the fence of his cottage in the open atmosphere of a countryside, the dream- reality of Lal Darja does not come in such a way. It comes through television re-creating virtual reality through the simulation of electronic images – representing the electronic and visual culture of our life. This characteristic feature is postmodern both in our social life and film. Excessive sex and violence are some of the prominent features of postmodern social life. Of which the element of violence being present casually in the beginning of the film apprises us of the present time and its surrounding atmosphere. Here, I am speaking of the murder of the passer-by woman in the street in front of many people. Again planning for murder goes on for a short period as Dr. Datta stops all of a sudden. In actuality the dentist fancies the plan for murder in his imagination.
Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) is a postmodern film. Of different features of postmodernism one is the presentation of high technology, even imaginary technology of the future side by side with the period indicating old fashioned furniture in the mise én scene. As a computer is shown in the film which looks like an old typewriter. But through this computer virtual banking or online banking is shown. Here the hero and the heroine are occasionally flying in the sky creating virtual reality. A cosmonaut looking like Jatayu the famous defending bird in the Ramayana is also shown here to move in the space.
Psychoanalysis - Postmodernity - Dream-reality
The treatment of dream reality becomes intense when it is understood that the patient whom Dr. Datta considers as the murderer. Actually the real murderer is no more shown in the film. His thinking comes out of his listening to the TV news and visualising the murder scene which in co-incidence he has eye witnessed. With all these his own desire for murdering the lover of his wife forms the thought that (probably following the chain of Freudian free association) the patient coming for extracting a tooth is the murderer of the woman in the street. In this context Buddhadeb Dasgupta once commented that, "Dr. Datta is observing the murder in the television. One can get the idea of murdering someone from television’. 1 Here reality, Freudian psychoanalysis and virtual reality made out of electronic images have mingled up in intense postmodernity and in Buddhadeb’s favourite dream- reality as well as in the maya. This sort of complicated conceptual cognition and re-presentation comes more close to us when gradually it becomes clear that Dr. Datta’s consultation with the general physician, occasionally shown in the film is but mere imagination of the dentist. The imaginary appearance of the physician comes out of the trauma of present time which mingles with the unique treatment of dream reality by Sri Dasgupta. If we go a little farther, we may think that the imaginary physician is actually making psychoanalysis of Dr. Datta throughout the film.
Lacanian The Other in re-presentation, dream reality and the death of subject.
The old house of Dr. Datta and the old fashioned furniture are seen in this film where a modern TV set is kept which again comes as ‘the Other’ of Dr. Datta in his personal level of cognition. To him the other form of the body Nabin in the back ground of Cherapunji is entirely dream-like. In the preceding film of Buddhadeb, Charachar, there also recurs splendid dream-like scene to the main character of the film. The spectacular repeated scene or sequence is overspreading plenty of colourful birds in the cottage interior. The recurrence of dreamlike-scenes is common to both the films.
Similarly we can name an earlier film like Les belles des jours (1952) by Réné Claire and to name a contemporary film Ma-da-de-o (Not Yet, 1992) by Kurosawa comes into mind. In the latter film Hyakken Uchida a retired professor, seems to be always with his dear students enjoying his retired life. With this narration from time to time we see sequence of dream-reality overspreading throughout the frame where the natural background becomes dominant with its horizon touching fields and expanding sky. A few boys and girls are seen playing hide-and-seek game in that natural surroundings. The boys and girls call their partner who is going to hide himself in a very much melodious tune mo-i- ka-i or’ Are you ready?’ Then the child who has hidden, himself somewhere nearly responses also in a melodious tune ma-da-de-o or ‘not yet’. The childhood simplicity and the dream-like appearance of nature from the dream-reality which actually is the Other. The director Kurosawa - through this kind of treatment of dream reality wants us to sense that the moment of death of the professor has not yet come. But there comes a time in the film when the melodious tune of ma-da-de-o can not be heard. The companion in the play has hidden himself for ever. All the companions are seeking for their partner chanting ‘mo-i-ka-i’ or’ Are you ready?’ But no one responds. This sort of the Other or representation suggests the death of the professor. In other way, we see the death of subject in Lal Darja chiefly in the emphasis on the child Nabin’s calling for Dr. Datta to return to the space and time of simplicity and innocence. But in this age innocence is dead. Nothing in this age can be innocent or simple. This postmodern feature of our time sponges itself in Lal Darja creating repeated appearances of the scene in a way sensing us as dead subjects. All are done by Buddhadeb Dasgupta in his own style which is aesthetically enriched.
In the TV news suddenly it is heard that a strange disease has been spreading everywhere quickly whose symptoms are iron- like body-stiffening. It is an absurd element. In the Theatre of the Absurd we have seen many other examples like that. As we have seen and heard in the play Rhinocéros by Eugène Ionesco where beginning with one or two people everybody in France except the two characters Berenger and Daisy has been turned into rhinoceroses. Even it is thought that the mankind in the whole world have been metamorphosed into rhinoceroses. This kind of absurd en mass metamorphosis is anticipated when Berenger and Daisy tune on the radio to get information and listen only to the grunts of the rhinoceroses. The rhinos have occupied the radio station. They are probably reading news in their own language. Any human language is now obsolete. Later in the play we find Daisy to turn herself into a rhinoceros too. There remains Berenger only as a man as he refuses to become a rhinoceros and desires to save the human race from converting into something other.
In Lal Darja people’s body becoming stiff like iron is more or less like the changes into rhinoceroses. In this context the words and notions of the poem ‘Robot’s Song’ and the other poems on ‘Robot’ theme by Buddhadeb Dasgupta come to our mind. In an interview Buddhadeb also speaks "Here I want to say about the robotisation of man." 1
Putting Lal Darja in the model of Derridean Deconstruction and film we can observe a play of presence/ absence to continue through the different elements of film. As the presence of the child Nabin wearing a vibrant red-coloured dress in the natural background of Cherapunji, simultaneously shifts the other elements or signs of the film then and then into the realm of absence. Again what that dream-like scene announces is actually absent. Moreover, the signs of this scene being different with the signs of the other part of the film initiate us to apply the theory of difference by Derrida where, he citing examples with some words like ‘but’ ‘put’ etc. and with some other elements show that changing the signs a little (as b, p etc.) how sense appears changing. It is through presence/ absence we can follow the Derridean notion of ‘prolific tracing’. If we consider the moments of the film separately, then we see they are not moving. A moment noticing absence of the other moments and pronouncing its own presence itself becomes, absent in the following moments. In the history of space and time Zeno in the fifth century, Greece put this giving example of a flying arrow. An arrow flies from A to B but if one considers any single moment separately then it can be seen that the very moment is no more a moving or flying moment. That moment is both the nucleus of its own presence as well as of absence of the other moments. We can observe similarly if we take any sequence or filmic element as moment-like- element and if we follow the film after ‘prolific tracing’. As the scenes, sequences and happenings of villages/ the scenes, sequences of the city. Dr. Datta, the child Nabin, the driver/ the lover of Dr. Datta’s wife, the son of Dr. Datta (i.e. the different characters who act as differant are clearer). The TV news/ the murder in the street, Dr. Datta’s consultation with the physician/ ‘consultation with the patient who suggest the underworld, the imaginary visions of Dr. Datta in general the ‘hard reality’ of the film in general etc. are developed through ‘prolific tracing’. At the base of Derridean deconstruction theory remains non-fixed centricity i.e. analysing a centre one can find different centres and in this way an on going process of finding newer centres continue. If we analyse Lal Darja in this way, we get the centre of sexual repression and on the outer side the centre of socio-economic and socio-political complicated network. Gradually in this way following the path of Derridean deconstruction one can enter into the ‘structure’. The suggestion of this method was revealed in the ‘Kathoponishada’ centuries before where Yama (the god of death) advised Nachiketa (a truth seeking learner) saying know thyself or atamanang biddhi.
Following Foucault and the concept of splitted histories
In this period of ever accelerating sex and violence, dream is the postmodern solution. Norman. K. Denzin categorically tells us like that. Presenting Nabin’s dream and the period of its existence Lal Darja shows us also like that. Is this period within the span of history? Certainly to the historians it is but to the New Historicists? Some of them have announced ‘the end of history’-! History has come to an end. They hold this idea because many of them think that history is an unwritten agenda. An agenda has an end. It can not be infinite. So history has also an end but the flow of human life has no end. Moreover, an agenda is based on continuity, discipline and aim but looking upon the present time we can not find any such thing properly. Then the time now going on is the post-history period. Lal Darja is the representation of this time. According to Foucault history is neither linear nor a summation of continuous happening. History is discontinuous. The fragmented histories are synthesised in Lal Darja. The histories depicted there are of sexual, economic, political, interpersonal and of dream. According to Foucault, the ‘knowledge’ and ‘will to power’ of man cut histories in fragments. Looking upon the histories of whole civilisation human beings are developed as symptoms. It is better to say in this context that ‘a few men’ instead of the human beings in general because everybody does not come into the corpus of history. Generally the history is filled in by the powerful. The director Buddhadeb in Lal Darja presented histories by cutting them into fragments and the human characters in the film come out as symptoms of human civilisation. Contextually the story-element of Lal Darja is written by Buddhadeb himself. Here his poems ‘Red Ant’ and ‘For Hassan’ and his other poems on the theme of Robotisation may be remembered. He remarked ‘it will not be proper to say Lal Darja is a narrative of my life-story but it is true that here many of the memories of my life lie underneath. As the play of chanting the magic rhyme of the red ants clenching the fist is actually a play I used to play in my childhood days when I was in Madhya Pradesh.
According to Barthes
In the context of ‘reading’ the film if we consider the point of views of Roland Barthes or others like him we can not take along us the writer or the author any more. As soon as a writing is published the author dies and readers born. Following Barthes we can find Lal Darja as a ‘site or as a ‘cross road’. Many complexities of the time and space are mixed here. Various readers can analyse and conceptualise this text in different ways. From anywhere he can enter into the text and at any moment as he wishes can open or close the text. Like any other text Lal Darja is being reconstructed by the ‘readers’ according to their desired taste and time.
The text : Eco
If Lal Darja provides certain analyses to their readers, then it can be said ‘ a closed text’ as per Umberto Eco. Again if this film forms various analyses and notions, then according to Eco it can be called an ‘open text’ for ‘free reading’.
Reading as a language following semiotics and cultural and critical theories
Film today is considered, analysed and exhibited as a language. As Lacan has seen ‘the unconscious structured like a language’ Charles Jencks considers postmodern architecture as language. Many things and concepts are incorporated today in the orbit of language following the chain of sign ® signifier ® signified. From now on, Lal Darja will remain open to the readers/audience appealing to their heart and thinking. Throughout the paper we have taken a synthesised reading of Lal Darja following the notions and practices of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalyses, Derridean deconstruction, Foucaultian histories, the concepts on ‘text’ by Barthes and Eco, Saussurian semiotics and through the concepts and cultural practices of postmodernism altogether making an intense search through the prism of cultural theory.
1. From the interview with the author in 1997–98.
Ideological State Apparatus
Louis Althusser’s Marxist criticism forwarding Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs) and its counter part an important role in our culture may be unnoticingly to many of us. Taking important points both from the Structuralist and Post–structuralist views of Althusser’s thesis Dr. Arup Ratan Ghosh compares with a few contemporary films as from Simabadhya to Titanic in an application – mode of cultural theory and cultural studies.
Reading Indian films with Louis Althusser’s seminal essay ‘Ideology and the State’ is interesting. Here we see two approaches of cultural theory. Althusser has developed his essay centring ‘ideology’. This approach takes us to structuralist Marxism on literary theory.** Again Althusser’s essay with which we are discussing where he has developed the notion of ‘Ideological State Apparatus’ and of the construction (‘interpellation’) of the human subject has been taken up in some post-structuralist work.’
Now reflecting the State Apparatus of Marxist theory and Althusser’s notion of Ideological State Apparatus in some contemporary Indian film we get different shades and nuances of cultural theory and practice with politico-cultural dimensions. To cite a concrete example of Althusser’s ‘THESIS II Ideology has a material existence’ we can present Iswar in Subarnarekha, the doctor in Ganashatru, Mama in Agantuk, Dadajan in Naseem, Dr. Vishmadeb Sharma in Sunya Theke Suru, Brati and the three other Naxalite comrades in Hazar Chaurashi ki Ma, Fakir in Fakir along with many other characters who are constructed as subject of ‘ideology’. In each a material existence of ‘ideology’ sustains. Think also of Dr. Agniswar Mukherjee in Agniswar, Premnath in Bobby, the professors in Kora Kagaj and Astha, G. F. Kane in Citizen Kane, Dersu Ujala in Dersu Ujala, Mr. Schindler in Schindler’s List or Rosy in Titanic.
These characters arrest our attention and simultaneously spread different shades of concentrate and then emit ideology creating surrounding effects in the respective films. But the spectators put these moving images of ideology or the ‘world outlooks’ to discover the reality of the world. Even some characters presented in the films do this as Shyamalendu in Shimabaddha. Starting his career in a corporate house with a university-fresh good student of English-background gradually, he becomes the prey of decadent social values or a kind of Social Apparatus. Step by step he begins to believe in careerism, taking illegal and inhuman steps for profit and dehumanisation. It is only for his involvement along with a few personnel of his company, he arranges a bomb blast in the fan factory that caused an employee’s severe injury as well as Shyamalendu’s promotion for saving the company from a great loss. With his help the company could supply plenty of defective fans, obviously unethically.
Keeping in tune with market economy Somnath in Jana Aranya do with ideology something like Shyamalendu in Seemabadhya. A college-fresh history-honours student victimised of poor marks as a result of callous negligence of the examiner who has to look over examination answer papers in the dim light of lantern as the electric power supply goes off. In this city this temporary power failure is called ‘load-shedding’. To earn his living Somnath gradually becomes the prey of consumerism. To get a better order for supplying goods he bribes the party sending his friend’s sister.
These two characters of Satyajit Ray like many others compare ‘Ideology’ or interpret them in Althusserian model of Ideology, where he approaches his central thesis on the structure and functioning of ideology with.
‘THESIS I Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.
We commonly call religious ideology, ethical ideology, legal ideology, political ideology, etc., so many ‘world outlooks’. Of course, assuming that we do not live one of these ideologies as the truth (e.g. ‘believe’ in God, Duty, Justice, etc...), we admit that the ideology we are discussing from a critical point of view, examining it as the ethnologist examines the myths of a ‘primitive society’, that these ‘world out looks’ are largely imaginary, i.e. ‘do not correspond to reality’.
However, while admitting that they do not correspond to reality, i.e. that they constitute an illusion, we admit that they do not make allusion to reality and that they need only be ‘interpreted’ to discover the reality of the world behind their imaginary representation of that world (ideology = illusion / allusion).’** (p. 56)
We the readers (spectators) also compare the screened images of ‘ideology’ with the reality of the world. We try to search out their significance to identify their relevance with our own time and to calibrate their propelling power in the contemporary world.
But the characters which I have mentioned earlier are themselves figures of ideology. With them, the films spread ideology. Then we can say such a character or such a film is an apparatus of ideology. Althusser says in his thesis II ‘an ideology always exists in an apparatus, and its practice, or practices. This existence is material’. * (p. 58)
Consider Iswar and the film Subarnarekha. Being a refugee (owing to the partition of India), he with Haraprasad starts his life anew. They set up a school to educate the pupils of the colony. Haraprasad is uncompromising. He finds their refugee life as a turbulent site for struggle. He face this struggle along with others altogether. But getting a job opportunity near Ghatsila away from their Nabajiban colony Iswar accepts it considering their collective ideological ‘world outlooks’ are largely imaginary i.e. ‘do not correspond to reality’. Though he left his uncompromising friend Haraprasad (who called him an ‘escapist’) and other fellow people from East Bengal. The life he started to live with his sister Sita and an adopted child Abhiram is ideological indeed. Later in the film we find the ideological clashes cause his ruin following the suicidal death of her sister and many other catastrophic incidents. In the film we find the effort for concretisation of the ideological imaginary relationship with reality and its demolishing consequences.
This process is seen in many other films including the films I have mentioned. For example Ganashatru. The cause for which the doctor is fighting is a very ideological one. He is in a combat against the superstitious belief and practices of the village people who devotionally drink the charanamrita of the god of their local temple which is made of contaminated water causing an epidemic. But the villagers blindly believe that the charanamitra is pious. Even they are encouraged to do so by the shrewd politicians and the administrators of the village mainly for their earning from the temple. The doctor has to face hard consequences to make his ideology effectively communicating. Satyajit Ray took the seminal idea of the film from Henrik lbsen’s play The Enemy Of The People.
In his last film Ray put his character mama as a moving icon of ideology. He is preaching for an unhindered flow of humanity from the prehistoric age to the modern civilisation in Ray’s subtle, suggestive and fine manner. Don’t be a kupamandak – is his message to the stereotype people.
Similarly, Dadajan in Naseem is an old man who tries to hold the ideal of communal harmony and peace. He believes and wants other to believe in mankind as original, natural and ethical wiping out all the artificially stinged religious and political colours.
Dr. Vishmadev Sharma formerly a professor, a torture-victim at the police custody as a political prisoner, a Naxalite activist of the seventies comes out of jail as a semi-lunatic. Getting shelter at a friend’s house and with the warm and welcoming attitude of his friend and his sister he gets himself gradually improving towards normalcy. But he becomes absolutely normal and regains his full form when he is cordially and politically wanted by a group of revolutionaries with post- Marxist ideals. He joins them with all his ideologies with a hope of revolution or a social reformation. His delinked ideologies get link again. He becomes an activist again and starts dwelling in a slum leaving his friend’s well to do comfortable residence. He becomes a subject of ideology. As Althusser put ‘Ideology interpellates individuals as subjects? It is as if with him and the boy of the underground party a sort of consciousness for revolution in general starts anew from the zero or nothingness of the nineties.
The unrest of the seventies in Bengal has also become the subject of Govind Nihalni’s film Hazar Chourashi Ki Ma. Brati and three other comrades were brutally killed in an encounter with some anti-socials backed by rich influential persons. Brati’s fried a female Naxalite Nandini had been tortured severely in the police custody resulting her permanent defective vision. Centring these characters the film becomes a subject of the Naxalite ideologies of the seventies. Whether the bearers of these ideologies in the seventies, as reflected in the film, are ideologically ‘romantic Marxist with Utopian outlook’ or not is indeed a different question.
Another context comes to speak of this film is the Repressive State Apparatuses. In Marxist theory the State Apparatus contains the Government, the Administration, the Army, the Police, the Courts, the prison etc., which constitute what I shall in future call the ‘Repressive State Apparatus’. ‘I’ here is Louis Althusser. He continues in his essay ‘Ideology and the State’ as ‘Repressive suggests that the state Apparatus in question ‘functions by violence’ - at least ultimately (since repression, e.g. administrative repression, may take non-physical forms)’. This concept of repressive state Apparatus is violently visible in ‘Hazar Chaurashi Ki Ma’. The way police behaves, tortures and controls are heart choking. These incidents and their suggestions immediately remind one of the Repressive State Apparatuses. The same is true to the film Sunya Theke Suru. Obviously there are many other examples. I shall come in another contest of State Apparatus in detail afterwards.
As per Althusserian notion of subjection of ideologies to the subject we can read many artistic works or pieces including literature, film etc. I have given examples from some films. But there are many more. As Goutam Ghose’s Fakir (1998) presents a Fakir a good broad-minded and almost saint-like person who mystically loves nature and human beings. Singing, dancing, courtship, love and coquetry all adore him mysteriously. Sometime he sees visions effacing the boundaries of the real and the surreal. Like Buñuel in this film surreality enters into reality concisising the spirit of a Fakir’s mind and altitude to life or the ideology. The fakir in the film is not a proclaimed Fakir. Containing a Fakir’s mental constitution to love nature, man and existence he lives anywhere among us. As the other characters of the film do with him – we the readers or spectators also do the same. This is – we put him as the ‘subject’ of ideology in the set up of hard reality to find out the ‘imaginary relationship with him and his ideologies which again is a traditional, mystic Indian attitude to life.
In the mainstream Indian cinema, like the serious films, we also find the same view points have been propelled up to find out ideology and its interpellation of individuals as subjects if we follow this aspect of Althusser’s Marxist literacy theory.
As Dr. Agniswar Mukhopadhaya in the film Agniswar is a character who tries to hold confidently all the Indian human values resisting the contemporary flux of decadence. To him medical practice is a noble profession instead of a buyer-seller relationship. He protests against dowry, vulgar tastes, exploitation and negligence to the children – actually against all the social injustices or compromising attitudes we face everyday.
In Bobby Premnath, Bobby’s father appears as a man who considers love is above everything else. Wiping out their earlier family quarrel and driving out the enemies he joins hand in hand with his daughter making hand chain with his son-in-law and begins the concluding song of the film. He ideologises his notion of human love through the song ‘Don’t want gold or money, gems or jewels a mind is to be exchanged only with another mind’ (Na chaho sona chandi...).
The professor in Kora Kagaj wants to live in the world of ideals and high thinking. He wants to lead a simple peaceful life choosing profession of teaching. He is dead against all the artificially created needs. The clash starts with his mother-in-law who believes in comfort, ease and affluence. She unnecessarily thinks her daughter is in the soup as her husband is a believer of simple way of living.
Again the professor in Astha teaches English literature in a college and thinks a lot about the sociological issues of consumerism and exploitation of women in India. He discusses about these issues and contexts with his students in his home. He cites examples, narrates and analyses to set up a relevance with the present day consumerism. But ironically, we find his wife becomes the victim of consumerism and exploitation to an extreme level. Suddenly the professor’s favourite girl student comes to know all about this. On her endeavour the wife tells how she has been victimised and still being exploited. She disclosed all to her husband as well as to all the favourite students at their place. In stead of being collapsed in shock the professor accepts his wife as usual with the confidence of belief (astha) on humanity.
‘Rosebud’ is the concentrated word and imagery of human ideals for which C.F. Kane, a tycoon of American newspapers seeks for throughout his life in vain. He always tries to concretise the imaginary relationship with his ideals of love (never fulfilled) and the wealthy, luxurious and rich identity of him and his (so called) real world.
Dersu Ujala in Kurasawa’s moving film of the same name moves us with the ideals of natural existence, artificiality of urban rationality and civilisation etc. The film made in Russian language shot in Siberian forest area centres a simple man who lives in the forest. His name is Dersu Ujala. He helps a survey team of the U.S.S.R. government by showing them the forest itinerary and guiding them through the difficult situations like melting glaciers, and flash flood, facing a wild tiger etc. The captain of the team loves him. After many years the captain comes again in the forest and recognises Dersu. Dersu becomes his companion as he was years’ before. A concrete example of nature, its ceaseless tradition, and revolt is Dersu Ujala. Considering Dersu who has become a little age-worn and mainly out of love captain takes him at his residence in the city. But Dersu appears as a quite misfit there. He wants to live erecting a tent in the open ground in front of the house. He cut a tree in the park. Suddenly he blank fires with his gun as if he is in a forest. He does not understand how people live in ‘boxes’ (rooms). So the captain keeps his back in the forest again presenting him a pair of glass and a powerful rifle Later he was informed and asked by the government to identify Dersu who was killed by someone in the deep forest. The captain goes accordingly and considers Dersu was killed to snatch his new rifle even in that forest. In this way the ideology of nature and simplicity were contaminated by the remote sensing of civilisation. Here again ideology and its imaginary relationship with the hard reality can be traced shockingly.
We have seen how Schindler has tried to save the Jews with his guts, command and intelligence from the torture of the opponents in the Schinder’s List.
Love is the ideology submerged everywhere in the Titanic. When Titanic is submerging gradually and everybody is panicky – wants to escape from the ship Rosy refused to leave the ship by the rescue boat as her lover is not allowed to leave the ship. Once in a suicidal moment the boy saved Rosy’s life. And afterwards they fall in love. Rosy remembers all in such a fatal sinking moment. Male passengers of the ship were not allowed to have room in the lifeboats. Moreover, the boy was kept hand cuffed in a room at the lower deck. The sea water is gushing upwards., Almost doing an impossible task Rosy breaks the iron handcuffs hitting with a heavy hammer when the water has almost submerged the room. Evading many struggles, hurdles, and life risks they along with many others fall into the ocean as Titanic has drowned completely. Rosy has got a small buoy and the boy is just holding it submerging lower part of his body in the water. They are talking under the starry night floating in the vast sea. The ideology of love becomes a concrete cinematic imagery.
Suddenly the boy dies. At that moment, as a coincidence, a rescue boat has come. The people there are flashing torchlight over the floating dead bodies. Rosy made up her mind quickly. Leaving the dead she fetches a whistle from a dead passenger floating near her and begins to blow a whistle so that the rescue-men can locate her then and then. Love transforms into a progressive attitude to life. This is the ideology reflected in Titanic.
To elaborate the very concept of ideology reflected in film I have given adequate examples and probably with a little exaggeration. The examples themselves are high pitched enough. Althusser does not always mean ideology in such a highly pitched manner. The basic concepts of ideology which we have mentioned earlier are (a) ‘ideology is a ‘Representation’ of the Imaginary Relation of Individuals to their real Conditions of Existence’ (b) Ideology has a material existence. (c) Ideology interpellates as subjects.
Althusser summarises about ideology in general in his own words as –
‘The duplicate mirror-structure of ideology ensures simultaneously:
1. the interpellation of ‘individuals’ as subjects;
2. their subjection to the Subject;
3. the mutual recognition of subjects and Subject, the subjects’ recognition of each other, and finally the subject’s recognition of himself,
4. the absolute guarantee that everything really is so, and that on condition that the subjects recognise what they are and behave accordingly, everything will be all right. Amen – ‘So be it’ * (p. 61)
In the context of ideological recognition and mis-recognisation. Althusser gives examples –
‘To take a highly’ ‘concrete’ example, we all have friends who, when they knock on our door and ‘we ask, through the door, the question ‘Who’s there?’, answer (since ‘its’ obvious’) It’s me’. And we recognised that ‘it is him’, or ‘her’. We open the door, and ‘it’s true, it really was she who was there’. To take another example, when we recognize somebody of our (previous) acquaintance ((re-)connaissance) in the street, we show him that we have recognised him (and have recognised that he has recognised us) by saying to him ‘Hello, my friend’, and shaking his hand (a material ritual practice of ideological recognition in everyday life – in France, at least; elsewhere, there are other rituals)’. *
Again we get more explanations of the four points he has given on the structure of the ideology as –
‘Result: caught in this quadruple system of interpellation as subjects, of subjection to the Subject, of universal recognition and of absolute guarantee, the subjects ‘work’, they ‘work by themselves’ in the vast majority of cases, with the exception of the ‘bad subjects’ who on occasion provoke the intervention of one of the detachments of the (repressive) State apparatus. But the vast majority of (good) subjects work all right ‘all by themselves’, i.e. by ideology (whose concrete forms are realised in the Ideological State Apparatuses). They are inserted into practices governed by the rituals of the ISAs. They ‘recognize’ the existing state of affairs (das Bestehende), that ‘it really is true that it is so and not otherwise’, and they must be obedient to the God, to their conscience, to the priest, to de Gaulle, to the boss, to the engineer, that thou shalt ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’, etc. Their concrete, material behaviour is simply the inscription in life of the admirable words of the prayer: ‘Amen – So be it.’
Now let us come into the context of ISAs. The State Apparatus from Marxist literary theory contains ‘the Government, the Administration, the Army, the Police, the Courts, the Prisons, etc.’ Althusser considers them as ‘repressive’ as they ‘functions by violence’. From here, he mentions the Ideological State Apparatus. ‘I shall call ideological state apparatuses a certain number of realities which present themselves to the immediate observer in the form of distinct and specialised institutions. I propose an empirical list of these which obviously have to be examined in detail, tested, corrected and recognized. With all the reservation implied by this requirement, we can for the moment regard the following in situations as Ideological State Apparatuses (the order in which I have listed them has no particular significance):
- the religious ISA (the system of different Churches),
- the educational ISA (the system of the different public and private ‘schools’),
- the family ISA,
- the legal ISA,
- the political ISA (the political system, including the different Parties),
- the trade-union ISA,
- the communications ISA (press, radio and television, etc.),
- the cultural ISA (Literature, the Arts, sports, etc.). * (pp. 54–55)
The ideological State Apparatuses function with ideology. But afterwards he mentions that even Repressive State Apparatuses function not only with violence but also with ‘ideology’.
‘But now for what is essential. What distinguishes the ISAs from the (Repressive) State Apparatus is the following basic difference: the Repressive State Apparatus functions ‘by violence’, whereas the Ideological State Apparatuses function ‘by ideology’.
I can clarify matters by correcting these distinctions. I shall say rather that every State Apparatus, whether Repressive or Ideological, ‘functions’ both by violence and by ideology, but with one very important distinction which makes it imperative not to confuse the Ideological State Apparatuses with the (Repressive) State Apparatus.
This is the fact that the (Repressive) State Apparatus functions massively and predominantly by repression (including physical repression), while functioning secondarily by ideology. (There is no such thing as a purely repressive apparatus.) For example, the Army and the Police also function by ideology both to ensure their own cohesion and reproduction, and in the ‘values’ they propound externally. * (pp. 55 – 56)
Now we see ‘Cinema’ the whole system comes under the corpus of cultural ISA or even it can be said that there exists a Cinematic ISA containing censorship, spectatorship, authorship, funding, motivation for representation, aesthetics, profiteering etc.
Looking in another way we find cinematic representations show us how we are tied up by different types of State Apparatuses both repressive and ideological. To see subjection of ideology into the subjects we recognise with them. The family ISA, the legal ISA, the political ISA, are the communications ISA and the cultural ISA with many ISAs, indeed moving the world of film and television and all sorts of moving images. It is strange enough that being invisibly confined by the state Apparatus we time to time find ourselves relieved and time to time constricted. This sort of feeling comes as Althusser puts in his Marxism ‘it is through ideology that individuals are constituted as ‘subjects’ – (mis-) recognizing themselves as free and autonomous beings with unique subjectivities’. The construction of ‘individuals’ or characters or even the actors and actresses under direction are all subjects of ideology. They, as well as, we are the representative ‘signs’ of ideology. As ideology imposes itself not simply through consciousness nor through disembodied ideas but through systems and structures; ideology is inscribed in the representations (the signs) and the practices (the rituals) of everyday life. We can now say that films are series of representative signs of ideology and the impact film or television cast upon our society is the ‘practices (rituals)’ of ideology in our everyday life.
Capitalist system comes in the context of Althusserian notion of ideology. ‘For Althusser, ideology is neither a matter of conscious beliefs, attitudes and values, nor is it a matter of ‘false consciousness’ – sets of false ideas imposed on individuals to persuade them that there is no real contradiction between capital and labor or, more crudely, between the interests of the working class and ruling class. It is, rather a matter of the representation of imaginary version of the real social relations that people live: These imaginary versions of the real relations are necessary for the perpetuation of the capitalist system.’ ** pp. 52-53
Most of the films are representations of ‘imaginary versions of the real social relations that people live. But they represent so not always ‘for the perpetuation of the capitalist system.’
The examples from various films I have given are mostly emphasising on ‘ideals’ or ‘ethics’ with idealism. But to Althusser ideology is not always akin to or synonymous with ideals or ethics. Ideology comes out of ideas. That is important in general. Althusserian Marxism put ‘ideology’ in the domain of capitalism. So ‘we can start by saying that ‘ideology ‘ reproduces ‘subjects’ who are willing workers in the capitalist system. Capitalism requires not only the hands of labor, but also the willingness of workers to subject themselves to the system – to accept the ‘status quo’ – and it is in this area that ideology works.’ ** p. 52
We can compare this comment with many aspects of our life as well as film production. The ‘willing workers’ being the subjects reproduced of ideology are here and there. 20th century Fox or the Warner Brothers, the Bollywood film industry, Rupert Murdoch, MTV corporation Plus Channel etc. and their producers are indeed willing workers in the Althusserian sense. They are enthusiastically fulfilling the hands of Capitalism or Late Capitalism or market economy surrounding all over the world leaving most of the people of the Third World into misery, poverty and political, cultural and ideological bankruptcy. At the same time we are submerging in the entertainment flow out of film and television flow as output and control of cinema /Television as Ideological State Apparatus.
1. Althusser, Louis, Ideology and the State, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. tr. B. Brewster. New Left Books, London, 1977.
2. Rice, Philip and Waugh, Patricia, Modern Literary Theory – A Reader, pp. 52-53, Edward Arnold, London, 1992, 2nd edn.
Ethnographic Surrealism and Cinema
This paper gives a new approach in studying films with two different kinds of cultural theory - Ethnography and Surrealism. After writing on Ethnographic surrealism Dr. Arup Ratan Ghosh put two contemporary Indian films Ganesh Pyne and Dil Se for his formative analysis.
Ethnographic surrealism – a concept as well as a practice can be astonishingly found in film at least to some extent. At the time of beginning and flourishing of the art of surrealism in various fields of art and literature viz. poetry, painting, photography, sculpture, film etc. since the 20’s time to time we have found ethnographic expressions are intermingled in the creative pieces and their respective processes. In this age of postmodernism such expressions amalgamated as ethnographic surrealism find force with the application of computers, and for the uses of special effects in final moving images and/ or in the complex structure of representation.
The complex structure of cinematic expressions is now the context and text of this paper. For analyses I have chosen two recent films – one an entertainment feature film with tone and theme of seriousness i.e. Dil Se by Mani Ratnam and the other one is an artistically represented serious documentary – Ganesh Pyne by Buddhadeb Dasgupta. Before going to main discourse let me quote briefly the critical analysis of the film ‘Trobriand Cricket: An Ingenious Response to Colonization – in the terrain of ethnographic surrealism and film:
‘My second example comes from the Trobriand Islands. It occurs in the classic ethnographic film made by Jerry Leach and Gary Kildea in collaboration with a local Trobriand political movement: Trobriand Cricket: An Ingenious Response to Colonialism. The gentleman’s game, brought by British missionaries about the time Malinowski was on the scene, has been taken over and made new. Now it is lidic warfare, extravagant sexual display, political competition and alliance, parody. Something amazing has been concocted from elements of tradition, building on the missionaries game which has been "rubbished", working in symbols drawn from the military occupation of the islands during the Second World War. The film takes us into a staged swirl of brightly painted, feathered bodies, balls, and bats. In the midst of all this on a chair sits the umpire, calmly influencing the game with magical spells. He is chewing betel nut, which he shares out from a stash held on his lap. It is a bright blue plastic Adidas bag. It is beautiful.’ * 1
Similarly we can name the film The Visitors. The non-realism unfolds in The Visitors (Les Visiteurs, 1993) where a knight Sir Godefroy of France in 1122 A.D. on his way to meet his betrothed, fall under the spell of witch and kills his fiancée’s father unwillingly. To undo this terrible deed he goes to a wizard, who tells him the only remedy is to travel back in time and try to change his course of action. He brews a potion. Godefroy orders his faithful squire to drink it first and then join him. In the sudden fantasy we see the two of them just flying into the sky, vanish and as a consequence, arrive to their heir’s house in 1992. They wash their face by the water of a commode and don’t brother to off the tap of the basin, after washing. At last, of course, they come back to their actual time and place (i.e. Paris, 1122 A.D.) suddenly emerging from the sky.
Coming into the text and context of film and ethnographic surrealism I am going first to the documentary film Ganesh Pyne presented with adequate seriousness in both manner and matter.
Looking at the engraved sculptures at the walls of various Indian temples protruded with the sculpted figures of the female dancers and studying to some extent the history of Indian classical dance – one may romantically infer that dance is the mobile sculpture and sculpture is the frozen dance. Releasing the frozen into mobility and transferring from one creative medium to another one sometimes the show of aesthetics transference process from a moving medium (puppetry, theatre, real life situations etc.) to a static (painting) one and again its reincarnation into mobility (film) Buddhadeb Dasgupta presented Ganesh Pyne and his art with beautiful changeovers of images occasionally creating surrealistic essence and sensibilities.
To show how an image or series of images come into an artists mind like Ganesh Pyne, Buddhadeb shows the rows of bicycle kept near Tollygaunge metro station. In the next shot we find separated wheels, tubes and even cycles are hanged in a big tree nearby the station. With this scene we enter into the world of surrealistic suggestions as well. The next shot reveals much more. In which we find a painting containing the process of non- naturalistic cycling by a quasi abstract human figure with expressionistic staring. The panoramic view of this painting reaches one to the domain of surrealism or we may say in the terrain of ethnographic surrealism. In his own words Buddhadeb calls this process as an entrance from the real to surreal. He loves to apply this practice in to his films which is somehow akin to Buñuel. In an interview with me he comments.
Another striking and interesting example of cinematic representation of ethnographic surrealism in this film is a sequence where a puppet show is going on enacting a religious or mythical drama. The kathputli actors (the wooden dolls of the puppeteers) are wearing gaudy costumes. There sentimental piece of enactment is ascending with loud, melodramatic acting remembering one of the manner and matter of traditional jatra performances in rural Bengal. This traditional kind of jatra performances as well as the performances of the Putul Naach were once very popular to rural folk people but now they are cornered with occasional performances in the remote areas of the countryside in Bengal. But in the nineties when the filmmaker suddenly fix our attention in a painting where we find the non- naturalistic figures of puppets perennially acting the same kind of drama as the painter Ganesh Pyne as well as the huge heterogeneous rural mass audience have been delightfully recorded in their collective psyche since the last century then and then we get the socio-cultural transparency of ethnographic surrealism in cinematic representation.
If ethnography is the ‘scientific description of human races’ and surrealism is the artistic revelation of unconsciousness then the mix up of the two in the projection of cinematic images and the e procession of images from the popular mass culture to high art as well as from low culture to high-brow culture of the elite are aesthetically represented in this film. The use of the notes of Indian classical music as well as the effect sounds extend the cross-overing backgrounds of the film helping its cinematic representation to reach the depth and marvel of ethnographic surrealism.
A very different type of film than the film we have just discussed is Dil Se. It is basically an entertainment film. A narrative with fragmented experimental uses of dance sequences sensing the whole film as a non-naturalistic and artistic form of entertainment where unrelated sequences of titillating dance are collaged in the plot of terrorism and love discharging the essence of both seduction and destruction suggesting the current Indian scenario of love, sex and violence.
The dance sequences of the film are apparently unrelated. But this sequences mould the film into an acceptable presentation of non-naturalistic form of mass entertainment. The seductive dance sequences flicker the repressed desire of the mass audience into cathartic fantasy. This kind of role, we experience in plenty of entertainment films. But the dance sequences of Dil Se help to study a very partial slice of Indian Culture ethnographically. And the use of such dance sequences help to push the film into the domain of non-naturalism if not in pure surrealism. So in the context of ethnographic surrealism I put Dil se chiefly for the three reasons as it is a (a) recently released film, (b) a mainstream film (c) a film belonging to the category of popular culture.
Ganesh Pyne and Dil Se are opposite in nature but in both of them we find traces of ethnographic surrealism in different representations. It is interesting for our paper as the two films are contrasting with each other.
Apparently all the dance sequences put in this film are bizarre and arbitrary as they are disjointed with the flow of events or plot of the story. For creating a total effect on the spectators through cathartic relief by showing half exposures of titillating sex or sexual suggestions the dance sequences are put together. They take an important role to form the structure of the film as a communicative are form. The disentangled dance sequences also draw enough attention of the spectators en mass.
Consider the first dance sequence with the song ‘cheina.. ‘. Its presentation is absurd. Anyway what it shows is a moving train going up the hill. Passengers are siting on the top of the roof of the train. Very dangerous indeed. And the more dangerously astonishing is a dance by half naked girl at the roof-top among the rocking pahari passengers to all through the dance are moving their bodies in appreciation. It is a slice of ethnic presentation in the postmodern vein. The presentation itself is non-naturalistic enough. Even it may be called a little surrealistic in the broad sense of the structure of the film.
Another dance-sequence is held at the sea-shore. The director presents a dance by a man and a woman showing various gestures of Khajuraho temple or Kamasutra etc. Their ethnic presentation of slice of Indian life on the middle ages are amalgamated with fashionable modern dress provocative enough to attract numerous spectators for a box office hit. So this kind of postmodern presentation of the union of purush and prakriti and sringar rasa of Indian classical dance along with other such type of dances help shape the film surrealistic in broad sense.
The other dance is a sort of covered sexual emission. It’s form is a little western. A male and female dancer are dancing very closely tying together in a single piece of cloth. They are forming various joint sexual figures totally covering their body with the cloth. The heads and adjoining parts of their bodies are visible only. This dance sequence bears again a kind of surrealistic suggestion. The body posters it form are of Indian origin based on Indian art and culture. Which means an ethnic origin at the beginning. If ethnography is the scientific description of the races of mankind (Hornby, ALDCE, OUP, 1963) and surrealism is the ‘revelation of the unconscious’ then ethnographic surrealism finds its enough room in various art forms including film. Dil Se touches ethnographic surrealism in such a way - indeed subtly, indirectly and perhaps coincidentally.
So from our discussion on ethnographic surrealism and film the analysed examples of the two very different types of film Ganesh Pyne and Dil Se show the nature, practice and prospect of ethnographic surrealism in the moving images.
1. James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture Twentieth Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1988, p. 148.
Indian Cinema and Post Marxism
The global trends in the interdisciplinary culture, study and praxis in the fields of critical postmodernism, cultural studies and post-Marxism are the primary sources of this paper which focuses on the yielding space of post-Marxism in our culture of the present day and the future and its continuous interaction with film. To present the paper Dr. Arup Ratan Ghosh chooses his examples form Indian film and culture.
The discourses of Post-Marxism are mobile amalgamation of a few contemporary conceits, notions, theories, and their praxis. Obviously, the space of Post-Marxism consists of society, politics, and culture. Getting a sort of initiation from Neo-Marxism, paralleling with cultural studies conflicting with critical postmodernism post (modern) Marxism goes well globally. In this paper I am going to show the cultural interactions among critical postmodernism, postmodernism and post Marxism reflecting our cinematographic culture.
Let us take an example from Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Neem Annapurna (Bitter Morsel, 1979). Based on Kamal Kumar Majumdar’s story the film narrates a story of an unknown, ordinary poor family dwelling in a slum in Calcutta and how they are lost there within a few years. Originally hailed from a village in Bengal, Braja and Pritilata with their two daughters came in Calcutta for better living. But gradually they face all the interfaces of poverty, misery and implied politics (both global and local). With all these they are lost in the urban maze. Outbreak of famine ruined the whole family. So that Pritilata didn’t care to murder her next-room neighbour of the slum an old T.B. patient, for some rice. Her daughter was run over by a lorry and the elder one flew away with someone called Bishu. But the end is interesting. An invisible narrator or the author of the film comments that the flux of people’s coming from village to Calcutta remains uninterrupted. Unrecognised and unknown families of whom the family of Braja is just an example are migrating to the city daily. The film shows close ups and mid shots of a local train where one such family is coming. The film emphasises on their commonness and ordinariness, non-recognition and placeless status in history. With these observations, the neo-Marxist Gramsci’s observation of the placelessness of ordinary people in the history corresponds. Foucault’s notion and practice of histories including his huge research works on the history of madness, sexuality and on prison attract much attention and derive demolishing statements towards traditional history (consisting of the deeds and events of the king, queen, or the powerful rulers or the position-holders) like THE END OF HISTORY, or THE HISTORY HAS COME TO AN END.
But from this point onwards a discourse on post-Marxism begins drawing inevitably contexts of history and postmodernism. As Kuan Hsing Chen 1 puts it with the trends of cultural studies also. Stuart Hall, a pioneering figure in cultural studies argues that: ‘postmodernism attempts to close off the past by saying that history is finished, therefore you needn’t go back to it, and that it signals ‘the end of the world. History stops with us and there is no place to go after this’ (1986: 47). These charges against postmodernism are unfounded. The historical works of postmodernism precisely deal with reconstituting the past as a field of struggle. With Baudrillard (1987), one might argue that postmodernity denotes excursion into post-history in the sense that that specific Western monolithic thing called History is over and done with. As Iain Chambers (1986: 100) suggests: ‘postmodernism... does suggest the end of a world: a world of Enlightened rationalism and its metaphysical and positive variants... a world that is white, male and Euro-centric’. And one might add: what is finished is the ‘official’, universal, unified, racist, sexist, imperialist History, from this point on, that History is finished. Thus, ‘the end of History’ means the beginning of histories: the history of women’s struggle, the history of youth culture, the history of prisons, the history of madness, the history of the working class, the history of minorities and the history of the Third World.
In short, on the level of histories, post-Marxism has to continue this ‘ascending’ historical project, to write in, and from the point of view of minor discourses, to (re) inscribe forces of antagonism and resistance, to affirm difference while forging possible strategic alliances. More radically, post-Marxist cultural studies ought perhaps sometimes even to become silent, or alternatively, by using already occupied social positions. to open up spaces, so that minor discourses may speak (or not) and be heard.’ **
So in the film Neem Annapurna a new type of history with minor discourses are revealed. The tale of an unknown, unrecognised rural Bengali family among many others constitute the history of common people’s struggles, the history of minorities and the history of the Third World. In this way we can trace the course from Neo-Marxism to Post-Marxism in cinema including many Indian films. To begin with we can name Pather Panchali and can continue through many other films of Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen etc. to the contemporary film makers. Everywhere we find this sort of End of History and rewriting of histories, which were neglected so far, in postmodernist or post-Marxist veins beaming with cultural studies.
Identity – its modern concepts and patterns create another important space for post-Marxism. Identity of women, identity crisis of the Gender issue consisting of the gays, the lesbians, the New Man, the superfemme (Superwoman – who has to take important jobs both in home and outside) etc. The speaking consciousness and awareness of identity under the cool shelter of human rights missions and administrative associations are creating jerks against the disguised dictatorship of democracy or communism all over the world. In 1979 UNO has published a signed treaty by the representatives of the 20 nations to protect children’s rights globally and to make them aware about their potentiality as future operators of the world and of the gaping unjust and obviously of the congenial environment around them. GRIPS theatre movement emerging from Germany with such a social mission of children’s rights and awareness on it has been spreading in many countries of the world including Pakistan and India in different languages like Hindi, Bengali etc. Think of the adapted GRIPS theatre productions like Care Karina or Cordline etc. in Bengali. Bengali film can be thought of in this context. Goopi Bagha Phire Elo (The Return of Goopi Bagha) by Sandip Ray, the son of Satyajit Ray is the film where the protagonist boy makes his identity while hot with the power of truth obliterating the malice network of corruption which severely exploits the children by a black magician. Establishing children with prominent identity are not much available in Indian films. The child in Sonar Kella is to be mentioned in this context. Satyajit Ray images this boy with an exceptional identity drawing everyone’s attention as the boy tells of his past life.
The identity of woman in Indian cinema is reflected in various ways both in serious and entertainment films. In popular cinema we have found the Sati Savitri image (Shajan Bina Suhagan, Baba Taraknath etc.), the avenging woman after being exploited by the male (Rani Mera Naam, Zakhmi Aurat, Bandit Queen etc.), and the portrait of woman as commodity (Astha etc.). The proclamation of feminism with different shades of nuances are found in Satyajit Ray’s Mahanagar, Charulata, Ghare Baire, Ritwik Ghatak’s Subarnarekha, Meghe Dhaka Tara, Aparna Sen’s Paroma, Sati, Rituparna Ghosh’s Dahan etc. Everywhere the effort of establishing the identity of woman in the dominating milieu of the male are clearly visible. To complete the Gender issue, identity and Indian cinema we must refer Kalpana Lajmi’s Dormian (The In-between) where the eunuchs’ ardent search for their identities as human being are shown penetratingly. Similarly, we can mention Fire (1998) by Deepa Mehta on the sufferings of woman in the context of lesbianism.
In the whirlpool of globalisation the Muslim’s efforts of keeping their identity prominent are closely envisaged in the different activities of the fundamentalists. Think of some of the writings of Salman Rushdie or Taslima Nasrin and their distressing consequences. So in the contemporary context of identity Post-Marxism begins to work with its political and cultural praxes.
Again post-Marxism being against the orthodoxy of Marxism everywhere in the world we find including India as well as West Bengal the political revisions and reconstructions after Marxism, the emergence of the New Lefts and the other relevant developments. After the mishap experience of applying the Marxist theories of revolution along with the theories of Lenin and Mao Se Tung we feel even today the existence of some parties and people with ideas of revolution following the post-Marxist consequences. Sunya Theke Suru by Ashok Viswanathan traces this sort of contemporary post-Marxism. There a professor and revolutionary of seventies becomes insane as he was severely tortured in the prison. But he gradually becomes a normal man by the human and nourishing atmosphere at his friend’s house and last of all by the call of a revolutionary of the nineties seeking for his guidance and assistance.
Coming into the main discourse of orthodox Marxism and Post-Marxism Kuan-Hsing observes ‘If Post-Marxism can be understood as (1) the movement ‘beyond orthodox Marxism’, (2) as the attempt ‘beyond the notion of Marxism guaranteed by the laws of history’, and (3) as the persistent usage of Marxism ‘as one’s reference point’, then I do not see any essential difference, since three problematics are precisely what postmodernism is engaged with.’ *
Stuart Hall calls himself a post-Marxist but to read his quotation given below we must keep in mind that ‘the ‘post-Marxism’ of cultural studies is not so different from the ‘post-Marxism’ of postmodernism.
‘I am a ‘post-marxist’ only in the sense that I recognise the necessity to move beyond orthodox Marxism, beyond the notion of marxism guaranteed by the laws of history. But I still operate somewhere within what I understand to be the discursive limits of a marxist position... So, ‘post’ means, for me, going on thinking on the ground of a set of established problems, a problematic. It doesn’t mean deserting that terrain but rather, using it as one’s reference point.’ (Hall, 1986, 58, emphasis added). *
Actually in the context of post-Marxism comes in the context of postmodern cultural studies. To feel post-Marxism in our present cultural context we may follow Kuan- Hing Chen and Hebdige. As they observe and cite –
‘Toward’ a postmodern cultural studies seeks them to effect a critical collage of postmodernism and cultural studies, to construct a ‘political synchronizer’ which will move toward a Marxism or post-Marxism or a post(modern)-Marxism of the 1990s. This is (and there is no better way of saying it) a Marxism that has survived, returning perhaps a little lighter on its feet, (staggering at first), a marxism more prone perhaps to listen, learn, adapt and to appreciate, for instance, that words like ‘emergency’ and ‘struggle’ don’t just mean fight, conflict, war and death but birthing, the prospect of new life emerging: a struggling to the light. (Hebdige, 1986:97)
Turning to ‘the dark’ side of the present is the ineluctable direction where ‘the light’ of a ‘re-articulated’ post-Marxism of the future may be seen.
So to deal with the terms of theory, practice and system like, Marxism, post-Marxism, Cultural Studies, Critical postmodernism, and postmodernism we trace some interchanging and shifting qualities within these areas.
Critical postmodernism and its practices are not evident in all over the world except in America, in some of the advanced countries in Europe and in Japan. However there are influences and impact of postmodernism in the other countries of the world. There too we observe postmodernism but a different type of postmodernism. Critical postmodernism in its purest form is absent there. We find a new space for post-Marxism emerging out of cultural studies is created in those countries including India, yielding postmodernism of the West.
As a deep impact of postmodernism, we find the effect of simulation in our everyday life. The MTV along with some other satellite channels occasionally create a vein of temporal simulacrum in our life. Besides these, the hoardings, the electronic display boards, the theme, and amusement parks, – in a word the aggressive and expanding visual culture in general confuse us to differentiate actuality and simulation. This haziness sustains in our everyday reality. To the Americans Disney Land is hyper-real. Likewise, many people residing out of America consider America itself is hyper-real an dream-like. By the impact of the critical postmodernism, the confusion and fusion between the real and the hyper-real exist. In this terrain of our present time and space, the post-Marxist outlook with Cultural Studies come to introspect the present and the future days of our civilisation.
The postmodern films as for example Brazil (1985) by Terri Gilliam can be remembered in this context. There we find this kind of confusion between the real and the non-real between the actual and the hyper-real. Time to time we find the main characters of the film fly in the sky with the wide wings of fantasy.
In film, surrealism is the precursor of such ideas. The revelation of the unconscious as we find in surrealism is evident in many films in their own cinematic way. Buñuel is a good example of that kind of expression. He enters from the real to surreal. Spectators confuse – to sense what moments or messages are real or surreal in his films? In our country, Buddhadeb Dasgupta applies this artistic means for deep expression in his films. We can name Charachar, Lal Darja, Ganesh Pyne in this sequel.
In these films as well as in many other contemporary Indian films along with experimentation with the cinematic techniques, they present the study of social-political situation to an extent. Pausing a little on this point, from confusion and fusion of reality and hyper-reality, of critical postmodernism and postmodernism in general, of Marxism and Cultural Studies Post-Marxism expands in all the grass root levels of art, culture and life.
* Kuan Hsing Chen, Post-Marxism: Critical Postmodernism and Cultural Studies, in Paddy Scannell, Philip Schlesinger and Colin Sparks (eds.), Culture and Power, Sage, London, 1992.
** Angela McRobie, Post-Marxism and Cultural Studies: A Post-script, in Lawrence, Grossberg, C. Nordic, Dr. Trycheri (eds.), Cultural Studies, Routledge, 1992.
Utilitarianism and Film
In this paper, Dr. Arup Ratan Ghosh traces Utilitarianism as a basic cultural theory, which fits itself well in the Film Theory of the day. He considers Gudia and Astha – the two recent films in this context from various social, economic and aesthetic point of views.
Utilitarianism is an important concept in cultural theory specially if we look back upon its course of development. Utilitarianism re-echoes Hedonism, Liberalism to an extent and it emphasises more on the values of ‘selling’ or saleability of products or anything material or immaterial under the sun. Think of cultural products as for example popular entertainment films etc. to feel close with the concept.
The desire for doing things freely and solely for happiness and pleasure without ever having any kind of pain is reflected in such kind of films. In both ways of communications, the entertainment cinema practices such hedonistic activities. To be precise think of Hindi entertainment films. In generally there the heroes and the heroines fly freely for hedonistic pleasures with the mass spectators. Subsequently the posters and the gossip film magazines including the entertainment pages of the newspapers containing various kinds of saucy presentations of gossips and scandals related to the personal affairs of the film stars and models help the voyeurs of the hedonistic film-pleasures to consume the commercial fruits of pleasure or hedonism or utilitarianism in another way. Popular entertainment cinema packages itself as a consumable or saleable product and the process of selling and buying and the concept of ‘saleability’ is pivotally settled in utilitarianism. Utilitarianism encompasses the world with the belief that everything is saleable in this world. Not only in cinema but also in our day-to-day life of the world of our time we experience such a globally spread attitude to life be it categorically under the name of utilitarianism or not.
Now in the present time, of late Capitalism the economics of film industry intricately merges with the other kinds of entertainment businesses. Just take a glance on some of the past and present events. Aisharya Rai and Sushmita Sen appeared in some entertainment films like Jeans, Gupt, Dastak etc. or think of the last supper served in the ship Titanic in 1934 is now being served in a hotel in Delhi. The advertising boosted by the film stars or the introduction of new fashions indirectly by them as they wear the dresses while acting in the films. Music industry gets a great support from the film industry especially in our country as well as in the other countries too, by releasing music cassettes and CDs of film songs. Sometimes we find music cassettes and film songs help each other for gaining popularity and cash. Think of dam maro dam...and other songs in Hare Ram Hare Krishna or the film Qyamat Se Qyamat Tak and its melodious lyrics. Many other examples may be given in this context.
Believe in saleability. Consider anything as sellable –be it a material thing or human values. Consumerism of the present day promotes these beliefs, values, and cultures. Utilitarianism makes its foundation profound.
To trace the thematic presentation of Utilitarianism/Consumerism we find the two recent films like Astha (1996) by Basu Bhattacharya and Gudia (1997) by Goutam Ghose
In Astha it is shown that everything from a pair of fancy shoes to a housewife of a professor are consumable and available for sale. Actually there is an invisible trap laid all over the world which engulfs with the assistance of market economy, all the human values into consumerism perverting chastity, honesty, sincerity etc.
In Gudia last of all Utilitarianism/Consumerism yields perversion out of sexual repression en mass in our present day society. Public taste changes from appreciating Fine Arts (Actually a traditional form of folk entertainment-that is performing ventriloquism with a talking doll) to vulgar art, from High Art to Pornography. The film Gudia states implicitly all about these under the invisible veneer of Consumerism/Utilitarianism which sales and buys and sales again and again and go on in this way upto the infinity of our postmodern time and space.
Against Utilitarianism is Culturalism — a profound concept in Cultural Theory, which places human values, cultural values, and aesthetic expressions in the front rank and also lifts them above all other things. In our special context of Film Studies right now we can think of the Art Films or the serious and good films, which communicate us with their inherent and original flavour of Culturalism. Culturalism primarily starts in England and in Germany. It gets institutionalised support with the rise of English Studies in the late 19th century and in the 20th but that is a different context.
Lacanian Interpretation of Gudia
In this paper Dr Arup Ratan Ghosh explores Goutam Ghose’s feature film Gudia (1997) after Lacanian psychoanalysis following the concepts like ‘Mirror Stage’, the Other etc. cultural theories of psychoanalysis basically without Freud are taken here to read a significant contemporary Indian film.
John (Mithun Chakraborty) speaks with his favourite talking doll (Gudia). He naturally questions in his male voice but the doll answers in female voice. They chat, make fun. The audience laugh roaringly. They clap for the perfect presentation of ventriloquism, for the beauty of the doll and for her intelligent and coquettish dialogue. Within a moment, John’s male voice becomes the female voice of Urbashi. The Other is presented and replaced simultaneously. The audience feel themselves like children. They can’t understand or do not like to understand these two types of vocal interchanges which actually are just coming out reflecting the same person’s mind bifurcating into two bio-sociological flows.
Mirror Stage and Lacanian Reading
As the French psychiatrist Jacques Lacan (1909 – 1981) holds that upto six months of age a child holds a mirror stage like mental condition. During six months to eighteen months of age he gradually learns to know the differences between him and the other things surrounded by him. Gradually his mind becomes capable to encode things following the course ‘from the imaginary to the symbolic’. He finds the suggestions and presence of the Other in the objects surrounded by him. He feels himself as if he is surround by mirrors. Lacan mentions this stage of a child as ‘mirror stage’. At the first imaginary and the symbolic exist in a mixed state. Afterwards the symbolic gradually becomes clearer and gives a sense of differentiation to him. The child finds his own self has been scattered here and there splitting strangely enough into the symbols all over the world forming his the Other.
Keeping the concept of ‘Mirror Stage’ at the base the introduction of Lacanian Reading has started. Likewise film can also be analysed and synthesised after Lacanian Reading or Interpretation. To find out the Other of something or someone there is no need of getting a real mirror. Instead one has to broadly generalise something like a mirror. Goutam Ghose’s film Gudia (1997) made after Mahasweta Devi’s story Jony O Urbashi appears to me as such a type of hall of mirrors full of reflections.
In the Reflection of the Narration
Goa is the place or backdrop where the events of the film take place. The time is about the early eighties. So we find John singing a popular song of that period calling ‘I am a disco- dancer...’ in his talking doll show. In the beginning John is seemed to have rehearsal from his guru. He practices the art of singing in a female voice as well as the skills of ventriloquism. John gets Urbashi as a lucrative gift from his guru. He gives him the doll, as his voice has become ineffective due to prolong use of voice for ventriloquism. He becomes ill. He observes John’s show sitting at a distance. He feels hurt while John sings ‘I am a disco dancer...’ moving his body with a guitar occasionally in between his dialogue with the doll only for gaining cheap popularity of the traditional art form. Even the audience is seemed to relish this use of the song and dance. John loves the doll very dearly. He considers her as his bonne vivante companion. He occasionally speaks with her at her home. Apparently it is seemed as if he is practising ventriloquism. Again sometimes it senses us as if John’s talking with Urbashi is his repressed desire of uttering the monologue what he can not pronounce in the real life due to some social pressures. It is Urbashi who is speaking on behalf of him being his the Other – in all the shows of the talking girls.
On the other hand a beautiful teenage girl Rosemary (acted by Nandana Sen – the daughter of Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate) becomes intimate with John; takes him as a little girl but she falls in love with him. She always accompanies John in all the shows of the talking dolls. But she can not tolerate John’s limitless love or addiction for the doll or considering the doll as his most favourite ladylove. John doesn’t bother about it. Time to time he converses with her as if they are husband and wife. It senses us that it is not simply a habitual practice of ventriloquism but a process in which John really enjoys himself as he can actually able to reflect and change his ‘I’ temporally. This practice of John’s talking with ‘I’ and ‘I’ goes so far that when someone comes to meet John at his house becomes surprised to hear a female voice and he asks John whether he has married recently. John clarifies him about the matter smilingly. The doll becomes a reciprocal partner or alternative of John. Rosemary also wants to be a reciprocal partner of John but seeing the doll in her place she thinks herself as Urbashi’s the Other. She thinks as if Urbashi is something very much like a living woman – perhaps more than that. She expresses her passionate grievance and anger saturated with love as she is continually ignored by John’s over addiction with the doll. However, she doesn’t allow John to change Urbashi’s dress instead she does this herself. Even she orders John to turn back and look at something else at that time.
Lacan mingles Saussurian semiotics in his theory of psychoanalysis in other way. He shows signifiers bearing the possibilities of different meaning-making project different signifiers according to their uses. As in a language the word ‘I’ changes its signifiers according to their speakers. When ‘I use the word ‘I’ then I myself is indicated but when someone other uses the word ‘I’ then ‘I’ means him- i.e. the other speaker not me.
According to the linguist Emil Benveniste, ‘I’, ‘He’, ‘She’, and so on, are merely subject positions which language lays down. When I speak, I refer to myself as ‘I’ and to the person I address as ‘you’. When you reply, the persons are reversed and ‘I’ becomes ‘you’, and so on. We can communicate only if we accept this strange reversibility of persons. Therefore, the ego which uses the word ‘I’ is not identical with this ‘I’ when I say ‘Tomorrow I graduate’, the ‘I’ in the statement is known as the ‘subject of the enunciation’, and the ego which makes the statement is the ‘subject of the enunciating’. Post-structuralist thought enters the gap between these two subjects while Romantic thought simply elides them.’ *
Therefore, Lacan challenged that Saussurian concept that a signifier focuses on a fixed signified. This Lacanian theory can be clarified with another example. Think of a public lavatory - looking at it one easily can understand why this is made for. But when in the same lavatory two different words as ‘Gents’ and ‘Ladies’ are written then one can again easily understand that these two words have different meanings or signification making two different signifieds In this way the ‘social constructs’ works upon in our mind. Hear language is a social construct.
Similarly in Gudia we find divided metamorphosis of signifieds. The same ‘I’ - John’s ‘I’ is being transformed into another one as the language or social construct is applied. In different speeches and in different intonations from the male and female voices we can hear and sense various rows of signifieds whose source –signifier is John. Whole surrounding world is reflected through John. Element-wise which are love, worshipping of beauty, sincere practice for the art, greed, perversion, exploitation and torture. All these we find in Gudia in filmic presentation. While looking all these through the eyes of the characters then a sort of feeling comes in our mind that as if we are being able to differentiate ourselves with the filmic images of these elements and can identify them properly. According to Lacan as a child can do at the mirror stage. As he gradually learns to identify him with the other elements surrounded by him – ceaselessly entering from the domain of imagination to the world of symbols.
These symbols suggest different aspects of way of life and civilisation. We enter also in such a world of symbols. We also can see the Other forms of us.
Looking upon the narrative we find John to become a famous man. His talking-doll show is telecast in television. However, he doesn’t like this artificial electronic medium. He wishes to perform in his own traditional way. At present, the politicians want to use this traditional form of folk entertainment for their campaigning purpose. They propose John to do performance with Urbashi on behalf of them. John is agreed to do that but after starting the show he, Rosemary, and others astonishingly find that Urbashi doesn’t respond to him. She remains mute. The audience becomes restless. To tackle the situation John begins to sing still the chaotic situation can not be managed last of all. The grieved audience left the place but the people of the political party attack them. Someone jumps over the beautiful doll though she is an inert being. He drags her dress making her half-naked. And in this pervert exploration, the beautiful head of the doll has become out of joint with her beautiful body. When every thing is pacified then coming at the trouble spot John finds the pathetic, awful, and shocking condition of his favourite doll Urbashi in effect who was more than his life. He throws the doll away in the Arabian Sea. The redishness of the sun set spreads all over the sea and horizon. An Orna or a piece of white cloth wafts through the wind hovering over the sea ultimately lost in the wavy water creating a splendid transcendental beauty. The scene fulfils with a sort of surreal atmosphere for quite some time. With this John’s repentance, grievance, the culture of beauty, the tradition of folk entertainment and many other things are lost in the deep sea. Within a few moments the feeling of the existence of a very special type of life style of John and Urbashi are submerged into oblivion and then and then (in the film) starts the sequel of Rosemary and John’s popular performances. In front of a huge audience, Rosemary dances with suggestions of lust and provocation. They are seemed to quench their thirst getting the body-twisting dance of the bonne vivante baby as the Other of the doll Urbashi. The doll being the symbolic resources of individual and collective desires of the people is replaced into the body-exposing-dancer Rosemary to dissolve the barrier of social reality releasing all the desires for fancy and imagination of the mass. This sort of going through the course from the symbolic to imaginary is more akin to Freud than Lacan in the areas of development in psychoanalytic schools.
The theory of the symbolic ® the imaginary ® or the imaginary ® the symbolic and its outer form in real life with which John feels disappointed observing peoples’ craze for looking at dancing Rosemary out of their repressed sexual desire. He regrets in his own mind observing the nations’ present moral degradation. But to be practical and realistic he bursts out into singing to bring the tempo of the show. Rosemary begins to dance with lust. Unavoidably among the audience, the barrier between the fancy and reality dissolves gradually in the flamboyant colour of consumerism and subsequent entertainment. Rosemary the idol of the people’s desire and lust becomes the Other of Urbashi–the doll, who again is the idol of the symbolic or the world of symbols. In the end, the film plots our attention and importance on Rosemary and following this direction gradually, we move from the imaginary to the symbolic set-up of commodity, lust etc. in our life. Actually, we proceed to understand their roles separating them from ourselves. Keeping us again in a phase like the ‘mirror stage’ of Lacan and a child’s journey ‘from the imaginary to the symbolic’ the film ends.
In its background, the original story Jony O Urbashi remembers Calcutta in the seventies when unrest, torture, and panic overpoweringly captured the city. Urbashi is the culminated form or concrete idol of that Calcutta in the Naxalite period. We have heard such a criticism of that story. Again, in some other direction Nabarun Bhattacharya staged the play in dramatic form in the early eighties. The drama was being staged at Tripura Hitasadhini Shabha Hall, Calcutta in many evenings of that period. There was no system of selling tickets but after the end of the performance Jony or Nabarun Bhattacharya himself putting off his hat used to go to the audience for getting their monetary contributions according to their will. The spectators individually contribute in the hat. The theatrical performance was really the Other of the original story. Again, the film Gudia is the Other of the story. Its background is not at all Calcutta of the seventies. With Goanese background, the film suggests the early eighties.
Again if we take the main theme and subject of the film as the changing nature both of public taste and of the definition of folk entertainment then we find Gudia as the Other or the contemporary other form of Barin Saha’s film Tero Nadir Pare. There we also find a juggler wanders through villages for earning his living by showing the skill, efficiency, power, and beauty of his masculine body. However, a time comes when he feels defeated facing another showman cum entertainer in a sort of cultural clash. In his possession, he has only the culture of traditional folk entertainment. With some ideological values of his art, he has to encounter another folk entertainer who also has something like a small circus. For drawing more audience, he presents a lady performer in front of the consuming rural mass. The audience prefers his show instead of the former ones as there the skill of a male juggler is presented only. Gudia implicitly states something about similar cultural conflicts and crisis in the context of the present day.
Again we can say Barin Saha’s film as the Other of Fellini’s La Strada. There we find also a few folk entertainers travelling by caravans and perform shows, fall in clash and fight among themselves.
In the context of Subject and ‘the Other’ or the Other form we can refer to the Lacanian reading of Charlot Bronty’s novel Jane Eyre (1947) In their book Critical Theory and Practice (Routledge, London, 1996) it is shown that Jean Rhys’ novel Wide Sargasso Sea, 1963) as the Other of ‘Jane Eyre’. Even it is read that the two main characters of the novel Christophine and Tia are the Others of each other—especially the girl is the Other of her mother. The daughter is the mirror of her mother—looking at whom mother can see herself or her own images. Her that other has been lost from her present situations of life. Charged with a feeling of ‘lack’ of her lost ‘life’ she luringly envisages her cumulative lost images in her daughter’s mirror.
Under the concept of Lacanian, the Other an acute crisis for lack becomes penetrated. A subject finds his own reflected image of his ‘lack’ or ‘something lost’ in the mirror like the Other. Basically, the feeling of ‘lack’ in the theory of Lacan comes out of the ‘lack’ of Phallus—the great symbol. Due to this kind of feeling of ‘lack’ a daughter generally loves her father more than her mother and on the contrary a boy loves his mother more than his father as he fears the possibility of castration. From such a kind of Freudian concept and interpretation of Oedipus Complex Lacan emphasised on lostness, lost or ‘manqué’ (in French). A subject stares at his by- gone days or the lost part of his life for which he has been seeking for ardently in an imaginary mirror. But here Phallus is symbolic. Be it man or woman nobody has Phallus in the proper sense So whether man or woman each one has a sense of lack of a phallus. Moreover when phallus is out and out a symbolic one then we can take it from any serious feeling of lacking with which man is affected. Following this course, the Other forms come into the human eyes serially or in a scattered way. Similarly in Gudia, the images of the Other forms are artistically webbed. Following this model or Lacanian reading we can interpret many other films. Contextually one thing is to be noted in Gudia when Urbashi’s orna is going to be lost in the midst of the vast sea in the beautiful reddishness of the twilight – shown in a sensitive way moving a slow motion camera – then we sense a wide reflection of lostness of our surroundings with the moving image of the sea. In this film in the texture of socio-cultural reflection we relentlessly try to find out our lost tradition and many other things, objects and subjects.
Reading Gudia after some Bakhtinian viewpoints
with Barthes’ Reader Reception Theory
Dr. Arup Ratan Ghosh reads Gudia with some points from Formalist Literary Criticism of Bakhtin especially with his theories of Carnival, Jolly Relativity, Liberation of Alternative voice, Monologue/Dialogue, Polyphony etc. To enter into the Bakhtin School – Reader Reception theory containing the Death of Author as God, plural text etc. are introduced in the beginning of this supplementary notes on Gudia after Lacanian reading.
In Gudia consumerism is shown as an expanding social force in our life. Everything has become a commodity. Even folk entertainment has to be a commodity, which even presents Rosemary as a commodity like something. There is a song in this film as ‘khorid lo...’ (buy, buy and buy...) which simply states about the alarmingly aggressive waves of consumerism in our everyday life.
Goutam Ghose’s reading of Mahasweta Devi’s story is very much different. It is now clearly seen that in the three forms story, play, and film Jony O Urbashi has turned into a ‘plural text’. As per Umberto Eco it can also be said an ‘open text’. That is this text is not closed and unchangeable. Think of Ronald Barthes’ notion of ‘text’ as a ‘cross road’ or ‘site’. Any reader can enter into it or exit from it from any where as well as he can open it and can close it freely as he wishes. And as soon as the writing publishes, according to Barthes’, the writer who is taken as God or the creator dies and the reader takes birth. Goutam Ghose also reads the story as a ‘crossroad’ and patterns his analyses on celluloid through filmic images. This sort of ‘Death of Author as God’—as Barthes has conceived is anticipated in Russian Formalist Literary theory. We find them in the critical writing of Bakhtin. To consider the moving force of language while reading literature he stressed ‘not the way texts reflects society or class interests, but rather the way language is made to disrupt authority and liberate alternative voices. 1
Here in this film as authority we can place John’s authority. John wants to overpower or control the doll with his utmost love and through the voice of the doll he expresses one of his alternative utterances from his soul (antaratma). Antaratma –the word which Goutam Ghose used in his brief introduction before the screening of Gudia at Calcutta Film Festival in 1997. He said ‘Every time our soul (antaratma) doesn’t say yes. ‘We also see that at the time of political exploitation Urbashi doesn’t response to John. She remains dumb or silent. Through her silence, we hear Bakhtin’s ‘liberation of the alternative voice’ in the language of cinema.
Besides this, Bakhtin shows in reality ‘monologue is not possible’. As if this we find in Gudia where John speaks his own utterances or words splitting into two vocal divisions—making a sort of dialogue. Another theoretician of Bakhtin School Valentin Voloshinov and Bakhtin—both considered language as very mobile and forceful and intricately related with social and historical contexts and situations. They attacked Saussure and other linguists who treated ‘language as a dead, neutral and static object of information’. 2 Bakhtin in his book Discourse in the Novel clarified the theoretical concept ‘Heteroglossia’. ‘The term refers to the basic condition governing the production of meaning in all discourse. It asserts the way in which context defines the meaning of utterances, which are heteroglot in so far as they put in play a multiplicity of social voices and their individual expressions. A single voice may give the impression of unity and closure but the utterance is constantly (and to some extent unconsciously) producing a plenitude of meanings, which stem from social interaction (dialogue). Monologue is not really possible.’3
The way John and Urbashi talks and the way the director of the film shows their way of talking can be taken for understanding and reference and analysis with the last line of the above quotation. In the film, John’s single voice is pronounced divisionally deliberately by the director.
John temporarily sold himself as a commodity ignorantly for the political campaign. Therefore, he is agreed to perform with Urbashi for the campaign. However, his soul has not agreed to that. Therefore, in front of so many persons Urbashi doesn’t reply to John. As a matter of fact, John himself replies always on behalf of Urbashi through his ventriloquism. But what is happening here actually? Who is not uttering anything? Isn’t he John himself? But why doesn’t he utter anything sensing the forthcoming mob fury? Are all these happen as antaratma or the soul still remains unsold in the flux of consumerism? According to Freudian psychoanalysis in this mental process, the unconscious mind becomes dominant after having the struggling conflict with the conscious mind. John’s unconscious mind doesn’t want to become a commodity by political and economic exploitation but the conscious mind wishes to do the show as it is social, realistic and practical. In the Freudian concept the unconscious mind doesn’t care for social rules which try to control it. It always wants to go according to its own will following Id and Ego of human mind.
Therefore, at the time of replying John’s unconscious mind chokes his voice in the name of Urbashi. People find Urbashi’s behaviour as queer. According to Freud conscious mind never gets the reach of unconscious mind in normal awakening condition of mind. So John can’t understand why Urbashi is not answering to his response or why his ventriloquism remains inactive.
A writer writes a literary piece. Similarly, John is the creator of the conversation process or system of John and Urbasi. Then we can come in a Bakhtinian context. To discuss about Dostoevsky’s novel in his book Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, Bakhtin reflects that Dostoevsky has written after a new kind of polyphonic or dialogic form. There, "No attempt is made to orchestrate or unify the various points of view expressed in the various characters. The consciousness of the various characters does not merge with the author’s nor do they become subordinated to the author’s view point but they retain an integrity and independence; ‘they are not only objects of the author’s world, but subjects of their significant world as well."
John is the author of the discourse or text ‘John and Urbasi’ in the film Gudia. He created Urbashi’s character. However, she suddenly begins to behave independently. She doesn’t remain the object of her author any more.
If we generally look John then we find he temporarily transforms into Urbasi who speaks on behalf of her and come back again in him. Such a change in the appearance is something like the western Carnival festival observed both by the Christian and pagan religions. In the popular Carnival festivals, it is seen that the fools become wise, the beggars become the kings. All the contrasts have become jumbled up. A kind of ‘jolly relativity’ is observed everywhere. The entire authoritarian, hard and serious subjects are getting volts – become loose and sarcastic. The conversations between John and Urbashi are like that. A kind of jolly relativity plays in between their frequent change of personalities. In literature especially in Renaissance literature this kind of social festivals bearing the taste of liberty cast an immense effect.
The jolly relativity of carnival is evident in our culture too. In the day of doljatra or holi through the colouring game, we find something like that or ideally, it should be like that. On that day when we see someone with colour-cladded face be it black, golden or red – no doubt the appearance hides the person or changes the person into ‘jolly relativity’. To discuss the influence of Carnival on literature Bakhtin gives attractive examples from and discusses about Socratic dialogues and Menippean Satire in order to find out the source of polyphonic novel. He reflects, ‘in which voices are set free to speak subversively or shockingly, but without the author stepping between character and reader.’5
If we analyse following Bakhtin then we find in Gudia John the author of Urbashi does not come to stand between the reader/ spectator and his created character/ doll though he gets tremendous shock as Urbashi goes dumb and silent. The spectators/ readers understand or read Urbashi’s behaviour in their own ways. Moreover, if we consider Goutam Ghose as the ‘author’ of Gudia then we find too that he does not come to stand in between. He lets the characters go as they like as people do in the day of colour or holi or like song jatra in the concluding days of the month of Chaitra (Middle of April) or the Carnival.
Film and Culturalism
Culturalism – a deep breathing experience of humanity particularly in the areas of modern aesthetic flux along with popular and elite culture is compared here with cinema. To discuss culturalism Dr. Arup Ratan Ghosh tracks chiefly its British course of development after Mathew Arnold, T. S. Eliot, F. R. Leavis, Richard Hoggart et al. Tracing the analysis of Andrew Milner and Antony Easthope he puts examples from cinema (mostly Indian) and its subsequent culture bearing the deep impact on society. This kind of approach to cinema studies is indeed fresh, novel, and illuminating.
Some films from Battleship Potemkin to A Short Film about Love, from The Seventh Seal to Dreams, from Pather Panchali to Charachar or from Brazil to Dialogue Delirium (Kichu Sanglap Kichu Pralap) give us something pure in essence. What it actually is? This hovering atmosphere of cine-aesthetics and film culture has been developed out of a concept and its subsequent practices of cultural theory. That is culturalism. Now, the whole cinematographic culture can be looked in this perspective for getting a novel taste of better understanding. In this paper, I am trying to give such visions and concepts. In this axis of cultural theory, culturalism is radiating as an important concept that follows a culturalist tradition in human civilisation. Culturalism flourished in Europe – to be specific it has found its root in Germany and England during the last two centuries. The course of culturalist tradition and culturalism as it is found in England are taken in this paper for analysing film and cinematographic culture in general including Indian perspectives.
Culturalism stands for pure culture, preservation of culture and promotion of culture. It is against utilitarianism. Culturalism gets its force with the rise of ‘English’ studies in England. It is only from the later half of 19th century the study of English in the academic institutions in England began. With the culture of serious English studies the cultural tradition of the English and England are being preserved culturally and systematically to a great extent. Government in many places comes to take the responsibility of preserving culture through opening academic institutions and helping them to sustain and flourish. Mathew Arnold to whom culturalist tradition own a lot ‘decisively opted for state sponsorship of education as the mechanism by which culture could be preserved and extended, and as the centre of resistance to the driving imperatives of an increasingly mechanical and materialist civilisation. In the late 19th century, and even more so in the 20th, the culturalist discourse finally become institutionalised within the academic discipline we now know as "English"1
The context of English literature comes very much in association with culturalism. Culturalism bears ‘a tradition which from Barke through to T. S. Eliot (1885-1965), clearly embraced, in one important registrar, a radically conservative reaction against capitalist modernity. But in another, and equally important register, it embraces also a radically progressive aspiration to go beyond that modernity: the obvious instances here include William Blake (1757 – 1827), P. B. Shelley (1792 – 1822), William Morris (1834 – 1896), Orwell of course, but also Williams, whose intellectual career is properly intelligible only as a late constitution of this Anglo-culturalist tradition. Whatever the register, however, culturalism remains irretrievably adversaried in its relations both to capitalist industrialisation and to utilitarian intellectual culture. This is a tradition which underpins much of English romantic poetry, but also much of what we often describe as the 19th century English realist novel.’ 2
From these two above quotations of Andrew Millner the sense, nature and practice of culturalism seems a little bit clear. Following him again we can get more fundamental aspects of culturalism. He comments ‘This term is of only recent origin, and it is one which has typically been defined only by way of an antithesis between itself and structuralism. Moreover, it has been accorded a quite distinctively Marxist inflection. Thus Richard Johnson, for example, sees the new discipline of cultural studies as founded upon a theoretical terrain demarcated between, on the one hand a kind of Anglo-Marxist culturalism best represented by the works of the historian E. P. Thompson and the literary critic Raymond Williams, and on the other, that type of Franchophore structuralist Marxism establish by the philosopher Louis Althusser 3 Johnson’s usage seems to me far too preoccupied with these comparatively recent culturalist and structuralist Marxism, to the extent that it clearly underestimates the significance for each of their respective non-Marxist precursors. I propose, then, to use the term rather differently to denote that type of anti-culturalism which become incorporated within a largely literary tradition of speculation about the relationship between culture and society, variants of which recur within both British and German intellectual life. In both German and British versions, the concept of culture is understood as incorporating a specifically "literary sense of culture as "art" with an "anthropological sense of culture as a "way of life". And in each case, the claims of culture are counterpoised to those of material civilisation. Hence, Shelley’s famous dictum that: "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.". 4
To find the basis of culturalism in the culturalist tradition one has to look chiefly upon the relevant literary works of Mathew Arnold, T. S. Eliot, F. R. Leavis and Raymond Williams. Culture to Arnold has various connotations ‘it is sweetress and light, it is the best that has been thought and said, it is essentially disinterested, it is the study of perfection, it is internal to the human mind and general to the whole community, it is internal to the human mind and general to the whole community, it is a harmony of all the powers that make for the beauty and worth of human nature. But, however defined culture stands in opposition to mechanical civilisation: "Culture... has a very important function to fulfil for mankind. And this function is particularly important in our modern world, of which the whole civilisation is... mechanical and external, and trends constantly to become more so’. 5
Arnold’s concept of culture stands as a social force in opposition with the material civilisation. Arnold is considered as the 19th century figure in the development of culturalist tradition and T. S. Eliot is attributed with the same status in the 20th century since the First World War. What does ‘culture’ mean to Eliot? He writes, "By ‘culture’ I mean first of all... the way of life of a particular people living together in one place. That culture is made visible in their arts, in their habits and customs, in their religion." 6 The last reference is very much important to Eliot because he considers the culture of a people is ‘necessarily’ an ‘incarnation’ of its religion.
Like Arnold, Eliot too is critical of modern, mechanical civilisation. But he proceeds towards the development of a theory of cultural decline. In his famous essay ‘The Metaphysical Poets’ he compared the early 17th century English poets like Chapman, Donne, Lord Herbert of Cherbury with the poets of the 19th century like Tennyson and Browning. He finds a ‘unified sensibility’ in the metaphysical poets and in all previous poetry. In these works of literature, he finds thought and feeling are retained in an essential unity. But during the 17th century, in the works of some poets like Milton and Dryden a ‘dissociation of sensibility’ is found from which English culture has never recovered. About this difference, he writes ‘It is something, which had happened to the mind of England.’ He finds this dissociation of sensibility had been ‘a consequence of the same cases which brought about the Civil War. Andrew Milner writes ‘in this context that - ‘Their eventual outcome will be capitalist industrialisation itself, which will in turn press the logic of dissociation towards their own terrible terminus: "more insidious than any censorship", Eliot argues, "is the steady influence which operates silently in any mass society organised for profit, for the depression of standards of art and culture. 7 For all the obvious theoretical affinities between Eliot and Arnold – an orgaincist conception of culture, the central antithesis between culture and civilisation – such pessimism as this remains quite fundamentally in compatible with Arnold’s own reforming zeal. For Eliot’s insistence on priority of religion over culture leaves him much more positively sympathetic to the feudal past, and correspondingly much more fearful of an ultimately industrialised future. 8
Now we can sense the nature of strong resistance or repulsive reactions of culturalism against modern capitalism, mechanisation, and industrialisation. Though Benjamin commented that cinema is the mechanical representation of art still a strong sense and praxis of culturalism is deeply felt in cinema all over the world. The serious, good and/ or Art films bear the stamp of culturalism very much. Though cinema is an industry and to make a film a huge amount of money is required and obviously the money should return to the producer preferably with profit. So its utilitarian point of view must not be overlooked here for keeping on film making it is required. But to look upon at cinema industry with utilitarianism the crises of serious film making begin and end in this blind circuit of spectator-ship and film production. Cheap and vulgar taste, essentially light entertainment, heavy exposure of sex and violence, political propaganda and some other elements like these hover and waft in between the essential ends of cinema. So we see the gradual disappearance of culturalism from the mainstream cinema in India and from the billion dollar blockbuster movies (not all of them of course) all over the world. Utilitarianism is the proper replacement erasing culturalism. We know culturalism is at bottom anti- utilitarianism.
The culturalist tradition of serious filmmaking taking cinema as a medium of artistic expressions or for arousal of social consciousness or societal change keeps the progress of culturalism still on line throughout the world. The individual filmmakers, the short filmmakers, the experimental filmmakers are still continuing today the essence of culturalism and its cinematic tradition.
As Mathew Arnold proposed for the government initiative to perpetuate education among the nation by establishing academic institutions. As a consequence, the study of ‘English’ began in England properly even from this century and culturalism gets its nourishment and rearing care through this study of English. Somehow similarly in this century mostly after the 30s, 40s, 50s or 60s various states establish their our film schools to promote the film culture. To perpetuate the film education various faculties and departments of different universities and colleges are opened all over the world with different names like Film Studies, History of Cinema, Cinema and Mass Communication, Media Studies, Film and Television etc. In India one such department has started studying M.A. programme in Film Studies from 1995 in Jadavpur University, Calcutta where as Film and TV Institute of India started its courses of film making and film acting from the early sixties as a result of the report submitted by the Film Enquiry Commission set up by the Government of India in 1954.
A galaxy of efficient and creative filmmakers and film personalities come out of this institute. There is a few more film schools in the country. One is in Chennai and another one is set up recently in 1996 in Calcutta – Satyajit Ray Film and TV Institute. It is claimed that SRFTI is modelled after FTII, Pune.
National Film Development Corporation, modelled after British Film Institute, and various other FDCs of different states in India promote film culture seriously mainly through funding good (?) films from the serious film directors. National Film Archives of India perserve the treasures of national and international films and promote film culture and education. Film Societies too help shape serious film culture through regular screenings of good films and publishing serious journals, magazines and books and conducting seminars on cinema. All these can be said as flux of cinematic culturalism.
The trend and inspiration set by the master film makers like Eisenstein, Orson Wells, Bergman, Kurosawa, Godard, Ray are still continuing in the films of the contemporary film makers. Culturalism is still in practice in the films of Kieslovsky, Zanussi, Mizoguchi, Dasgupta, Gopalakrishnan, Sen, Ghose and Viswanathan et al. Simultaneously a clash with the socio-economic force of utilitarianism occurs as film production requires money and money back guarantee too. Serious film makers who believe that film is at the base as art form are put into troubles with their concept and practice. They are pulled in the tug of war between art and commerce, between fine aesthetics and coarse public taste or in between high culture and low culture. So we find parallel film making in Indian cinema in the 80s or something like parallel film making without any nomenclature in the present day films of Ketan Mehta, Kalpana Lajmi, Goutam Ghose et al. In the context of the conflict of a serious Indian filmmaker Goutam Ghosh in a seminar in Calcutta in 1997 reflected about the ‘dichotomy’ with which such a filmmaker has to suffer when he makes his film in this present socio-economic situation. Considering this awful situation for serious filmmaking Buddhadeb Dasgupta in an interview with the author reflected, ‘In this way in order to become more commercially viable, in order to make more and more profits film has gone some distance away from its artistic imperatives. A group of filmmakers who worked in cinema till the eighties – I don’t know how far their films would be commercially successful now – I don’t know whether today any Godard can emerge or even if that’s possible whether this present day Godard will be provided the necessary fineness for his artistic ventures and adventures. Today America is simply exploiting even a filmmaker like Kurosawa.’ 9
So culturalism in general and in this particular context cinematic culturalism is being tormented in tussle with utilitarianism which at the base believes only in the concept of ‘saleability’. To Utilitarianism, every thing is for ‘sale’. So is film or film culture today.
Uplifting our eyes from the milieu of film culture in everywhere including our own country we find the victory of utilitarianism in the name of market economy or late capitalism etc. and culturalism has been continuously shrinking. In the screening scenario a compromise with vulgar public taste and art, aesthetics and economics are shockingly communicating us en mass. This grave situation of culturalism is a reflection of the present day society – be it global or Indian. It is like the reflection of the collective mind as once Eliot saw in the declining art and culture of England in his time of the ‘Wasteland’. Our psychic responses towards our own cultural decline maybe considered somehow similar as Eliot envisaged towards the culture of England.
Till now we have extended the culturalist tradition and the basic viewpoints of culturalism chiefly drawn from Arnold and Eliot in the study of cinematographic culture zooming in Indian scenario and the present time beyond postmodernism.
However culturalism takes an interesting and important turn with F. R. Leavis and subsequently with Raymond Williams, Richard Hoggart et al involving the culture of whole society, intricately interlinking art and life, text and context, high culture and low culture.
With this turn, we can have an interesting reflection on film culture in general – especially on the popular entertainment cinema and its serious counterpart of artistically made films and the attitudes and reflections surrounding them.
Culturalism with a Marxist leaning is developed through the writings of F. R. Leavis and others. ‘Culture’ – as Leavis finds is more or less confined to the elite. They have become the practitioner and the preserver of culture. Besides this minority class, culture also remains along with the ‘mass’ – who are not necessarily the elite only. With the common, ordinary people of a society and in their way of life culture varies and continues with life-force.
On the role and significance on high cultural tradition he reflects –
In any period it is upon a very small minority that the discerning appreciation of art and literature depends.... The minority capable not only of appreciating Dante, Shakespeare, Baudelaire, Hardy (to take major instances) but of recognizing their latest successors constitute the consciousness of the race (or of a branch of it) at a given time. Upon this minority depends our power of profiting by the finest human experience of the past; they keep alive the subtlest and most perishable parts of tradition. Upon them depend the implicit standards that order the finer living of an age, the sense... that the centre is here rather than there. In their keeping is the language, the changing idiom upon which fine living depends, and without which distinction of spirit is thwarted and incoherent. By ‘culture’ I mean the use of such language. 10
Antony Easthope comments, similarly on this reflection as I have written earlier –
‘this needs little commentary: high culture as represented in the literary cannon is an elite preserve for defence against ‘mass civilization’; it is a castle immune to the ‘red death’, that is, popular culture. And the qualifying term ‘culture’ is reserved exclusively for high culture and denied to the rest of the members of society, the actual majority, who are seen as simply without culture.’11
With Leavisian outlook, we can reflect on the mainstream popular entertainment cinema, which are circulated in the cultural circle of the ‘actual majority’ of the society. People without culture or having ‘low’ or even ‘subculture’ are chiefly the target audience of such kind of cinema. Being one step further, we can say that most of the Bollywood-films are designed for their ‘culture’. So culturally now a days they are not denied. However one may question if such films go up to the mark for considering as pieces or products of culture. Leavis saw their downward status. He finds culture is always nourished by the elite and always belongs to the high-culture. Considering literary works he observes such a kind of one-sided position of culture – something produced, reared and nurtured by the elite for the stiles and of the elite. However, today finding cultural products like entertainment cinema – we may speak here precisely of the Hindi entertainment movies and TV serials – and the critical reviews on them done by the sociological pundits or the scholars of film studies. So on one should not necessarily feel any grievance today as Leavis felt in the thirties. In this course, we in Indian context get efforts of critical studies on Indian Popular Cinema. Any celluloid ventures or moving images are considered today as pieces or products of social constructs or resources of socio-political and socio-cultural impulses and forces.
This point of controversy for considering culture as a property of the elite projected in F. R. Leavis’ viewpoint reflected Raymond Williams in other dimension. He shifts his outlook from mere ‘text’ to actual ‘life’. To him ‘culture’ can not be confined to any segment of a society. Culture is a product of all the societal forces. It includes the ‘majority’, the mass as well as the elite. Towards a term and theory of popular culture Raymond Williams set up a prominent direction. The leftward or communist inclination of Culturalism received a broader dimension with F. R. Leavis and afterwards with Raymond Williams.
‘This liberal elitist tradition is challenged in the work of Raymond Williams. In Culture and Society1780 – 1950, published in 1958, Williams undertakes a sustained struggle to think of culture as an attribute of all members of a society, not merely the economically privileged. Culture, he argues, pertains not to the development of a single class but to ‘the development of a whole society’, and this must include ‘steel-making, touring in motor-cars, mixed farming, the Stock Exchange, coalmining, and London Transport’.12 The aim of Williams’s somewhat grim-jawed argument is to validate working-class culture precisely as culture. To do this he reviews the British tradition of writers on culture (from Coleridge to George Orwell) assessing in each case how far the writer is open to the idea of popular culture as valid culture.
At this time Williams writes from a position that is explicitly not that of a Marxist, for he refuses to take culture as a simple expression of economic class (or a complex expression of it, for that matter). He worries especially about high culture in terms of the Marxist framework, posing the following alternative: ‘Either the arts are passively dependent on social reality, a proposition which I take to be... a vulgar misinterpretation of Marx. Or the arts, as the creators of consciousness, determine social reality.’13
With the critique of Williams various scenes and sequences from cinema come in our mind. Different characters from that archive begin wandering. Many films are there which deal primarily with the working class, the downtrodden, and the majority people of the society or the mass. We can reflect this part of culturalist tradition since Battleship Potemkin.
From the Indian cinematographic culture we can trace the characters along with the respective films like Utpalendu Chakraborty’s Chokh, Arvindan’s Chidambaram, Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Neem Annapurna, Charachar, Lal Darja, Govind Nihalni’s Akrosh, Prakash Jha’s Damul, Rabindra Dharmaraj’s Chakra, Mrinal Sen’s Oka Uri Katha, Parasuram, Kharij, Satyajit Ray’s Sadgati, Sandip Ray’s Uttoran, Goutam Ghose’s Paar, Patang, Padma Nadir Majhi, Gudia, Fakir etc. There are obviously many more in this kind of cinematographic culturalist tradition. Many are placed in the mainstream Indian cinema too.
Goutam Ghose, who believes in projecting the subalterns or the downtrodden, deceived, working class people or common ordinary men – reflects in an interview with me as –
‘Through the people – the characters in my films I try to expose their real situation. I do not belong to their class but only we are able to express or narrate their problems – their existence. Because from a cultivator community no filmmaker will come out. Then who are there to say for them? So, if we think we should tell only about our own experiences and about our class – I think it is an idiotic thinking. If we always think we shall not go beyond our circle then who will say about their lives, their experiences and sufferings? It is stupid enough to think in this line. Actually, these subaltern people are holding the main structure of India. We, the people who are privileged have to take the task of bringing them in the forefront. And I try to understand them though my middle class way of life. 14
Women’s contribution to culture especially in Indian perspective is interesting enough for studying and developing Indian culturalism. Women in the period of the last two centuries are more or less treated as deceived, downtrodden, dominated common ordinary persons or creatures – wherever they belong in the high society, middle, or poor class. Their ‘texts’ (from the writings by the women many of which are lost into oblivion to contemporary Women’s cinema etc.) and their way of life (precisely for our convenience of study in the 19th and 20th centuries) form a resource of contribution in our culture. We get its portrayal in the films too. Satyajit Ray’s Charulata, Mahanagar, Kapurush, Ritwik Ghatak’s Meghe Dhaka Tara, Subarnarekha etc. and recently in the films like Aparna Sen’s Paroma and Sati, Prabhat Ray’s Swet Patharer Thala etc. are a few examples. And in the mainstream cinema, we get many – as for examples like, Sajan Bina Suhagan, Raj Kapoor’s Ram Teri Ganga Maili etc.
Women’s Indian texts and contexts with its basically subaltern or liminal nature form India’s total culture. William’s viewpoints on culture finely reflect on it. And to look through Indian cinema we get vibration of his culturalism along with the culturalist tradition. Stopping at the women dimension of Indian cinema we just feel overwhelmed in its sight and in its sensation.
To incorporate popular culture in the mainstream of culturalism we have to include Richard Hoggart’s writing.
Richard Hoggart in The Uses of Literacy, published in 1957, also defends traditional working-class culture, locating it particularly in trade union organisation, forms of choral and group singing, and the institution of brass bands, but also in moral attitudes still imbued with Nonconformist Protestantism. From this ethical base he attacks what he terms ‘candy floss’ culture represented by such 1950s commercial products as cheap magazines, popular newspapers, popular songs, and what he calls ‘spicy books’. Then content of the last of these can be assessed from such typical titles as The Killer Wore Nylon, Broads (Girls) Don’t Like Lead, Sweetie, Take it Hot. A moralising stance is always susceptible to unconscious betrayal, and so it is in Hoggart’s case, for the title of these ‘spicy books’ are not the result of careful research but rather of the author’s own imagination. He has, as he admits, made them up himself: they are his own ‘imitations’.15
Anthony Easthope schematically listed some points of problems of culturalism following the works of Williams and Hoggart. These are referred especially for the culturalist phase of British Cultural Studies.
Throughout the first half of 20th century, the pompous region of culturalism with its different theses and praxes stirred the human mind reflecting in its varied dimensions of culture. The cannons of culturalism, emerged figuratively out of literary tradition have now become a moving reflector incorporating all the aspects of art and ‘life’ and showing the different dimensions of local, regional and global cultures.
‘Overall, culturalism seeks to relate objective structure to subjective experience by running the two together into the notion of ‘culture’. The amalgam is not stable, as we shall see.’ 17 In the study of film culture we can find a resonance with this observation of Easthope too.
One interesting observation what Leavis finds in the context of poetry and its appeal in the society is true in today’s context of poetry-writing and poetry-culture as well as in the context of serious or ‘art’-film making and its course of appreciation and culture. The lines are as such – ‘The finer values are ceasing to be a matter of even conventional concern for any except the minority... Elsewhere below, a process of standardisation, mass production, and levelling down goes forward... So that poetry, in the future, if there is poetry, seems likely to matter even less in the world.’18
We get the same picture with the dominating trend of Fordism (the standardised mass production without any special identity figuratively applicable in the practice massive production of cars) and similar and subsequent attitudes towards our culture and the niche of serious film culture what even upto seventies we have experienced enthrallingly.
However, studying film-culture through the prism of culturalism is in deep fascinating.
1. Andrew Milner, p. 21
2. Andrew Milner, p. 21
3. R. Johnson, Histories of culture/ theories of ideology: notes on an impasse, in Ideology and Culture Production, eds. M. Barrett et al. London, Croom Helm, 1979, pp. 51.
4. P. B. Shelley, A defence of poetry (with P. Sidney, An apology for poetry), ed. H. A. Needham (London, Ginn, 1931), p. 109
5. M. Arnold, Culture and anarchy, ed. J. Dover Wilson, (Cambridge University Press, 1966), pp. 48-9.
6. T. S. Eliot, Notes towards the definition of culture (London. Faber,1962), p.120
7. Eliot, The idea of a Christian society, p.66
8. Andrew Milner, Culturalism in Cultural Theory
9. Interview with Buddhadeb Dasgupta by the author, 1997 (unpublished)
10. F. R. Leavis, Mass Civilisation and Minority Culture; Cambridge, Gordon Fraser, 1930), pp 3-5
11. Antony Easthope, But what is cultural studies? In Studying British Cultures (Sussan Bassnett, Routledge, London, 1997, p. 7)
12. R. Williams, Culture and Society, 1780 – 1950 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1963), p. 230
13. Williams, op. cit., p. 266
14. An interview with Goutam Ghose by Arup Ratan Ghosh, Views Reviews Interviews, 1999
15. Antony Easthope, p. 8.
16. Antony Easthope, p. 8
17. Antony Easthope, p. 9
18. Andrew Milner, ‘Culturalism’ in Contemporary Cultural Theory, UCL Press, London, 1994, p.31
Post-Colonial Feminist Theory and film
In this path-breaking paper, Dr. Arup Ratan Ghosh analyses film in the axis of post-colonial feminist theory. He presents the complex theory of the subject, which requires the knowledge of Marxism, feminism, psychoanalysis, and post-colonialism. Based on the post-colonial feminist theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Anne Macclint, and Sara Mills he intellectually represents the Indian film scenario with western perspectives.
Post-colonial feminist theory today is based upon the theories of psychoanalysis, Marxist-feminism, and post-colonialism. In this paper, I am tracing some concepts of Sara Mills’ paper Post-colonial feminist theory in the perspective of cinema. Mills based her paper on the post-colonial feminist theories of Gayatri Spivak and Anne McClintock ‘Can the subaltern talk?’ – a famous book of Spivak in which post-colonial feminism is ventriloquised to a great extent. To many feminists ‘colonial period has been characterised by critics as a male domain.’1
In Indian film context, we find some post-colonial feminist utterances also, ‘Can the subaltern speak?’ – we can put this question in the context of Aparna Sen’s film Sati (1995). In the film Sati (The Virgin) developed after Kamal Kumar Majumdar’s story, where we find a virgin mute girl is married to a tree following the religio-social regulations. As she is married she can not marry any one else. So being in her full blossomed youth she spent a strange married life with a tree in the remote village. The rigorous social rules make the subaltern teenage girl figuratively mute. She never tasted her life. The rural society in the British colonial period doesn’t allow her to get the flavour of her youth or in other words the normal life which men can enjoy freely by the allowances of the same colonial society. This subaltern girl can not speak herself both figuratively and in reality. She is exactly the typical girl made for the thesis of postcolonial feminist theory who can not really speak in the heavy pressure of male domination. Her strange husband the big tree in the middle of the village also can not speak. She embraces the tree disseminating their mute language. These things are happening in the British colonial period. In that period the Brahmins rule over the society for their own interest in the guise of religious dogma and superstitious beliefs. They place themselves in the society as the colonial British do. ‘Giving the example of the changes which took place in Hindu law after British colonies, she shows that ‘a version of history was gradually established in which the (elite) Brahmins were shown to have the same inventions as (thus providing legitimisation for), the codifying British (p.77). 2
In another novel of Kamal Kumar Majumdar, Antarjali Jatra with which Goutam Ghose made his film in two versions Bengali and Hindi (Yatra) we find a young girl is married to a dying old man. The man is taken to the riverside, as there was a Hindu belief that dying by the riverside is virtuous. This dying-by-the-river-process is called Antarjali Jatra. The girl-bride is with him, as a wife should always follow her husband. She is seemed to attend her husband sincerely. Seeing the condition of the girl and the way of life, she is observing by the society ruling Brahmins in the British colonial period in Indian we pose ourselves the question, ‘Can the subaltern speak?’
Throughout the years in the past as well as occasionally in the present almost all over the world the women are called and/ or treated as a different race. Narijati (na.bIjait) – is a oft-quoted Bengali word used by the great men of Bengal like Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, Swami Vivekananda et al giving due respect to the female race or class. The women are categorised as female class also. This classification with ‘race’ or ‘class’ helps to marry feminism with Marxism emerging as Marxism-feminism. Though to some critics this marriage is an unhappy one still post-colonial feminist theory bears some foundations of Marxist-feminism. It is evident that the conceptual practice of woman as a race does not always receive its due respect, honour, and proper position in society all over the world. Time and again male domination disrobes the honour of woman as a race and looking with the Marxist-feminist point of view the women are engaged with something like class struggle.
In Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khilari a fine slice of a study of colonisation of India is reflected. The women chiefly shown there are not belonging to subaltern class. They are the wives of two lazy chess players. They belong to an affluent society. But the wives live in their own world. One tries to pass her time by listening tales from the old lady assistant and another one engages herself with hidden lovemaking in the so-called harem. They can do so because their husbands stay away from them for hours for playing chess. Though these women are affluent still their loneliness, and a feeling of confinement, echoes the agony of the subaltern women, or the women engaged with the class struggle in the colonial or post-colonial period.
Let us discuss with the two terms colonial and post-colonial and how are taking them for our analysis of the paper. As Ashcroft et al put in their book The Empire Writes Back... Generally speaking... distinctively post-colonial.3
Instead of literature, I am applying this post-colonial critical approach to cinema – especially in Indian cinema. Sara Mills also puts her notes on these two terms as: ‘Although within post-colonial theory there is great debate about the meaning of these two terms, we will take colonial to mean those texts which were written during the period of high British imperialism, roughly from the early nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. Colonial discourse is used as a term which both describes all of these texts, literary and non-literary, and it is also used to describe the critical approach to these texts. See Edward Said, Orientalism (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978), for one of the founding texts in the study of this field. Post-colonial theory is the critical study of colonial texts and texts which have been written in the wake of colonialism. See Anne McClintock, ‘The angel of progress: pitfalls of the term "post-colonialism"’, pp. 291-305 in Williams and Chrisman (Patrik Williams and Laura Chisman (eds.), Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory, Harvester Wheatsheaf, Hempstead, 1993) for an overview of some of the difficulties in classifying disparate cultures as post-colonial. In contrast to Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin (eds.) in The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-colonial Literatures (Routledge, London, 1989) who argue for the term post-colonial to be used to cover all cultures involved in colonial/imperial relations, both colonizing and colonized, McClintock questions the overgeneralized use of the term, arguing for greater specificity of reference.’ 4
So it is now clear how we are approaching and what is our subject matter or compass of study. In post-colonial feminist theory, psychoanalysis merges with post-colonialism, Marxism, and feminism. To make this concept clear what and how the colonisers face and react during their period of colonisation. Colonisers find different races. White Europeans find black Africans, Red Indians, as well as Indians of quasi-dark complexions, Australian-aborigines etc. To these different races they find their fantasy or dream fulfilled. Many colonisers engaged themselves with sexual activities with their new-found women from the darker races. All over the world plenty of such happenings of ‘desire fulfilment’ took place in the fade out pages of history. One such good and moral activity is what we all know, Job Charnock, the founder of Calcutta rescued a sati from the grasp of Brahmins who was dragged for burning at the pyre of her dead husband, and married her. So to the colonisers’ sexual gratification, desire fulfilment, relishing the fantasy among the ignorant native races play deeply in their psychic level as well as through physical encounters. Many times only at psychic level as all the colonisers did not have sex with the native races, in their virgin fields.
‘Feminist post-colonial critics have also concerned themselves with the way that the colonial sphere has been characterized as a sexualized zone; colonial landscapes were described in sexual terms (‘virgin territories’ which were eager for penetration) and as Anne McClintock has shown, by Victorian era ‘Africa and the Americas had become what can be called a porno-tropics for the European imagination – a fantastic magic lantern of the mind onto which Europe projected its forbidden sexual desires and fears’. 5
Analysing the colonisers’ interaction with the native races through sex and which is originated at the psychic level lead one to Freudian concept of collective psychopathology and other concepts of psychoanalysis. To follow through the sequels of colonisation ® race ® sex ® desire fulfilment ® psychic foundation we may refer to John Rhys’ novel Wide Sargasso Sea and its film version as well as its critique at a special point of view. This novel can be seen through post-colonial feminist point of view.
As Robert Young has shown, fears about racial mixing are, within the colonial context, often projections of desire. When Rochester describes his sexual feelings towards Antoinette on their honeymoon, it is in racial terms: ‘one afternoon the sight of a dress which she’d left lying on her bedroom floor made me breathless and savage with desire’ (p. 78). This relocation of the term ‘savage’ within this carefully described racial territory cannot be seen as accidental when viewed from the perspective of a post-colonial analysis. Similarly, when Rochester first meets Amelie, the servant, he states that she is a girl of mixed race; however, once he has had sex with her he suddenly sees her as Black: ‘In the morning, of course I felt differently... And her skin was darker, her lips thicker than I had thought’ (p. 115). Once Amelie is seen as sexually impure by Rochester, he also sees her as ‘racially’ impure. It is this confusion around racial and sexual purity which the text displays, and as Robert Yong states: ‘we encounter the sexual economy of desire in fantasies of race, and of race in fantasies of desire’ (p. 90). For Rochester, sex is already racialized, and race sexualized.’ 6
Now I like to refer some similar psychic and social process giving examples from a Bengali novel as well as its film versions. It is Aranyer Din Ratri – a novel by Sunil Gangopadhyay and the film made after it by Satyajit Ray whose English title is Days and Nights in the Forest. There is no question of colonisation but the attitude is somehow similar. Rabi, a young man goes with three of his friends at Dhalbhumgarh to spend a few days’ leave in the jungle area. There they met with two other young ladies who also come for a change. Being in close contact with nature the young men release their urban societal pressures. They drink and dance in the open street in the evening and do whatever they like as the jungle and the native races (as they heave thought) of that area do not protest them.
Rabi, the main character goes extreme. He becomes intimate with a Santhali tribal woman and has sex with her. The tribal girl (acted by Simi Garewal) is a black beauty with simple nature. She represents a race unlike the urban women or men. Her race is the same kind of race with which the colonial people feel lucrative and treat as resource of desire fulfilment. Though Rabi, the character both in the novel and the film is not a colonial invader or settler. He is a young employed bachelor with a grieved mind for unrequited love and other urban complexities. But his attitude towards the forest area and to the tribal girl is post-colonial. As we know the colonial tensions remain in the post-colonial zones of time and place.
Somehow, similarity but with a very faint trace of such post-colonial attitude a few other Bengali films like Abhijan (1962) by Satyajit Ray and Bhuban Some (1969) by Mrinal Sen etc. can be named. In Ray’s film the tracing come out especially while the car driver who is the ancestor of King (Rana) Pratap Singh enjoys the light dance by an unknown woman very privately. In Sen’s film the new revelation of Bhuban Some. The films are indeed to be considered totally and in much more detail. However the postcolonial indication is present in these films as well as in many other films.
We can analyse Ray’s Mahanagar with post-colonial feminist theory. We observe the post-colonial tensions remain in the post-independence India. Women are treated here as a race. We observe changes in this race. Arati, the housewife represents for a changing attitude in her race. Women are going to work outside their houses like men. A feminist utterance along with post-feminism indicating the future emergence of superfemme or superwoman is strongly felt in this film. Edith, another sales girl in this film is continuing post-colonial residuals in herself, as she is an Anglo-Indian belonging to a mixed race of the British and Indian.
Coming back in the psychic point of view we can name The Mission (1985) by Ronald Joffé. A missionary finds psychic resonance with another race, uncivilised living in a remote hilly island. Of course there is no desire fulfilment through sex with the new race. There are many other films in this vein. Shyam Benegal’s film Making of Mahatma (1997) is a post-colonial study on the ups and downs of the British colonial domain in South Africa with an emphasis on the formative development of M. K. Gandhi and his contribution there at that colonial period. Colonialism is obviously different in nature in different countries like Africa, Canada or India. Its impact is also different.
Gayatri Spivak writes, ‘Can the subaltern speak?’ as she finds western feminism gets its prominence centring Europe. She even mentions Foucault and for doing so. Her ‘subaltern’ is the woman from the Third World. The voices from the Third World woman utter the ‘subaltern speaking’ – as she holds. Now we find many Indian women writers’ writings are studied in the Western Universities – as post-colonial literatures or perhaps as post-colonial feminist literature. Shobha Dé has a place in that corpus of the syllabus. Exploitation of woman is a frequently- treated subject in Indian cinema, especially in the parallel or serious films. Its flavour of feminism draws attention of the West to an extent. We have heard that retrospectives on Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil were held in the West. These two actresses represented mostly the ‘exploited Indian subaltern women’ type characters (as Sati, Mirch Masala, Paar, Chakra, Akrosh etc.). They have made subaltern woman’s speaking very much penetrating. However, recently another subaltern voice has stirred us. It is Shima Biswas acted as Phulan Devi in the Bandit Queen (1996) – a film by Shekhar Kapoor. After a biography of Phulan Devi an existing M.P. in India the film was made. Hurling various controversies the film voiced a strong utterance by a subaltern woman. Who being raped severely by many and being harassed wretchedly becomes a notorious dacoit and afterwards became a member of the Parliament coming back in a normal life. Indeed her voice represents the voices of the repressed subaltern Third World women including India. This film surely shapes itself with the ‘speaking’ aspects of the post-colonial feminist theory. However, the voice of the Third World women are echoed earlier in many other significant Indian films as well. The voice from Satyajit Ray’s Charulata is to be remembered in this context with reverence.
Film Flow and Globalisation
In this paper, Dr. Arup Ratan Ghosh puts cinema into the orbit of Globalisation. The context and texts of ‘identity’, MTV, beauty contest, cocacolaisation, localism, regionalism and nationalism, Amartya Sen’s notion on globalisation, block-buster films and cinema in general come with a serious approach to state the global matter of fact of the moving images.
Be it the playfulness of zapping the satellite television or surfing the Internet or jiving with the music of foreign tune the experience of Globalisation rotates. Seeing Titanic all over the world has recently become a global phenomenon after its cultural -economic moving predecessors like Jurassic Park, E.T. etc. This world seems to us as a village. Like a village community sometimes we share the same thing all over the world. For example drinking Coca-Cola. People drink Coca-Cola whether they are in Chile, Ghana, India or in the U.S.A. Staying far away from each other people share the same thing as if they live in a small village. It is the Global Village. So millions of people see Titanic at the same time residing at different corners of the world. So do we browse the websites and take printouts from the far. Effacing the distance we chat. Even we place order for material goods from the virtual shops. To the modern generation national boundaries are becoming relicts. Now the ubiquity of Globalisation is strongly felt with the skulduggery of the electronic media or with the marvels of technological advancement.
In this discourse of Globalisation and Cinema we put some categories.
Film culture specially Indian Film Culture is international recognition including awards and applauds and screenings in the foreign festivals or transmission through Channel four or the other TVs and also the reflections of foreign critics on Indian cinema are embedded in the pulsating global compass of the film makers, film journalists, and almost everyone associated with film. Consider the sequels of Indian Art films down from Satyajit Ray to our contemporaries. Even today a De Sica award to Goutam Ghose gives a global dimension to serious Indian film making. Or when seeing Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Charachar some German spectators sprang upto their feet reading the film as a momentum to their Green movement. But Dasgupta has reflected 1 that he doesn’t think the film as a camcorder of ecological movement. Though Internationalism and Globalisation are different but for the Indian cinema sometimes they coalesce to some extent sometimes quasi or half globally. Considering the popular entertainment film in the same context we should not forget the zeal of the Russians over Raj Kapoor and his Hindi movies or the present feast of eyes with the Hindi movies through the satellite channels or in the auditoria in the Middle East. The Indian subcontinental countries are also to be included in this rhapsodic periphery.
Cinema from its birth is global. After the grand success of Lumière brothers’ screenings in France they travelled in many countries to receive honour and felicitation. As a consequence cinema became a global phenomenon effacing the boundaries of nations. Indian celluloid chapter started with the successful endeavours of Dada Saheb Phalke. The essence of folk entertainment had been cinematographed and exhibited regularly. Keeping this in the mainstream Indian cinema continued at least upto the forties. Absorbing the form and techniques of cinema ceaselessly Indian cinema has been in the process of Globalisation but was not in the currency of market economy or culture. We may sum up that Indian cinema records crossover global cultures in different times.
As the billion dollar big budget blockbuster films from Hollywood draining up money from all over the world spreading American culture in a way in the name of Globalisation. Some producers try to reach Indian films in the middle East or South Asian countries to fetch more money and subsequently flashing contemporary Indian culture in perverse versions. Both the Bollywood (India) and Hollywood producers, can be said, are following in their own way almost like Ohmae’s prescriptions ‘The customers you care about are the people who love your products everywhere in the world. Your mission is to provide them with exceptional value. When you think of people who share that mission. Country of origin does not matter. Location of headquarters does not matter. The products for which you are responsible and the company you serve has been denationalized. [...]
You really have to believe, deep down, that people may work ‘in’ different national environments but are not of them. What they are ‘of’ is the global corporation.’ 2
To them the whole world is a market. In this market-economy controlled world Globalisation is in amoebic ramification. Cinema has become its easy and saucy prey. A large number of Indian films have been succumbed to it. Obviously there are many Indian films made for local or regional or for some niche audience which are not moving under the bulldozer of Globalisation.
It is an age when our life is always interpelleted? with images. The burgeoning electronic impulses from television, VCRs, VCDs, computers, virtual reality projections bemused our daily realities. To the Americans Disneyland is hyper-real. But to many who live in the rest of world America appears as if it is constituted of the hyper-real. ‘Its an MTV world’ says Marc Levinson writing the phrase as a title of an article on MTV. To many MTV appears’ as the deliberately obnoxious voice of the next generation, the channel that features heavy metal and the juvenile dialogue of those animated anti-heroes, Beavis and Butt - head. But MTV rocks around the clock all over the world with a bit of different presentations according to the regional tastes and needs (artificial?). ‘MTV combines a global presence and a single global brand with a product designed for separate regional markets. "The container’s the same", says chair Tom Ereston’ "The contents are different". 3 In Globalisation we find regional or national. MTV is an example of that type. Most of MTV programmes are in English. But ‘MTV Europe draws its staff from a generation of worldly youths for whom English is a second language and national borders are outdated relics. 4
This kind of Global marketing of entertainment in the process of Globalisation can be seen in the successful distribution of blockbuster films dubbed in Hindi like Jurassic Park, Speed, Titanic even the children’s film Aladdin.
Globalisation in the media, performing arts and film presents a sort of cross cultural presentation. Peter Brook’s Mahabharata is a fine example of that. Where Yudisthira is acted by a Russian, Bhima is a black and Draupadi is an Indian - Ms. Mallika Sarabhai. With such an international cast Peter Brook represents Mahabharata as a global phenomenon or modern re- presentation of a glorious mythical global event. Mythical and theatrical values and practices are amalgamated in this drama. The concept of Greek nemesis and application of environmental theatre techniques with the very Indian values of Mahabharata are mixed in tune with Universalism. Which is in a way in the terminology of cultural production Globalisation. Peter Brook’s Mahabharata is basically a theatre but its widely distributed video-cassette is quite popular to sense spectators it as a film.
A lot of examples can be given in this way. Contemporary Indian examples are Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, Shyam Benegal’s The Making of Mahatma etc. In this process of globalization we get blended cross-cultural elements. As it is true in the context of MTV. ‘Its no only brings culture to your country: it also takes music and culture from your country and exposes it to others.’ 5 Its suitable example is MTV India/ Asia. In Hindi with Indian Jockeys with Hindi lyrics and the mobile amalgamation of glancing Indian visuals it does so beaming its telecast from the Indian subcontinent to middle east.
Globalisation with one of its form gets root in Indian soil through the introduction of Ex-finance minister Manmohan Singh’s free economy for boosting Indian economy. With his call for Indian people to bear the hardship we see in astonishment various foreign cars or cars made in collaboration with foreign technology come through the media to the streets. The designer dress materials following the flux of fashion and modelling have made Indian ethnicity global and cross-cultural. From the everyday life or from our popular culture we can cite many examples of global culture or at the least the deep impact of globalisation in our country as well as in other countries too. To take a very serious note on Globalisation we should rethink the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s personal comment on the subject in his first press conference on 15th October 1998 in New York that ‘I am not against Globalisation but the weaker countries suffer for it’.6 His utterance comes out of a great depth of realisation and feelings, which even touches the context of the film and globalisation in its own way. When the repentance comes from Bollywood that what can be done if the billion dollar blockbuster films from the 20th Century Fox or Warner Brothers or Dreamworks release world-wide and drain out money and arrest attention of the Indian mass movie-goers. How Bollywood be able to compete with them?
To make the movies entertaining, interesting and attractive Bollywood film producers and makers think a lot. A certain style of filmmaking fit in with our subject. It is better to cite the example proper. In the film Genes, we find different shooting spots throughout the world covering the Seven Wonders of the World from the Taj Mahal to the Pyramids of Egypt. In a song picturisation, they move the spectators around the world sensually in tune with globalisation.
In the context of the impact of globalisation and cinema in the everyday life of a third world country, we can go through the quotation given below. This apparently funny story has penetrating suggestion towards market economy, late Capitalism, and Globalisation. To discuss ‘deductivism’ Néstor Garcia Canclini narrates ‘We find these concerns in various theatrical works disseminated in Brazil at the outset of the 1970s by the Popular Culture Centres. One of these, Jose de Silva and the Guardian Angel portrayed an average day in the life of a Brazilian in order to reveal the minute effects of imperialism in everyday life. From the moment he wakes up and switches on the light Jose pays his dues to foreign companies (Light and Power). And so it goes on when he cleans his teeth (Colgate-Palmolive), drinks coffee (American Coffee Company), when he goes to work whether in a Mercedes Benz bus or walking on his Goodyear soles, or when he goes to the cinema to see a western (Hollywood produces more than half the films shown in Brazil). Even inside the cinema, when he simply breathes the air, this is conditioned by Wasting house. Made desperate by so many royalty payments, he decides to kill himself. But then the Guardina Angel appears, with an English accent, in order to collect Smith and Wersson’s royalties from Jose (Boal, 1982:23)
This conceptual approach, in which all aspects of popular life derive from macro-social powers, has characterised the majority of sociological communications and educational studies during the past two decades. 7
Don’t we do the same thing when we go to see Titanic in Globe (Calcutta) and many other foreign films in this way in the name of Globalisation.
The nature of Globalisation today
Globalisation is not an amalgamated process or presentation in which everything ethnic, communal, local, regional or national feature, element or spirit mingles with each other. In the recent time, we find Muslim fundamentalism effects prominently in the orbit of globalisation. The burning example is the bout over Salman Rushdie. It was suddenly suspended after ten years and hovered over him again. Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin is also a victim of Muslim fundamentalism. Another reaction to protest against cultural globalisation Muslim fundamentalists block the satellite beams telecasting MTV and other European or American TV channels. ‘The attempt by some Islamic countries to ban satellite television have seemed to symbolise resistance to global information and communication flows (those for which Steven Rose was such a powerful advocate) 8. Erasing the traditional culture is not to be erased and we observe in globalisation an interplay of the local, regional, national and international elements. In our discussion and in the examples given above the matter is clearly seen in the political economy of beauty from Miss Belize to Miss World’ exemplifies this beautifully.
"Pageants also make ethnicity safe by subordinating cultural identity to gender and sexuality. The contestants first appear clothed in ethnic garb, as representatives of their ‘people’. But in the next step the contestants appear in bathing suits, as bodies stripped of their external cultural costume. Since skin color and features are so heterogeneous among Belizeans, in bathing suits ethnicity is gone; the woman remains. Gender transcends the ethnic, but what transcends gender? The final transformation of the image of woman in the pageant occurs when symbolically naked essentialized sexual objects are reclothed, but this time as creatures of modernity and fashion. The evening-gown competition brings the contestants back on stage transformed into cosmopolitans, wearing the latest expensive imported dresses, showing their sophistication and knowledge of the world outside Belize.
The flow of imagery in the pageant makes representational order by linking together different feminine images. We start with woman submerged in the localized, ethnic and ‘primordial’ community, strip away that identity to reveal woman-as-body as something supposedly more basic and essential, and end with woman transformed by modernity into a transcending figure ready to move outwards to the global stage. (There is a clear structural parallel to the classic stages of a rite of passage)." 9
To look at the world of film and globalisation in a certain way, we get the beauty pageant like behaviour and its reception to some extent. I mean, as Rashoman by Kurosawa with its strong Japanised flavour, essence and culture becomes a global phenomenon in the modern world of film culture. The Seven Samurai and many other films of Kurosawa with strong vigour of Japanism out of the local, regional and national culture of Japan went global. On the contrary, with the European theme, subject, and drama of Macbeth, Kurosawa’s The Thrown of Blood becomes Japanised or Oriental. It is again a part of the process of globalisation. Richard Schechner, a performing arts expert and a theatre personality enacts his theatre in this way to shape his theatre up as a cross cultural environmental theatre. In an interview with me 10 he comments that he does so to find out the root of human civilisation. A few years back he produced Mother Courage (a play by Bertolt Brecht) in the form of a Peaking Opera in Sanghai. From his production any stamp of Westernisation is hardly evident. In the interview, he revealed later that from all over the world he took elements for his theatre. As African rhythm, Raga and Rasa concepts from Indian Natyashastra, from various drama and dance forms of China, Korea and from the performances of South East Asia he took elements to shape up his theatre or Performative circumstances. Globalisation follows this sort of blend of cross-culture and intercultural aspects in the formative perspectives of cultural globalisation at present, Akbar Ahmed, observes a consequence ‘both communication flows and human flows: The mixing of images, interlocking of cultures, juxtaposition of different peoples, availability of information are partly explained because populations are mobile as never before. The mobility continues inspite of increasingly rigid immigration control. Filipino maids in Dubai, Pakistani workers in Bradford, the Japanese buying Hollywood studios, Hong Kong Chinese entrepreneurs acquiring prime property in Vancouver testify to this the swirling and eddying of humanity mingles ideas, cultures and values as never before in history. (Ahmed, 1992, p. 26)
Cultures are transformed by the incorporations they make from other cultures in the world. Salman Rushdie (1991, p.394) has famously written of ‘the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas, politics, movies, songs: ‘Mélange, hotchpotch,’ he declares, ‘a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world’. This process of hybridization is particularly apparent now in developments within popular culture. The sociologist Les Back (1994, p. 14) describes the bhangramuffin music of the singer/ songwriter Apache Indian as ‘a meeting place where the languages and rhythms of the Caribbean, North America and India mingle producing a new and vibrant culture’. ‘Artists like Apache Indian are expressing and defining cultural modes that are simultaneously local and global.’ Back observes. ‘The music manifests itself in a connective supplementarity – raga plus bangra plus England plus India plus Kingston plus Birmingham’. (ibid., p. 15)
To conclude the context of film and globalisation I would like to back again on the context of film - especially on Indian films, which are accepted globally or help shape the global cinematographic culture. As Kurosawa becomes famous internationally making his films global phenomenon similarly we should place Satyajit Ray with his films bearing the expressive images of the local, regional and national India including microscopic details of the culture of West Bengal villages and towns, into the progressive flux of Globalisation and cinema.
Notes and References
Feminism and Cinema
Asim Ratan Ghosh
Why Film Theory?
It is often asked what is the utility of film theory? From purely practical point of view, film theory may have some value in production of cinema but it probably has very little usefulness in appreciation of a film. Film theory, like many other disciplines of study, offers mainly joy of knowledge. Dudley Andrew suggests, reason may or may not aid experience but knowledge can enervate experience if the knower lets it. ‘Knowledge of an experience begins to substitute for the experience itself’. In fact, film theory doesn’t deal with a particular film. It deals with cinema in general or cinematic capability. Any film can be analysed and the critics can reveal the system of meaning. Criticism of a particular film can not be considered as film theory. On the other hand film theory considers cinema as a whole, all films together form a system. The goal of film theory is to formulate schematic notion of the capacity of film. Film theory facilitates us in comprehending our complete experience with cinema using a separate vocabulary.
Film Theory and Cultural Theory
With the publications of several papers on cultural theory by Levi-Strauss, Barthes, and Eco and subsequent writings by continental cultural critics had major impact in film studies throughout Europe and America. Semiotics, psychoanalysis, and ideological analysis were the major areas of interest. Film theory using these concepts, although not without criticisms, has started developing in this milieu.
With Special Reference to Mahanagar, Paroma and Subarnarekha
Mahanagar and Paroma as Feminist Texts
In this discussion we are considering Mahanagar (Satyajit Ray, 1962), and Paroma (Aparna Sen, 1980) as Feminist texts. One is directed by a male and the other is by a woman. Can a male author a feminist text? Cheri Register (1975), ‘American Feminist Literary Criticism: A Bibliographical Introduction’ (1975) pp. 18-19 in Josephine Donovan (ed.) Feminist Literary Criticism: Explorations in Theory. suggests,
To earn feminist approval, it must perform one or more of the following functions:
serve as a forum for women;
help to achieve cultural androgyny;
Both the texts are either ‘free from or critical of phallocentric masculinist, patriarchal, sexist ideologies and themes and are informed by a critical analysis of woman’s position in society as a woman’ (Spedding, 1994, quoted in Joan Scanlon and Julia Swindells, ‘Bad Apple’ 1994, p.45). These texts ‘reveal a critical awareness of women’s subordinate position and of gender as a problematic category, however this is expressed’ (Rita Felski, 1989, Beyond Feminist Aesthetics: Feminist Literature and Social Change (1989) p. 14).
Death of woman author
Both Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault have suggested that author (not the writer) is dead. This will be clarified by the comment of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1993, ‘Reading The Satanic Verses’, in Biriotti and Miller pp. 104-5):
Barthes is writing here not of the death of the writer (though he is writing, quite copiously, of writing) or of the subject, or yet of the agent, but of the Author. The author, who is not only taken to be the authority, possessed by that fact of ‘moral or legal supremacy, the power of influence the conduct or action of others’; and, when authorising, ‘giving legal force to, making legally valid’ (OED).
Similarly Foucault examined the construction, role and functions of author in culture. He visualises a future authorless world but considers that the present world an authorless one. Both Barthes and Foucault have not mentioned separately on women authors. Mary Eagleton (1996, Working with Feminist Criticism, Blackwell, p.240) summarises their study on author:
Functions, origin and significance of author,
Author as hero with status and privilege,
Author as unique, intuitive, displaying special insights, a more refined sensibility
Authoring is linked to ownership and appropriation
The author gives unity to a body of qriting, authenticates it
The author as source of meaning, able to explain the work, knowing the essence of the work
The author as regulator and controller of the text, defining the limits of it
The author as origin of the text, father of the text, god-like creator of the text
As the author dies, the reader is born
Barthes and Foucault have not differentiated male and woman authors in their discourses on death of author. With the End of History, and Birth of Histories the traditional Western thinking, based on white, male, and bourgeois has lost significance and feminist rewriting of history has just started. But the postmodernist decision of Death of Author will ironically "kill" woman author, who only recently has empowered to raise voice along with the male authors. Eagleton summerises Miller (1982, 1986) and Biriotti (1993): ‘To kill the author is to unsettle the power of this privileged group and to open possibilities, in writing and else where, for marginal groups – women, Blacks, gays and the working class.’ Foucault asks ‘What difference does it make who is speaking?’ But for feminism this is an important question to find the women who are lost in the oblivion of history.
Feminist criticism has no single definition – it is a collective term, which has various critical perspectives and historical background. Feminism has established links with other established critical theories like psychoanalysis (psychoanalytic feminist theory), Marxism (Marxist-feminist theory) or postcolonialism (postcolonial feminist theory) etc. Even within feminism of today there is a dominance – marginalization pattern, but the basic attitude is common in all forms of feminist criticism. They recognise the under-representation of woman in artistic activities, which they want to confront. Thus feminist criticism, like other feminist activities struggle around artistic expression and representation.
Since there exists plurality of feminist criticisms, any text can be read from different points of view – which are very different from each other and some times even contradictory. Considering various aspects Maggie Humm, A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Feminist Criticism, 1994, pp. v – vii, has categorised feminist criticisms in the following way:
Second wave: de Beauvoir, Millet, Friedan, Greer
Marxist/ socialist-feminist criticism
French feminist criticism
Poststructuralism/ deconstruction/ postmodernism
Black feminism: the African diaspora
Lesbian feminist criticism
Third World feminist criticism: third wave and fifth gear
Deconstruction/ Patriarchal Binary Thought
In the contemporary critical theories recognise the importance of binary thinking in construction/ interpretation of the world in our cultures. Hélène Cixous (1975;1986’Sorties: Out and Out: Attacks/ Ways Out/ Forays’ in Hélène Cixous and Catherine Clément, The Newly Born Woman) writes, "Thought has always worked through opposition". Sometimes author intentionally shows binary oppositions within his/her text, and sometimes that comes unconsciously. In both the cases, a critic has to find the structure, ideology, meaning (unveiled or clandestine) created out of these binary oppositions.
The feminists believe that the binary thinking is a powerful tool of the dominance of the patriarchy. As a result the feminists studies the binary mode of thinking thoroughly to oppose it. Cixous, using Derridean concept, Western philosophy and literary thought has shown that binary system of thinking has a strong bias towards patriarchy – hierarchically almost in every binary oppositions female corresponds to the weaker, powerless, negative ones. For example: Activity/ Passivity, Sun/ Moon, Culture/ Nature, Day/ Night, Father/ Mother, Head/ Emotions, Intelligible/ Sensitive, Logos/ Pathos. Cixous argues that both the components can not thrive at a time – one has to die or become passive. Invariably female plays that role. ‘Either woman is passive or she doesn’t exist’. Her whole theoretical project can in one sense be summed up as the effort to undo this logocentric ideology: to proclaim woman as the source of life, power and energy and to hail the advent of a new, feminine language that ceaselessly subverts these patriarchal binary schemes where logocentrism colludes with phallocentrism in an effort to oppress and silence women (Toril Moi, 1985, Sexual/ Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory, pp. 104-5).
A deconstructive reading recognises the hierarchy, dismantles them and hierarchised them in either direction with violence. It tries to expose the meaning created out of text’s language as opposed to the author’s intention. Identification of contradictions within the text makes the text plural, open to re-reading, no object of passive consumption than keeping it restricted to a single, harmonious and authoritative reading. The identification of contradictions, intentional or unintentional offers the reader avenues to the reader to enter into the process of meaning-making. In deconstruction, the binary pattern may be dismantled and thus text transgresses destroying the structure of the text.
Finding the subject
The feminists suggest that when a woman writes a text, she can construct a sense of self – the question of representation is a political question. The humanist group of feminists argues that ‘the image of woman’ as represented in literature, cinema and popular perception is incomplete, false and misogynistic. Feminist movement aims at improvement of visibility of woman, ability to express woman’s own inner self, her authentic representation, development of true image of woman in male dominated patriarchal society.
On the other hand, the anti-humanist group of feminists are influenced by the psychoanalytical theories (Lacan), theories of ideology (Althusser), post-structuralist thought, and the discourse theory (Foucault). Subjectivity is not single, complete, not fully realized. Subject is the product of effect of language and culture. The concept of unified subject ‘utopian desire for a pre-social state or as a relic of bourgeois humanism. To pursue the former could lead to psychosis; to pursue the latter will confine women to the existing order’ (Eagleton, 1996).
For quite obvious reasons, anti-humanist idea of feminism is less popular since people hardly wishes to feel fragmented, unresolved, psychological wrecks...
Constructing and deconstructing the female subject
Asim Ratan Ghosh
Akira Kurosawa (born on 23 March 1910) died on 6 September 1998. With his death, an era of Asian cinema ends. With Rashomon (1950) he introduced Asian cinema to the world and made the world serious about it. Apart from that Kurosawa’s Ikiru (To Live, Doomed, 1952), Shichinin no samurai (Seven Samurai, 1954) and Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali (1955) and Aparajito (1956) shook the world within a brief span of time. The cinephiles of the world could discover another world, an unknown world towards east – Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi, Ritwik Ghatak, and Mrinal Sen..
Kurosawa’s Rashomon stunned the Western audience for its form and above all the depiction of multiple reality – truth may not be singular. The plot of the film is as follows. A man while travelling through the woods with his wife but they met a bandit who rapes wife and killed husband. The statements of the four witnesses – the woman, the bandit, a woodcutter and the spirit of the slain husband are interestingly very different since all have been economical with truth for their own reasons. The film struck the western audience spellbound with its exotic location set in Heian period, elegant constume and Oriental music along with brilliant acting, editing and above all the theme, which is often termed as Pirandellian for the manner of its search for ambiguity of reality. Rashomon won Grand Prix, Venice Festival, and Oscar for Best Foreign Language film.
The main reason behind its astounding success was novelty in the subject, way of depiction, as well as the message. Kurosawa reveals how truth becomes subjective and relative to different persons for their own petty interest. This he shows with mighty cinematic style to convey a very significant message of humankind: accepting the fact that subjectivity ambiguity etc are unavoidable one should try to exert one’s level best.
In Rashomon Kurosawa has shown four different versions told by the four main characters of the story. Kurosawa honestly portrays the versions of the protagonists. Apart from the four versions, there is a listener and a narrator who is describing the story and courtyard where the trial is going on is also being shown. In storyteller’s sequences, camera tries to provide the viewer the most privileged shots to understand the situation clearly. In courtyard sequences, however, the camera is fixed at a height of eye-level of a sitting person. In the account of Tojomaro, who considers himself as a valiant person, and highly masculine in nature, the camera moves violently to portray his mental state. But camera does not show the scene where he kisses the woman and the earth starts reeling to her. Rather at that time camera was busy to show how he is thinking about the woman’s reaction to his kiss. In the woman’s version, the camera takes travelling and crosscutting shots, depicts the woman as highly ‘feminine’ in nature, a very helpless person, who could not resist the rape. She says that the murder was committed by her knife when she falls over her husband but interestingly the camera does not show that incident. The spirit of the dead man suggests that there was a fight between two ‘man’ and a bad woman was there. But she doesn’t matter in their fight. He decides to commit suicide in that situation and took the path of hara-kiri. Here the camera depicts a very stoic attitude. Camera is placed at a height and takes abnormally long takes to show the resigned nature of the man. In the version of the woodcutter’s who has seen everything from a supposedly neutral point of view, the camera is placed at a distance and as a result, the violence of the killing reduces. He considers camera also supports him that the bandit and the husband both are cowards – their fight was merely a comic parody. Accidentally the husband falls and dies. From this, it is only indicated that the accounts of all of them are different – they see the same incident differently or they all are hiding something. After the narration, a baby is found to cry on the road. The listeners rush to the baby to steal its clothes and its little possession. The woodcutter then takes out a dagger and saves the child from them. This dagger is nothing but the one mentioned by the wife and the bandit; the woodcutter had an intention to steal it. This clearly indicates he was not a mere onlooker of the incident rather he has played an active role – he also had selfish interest in the incident. But now he says that he is ready to adopt the child since he has seven more and it will not be an extra burden to him. The priest, seeing all these happenings lost faith on humanity now feels that he has done a sin in losing faith on humanity. Both the woodcutter and the priest, representative of secular and sacred community bow their heads for their sin. The stormy, rainy and foul weather that was there even a little ago has gone. Rain has stopped. As the woodcutter goes through the Rashomon Gate with the baby in his hand the sun shines.
After Rashomon, Kurosawa filmed Dostoevsky’s Idiot – Hakuchi (The Idiot). Setsuko Hara played the role of a bad girl. It was a miscast. This film is considered to be one of the greatest failures of him. Kurosawa had great knowledge about western culture and literature. That is why he could made different films based on western masterpieces in his own cinematic way. Apart from Dostoevsky’s ‘The Idiot’, he made films on Gorky’s ‘The Lower Depths’, Shakespear’s ‘Macbeth’ (Throne of Blood), ‘King Lear’ (Ran) and ‘Hamlet’ (The Bad Sleep Well). At the same time, he himself wrote original screenplays for his films – The Seven Samurai, Red Beard etc.
The chamber film Ikiru was made after The Idiot. Ikiru is about a dying bureaucrat and his determination to use them in a fulfilling way where aesthetic and humanist qualities merge together in a magnificent way.
The Seven Samurai, his next venture is based on Samurai history and folklore. Here the villagers call seven persons to protect themselves from bandits. The film depicts the unity of Samurais of diverse nature, their sacrifice for a good cause enable them to win the battle with the bandits. This three hour long film is full of action and thanks to craftsmanship of Kurosawa the film never appears to be uninteresting for any audience. This is the reason behind his tremendous box-office success of his films.
In 1957, he made The Throne of Blood and The Lower Depths based on Shakespeare and Gorky respectively. The Throne of Blood is one of his magnificent films. Here he adapted Shakespeare in the environment of 16th Century Japan. A film director of Kurosawa’s capability only can made two literary adaptations in so strikingly different manner. In Throne of Blood, the theme is ‘valiant man destroys the evil in himself as well as in cosmos. In this film natural, supernatural and psychological elements mingle with each other and the result of their fusion is one of the greatest adaptations in the history of cinema.
He made Yojimbo (The Bodyguard, 1960) and Sanjuro (1962) on Samurai theme. In these films, Kurosawa mingled style of filmmaking at Hollywood especially that of King Vidor and John Ford with the oriental ideas, folk traditions, and the philosophical background of Japan. In turn Hollywood also adapted his films – The Magnificent Seven (The Seven Samurai), A Fistful of Dollars (Yojimbo).
In 1965, Kurosawa made Red Beard was a story of a medical student’s apprenticeship under a village doctor. The film took two years to complete. From this time, Kurosawa’s life took a steep down ward plunge. This film marked him as a costly perfectionist. The relationship with his favourite actor and long time associate, Mifun was destroyed. No producers were willing to give him money. In these circumstances, he made his first colour film Dodes’ Kaden (1970). But it failed to do good business as well as the critics response was not favourable. In 1971, Kurosawa tried to commit hara-kiri. Just at that time, Soviet Union gave him money, and he made Dersu Uzala (1975) which was based on the memoirs of a Russian soldier mapping the Manchurian border towards to end of last century. Dersu Uzala received wide acclaim from all corners of the world – it won Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
With the help of Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, he could manage to get money from Hollywood to make Kagemusha (1980) which won the Palm d’Or, the best prize at Cannes. Kagemusha is a story of a thief whose look resembles with the king. After death of the king the thief was asked to act as a king in order to befool the enemies. Gradually, the thief fails to distinguish between his own self and the role in which he acts. The enemies come to know about the death of the king and attack the country. The thief fights valiantly to the end and dies. Ran (1985), his next film is an adaptation of King Lear. This film is well known for its amazing battle scenes. It fetches him another Oscar. Madadeyo (1993) his last film is on the student-teacher relationship, which had a very special historical significance in Japan.
Kurosawa was a master of the film medium. He could easily mix the Western concepts with the very Japanese values. On the one hand he can make action packed films like The Seven Samurai on the other, subtle films like Ikiru. Almost simultaneously, he made films like Throne of Blood and Lower Depths. He pioneered the use of long lenses and multiple in the famous final battle scene in The Seven Samurai in rain and splashing mud. He introduced widescreen (Hidden Fortress, 1958), Panavision and multitrack Dolby sound (Kagemusha, 1985) to Japan. With him, we have lost a pillar of cinema.
An Interview with Buddhadeb Dasgupta
In this interview with Dr. Arup Ratan Ghosh Buddhadeb Dasgupta, the eminent filmmaker reflects his surrounding viewpoints as a creative artist. The transfer of experiences in different media of creative expressions like painting, music, literature etc. and in the folklore and folk arts are presented here intertextually with cinematic viewpoints.
ARG: In many of your films politics enters............A. Yes, politics has come into my films, as the thoughts and emotions of the individual person have come into my films, as love and lovelessness have come into my, films-but all these have emerged and come out from the familiar world of ours. But I think that there are some other things inter related with and interpermeating these things which you perhaps will call "time less" and I prefer to call "surreal".
In fact we can see, read and know about two worlds one of which is most known and familiar to us, in which we are living and immersed every minute of the day, where are pulling and being pulled by the various threads of our relationships - feeling sad or happy protesting against things. Some artists register and re-create, represent, this familiar reality of the world in their writings, or paintings, even in their films. But there is another view or perspective, which cannot be found at all within this familiar everyday world. You can identify many artists who have explored this other dimension of our world.
ARG: You have written in this your essay Dream, Time and The Cinema:
" ‘Pramathesh Barua’ has indeed dominated the field of Bengali films like a king, has much influenced this medium, and it better be admitted that that has proved unfortunate for Bengali films. As a result of this even after we have had such films between 1955 to 1960-61 as Pather Panchali (Song of the Road), Aparajito (The Unvanquished), Baishey Shravana (The Wedding-day), Antariksha (The Sky), still today pre-wartime modes of thought, unmodern forms and techniques and outmoded styles of acting rule the roost in Bengali filmland"
What do you think are the various causes which have brought about this situation? Was Pramathesh Barua really so powerful that he could tyrannise over and mould Bengali film for the better part of the last fifty years? If this is so, what happened to the serious creative efforts of Satyajit Ray and others like him? In this context, can you give us some concrete examples of the cinematic features of the Pramathesh Barua mode?
BD: We all know that in the history of Indian entertainment the Folk traditions and forms occupy a place of central importance. The Folk elements are of course centuries old.
These folk elements have sometimes come in the audiovisual mode, some time through the Patuas in the form of paintings, at other times through the kathakatha tradition (i.e. the narrative art of the village story teller: eds.). The folk traditions in essence have always wanted to tell a tale or narrate a story. Our folk paintings can be read as telling a story. The same is true of the Patuas and their paintings where they tell a tale and narrate events through songs and with support from their painted scrolls. Sometimes they have painted mediaeval things from the Chandimangal and Manasamangal Kavyas, at other times they have even focussed on contemporary or very modern subjects and painted their patas on such personalities as Rabindranath and Netaji Subhash Chandra. If you look at Madhubani paintings you will find the same preference for narrating a story.
Now, when the cinema first came upon the scene this folk element entered into it. For example, the films of Dada Saheb Phalke in whose work the folk elements astonishingly entered. He was more interested in the folk traditions than in cinema proper. His main aim was to highlight the folk elements and to show how they can coexist with and be interrelated to contemporary civilisation and society.
ARG: Wasn’t myth an important presence in his films...
BD: Myth and folk have always coexisted. Cinema too at that time in order to articulate myths stressed the aspects of narration or story telling. For example, Manasamangal is a myth, Chand Sadagar is a myth. These myths came to us through folk forms and traditions. What you are calling mythology is very close to the folk – it has come through the narrative modes of the folk forms, through folk songs and paintings.
All this was happening in our cinema in India. But by the time of the 1930-40s when cinema had developed a certain shape of its own and the technical aspects of films had become clearer to us – we realised that the cinema was a powerful audiovisual medium – sound and music had already come into films. At that time Pramathesh Barua and others like him who were making films could not get away very far from these folk mode. More than cinema what interested them was story telling, narration. They made their films keeping in mind those target audiences that preferred the folk traditions and forms. Such films matched and suited the taste of those audiences, and nothing more.
Just think of the time when Pramathesh Barua was making his films in India and think of what was happening in the world cinema then. In Japan at that times Kenji Mizoguchi was making a different type of films. Narration and story telling are used there too. But in it has entered the surreal. Dziga Vertov was making films in France then in another way thinking in terms of a different mode, different film language, and different perspectives. Vertov’s main aim was to explore, find, and realise the true language of the cinema, the essential filmic mood. In the U.S. Orson Wells had completed Citizen Kane (1942) and Europe too was agog with such experiments. I have just mentioned a few names out of the many remarkable films made at that time already made even during the silent era. What kinds of films were being made in Calcutta then, or in India for that matter? At that time, Pramathesh Barua made his films almost wholly denying and ignoring the distinctive mode of the cinema. His these completely unfilmic films in fact push back Indian cinema to the dark ages. See any film of Pramathesh Barua see Mukti what do you see, for example the acting style – is so artificial! Take K.L. Saigal. It surprises us no end today, how a director could accept that kind of acting as performed by Saigal and Co. How could the audience tolerate such a mode of acting? Look at any European film of that time – see the acting – much more natural!
ARG: One mannerism in the acting style of Indian actors of that period was the artificial use of repeating the same dialogue twice...
BD: Yes, but not only repetition of dialogue I mean that but also the distinctive mode of cinematic acting was never unreal and artificial either in Europe or in America. Take the films of John Ford – the acting is mighty sharp there. But in Indian (and Bengali) films what occurred was completely different – a new mode began where acting was artificial using strange terms of speech and expression, where dialogue was impossibly literary or terribly unreal – all these meant that what was happening in the cinema was just narration, nearly story telling. In the West, there was story telling and narration too. John Ford told stories, so did Orson Wells in his own way in Citizen Kane but in what an astonishingly different language and mode and form – all the while giving birth to and discovering film idiom.
ARG: They have done this work but in India even today the preference for straight narration exists.
But I would like to say that in our commercial cinema, in the films of V. Shantaram and Shorab Modi in Bombay and Hemen Ganguli in Calcutta among others, this narrative mode was far more cinematically and perhaps creatively used.
Interview – 2
ARG: Comparing painting and poetry you had once commented: "When I look at a painting for some time I begin to see images beyond the lines on the canvas. In poetry I perceive a pattern arising from the verbal signs, which appears shifts, and dissolves in the mind. When I began to make films my only desire was to produce those non-static images that I had seen behind closed eyes."
In this context could you say something in detail about the creative process of Visualisation to realisation in your films?
BD: Of the major procedures or process of thinking/ thought that which uses images – as in poetry and painting is of central significance. I have made ‘thinking in images’ a habitual procedure for myself.
When an artist paints something – by whatever name he calls it – that is generally and traditionally considered as a ‘static image’. At first his canvas was blank and white, then some astonishing colours fill it with their patterns. What can happen to them? What was there before? If we look at it this way then we’ll find that this image creates, gives birth to, generate many other images (in our minds). This way of looking is a childhood habit of mine. As a student, I was a regular visitor to the art galleries and exhibitions in Calcutta. Though the city had very few of galleries then. I used to imagine then, after looking at a painting, what all could happen as a sequel to that event.
ARG: Approximately what year was it?
BD: About, 1965-66 I should think. Like images from and in paintings poetry and music also work through and generate images. Even if we cannot imagine the events and sequences that occur before and after the artist creates his images on the canvas, yet we should be able to understand the artist’s use of colour, his perspectives and angle of vision, light and shade etc. Of course, this is different in the case of poetry. Yet images take their birth, grow from poetry too. When I am speaking of images in poetry, I do not mean ‘descriptive’ images.
Poetry generates images over and over again. This is true from Jibanananda Das to Shakti Chattopadhyay. This can happen while we read over a poem. These images do not necessarily always come in clear-cut or concrete/ definite shapes. Certain ambiguities or opacities yet remain in these images.
These images can even be replaced by others or change their form after the second or third reading. If a reader goes through a poem say five times in a span of ten years then he would find that each reading generates new or different images. I believe that every intimate reader of poetry feels and realises this.
Let’s look at music. From childhood, I have been deeply moved and stirred by music be it wordless tunes and harmonies or verbal music (i.e. song-compositions). Music also gives birth to images in our minds. The images generated by musical tunes are different from those generated by poetry and painting. Such images may be less clear than those begot from poetry. Image, suggested by music from into shapes most slowly in the mind, gradually they permeate our consciousness – such images give birth to certain scenes and visions drawn out from deep within our unconscious. Music and its harmonies drive us, inspire us, lead us to a position from where we can imagine and make real particular images.
Cinema has a certain relationship with these three kinds of images from three different art forms (poetry, painting, music). Images in painting may be static but images in poetry and music are non-static, as in the cinema. I have seen that all these three kinds of images have inspired me when I make films. I do not know if this is something are similar.
When I have imagined an image for the screen or directly shot a sequence I have felt that all these kinds of images that come from poetry, music and painting have helped me have influenced me have led me to visualise, and give birth to new and different kinds of non-static images.
Interview – 3
ARG: You have talked about the inter relationships between paintings, poetry, music and cinema from a comparative perspective. Performing Arts or theatre is an inclusive form which utilises music, dance, poetry and associated forms of art very much like and unlike the way film does. Could you comment on this aspect of the relation and interactions between theatre and film?
BD: Well, cinema too is a kind of performing art, where dance or theatre can come in, can influence each other. In contemporary times, the cinema has touched theatre at particular moments and dimensions. Sometime theatre with its distinct styles and forms has even directly entered into film. Recently I saw a film where the director has directly brought in and utilised theatrical forms into the film. The film can and does take a lot of things from all the other performing arts. For instance, our performative folk-forms can be a rich source for the cinema: The Vivek chorus (conscience) and distinct music of the Jatra are two elements which can be absorbed and cinematically transformed by the film. In my films like Phera and Bagh Bahadur the folk traditions have significantly come in – I have attempted to relate to the folk traditions in Charachar too. Actually there are some sets of motifs, which essentially belong to the folk traditions, have both strong regional and geographical dimensions. One can take out such motifs from its original geographical- regional matrix and use them creatively (with suitable cinematic transformations) in films. If that is done intelligently and creatively then we can perhaps realise what is "Indian" in Indian cinema. Time has come to think over these things. If and when we can identify these motifs then the identity of Indian cinema can be more strongly and uniquely defined – for instance myth. Its very interesting how these myths come to us, are communicated to us through an ever recreated tradition: the Patuas (chitrakars = village folk painters), say more than half dozen of these village painters, all work on the same myths and produce motifs which are similar yet different having particular variations based on region and geography and personal understanding. About six or seven Patuas working on the same Chandimangal myth create so many paintings and patas – some may be good, others not so but that a different question altogether – using repeatedly the same motifs and reiterations similar images – this performative art of the folk can be an important resource for the film, something from which the film can take in and absorb a lot. If we can absorb and take in all this then our films can become more distinguished and we may come closer to the much sought after but seldom defined "Indianness" of Indian films. Take for instance the concept of Time – this concept of Time that emerges from a particular ethos of India where the "folk" is centrally important. There is a great difference between our concept of time, this "folk" concept of time and the western concept of time that emerges from their distinctive societies. You may have noticed that the Indian forms of performative folk arts use repetitions and reiterations consistently and also perform for large durations of time. That is not actually repetition or long-drawn out presentation – it’s a way of exploring and using a particular motif in a complex way, reaching that motif onto a particular level. From here can come a different kind of concept of Editing. If we take a similar set of events and interactions from two villages from the western and Indian world and two directors without knowing each other make two films of them there we shall see how different they can be in their editing, in their cutting. The western filmmaker with his western concept of art, time, and life will use a different rhythm in his cutting and editing of scenes. The Indian director with his Indian concepts of time, life and art located in his own milieu and contexts will or should cut and edit according to different rhythms – and this rhythm emerges from the folk traditions and folk backgrounds in India.
ARG: What about classical dance and / or experimental theatre as for example the kind of theatre practised by Badal Sircar? Is there a similar direction or purpose in your films or in your film sense?
BD: Yes, yes like Badal Sircar but I do not particularly want to focus on any particular contemporary theatre movement. What I wish to say is that this experimental from of Badal Sircar’s is very much folk-oriented. I repeatedly wish to stress that we must go back to such folk forms and interacting with those traditions generate new thinking. We call them "folk" or "tribal" and keep them at an artistic remove from us but it is plain that pretty often indirectly, and indeed sometimes quite directly too, these come into our creative work. All this is coming back into the very latest and contemporary forms of our theatre, painting and songs and music. Why are they coming in? Because the motifs are essentially Indian, belong to our (grass-) roots whether it is Badal Sircar or
ARG:...or those theatre groups who perform at the Academy of Fine Arts (Calcutta)...
BD: No, not all of them but certainly some of them. It’s coming back into our painting, music, and performing arts right now.
ARG: Bergman for instance was going towards theatre and perhaps thinking of giving up films for theatre altogether.
BD: Bergman had two worlds in which he moved – theatre and cinema. If I have two worlds at all, then it would be cinema and writing. I have many times thought of the theatre, at one time even got involved in productions and performances – but ultimately nothing has come of it. Occasionally I have felt, do feel, that if one day I leave films then perhaps I might do it.
BD: Theatre. Behind my love for films was of course my love for the theatre. But if I have ever to give up filmmaking I did not do plays. I’ll write. If I feel that the time has come to gracefully fade out from films, then I’ll try to sit back and think about my writing: and start writing. I’ll never be a man of the theatre in that way as Bergman.
We live in the present but hardly we can feel the pulse of our times – Goutam Ghose
In this long, detailed and thorough interview with Dr. Arup Ratan Ghosh, the celluloid explorer of the culture of oppression reflects on his films with the perspective of vigorous social consciousness, struggles, cinematic artistry and communications. His point of view on the liminal characters and the related uncovered areas of our space and time for cinematic representation is traced here with Ghose’s protestant and artistic nature and praxis.
ARG: The labourers, the hard working down trodden peoples, as we have seen in Paar or the priest class in Antarjali Jatra along with the Brahman community and the common folk of that time, the community of the fisher men and the character Kuber in Padma Nadir Majhi and in your most recent film Gudia – the mass entertainers – all of them and their surroundings etc. as you have always chosen are existing at a distance from the urban middle class milieu of life. These fringe characters are equally distant from the urban middle class spectators. Now would you tell me what are your reasons for taking such types of a little unknown characters representing another kind of way of life?
GG: What I have tried to say during my earlier conversation is that I had tried to have a fair idea about the reality of our country. I have had an opportunity to enrich my vision and thoughts through the theatrical media and of course, through the contemporary lives of middle and higher-class environment in which I was brought up. Here, of course I didn’t have any intention to make a solitary production (film) nor was I contented. If I had been confined to such I would have been a formalist. I like formalism but refused to be confined within a sphere; which I may say, has been ingrained in my character since childhood. I am rather tuned up with a sense of adventure and have mobility in my core. I prefer to break up the barriers within the barriers to add to my experience. And to me, cinema should not remain a mere cinema but an evidence of social documentary depicting human relation with the society itself. When I started filmmaking I started to realise that whom we consider to be liminal, is the mainstream. There are lot to be revealed among them; like the sociologists and the historians who do it so often. Filmmakers and other creative masters have tried to expose the variety of culture, characteristic features of our country. Here I consider cinema a splendid medium, where one can exhibit the mainstream – the folk who are engaged in building up the economy, culture, and social structure through the ages. In the earlier films or documentary, I have found that the peasants and the non-peasants have a lot to contribute, - they are the intrinsic part of our lives. In my earlier film Maa Bhumi I have portrayed India’s biggest peasant-revolution. No doubt, the film was a political one – based on political and peasant revolution.
ARG: Is it Telengana?
GG: Yes, it was Telengana. There was an attempt to project the lives between the thirties and fifties of our country.
One needs to be a little conscious about the annals. We live in the present but hardly we can feel the pulse of our times and we know nothing about the future; we can only speculate. But if we turn the pages of history we can find the real happenings and diverse interpretations of an incident happened long past/ or recent past. I want to point out here that an inclination toward history helps us a lot. In Maa Bhumi, there was a hint of success and failure of Telengana revolution; there was an attempt to interpret the upraise. To do this an effort of mixing the nature and texture of documentary film and feature film are taken. While making the film I was thinking of the difference between today’s Telengana (in 1980) and the then Telengana of Andhra Pradesh when the peasant community was doing the stir.
ARG: What was the period of the movement?
GG: The movement was in force since the thirty’s decade to 1952-54. Afterwards it fizzled out. It was divided after 1947. Hyderabad was annexed in 1948 and at that, communist party was divided into two factions. In the later period, one faction of the party scatteredly continued the movement upto 1952-54 and those were the concluding years of that movement. It died down.
However, when I made the film I thought millions of peasants of Telengana are remaining in the same position even in the eighties. May be there are some changes in the surface – may be there were some government laws we enacted – still the farmers are confined in a feudal system. For all these reasons, I did not want to make this film a historical document. I wanted to let them know and aware that their ancestors took weapons and fought for their demand for standard living, for getting rid of the feudal system and for all the claims and demands for living properly. At that period, the Nizam government and its landlord class were powerful very much. When General Choudhary annexed Hyderabad then it is astonishingly found that those who were the faithful followers of Nizam government – the landlords who moreover used to treat the farmers almost like slaves became Congressmen changing their political colour overnight. Indian army helped them at that time. In the name of Hyderabad annexation hundreds of peasants were murdered and killed.
Therefore, I had a desire to some extent to inspire the farmers for being aware ‘about your claims and demands’. Therefore, the film has a political purpose. Latter in my next film Dakhal I tried to show that the peasant community and the gypsy community who live in the liminal reality bear a sort of inner conflict. As a group of people wants to possess land at any cost in effect, this is very natural to the farmers. However, the gypsies do not feel any attraction to a certain land for dwelling forever. The latter peoples are wanderers. Their contradictions are often used. The kulat class in our country has used it awfully.
ARG: Kulat class?
GG: Yes, Kulat – who are the feudal landlords or landholding, class. There are many barring examples of such activity from their part.
The film Dakhal is based on a true-story. The original story was Amma by Sushil Jana. He belongs to Midnapur and I put in the background, the beginning of the fifties when the land reform law has passed and implemented.
Anyway after the first land reformation we get in effect the land holding class has distributed among themselves plenty of landed property in others’ name or labelling the land as devottar (offered to the god and not for sale officially). In this tricky deceitful distribution, the common people or the farmers were shown benefited in official papers but not at all in reality. So I thought of using this sort of farce of land reformation in the background of the film simultaneously the inner conflict of the tribal community or the wanderers are depicted also. In the latter category, the kakmara community is represented here. Their inner conflict with farmers are suggested and revealed. Using their inner conflict, these common people can be evicted easily as they have no literacy or education and no consciousness about their legal rights. Besides this, there is another element in this film that is the feudal system of keeping the woman without any taste of liberty. Women’s struggle against it was started many years before. However, generally we highlight the woman lib movement conducted by the middle class women. We glorify them. This kind of consciousness came many years before among the tribal.
‘Andi’ the main character in Dakhal, as she is originally a tribal she leads a role of an antagonist in the film. A woman should have a right of liberty. She is very much aware of that. Being in her real life situation of hard reality, she is well aware of that. In this way we find in her the reflection of the real woman liberation movement actually deep rooted in India – not merely the woman lib movement of the middle class.
To find out all these I am feeling very much fascinating. I thought I have to understand the background and perspective to get the psychic dimensions of the various characters. Now at this point in this perspective I need to put the different elements in order to reveal the characteristics features and the mental contradictions of different characters. For doing this a basic interest to know rural India and to get its contradictions aroused in my mind. Later what has materialsied while doing the film Paar.
ARG: In the eighties?
GG: Yes in the early eighties. In some of the later films, we see.
Actually what happened – in the ‘Sunday’ when Akbar started to edit the magazine heavy new coverage regarding the cast conflict in Bihar was coming out since 1980-82. For example, Pipra murder. There was a terrible slaughtering at Pipra. One cast has finished another one totally. Reports of incidents like this mostly from U.P. and Bihar were coming out in detail. Earlier such awful incidents took place but these were not highlighted in the newspapers, because the journalists did not go in such places. People generally did not bother about these classes and their conflicts. However gradually the political scenario changes and the cast conflicts and fights which are erupting out at a great extent that a kind of fear has trembled India heavily. It has become clear that cast system is no more confined in the ancient cast divisions. A new types of cast conflicts, clashes, and fights are seen frequently. We find in astonishment the Rajput and the Dalit – the two are fighting with each other. The Rajput belongs to the powerful community in the British period but after the transfer of power, they lost their power. On the contrary, the Dalit community became powerful. Therefore, the two communities fight yielding a situational change. All these matters seemed to me as very much fascinating. I have thought of making a documentary In fact for making the documentary I used to travel in different villages of Bihar to collect information. I wanted to know about the origins of these conflicts. Why does the people belonging to low cast are coming out in the forefront? Why they are expressing protest? Why does the untouchables are trying to come forward? They are gradually coming in the political platform. Such a kind of cast conflict is typically Indian. We normally do not get it always in other countries. Based on all these information I planned for making a documentary. But there is no proper arrangement for screening documentaries. Not so much spectators are there. Besides Films division or other similar organisations would not be interested to accept this kind of documentary. Therefore, I decided to make a feature film. Based on the events and information I have collected I formed a structure of story line to make the feature film. With these, Samaresh Basu’s story ‘Pari’ was put very symbolically.
‘Pari’ consists of a tale of a starving couple who comes from Bihar to Calcutta in search of a living. They find a job of crossing of pigs through the river. Doing so they get money and earn their living in this way. Reading this story I thought it could be a turned into a powerful metaphor or a symbol of extraordinary quality. Man struggle for existence desperately at every moment. And here a man and a woman effort jointly to do so by crossing the pigs through the dangerous river. We can take this job as a symbol of man’s struggle with nature, within himself and with other...
ARG: Surrounding factors...
GG: Yes, the surrounding factors – something against the stream. I think where is the origin of these two man and woman who losing everything have come upon the shore of the Ganga. Originally, they hail from that village in Bihar, from where they have to come in Calcutta as they were evicted from their land due to cast conflict. After travelling in many places, they come in the city. However, the city can not give them anything. Reading the story, I think I could comparatively adapt this storyline with my experience of travelling what I have made so far. Therefore, I concentrate on an evicted character.
This kind of wayfaring is a traditional feature of India. Man moves from here to there in search of food and clothing. Even today when I travel by a train I see thousands of people are moving from one place to another not necessarily having any job-assignment. Most of them are moving with the expectation of job opportunity in other places. They move for their own existence. It is a perpetual feature. So it is through them we can get the glimpses of mainstream India and its mobile characteristics. People are moving from one place to another hoping for existence. I was much fascinated about it. I wonder thinking about their power. Their enormous power is not the might of an evil. It is godly. And is does not belong to any community. This kind of might is the power of man. It is symbolised in the film in this way.
Another feature – in this film is that – there are a few characters which are much known to us.
GG: As for example – the loompen characters. Say in Paar. When the couple are coming in the city, they met a person in the train. Sunil Mukherjee acted the role, which is a typical loompen character in a town. He has no particular job. Only he loves human beings. He experiences the company of the various types of criminals. Criminal world tempts him for joining. I have seen many such characters in Calcutta. Naturally, this type of characters comes in my films directly.
ARG: In your other films – this type of characters...
GG: They are in many films. As for example Dakhal. Though it is made after the perspective of the fifties, I can name Ma Bhumi also. At the time of making of Maa Bhumi (1978) I saw the koya tribes. In Vishakhapatnam, the place of their origin, I got opportunity to observe them. So, the characteristic features of the Koya tribes are reflected in Dakhal.
GG: Yes, There’s a tribe named Koya.
What I was telling – there are some characters in my film who are somehow acquainted by me are otherwise lesser known to the middle class people. As I used to travel in the country, widely such characters came into my sight. In addition, I’ve got opportunity to become familiar with some of them.
ARG: The wagon breakers in Patang. Are they also the characters like them?
GG: Obviously. When I used to travel in Bihar, I saw them. The characters in Patang are very much known to me. I saw Bihar when I was travelling there. Bihar is now still like that. Why should we call Bihar only – many states have same condition. Somra – the character in Patang are actually many in number. There are thousands of boys like him. He grows among the criminals. Getting no better opportunity the boy later becomes a criminal. We call them criminal. However, the men who really play with these criminals as puppeteers are just smart operators to us. We do not say them criminals. Among them, there are businesspersons.
GG: There are administrators. They all are in a complex network. If we see Patang we find or at least I think whole making of the film is like that – how can one get rid of the all pervading sad atmosphere? Everybody is somehow tied with one another. One can’t live without the other in this awful chain – each one as an ordinary policeman, a top officer, a political leader, or an aristocratic businessperson. In this vicious circle we find some ordinary, simple man who get no privilege for a better living – they are intricately tied up in this social –political trap. The character Somra is just like them. He needs to be much more flourished. He needs a living like a normal man. Nevertheless, he can’t fulfil any of his need. He is growing with the criminals inspite of her mother’s utmost resistance.
With him, we find some known characters – which are in better positions live in better ways. I have many friends who are district magistrates. However, their wives feel a kind of guilty consciousness in the humanitarian grounds. That ‘we need to do some work’. Their efforts are good. They set up N.G.O.s. But, their social ventures work from distance, as the ladies are not in contact with the common people in real life situations. Everyone tries to solve some primary problems. However, doing these types of activities only doesn’t help to uproot the real problem. And these people are ruling India for a long time. So we see this privileged section always get all the opportunities, from and shape the opinions and fuel the middle class.
However, we have noticed in the last fifty years no great radical change in the lives of millions of people did take place. It is quite unexpected. However, it should have taken place. The educated community – who receives proper education, are in a sense privileged because they use education for their own benefit. It is shocking that during the last fifty years their or our education could not be applied for the upliftment of the millions of underprivileged people. Now what is the need of producing another privileged class? This is my question I want to pose.
Now the picture we get of our country – there chaotically remain extreme corruption, indiscipline, and falling administration. Now look who are here or who are steering there. Here also belong that educated class. They are controlling everything. They are in every section. Education system has been breaking down too. Even there remains this educated class. Sometimes I ask myself is there any need of spreading education any more? If we can not give real education – the education based on the values then what is the need of mere literacy. In this way, we are again creating another privileged class.
For all these reasons, I have tried to reveal the real situations surrounding the man in my films. I think in the class I do not belong may be area for our cinematic communication. Only we are able to speak for them.
Through the people – the characters in my films I try to expose their real situation. I do not belong to their class but only we are able to express or narrate their problems – their status of existence. Because from a cultivator community no filmmaker will come out. Then who are there to say for them? Therefore, if we think we should tell only about our own experiences and about our class – I think it an idiotic thinking. If we always think, we shall not go beyond our circle then who will say about their lives, their experiences. It is stupid enough to think in this line. Actually, these subaltern people are holding the main structure of India. We the people who are privileged have to take the task of bringing them in the forefront. And I try to understand them through my middle class way of life.
Sometimes proper understanding is hampered making a contradiction. Again, in the latter works I tried to fill the gap of understanding. I tried to correct them if necessary. I think it is a continuous process.
ARG: But your films as well as the films made by other like-minded filmmakers who make films sharing almost the same attitude as yours can’t communicate the people properly with whom they are making their films. I mean the filmmakers of Aghat, Damul, Chakra etc. These films can not communicate the class or community really existing in our country outside mere cinematic representation.
GG: Actually, the matter of fact is that there is not so much scope for communicating them. One of the major causes is they are made enchanted with the films made in Mumbai. The really good films do not reach them. Now they are getting some scope for viewing them in television. Precisely speaking the films do not reach them and the films, which they experience, are not at all the films of their life. So, they can not see always these films of which we are talking. However if I can reveal their contradictions in the film then those who are conscious among them can at least understand his actual surrounding situation. If I can make aware or conscious at least ten peoples in this way showing them the actual mainstream then I think I have done one of my responsibilities.
ARG: One thing is to be observed in this context that in the early years of the eighties – films bearing strong feelings of social consciousness were coming out. Films like Chokh, Aghat, Damul, Chakra and your films – which I have mentioned earlier were being made out of some socio-political...
GG: Obviously. One of the reasons is the impact of the vigorous attempt to change the socio-political perspective. Before that, generally people have no awareness or conception about the happenings in various parts of the country. They didn’t bother at all. Of course, we have got such accounts in the literary works of the writers – especially who have rural origin. The inner-conflict of the village-life was portrayed in their novels, and short stories. However these were absent in the film though in some very ordinary Hindi films we get such pictures to an extent. No such attempt had been done in Bengali films because Bengali film was awfully confined within the compass of the tales from middle class life. Bengali filmmakers did not take any risk for exploring or focussing any other area of human life. To them the middle class people are the sure-shot. They are the spectators of the Bengali films. ‘So make films with their sentiments.’ In this way they did not bother whether the films are coming out with high standard or below for concentrating on this segment of life only. They didn’t feel the necessity of going outside its compass.
However, some filmmakers thought of going outside of it. So we get a few films in a certain period or phase from the different parts of India. Without them many aspects, situations and happenings as well as clashes and conflicts of the different regions of India would remain unknown to us forever. Perhaps a few of the films contain broad black and white treatment whereas some films trace the efforts of focussing the complex areas. However, I think altogether a document has been created by all of such filmmakers.
ARG: Again at the end of the eighties and at the beginning of the nineties this spell has almost fizzled out.
GG: Fizzled out – because – let’s put the matter in this way. The main structure of our filmmaking was also the main source of filmmaking of Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, and Mrinal Sen. Because the language of some foreign films stirred them. This type of films of which we are discussing now were comparatively produced less in number in the later years of the eighties. Huge number of entertainment films come to the spectators. Unfortunately, the serious filmmakers are entrapped. Earlier their films are produced and duly released gradually increasing their type of spectators. Later they limit their interest getting an entry in the Indian Panorama selection and recieving National Awards, or participating in foreign film-festivals etc. They are trapped with this sort of circular chain. As a consequence, the filmmakers have blundered being unaware of that. So all the previous efforts were constricted in a circle. The different forms of western cinema come to put together. The filmmakers begin to think if his films do not run well in India then these are to be sold in foreign film-festivals. In this way, our parallel filmmakers knowing or not knowing properly adopt the formula of filmmaking, which ensures the selection in a foreign film festival. The root which has formed and out of which the best films in the fifties had come out in India was shifted from our base–ground. Films are made with a superficial form so that they may click at the festivals. This practice has started in India, as well as in Iran, in Japan etc. Asian nations observe that they have to reach the European film market. I have seen many such films, which are but reflections of some western genres having no Indian feature. Original works are rarely seen in this period. Because this kind of form or structure we have already seen in Europe in the sixties or seventies. Similar expressions come back. The sparks we have seen in the sixties remained missing in the nineties.
Gudiais an allegory of the obstacles of my filmmaking
– Goutam Ghose
In this interview with Dr. Arup Ratan Ghosh Goutam Ghose reveals the obstacles, hindrances and struggles of his filmmaking and the subsequent communication with the mass what he has to face almost always. We come to know in wonder all these of his life and practice as a filmmaker from a beautiful allegory in his sensitive cinematic explorations in Gudia.
ARG: In your film Gudia the contemporary popular culture, the reciprocal interaction between consumerism and mass entertainment, perversion and the changing popular taste have beautifully developed in tune with rhythm beats of our time. This sort of change and development of the tastes one can feel while see the film. Simultaneously this film can be seen as a piece of ‘Popular Culture’ and its analysis. Contextually it can be said that the changing form of mass entertainment, its development and its analysis we have seen in Barin Saha’s Tero Nadir Pare (1966). Now please tell your viewpoints on Gudia as a piece of Popular Culture’ along with its interpretations.
GG: Yes, because some reasons are there behind Gudia. My producer suggested me to make a film containing some songs. Now to make a musical film the subject matter also needs to be in the same tune i.e. musical. Therefore, I’ve chosen a subject where the main character, the protagonist of the film is a musician, a ventriloquist. He belongs to the Anglo-Indian community settled in the milieu of Mumbai-Goa. This community gradually in course of time migrated to Australia or in different countries in the world. Only a few are still remaining centring Goa and each of them bear music in their blood.
The main character of my film has learnt Latin music, Jazz from his father. Later his guru Hamid taught him ventriloquism. He learnt Punjabi tappa from him. Mingling all these, he presents some of his compositions in his performances with the doll. However, he finds surprisingly that his own compositions do not get proper reception or appreciation creating a kind of clash or conflict.
All these appears to me as metaphorical to my film making I want to make film in the popular fashion but my taste and culture resist that inclination. So what I make doesn’t reach the mass or these are let not to reach them.
Because if some one clicks to the forcibly hidden area of appreciation for the popular medium of fine entertainment them the havoc propaganda for the promotions of the kind of popular culture trying to overwhelm us gets a jolt or setback. Following the same course to make the film I also had to go through various hassles. I always felt what I want to do I can’t do that.
ARG: What do you actually mean by saying that popularity is hidden in man?
GG: Popular. For example the folk songs. Various types of folksongs are really popular to the people. As for example Punjabi tappa it is reared in the mind of people. Now if I bring it to the mass through the masala of Hindi cinema then the real practitioner of that form think it as improper or imperfect. They clash with their idea against popular culture. My film Gudia doesn’t reach to the mass audience. Even it was not properly released. People couldn’t realise the film properly. A kind of clash exists within my film making process. In this film I want people to realise the true nature of populist culture. A true musician – may be he is not a very great musician but with his own art and with his honesty he doesn’t surrender to the political pressure. When in the political platform he is rented for making propaganda he looses his language. The doll doesn’t respond. Such symbols are used because he doesn’t want to compromise or surrender. When he expresses his stubborn liking he becomes the target and efforts are taken to finish him. His doll is dismantled and destroyed brutally.
It is a common practice. The people who are powerful, bad, ugly and connected with the evil forces always try to exploit people. To do this when they find sometimes difficulty or impossibility to use someone them they throw away him after squeezing. Through out India this practice is going on. And to do this film...
ARG: You had to face...
GG:... various obstacles. These obstacles concentrate as an allegory of the obstacles of my filmmaking. On the one hand I want to reach the people. However I can not provide or supply the elements that the man of the institution who reaches the mass wants to cater. Catering these are nothing but cheating the people. This kind of clash or conflict I face or undergo within myself is revealed through the protagonist of my film. I tried to speak through him that how something good is suppressed. That man appreciates the real art form, which unfortunately is kept with other trifle or useless objects. If any one wants to come out of those circumstances then he is pulled down. He is never allowed to proceed or advance. We find such pulling down from two sides. First – the patrons and practitioners of the populist culture oppose. The second type of opposition comes from those who define what is cinema. They reflect Art remains in its own stand. It is not required for art to reach the people. Art for art’s sake. They also oppose. They comment ‘Goutam Ghose should not make such a kind of film’. This is also a kind of resistance of which we are not so much aware. The people who write on cinema consider the serious filmmakers should not go through such efforts.
ARG: As if this is a kind of compromise.
GG: Compromise. Not at all. Whole thing is a process. If this process is not used then our parallel cinema will gradually vanish. Oh! What an ugly populist culture which has awfully gaped our cinema.
ARG: Yes. Throughout the film we find a kind of development of public taste. People liked the ventriloquist performances earlier but later they can’t do without the dance of a real lady.
GG: Yes. They can’t do without. Moreover here we find that even today ventriloquism can create interesting moments. A man has two souls. The young man who enacts the ventriloquism-show has his own self as well as his other self – that is the doll. Urbashi is the symbolic figure. Urbashi has neither thinking nor voice of her own. Everything comes from outside and from other person. We find this young man Jony utter through his doll what he can’t utter or speak otherwise. A very delicate art form like ventriloquism was once very popular which has gradually faded out for the omnipresence of crude television, video, Hindi cinema etc. – where people like to watch or see everything in the naked form. Where there is no value of symbol, or humour, where wit has been dried out. Where there is no fine comedy. Only an effort of leaving the spectators laugh by tickling is visible. However, people like all these. Actually they are being provoked continuously through some media. Therefore, they do not want to see the fine art of ventriloquism. They want to enjoy the naked form and entertainment in much more crude form. Where one has to laugh by force, see ugly dance and listen to music in a very bad tune – as one finds in a big show – an assemblage of various events without any feelings. However, ventriloquism appeals with feelings. That feeling has been loosing its appeal to the audience. In addition, I want to show how Jony understands that people today no more like to appreciate good ones. So at first singing a popular song of Hindi film he creates groundwork to draw the audience. Later he understands that this is not his duty. He hasn’t learned this kind of artistic skill from his guru. ‘He has taught me many good approaches to the musical art and skill. To apply these in the new perspective I get resistance.’ And in this extremely blocking situations he finds his voice snatched out and his soul ceases to exist being himself as before. Loosing the doll Urbashi he lost his soul.
ARG: Khorid lo... through this song a mood of pathos come out seeing the ever-increasing consumerism.
GG: Absolutely. The conversation between Jony and the doll appears as a conversation between husband and wife. She says, buy this or that. He says this is bought by the man going in a wrong way. He takes bribes. Then she says, ‘I know that. Whole country beginning from the leaders takes bribes. So what? Maximum imprisonment will be a period of jail, but we can possess the things in exchange of that. Among the common people we find this type of tendency. He swallows advertisements and buys the things more and more. He doesn’t know why does he purchase – even he gets himself finished following this endless sequel of buying. He even remains ignorant about his futile end giving indulgence to corruption i.e. taking bribes and buying item after item. When does the man reaches at his doom he even can not come to know – as Nirendranath Chakraborty reflects in his poem.
ARG: Seeing Gudia one old Bengali film Tero Nadir Pare by Barin Saha comes in our mind faintly.
GG: Tero Nadir Pare of course. This film also shows the critical and hard days of circus. This film too didn’t run well in the context of box office. However he did a very important piece of cinematic work. For the first time he shows that a great change has been coming in our country. The traditional values are decaying rapidly especially in the semi–urban and urban society. There people are getting interest in such things that they gradually look for cheap elements of entertainment and in a way welcoming overwhelming cheapness. People do no more like to accept or appreciate the expression that the artist has achieved after a long and rigorous training and toil.
ARG: We also find a kind of similarity with Fellini’s La Strada and Barin Saha’s film.
GG: Perhaps in the context of subject matter there remains a kind of similarity. There are also clowns, the circus-people. Besides these in La Strada we find the protagonist of the film the show–man, the juggler gets bewildered and confused for various happenings of different incidents. From that point of view there might be a kind of influence of La Strada on Barin Saha’s film Tero Nadir Pare.
ARG: In Gudia the contemporary popular culture and the way of life surrounding Mumbai, Goa are reflected beautifully.
GG: I tried to bring in.
ARG: The application of music in the film – singing, playing musical instruments etc. help the film to develop the perspective of popular culture, way of life.
GG: Yes, and we find agony and pathos are residing in the man (Jony) and after all his efforts he can’t get through – everytime he fails and gets resistance but never surrenders to the hostile circumstances.
Goutam Ghose was born in Calcutta on the 24 July 1950 where he graduated in Accountancy. He worked actively in theatre and was a photo-reporter for a period. He began his film career making socially committed documentaries. His second film, Hungry Autumn (1974) secretly taken out of India because it had not been cleared by the censors, won the main award at the Oberhausen Festival and the Diploma of Merit at Leipzig. He then passed to feature films, winning national and international awards and receiving the acclaim of both critics and the film going public. He never abandoned his passion for documentaries. IN 1994-95, he made a five-hour film, Beyond the Himalayas. The film is about a long journey along the Silk Road of Central Asia, China, and Tibet. Goutam Ghose is screenplay author, director, or music, director of photography and cameraman of all his films.
Goutam Ghosh: The Explorer of the Culture of Oppression
At a time when realism in cinema has deliberately brought into doubt, Goutam Ghose goes on exposing with dogged integrity the Indian reality, concentrating at the interfaces between the marginalized peasantry, the tribal fringe, the caste orthodoxy and a faceless administration that is manipulated by power and money. He never hides his commitment to the documentary, the mode in which he began, and one, which has always had a draw for him. In his feature films, the documentary enters the scene in the form of history, often unashamedly as dramatic flashback, as economically tight fragments that serve to weave around the immediate aura of the past. While in Maabhoomi, his reconstruction of the peasants’ revolt in Telengana, and in the first part of Paar, the documentary evocation of the historical background is more blatant, Dakhal offers a subtler view of how someone breaks off from a nomadic tribal existence, aligns herself with a peasant in her search for a more settled mode of living only to be unsettled by member of the land grabbing gentry capable of bending and twisting the legal apparatus to their own interests.
It is part of Ghose’s cinematic idiom to open up ironic spaces between man and nature, as well as between section of the dispossessed. In Paar, the river that the harijan man and his wife have to cross with a pack of swine becomes a challenge to their human endurance even as it offers a means for survival. The way Ghose almost literally plunges into this climatic act, the risk and the strain in the making of the sequence made breathtakingly evident, he gives the river life, and it rises as a force against its human challengers.
The river as witness and as a repository of sacral memory a background more moral that merely physical, turns towards the and of his latest film Antarjali Jatra into a cruel elemental force that overpowers and overwhelms the human drama of passions and inhibitions, naked avowals of the self followed by a sense of gilt, and the shades of religious awe hanging over it all. It is a strong naturalistic approach that goes into the details of the culture of the decadent Brahminic orthodoxy as it reveals itself in its elaborate mechanics of strategies and terros and superstions and oppression as well as into the projection of the river and the sprawling cremation grounds on the bank. The irony seems to lie in the confrontation of the myths that orthodoxy carves out of nature and nature is its immdeiate physical reality, made cinematically palpable. In both Paar and Yatra the river is given a quiet but formidable cinematic presence before it erupts into a force in its encounter with the human characters.
In Paar, the human protagonists, triumph ove the river with, determination to survive, and in the process triumph also over the dobts and indecisions that htey have nurtured within themselves for too long. Inyatra, Yashobati goes under, debilitated from within by the cancer of superstitious fear. The elemental river takes it revenge against the woman too weak to accept/ assert herself. The wooden matrix that frams/ apotheosizes the goddess becomes her cage, the cage that ultimately frustates her final efforts for survival. In one of the most and the city, and the potent images of the film the irver in spate churns up from it swomgb th wooden frame, the relic of animmersed Durga evidence of a natural process at work even as it grows symbolically on the viewer.
In Dakhal, Maabhoomi and Paar, Ghose touches on the deliberate devisiveness inherent int he systems of ezxploitation. In Dakhal, the itinerant Kakmaras are used by the landed gentry in their rapacious aggression on the property of Andi, once a Kakmara herself. In Maabhoomi, the peasan hero refuses foolishly and stubbornly to see, the to system at work, that forces his beloved to take so casually and fatalistically her exual exploitation by the landed gentry. In bothe cases illumination follows with its inevitable corollary of guilt and shame. But what comes to the fore is the irony of the dispossessed against the more dispossessed.
From contemporary realities traced bak to history in the earlier films, Ghose has moved to ninteenth century history in his latest work. At the same time he seems to have moved from the experience of the oppressed to that of their caste superiours. But the continuity is unmistakable, for he is still exploring the culture of oppression, this time from the other [pole of the mechanism. There are still more layers in that culture to exposed and probe and that could last Ghose a lifetime.
Antarjali Yatra/ Goutam Ghose/ 1982/ colour
The delta of the might Ganges in the early decades of the 19th century; a derelic little temple on its banks, a lonely funeral ground where the local Hindus burn their dead-with the solitary presence of Baiju, a low-caste untouchable who builds the funeral pyres. It is here that an old and dying brahmin Sitaram is brought in by relatives and friends to lie on the baks of the holy river, waiting for death. While the whole community of brahmins wait, Ananta the astrologer discovers that the planets fortell Sitaram;s imminent death, and that he must take a mat along with him. So the widowed Sitaram must be married off to crate the mate the stars demand. For a poor brahmin, it represents a possibility of being saved from the shame of having an unmarried nubile daughter and the glory of her cannonization as a ‘sati’, once she sacrifices herself on h er husband’s funeral pyre. With brahminical power threatened by history, and the practice of sati being proscribed by infidel British law, ithe idea entuses the brahmins. Sitaram’s wedding with young Yasobati Yashobati is finalized. The only discordant note is truck by Baiju’s sarcasm, and his pleading in vain with the village doctor to informthe constabulary. Unlettered Baiju’s is the only humane, same voice in a wilderness of ignorance and superstition. But the high priestly class need take no heed of a drunken untouchable.
Yashobai arrives at he funeral grounds as a bride for a sying old man, condemned t satihood. Proximity to youth and the snsual promises of marriage sem to revive the dying Sitaram. The full moon rises, Sitaram’s condition deteriorates a deliriously drunk Baiju implores with Yashobati to run awya. But she cannot, caught in the web of her superstition and fear, brought up to believe that from one revirth to the next, marriages are made in heaven. Baiju’s anger finally breaks through the impasse and he tries to murder the old man. Yashobati fights him relentlessly, and the physical act itself draws them together. In the sort mud of the delta, they become promordial man and woman. The old man, his yound bride and Baiju are trapped in a primal drama of love and passion, jealousy and hatred, fear and the yearning for freedom.
Dakhal (The Occupation)/ Goutam Ghose/ 1982/ Colour/
Screenplay: Goutam Ghose, Partha Chatterjee
Photography: Goutam Ghose
Music: Goutam Ghose
Cast of characters: Manata Shankar, Robin Sen Gupta, Sunil Mukherjee, Sajal Roy Chowdhury, Bimal Deb
Andi belogns to a nomadic, gipsy tribe commonly known as crow- hnters. She had eloped in her youth with the peasna tJoga belonging to adifferent caste. They settled down in the fertile region on the banks of the ganga in the southern part of riverine Bengal. When Andi was expecting her second child, her husband died of snakebite.
The local zamindar (land owner) has had his eyes on her land and been tring to grab it. opportunity to do so come with the arrival of Andi’s tribesmen on the scene. The tax collector who is the zamindar’s man- Govinda offers them hospitality and wins them over. Bagambar, the leader of the tribe, promises to identify Andi in a law court as one of them to prove that her marriage with Joga was illegal and that her heirers have no right to Joga’s land. Andi, at bay, attacks Govinda prejudicing her case in the eyes of the law.
The same night, Govinda’s men set fire to her hut. Bagambar, now repentant, offers Andi the protection of his tribe. But she turns it down and decides to stay back and fight for her land alone.
Hungry Autumn/ Goutam Ghose/ 1976/ B&W/ 16mm
Reportage on famine-strcken areas of bengal, which tries to probe the reasons for the famine: Why does it exist in perpetuaty? Who hoards the food? Who manipulates the market? Into the city thousands of villagers pour in, crying for a morsel to eat...
Maa Bhoomi/ Goutam Ghose/ 1979/ Colour
Story: Kishen Chander o73
Screenplay: Partho Banerji, B. Narasinga Rao
Cast of characters: Sariehand Bhopa Reddy, Yadagini Kakarala
Producer: Chaitanya Chitra International, Andhra Pradesh
Awards: Best Regional Film (Telegu)
Maa Bhoomi captures the heroic peasant struggle of Telengana - the most backward are of Hyderabad State in the early forties, exposing with documentary exactitude the oppressive feudalism of the earstwhile Nizam State. Maa Bhoomi depicts the degrading serfdom of the peasants, accepting with stoic resignation the ruthless misappropriation of their lands, the sexual exploitaions oftheir women, their abject sevility in not even daring to look directly at the master. Only Ramaiah, the hero, son of vetti (a landless tiller), shows a glimmer of definace, even as a yound boy. Two incidents are eloquent. The minions of the landlord drag te unwilling boy from the fair, and throw his new clothes on the fround with deliberate contempt and the boy picks them up with a touching defiance; the sky wonder in his windering eyes as he peeps furtively into the large-mirror propped against boulder, as it reflects a vision of the village including a turret of the landlord’s manor. There are fleeting moments of inarticulate tenderness between the father and son. Ramaiah’s adolenscent romance withthe gypsy girl, an almost inyllic pause in the march of history, is the turning point in Ramaiah’s growing awareness of expolation. Too proud to accept his beloved succumbing to the local landlord’s sexual coercion, he leaves the village.I is in the city that hte political education of Ramaniha begin, after a change meeting with a kind Marxist activist. He becomes a Union worker in the city, and them Ramaiah becomes one of the braves spearheading the peoples armed struggle against the despotic rule of the feudal lords.
Paar/ Goutam Ghose/ 1984
Screenplay: Goutam Ghose
Photography: Goutam Ghose
Music: Goutam Ghose
Cast of Characters: Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, Utpal Dutt, Om Puri, Mohan Agashe, Anil Chatterjee
Darkness fall on a small village in Bihar. In the huts of the poor harijan laboureres, the hearths are being lit when the stillness of the night is shttered by the noise of advancing ntorvikes and jeeps. The landlord’s henchmen appear out of the dark, carrying torches and guns. The huts are set on fire the people are pulled out of their hiding places and gunned down. IN the cover of darkness only a handful escape the holocaust: among them, Naurangia and his pregnant wife, Rama. Naurangia an dhis wife become fugitives from the law. Rama and Naurangia’s odyssey takes them ultimately to Calcutta. By now Naurangia is fed up with being on the run. The government has announced compensation for th victims of the massacre.
Naurangia want to go bak to the village. It is rama who is determined not to go: "They’ll kill you!" she says, "how can we go back?" oN the train to calcutta they meet a stry traveller , a vagabond who persuaded them to spend a little money they have then puts them on a train to a Calcutta suburb to find work in a jute mill there. But the man Naurangia is to meet at the mill has left for hsi village. Naurangia spends days futilely looking for employemnt. With starvationstarig them inthe face, evenRama is now willing to go back. But where is the money for the fare?
At the end of one more long and hopeless day, Naurangia is offered an absurd job. A herd of swine have to be delivered to the other side of the river. The ferries refuse to take the animals on board. So the herd must be manually driven across. Rama is at first scared of the wide river in front of them. What if she loses the baby? But Naurangia is adamant. On this side of the rive there is hunger - on the other, money to take them home. They have no choice.
Padma Nadir Majhi
Goutam Ghose/ 1993/ Colour/ 126 min.
Screenplay: Goutam Ghose; original story: Manik Bandopadhyay
Photography: Goutam Ghose
Music: Goutam Ghose
Cast of Characters: Assad, Champa, Rupa Ganguly
Boatman of the river Padma is a saga about man’s eternal struggle against hostile nature, against opporessive society, and against his own dark and irrepressible desires. Its locale is the mightly River Padma that meanders through the heart of Bengal; its characters brave boatmen whochallenge its dangerous waters for survival. The River Padma, whose bandks are constantly eroding and reforming, is as mercurial as the men on its banks. This is the story of man’s struggle for survivalin all times, in all places, a struggle that like th eriver seems to know no beginning and no end, only the ebb and flow of the tides.
Patang/ Goutam Ghose/ 1993/ Colour/ 100 min.
Screenplay: Goutam Ghose, Ain Rashid Khan
Photography: Goutam Ghose
Music: Goutam Ghose
Cast of Characters: Shabana Azmi, Om Puri, Sayad Shafique
Manpur, a wayside railway near Gaya. Patang deals mainly with the interplay opf human emotions of the people, at hte periphery of railway crimes. The trains, the wagons the the pilferages form of the backdrop of the rlationships of the people, who live in the bustee, reminding one of the futility of life and its struggle. The protagonist, Somra, son of Kitni, obsessed with kites, is a direct by-product of the circumstances around him. In Mathura, we have a petty criminal trying to make it big in the ambience around. The relationship of Mathura and Jitni is clandestine, yet understood and accepted. The other strand is the Railway Protection Force (RPF) with Rabbani, the idealsit Divisional Security Commissioner, making futile attempts to alter the way of things. The nexus amongst the criminals, politicians, the nouveau riche and bureaucracy – all of it unfording against the backdrop of the constant flying of kites.
1973/ New Earth
1974 / Hungry Autumn
1976 / Chains of Bondage
1984 / Parampara
1986 / Land of Sand Dunes
1987 / Ek Ghat Ki Kahani
1989 / Meeting a Milestone
1990 / In Search of Theatre
1991 / Mohor
1992 / Shyam Hi to Hai
1994-5 / Beyond the Himalayas
1979 / Maa Bhoomi
1982 / Dakhal
1984 / Paar
1988 / Antarjali Jatra
1992 / Padma Nadir Manjhi
1993 / Patang
1997 / Gudia
For a long time now, our collective consciousness has been increasingly surrounded by surrogate images of life as the politician or the ad-man would have us see it. They are intrinsically dull. They do not excite us, inspire us or communicate meaningful experiences of life to us. They are created and seen more from the point of view of consumerism than as an expression of ideas from one who has the vision of a poet.
This trend is dangerous. Already, meaningful images are being shunted to the sidelines while transparent or imitative ones have been force-paced onto a fast-track. These are more acceptable now as they are instantly communicative and demand no extra attention from those who see them. But they lack the strength to return to the viewer’s reverie, and soon get lost in oblivion.
However, images which might seem to some to be too complex and non-communicative, may lead others to mysterious journeys into the world of true creativity. I am ready to return to the images in the early paintings of Bikash Bhattacharya or Satyajit Ray’s film from the fifties to the mid-seventies for countless times. Yet the images they created later on are not meaningful to me. They have no redolence. They fail to contribute anything to that secret second world from where a person returns to write poems, compose music or create enduring images.
In a creative process where the forms of expression are through images, one must journey to secret second worlds that one can still find in nature, in music, in great poetry or even in mysterious silences and through ones’ own experiences with time and dream. A painter or a filmmaker tries to relate those images directly or indirectly with their themes of expression and shape them to that form wherein they have lost their origins and, with definite identities, have become the images of the creator.
Myths, sometimes unknowingly, contribute a great deal to giving such images their separate identities. In the indelible death scene of Indir Thakrun in Pather Panchali, the director simply shows us a vessel rolling down into a pond. The unique meaning of this scene can immediately be identified with the Hindu tradition of breaking an earthen pot when someone dies... and symbolically releasing the long-pent soul. Ray’s Devi is another example, particularly the last scene. In some of Ritwik Ghatak’s films mythological names have deliberately been given to the female characters. Ray and Ghatak made a significant contribution to the liberation of Indian celluloid images from a state of mediocrity and lack of expressiveness.
In many of the films of Bergman, there are scenes directly related to Biblical myths. The myths of Islam have frequently been fielded in the films of Mohsen Makhmal Baf of Iran. There are similar examples in films from other Islamic countries. Even in the works of some of our important painters, myths mysteriously dominate the images. From Abanindranath Tagore to Ganesh Pyne, religious myths can repeatedly be traced. In recent years, folk and tribal images have strangely dominated the imagery of painters like K. G. Subrayanan, Madhbi Parekh and Jayashree Chakrabarty. Folk and tribal myths have also inspired some film directors. In Ghatak’s Ajantrik, we have seen the images of Oraon tribes. In Kanchan Sita by Aravindan, tribal motifs have been used to tell a story from the Ramayana. A viewer without any knowledge of these myths as reflected in different forms of the images may not identify them and in the process fail to respond to them. If he is a culturally ill-prepared professional critic, he often negates or condemns those images and attempts to destroy them forever for his readers.
The concept of universality of images comes from a confused notion of distance. One can reach a far-away place within a short time by flying, but he cannot change the distance. Truffaut failed to relate with the celluloid images of Pather Panchali and left the theatre half-way through. He did it because he had never experienced such images. Years later, Truffaut sat through the film and made some encouraging comments on it. But did he really identify those images, or did he just say something for the sake of saying something? Images, when not personal, can always be identified with religion, history, country, region and finally with language. So a set of images offered by a particular religion or a region always bears a separate identity as they are rooted to a particular culture and ethos. A painter or a filmmaker who is part of that culture uses them knowing full-well and almost intuitively their significance. He or she has grown up with those images and can identify them consciously or subconsciously.
A filmmaker can also go beyond such images and create ones which are purely personal and can only be related to his own time and his own dream. The paintings of Rabindranath Tagore are an example of how images can be related to a personal time, consciousness and subconsciousness and finally to a dream. They must have come to us straight from that secret second world where he actually lived. But such images also reflect the crises of the contemporary human situation as comprehended by a creative person. In the self-portraits of many great painters, the pain and anguish of their faces can be related to particular situations of their times. The personal images certainly reflect the inner core of the creator and contain the essence of the human situation in which he lives and creates. The images in the films of Andrei Tarkovsky are equally personal but can always be identified with the first-hand history of images created by people of a different culture, religion and country.
Images narrating a tale are more readily acceptable than those which tend to become obscure because they refuse to narrate. Non-narrative images run the risk of getting rejected immediately as they are non-traditional and so have not been previously experienced by their viewers. But narrative images can rise above themselves and be stunningly and successfully different from the traditional, expected, run-of-the-mill structure that the narrative may seek to impose upon them! The films of Dziga Vertov or the images in Bikash Bhattacharya’s early paintings are examples of this.
The state and the media have generally promoted images which are transparent, derivative and often lifted from second or third-hand experience. They do this deliberately because of the mass, easy acceptability of such images and to divert the attention of the populace from their true crises. These things have short-term commercial value. But Time has always wiped away insipid, imitative images made for non-creative purposes. Such knowledge gives strength to those of us who decide to delve into the secret second world that exists deep in our dreams and to send signals to the world through images which very often are personal and pure.
(Courtesy, The Statesman)
Movement and Character
Malay Bhattacharya, director of Kahini discusses about the film medium. He emphasises the it is the movement not the characterisation is important in cinema.
Pictures do not necessarily have to move to qualify as ‘movies’. There are other sorts of movement just as important as the mechanical one, which is only an optical illusion any way; and there are other approaches to reality than the photographic, which tends to be journalistic. What these are, the possibilities they offer and how they can be developed by the artist, who is accustomed to think in images is what I call creating alternative reality in celluloid.
Once, when paintings were made in cave walls, they were seen all jumbled up together, sometimes upside down and frequently piled on top of others. The stone age artist was not interested in any sequence of time. Like a child he saw everything in one ‘eternal present’. It was thousands of years before the concept of a series of separate pictures was arrived at. And to show Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria, getting into his chariot to go to war in one relief, in the next his arrival at the enemy capital thousands of miles away and after months of travel was a breakthrough in creative thought of enormous importance.
There is movement in the imagination of the onlooker. This involvement of an audience is important in anything meant to be communicated, especially in art forms like the theatre or cinema. One must keep in mind, films are not in the camera nor on the screen. It is what takes place between the camera and the set, and between the screen and the audience, that matters, both dependent on the director’s imagination. In literature it is called reading between lines. To the sculptor it is the space implied by the masses he selects. For the comedian it is the timing of the pause as much as the joke itself. Concepts are engendered by the manipulation of suitable symbols. To understand creative film that deals with alternative truth, this playing on the imagination is especially important. For in a ‘live-action’ film the interest usually proceeds automatically on a literary level. But the creative film, has no such convenient reference to reality, concerned as it is with an attitude, or feeling or something equally abstract. It is more like poetry, with prose being the equivalent to other types of film. It moves in a confined space, like a sonnet, where every word counts, whereas in ‘War and Peace’ whole pages can be skipped without much loss. A creative film director has to think in images which not only give vivid representation but have to read between shots and the content of the sort of film he makes compared with most narrative or documentary films, is more like that in modern painting which has, significantly replaced pictures of Victorian times which tended to tell stories.
Even with the coming of motion pictures and all the technique of new industry most film makers continued to affirm that equally as important as the ability to move things was the movement implied between scenes.
While a large section of film criticism emerge from the assumption that the main province of cinema is ‘character’. Such in fact are the criticisms by ‘literary critics’. It should work from a different assumption, that, as such, one of the greatest stories have to tell is the story of possibility. While ‘character’ deals with what is permanent in man, possibility deals with what is fluid: man’s ability to grow, to annihilate character, to actualise potentiality and, in an existential sense, to continually create essence from existence. To move in time is to confront experience, and to assimilate this is to grow and respond creatively to the challenge of living. As film critic Royal S. Brown has stated, in writing about Godard, "Godard’s character remind one of Sartre’s ‘Antoine Roquentin’, whose ‘nausea’ is basically a reaction to the newly found awareness of the nonessential nature of everything that takes place within life (and therefore within time). But whereas Roquentin becomes aware from within himself of the basic condition of a universe that has always really been that way, Godard, more of often than not, suggests a transformation from without – a kind of apocalyptic state with which various characters, some of them naively idealistic, must cope. Thus, in Godard’s short – Le Nouveau monde, the hero arrives at the conclusion that the destruction of a cause-and-effect existence has been occasioned by and atomic explosion."
Malay Bhattacharya: Born in Calcutta. Following his graduation, in the Faculty of Arts from University of Calcutta, he obtained diploma in Applied Art from Govt. College of Art & Craft, Calcutta in 1970. He then moved to Germany and worked as ‘Graphic Designer’ from 1970 to 1977.
He returned to Calcutta in 1977. Since then he has been writing screenplays, producing and directing teleplays. Kahini is his first feature film. It took him three years to complete Kahini. Kahini won Golden Lotus, Award for best first film of a director, 1996 and FIPRESCI award, 1997.
The Romantic, The Modern and The Postmodern
There are many who firmly believe that the age of romanticism is still not over. And they may well be right. Many of the essential features of romantic thought still continue to be part of modern texts, be they cinema, theatre, or literature.
Indian cinema, even today, is largely romantic and one is talking not only of so called mainstream cinema but also of the art cinema where, too, romantic values dominate. Modernism has hardly, if at all, affected cinema in India and the question of postmodernism practically does not arise.
Can one think of some films, which have modernist traits? Films like Shyam Benegal’s Suraj Ka Satwan Ghoda and Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Anantaram come immediately to mind although the narrative line in both these films is quite overpowering. Anantaram contains elements of absurdity, while Suraj Ka Satwan Ghoda has a kind of fractured narrative that can be labeled somewhat modernist. Mrinal Sen has used certain innovative formal elements in some of his films but can they be labeled as modernist? Akaler Sandhane uses the film within a film technique, which is certainly modernist, but in this film, too, the narrative itself is so strong that the formal devices do not stand out. This is, of course, to the film’s advantage because Sen’s modernist approach is never jarring or disturbing. The form neatly dovetails into the content. The absurdity of modern existence has rarely, if ever, been a premier thematic concern for Indian filmmakers. However, Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Mukhamukham (made prior to Anantaram) has the central character gradually drifting into an amorphous world of alcohol and sleep. Comrade Sreedharan, the one time political activist, becomes a shadow of his former self; no longer revered and respected, he is ridiculed in the manner of a common drunk. Somehow, in this film, Gopalakrishnan succeeds in conveying the quasi-existential angst that appears to possess the protagonist whose real self cannot quite match up to the image which has been created by others. A brilliant philosophic text that has few equals in Indian cinematic history.
To be very frank, postmodern elements have hardly, if at all, been perceptible in the Indian cinema. Customs and mores have constantly been changing and the mainstream cinema has reflected some of these changes. But much of what is shown in the commercial cinema is superficial, with clothes and make up and decor being highlighted; the accent, most of the time, being on Western models at the expense of ethnic constructs. And when Indianness is displayed, as in films like Priyadarshan’s Virasat (itself a remake of Thevar Magan), it is a kind of plastic ethnicity that comes to the fore.
Unfortunately, several critics – while trying to uncover postmodern elements in the cinema of today – have, quite frankly, missed the wood for the trees. Devices like narrative disjunction, absurdity, surrealism, and ‘stream of consciousness’ narration belong in the realm of modernism and have little to do with postmodern propensities.
In the opinion of the theorist, Fredric Jameson, postmodernism emerges as a specific reaction against the established forms of high modernism. In fact, postmodern cinema would seek to efface some of the key boundaries or separations between high culture and so called mass or popular culture. This does not mean that ‘middle of the road’ cinema (i.e. the kind of cinema which Basu Chatterjee, Sai Paranjape and some others have become identified with) is essentially postmodern in character. Far from it. A postmodern text may contain elements of popular culture and these elements could be fused with other elements, which can not be called popular, by any stretch of the imagination. In my latest film, Kichhu Sanglap Kichhu Pralap (Dialogue and delirium), song is used as a commentative device throughout; moreover, the singer – a kind of wandering minstrel – is often shown in the most unexpected of places, merging with the backdrop, as it were. The entertainment value of the songs and indeed of the entire musical score does not detract from the essentially serious nature of the text. In fact, the music has an important character, existing almost independently of the narrative line.
In an earlier film, Sunya Theke Suru (Return to Zero), my area of concern was the ideological vacuum that seemed the watchword of the present age. The emergence of a new type of social life and economic order is characterized by new consumption patterns, by an ever faster turnover in the areas of fashion and styling, by planned obsolescence, by the ubiquitous presence of advertising and the media (especially television), by the explosion of suburbia (at the expense of both city and country), by the demands of standardization, by the arrival of automobile culture and so on.
The protagonist of Sunya Theke Suru (Return to Zero), Dr. Bhishmadeb Sharma, is affected by the postwar development of capitalism that has spawned postmodern culture, the formal features of which, ‘in many ways express the deeper logic of that particular social system’. That deeper logic, with its key element of perpetual change, has led ‘to the disappearance of a sense of history’ in the culture, to a pervasive depthlessness, to a ‘perpetual present’.
In postmodern art, the deeper logic surfaces in two basic features: that of pastiche and that of schizophrenic discontinuity. In the age of total eclecticism, pastiche is all that remains of a parody that has lost its ulterior motive of satire. And since it is language that that gives us our experience of temporality, schizophrenic discontinuity can be understood as a language disorder stemming from the subject’s failure to accede fully into the realm of speech and language’. Such a failure, therefore, leads to an absence of the experience of temporal continuity in the patient who is condemned to live in a perpetual, almost discontinuous present: ‘schizophrenic experience is an experience of isolated, disconnected, discontinuous material signifiers that fail to link up into a coherent sequence’.
Dr. Sharma, in Sunya Theke Suru (Return to Zero) is one such patient and his schizophrenic state is symptomatic of the present age. However, in their emancipatory ideals and in their inevitably universal horizon, the new politics of the present age constitute much less of a break with the old paradigm than is often assumed. The old paradigm is not so much completely discarded as it is rethought, refined, and much improved. And in spite of deconstructionist postmodernism’s furious pursuit of radical dissensus, we seem to be moving towards a new consensus. A consensus that Dr. Sharma and his neo-Naxalite comrade are gradually moving towards. ‘A Return to Zero’, perhaps.
Between Silver Urn and a Mirror
"You must recreate reality because reality runs away,
reality denies reality. You must first interpret it,
or recreate it..."
– Georges Franju
The camera narrates. Imagination. Truths... untruth...
Truth – the perspective of power.
Truth – relative to time.
Visible truth. Popular truth.
The power is static. It chooses to remain so. Yet time changes, rendering itself a reason to live.
Truth - contrapuntal. And camera - never neutral.
Neutrality is a concept obsolete in reality. So is time.
The camera - a machine and lot more. Camera is plastic... influenced by reflections of light on an invisible mirror, by its angularity, placement; shapes and forms of glass, all these... Hence its ability to influence. To communicate.
Camera does not create history nor can it revolutionise. What it can is to synthesise the elements of change with the human mind, social relationships, and aspirations.
History, as exploited by man’s consciousness. History, witnessed by human lives. The history of past will unfurl before the uninitiated eyes of posterity. The flowing history of time and space. The camera narrative.
Thus the camera becomes significant. Responsible. And conscious. The travel is through layers. A moment recorded is a moment that transcends the momentary. Every moment becomes important. Even when the motor (of the camera) sleeps the lens is awake. The need is for light from that invisible mirror. And the iris.
The honesty of camera and the dominant social truth are not necessarily equivocal.
The experience of working with films, particularly documentary film has given me this prudence.
"Documentary should not be – it certainly need not be – synonymous with dullness. It should be one of the most exciting and stimulating contemporary forms. After all, the cinema started with it..." – Lindsay Anderson.
Whether cinema started with documentaries is not the debate. Moving images with the accompaniment of words and music is an ancient affair. Only it is better to say that the seminal film was an effort to project moving photographic images on screen.
"My work has been directed towards scientific research. I have never engaged in what is termed ‘production’." – Louis Lumiere.
The exploitation and exposition of this incredible invention on commercial and aesthetic planes is the history of this century. The history we all know and live in.
Documentary is a much-used term which can stand for a type in variety. Any art-form is ultimately reduced to some norms and codes. The norms of acceptance and acceptable norms. Grammar. The grammar which later chokes the artist. This is not an observation but a practice. Gradually the word loses its meaning. The gap widens. The idiom dissociates from the speech pattern, it dies. Alienation sets in. Documentary is alienated from the audience. Thereby it assures many. Relieving the ones who did not need it.
The mirror is lost. Instead we have a glass which reflects nothing. Reality in transparency.
The dominant tradition in documentary film making and exhibition in India was set by the Films Division in the post-independence era. Preceding any film show in commercial theatres, news reels and other Films Division products were customarily ‘presented’ before the unwilling and unprepared audience. The law ensured that the screenings were executed and the law was executed with no exception. It was compulsory to see the smile of poor people on screen and the success of programmes to eradicate poverty, on national development, Five Years Plans, Honourable Ministers’ visit and speech, agricultural and industrial progress and progress and progress and success and success and smiles and production of hydel power and forceful teeth of tractors ripping the earth apart, promises and hopes and statistics – all delivered in a monotone. The voice was unaffected and sombre even though the inflation hit the common people badly, corruption became rampant in all spheres of life, the traders and politicians behaved in unison. The falsity of images was imposed as images of reality. The common people started doubting the synthetic and authoritative presentation of images, they got irritated, noisily walked out, smoking and urinating in discomfort, disbelieving in everything what was offered to them free! Equanimity led to scepticism. By a decree of court the comedy ended at long last. Some relief. Now the cinema with entertainment. And only entertainment and no documentaries, please!
But those were no documentaries!
Yet the common audience understood (or made to understand) them to be documentaries. The word documentary denuded of its meaning, potential, and credibility to reach a large number of Indian film viewers. It was rejected without a scope of renewal or review. But those were not documentaries at all!
However, still we must carry the burden, as unwarranted weight of expensive waste bin products, record of misused power and misdemeanour, reflections of a bureaucratic arrogance, vanity and non-comprehension. Who then is responsible for such a wastage? Who made those millions of feet of valuable celluloid strips into a mirage to meet no end? Why were so many viewers cheated?
The Yamaraj told him, ‘don’t you ask for self knowledge on supreme knowledge. Ask for the other. These Apsaras, they are desired even by gods. Those dances and songs, if you wish all will be yours. Nachiketa was a fool...
Part of Haraprasad’s dialogue in Subarnarekha by Ritwik Ghatak.
Observation. Not to show, but to see. To perceive before inculcating. To express oneself. Not to hide or pretend. To translate feelings in cinema. To analyse. To identify with the nature, position and movements of the lens. To develop a style the ability to transcend the limitations imposed by the subject. Not to influence the varied layers of phenomena and not to simplify. Thus begins a conversation. A dialogue. A process. A documentary. Once Satyajit Ray said that films which do not talk about people, they do not talk about anything. If we could begin there, at the bottom of Ghatak’s agonies, near the very point of almost self- immolation – if we really could, perhaps our films stood a chance of being born there. Documentary. No specialised style, or methods of application for that matter, but an attitude. Those makers reached there. Not by inventing some formula but by conviction. Deeply felt convictions that they lived through. Through attempts of identifying with the multiplicity of shades of life. Thus such works became an identity or an expression of society, culture and labyrinths of human experience, however, complex. Documents. Documentary.
"There is no such thing as documentary – whether the term designates a category of material, a genre, an approach or a set of techniques. This assertion –- as old and as fundamental as the antagonism between names and reality – needs incessantly to be restated despite the very visible existence of a documentary tradition."
– Trinh T. Minh – ha.
Because it has no formula, the fiction film can reach the common people so easily. The common belief states that the world of fiction film works on formulae. Which means a set of calculations based on assumptions, a set of pre-sets, logic. But in the market a film is either a ‘hit’ or not. logic ? Formula ?
The expression of experiences of social life are essentially individual perceptions, for each one in a row of audience this operates at levels of non-identical cultural complexes. Part of this experience is unknown, hence imaginary. Censored (by the camera with a power to select and empowered to ubiquity) and illusory. All these together reconstitute the reality. Once and again. But neither as a reflection of reality nor in the self assigned role of being an instrument to shape it. Rather as magnetic paths of light, from the invisible mirror, incessantly designing an ever-changing mosaic of attractions.
This light, however, shimmers equally on all genres of film making. But when assigned to make a documentary film some filmmakers refuse to accept this natural illumination. He decides upon a few techniques with pre-determination. He fixes his gaze at the vanishing point as the ultimate. Straight lines are drawn to etch out a perspective. For him the maximum permissible area, between an argument and its counterpart to the viewer is decidedly a mere frame-line. The dragnet is set with the camera blindfolded. Cinema and its viewers await for light to end a frozen discourses of linear thoughts.
Thus the reality loses its chance of being resurrected to transcendence. We are gifted with innumerable precious urns filled with celluloid-ash. To carry the weight. And the creators safely prepare for the next comedy to be enacted. In charges of cheating the viewers with ignorance and hypocrisy, in charges of not learning from the medium they work in, such filmmakers are guilty in disguise.
"Thousands of bunglers have made the word (documentary) come to mean a deadly, routine form of filmmaking, the kind an alienated consumer society might appear to deserve – the art of talking a great deal during a film, with a commentary imposed from the outside, in order to say nothing, and to show nothing." Louis Marcorelles.
Many times while working I felt that we are not prepared enough to meet the viewers even though they were in earnest. The government institutions were much entrusted to nurture this expensive medium. Films Division took a leading role in documentary film production in the post-independence years. New horizons started opening up. Freedom in choosing the subject and treatment was welcome. Certainly that was the golden era of government aided documentary filmmaking. A few non-government organisations started their film units in parallel too. Talented film makers were called in, product selling was not the motto. Such events are frozen in the polarities of history today.
Later the newsreel productions and factuals became documents of unkept promises and state propaganda (!) which have been already mentioned here.
The business houses are now endowed with a new playing box, rather a display box which for them was an easy bargain. Television. Doordarsan. Those who have it at home need not be told of its great qualities.
The only signs (or science!) of life today is buying and selling. The celebration of nonsense and senseless manoeuvres have become absolutely legitimised. We all bear witness to this perversion. Responsibility is ours. Daily newspapers and magazines have also submitted to the pressure. To a large extent the film society movement has succumbed to this degradation too.
The film makers who came forward supporting the movement for better cinema have gradually confined themselves inside a castle of securities. Now the regular outputs are objects of art, a concern for festival directors and critics (whose capabilities are also questionable). Distributors today supply only market-worthy films to the cinema halls. To the common people the other cinema is born and disappears in a distant mythical zone of abstruse artistry.
Art film – a strange term! Glass wall again. For the present generation the video-camera is the passport to Doordarshan for daily soaps and serials. This is the context. This is where we stand. Now.
The cinema has lost its age of innocence. The lines which are apparent are enigmatic indeed. Stuck are the fingers that hold this pen because we know the consequences. We are aware of our responsibilities and convictions. Uncertainty, alienation..... these are words too tiring at times. But the swooning lust for visuals has blurred the vision. In the idiot box. And series of eyes. The invisible mirror is not broken though. What stands in the way of good documentaries is that silver urn. The enemy lies within. Let the light reflect.
Helpful bibliography :
Bignapan Parba – Ritwik Ghatak issue,
Non-fiction Film Theory and Criticism – Ed. Richard Meran Barsam, 1976.
100 Years if cinema – ed. Prabodh Maitra, Nandan- 1995.
Theorising Documentary – Edit. Michael Renov. Pub. AFI Film readers 1993.
History of Cinema, Eric Rhode,
While studying geology at the Presidency College, Calcutta Sourav was attracted to cinema. Later he studied and specialised in film editing at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune.
Apart from editing important documentaries and various programmes he has been consistently making documentaries and shorts which deserve special mention. Sourav picks up the subjects from the peripherals and treats them with a deep introspection. In all his works a natural lyricism has added to his style.
Sourav’s latest film ‘Thirst of God’ produced by Film maker’s Consortium was highly acclaimed in Mumbai documentary Film Festival 1998. His film Tusukatha or ‘The Tale of Tusu’ about the life and culture of Manbhum has generated more expectations from him as a film maker of the new generation. This year Tusukatha was shown in several film festivals in Europe including Visions du Réel, Nyon and IDFF, München. It is also an invited entry to the Bogota Film Festival in Colombia. Apart from film making and editing Sourav Sarangi also holds workshops with interested study groups.
About the still: A still from Tusukatha (16mm/color/60mins) an observational film on the traditional way of life in the border districts of Bengal and Bihar. The film takes us into a journey through the cycle of seasons into obscure remote villages and the festivals of Tusk. This picture was taken on 15.01.91. Where a group of women approach the river ( not in picture) while singing Tusk songs and holding chorol (a palanquin of Tusk). Location: Subarnarekha river at Satighat, Purulia.
Postmodernism – An Enemy of Marxism?
Dr. Pradip Basu
In response to the current Marxist criticism against postmodernism that it is an enemy of Marxism, the present study seeks to undertake a closer observation of the matter in order to arrive at a less orthodox appraisal. The paper briefly probes into the positions taken towards Marxism by leading postmodern thinkers like Foucault and Derrida. This is for our investigation whether the postmodern and post-structuralist thinkers have truly set out to destroy Marxism, have chosen to act as the intellectual agents of imperialism and have engaged themselves in the pursuit of the subversion of socialism, or not.
Alex Callinicos, the distinguished Marxist scholar has already written a book, Against Postmodernism, in order to show that postmodernism is basically anti-Marxist. He is no doubt a powerful writer and his work has left an unmistakable impact on the Marxists throughout the world. Western philosophers like Habermas and Jameson have also presented, though with a milder overtone, philosophical criticisms of postmodernism. It has been further subjected to severe theoretical onslaught by the Marxist thinker Aizaz Ahmad in his book In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures. It has often been argued that postmodernism and post-structuralism constitute simply an intellectual weapon of imperialism that decisively seeks to uproot socialism and weaken class-struggle. It is nothing but a highly sophisticated theoretical tool for legitimising the capitalist order and for creating confusion among the ranks of the international communist movement. Postmodernism has been described as ‘the logic of late capitalism’, ‘the disguised enemy of Marxism’, ‘intellectually marked nihilism’, ‘a bourgeois ideology in its finest sophistication’, etc. In India, the Marxist parties like the CPI and the CPI(M) have lashed out at postmodernism with equal vigour. In the Bengali theatre organ, Gananatya, conducted by the CPI(M), Sudip Sarkar has written an article on postmodernism in which he said that the principal feature of postmodernism is to refute especially the Marxist viewpoint. Ratan Khasnobis, a noted Naxalite intellectual, says in his essay on postmodernism and Marxism published in Aneek that postmodernism is a nihilist ideology which is entirely opposed to socialism and which is a master discourse of modern capitalism. The real fight of postmodernism, he believes, is against Marxism.
From above, it is evident that the traditional, established, conventional, official and institutionalised Marxism considers postmodernism as an enemy root and branch. It fails to see any common area of resistance and protest against injustice and oppression which can be shared with postmodernism. And this view is exactly what the present study holds to be orthodox, dogmatic and biased. The present study contends that a dialectical approach which is becoming of a Marxist should get rid of this orthodoxy and seek to make a more balanced, critical and open-minded assessment. Thus, in his ‘Correspondence’ in Monthly Review of March 1996, the radical writer Roger Burbach has maintained that "it is important to discuss some issues that Marxists should take seriously before engaging in an all out assault on postmodernism. In particular, the postmodernist critique of the Enlightenment merits careful consideration." According to Burbach the thinking of Marx, Engels and most subsequent Marxist theorists and strategists is strongly imbued with the idea of progress, and an idealist conception of the perfectibility of humanity. The fountainhead of the Marxist project, the Communist Manifesto, with its argument for clear, concise stages of history culminating in a communist society in the not-too-distant future is, he held, strongly influenced by the mechanistic world view of eighteenth century philosophers. Much of what has gone wrong with Marxism in the twentieth century harks back to its flawed philosophic roots in the Enlightenment. According to many, historical materialism is based on the premise of the virtues of limitless progress in human domination of nature and the inexhaustibility of productive resources. Burbach believes that when Stalin decreed the great turn towards full state ownership of the means of production and central planning in the USSR in 1929, he actually abandoned the democratic agenda of Marxism and rushed the USSR headlong on the road to industrialisation, progress and modernisation, regardless of the human or the environmental costs. But at the same time, Burbach has rightly pointed out, "Of course this vulgar application of Marxism does not render the Marxist tradition of analysis invalid". As Paul Sweezy and Harry Magdoff held in their editorial notes introducing the special issue of Monthly Review on Marxism and postmodernity, historical materialism is "the firm foundation on which all that is best in social sciences has been and continues to be based." Burbach opines that many of the articles in the above-mentioned issue point out that Marxism as a tool of analysis remains as useful today as in decades past. He further opines that "The crisis of contemporary Marxism is not to be found in its analytical capabilities precisely because it is a dialectical, open system of analysis that even allows us to dispute and discard many of the positions taken by Marx and Engels". Violence and suffering have become widespread and "It is this violence and growing suffering that drives me and others to search for a new world view, one that derives some insights from postmodernist thought", says Burbach. But at the same time he makes it clear that he is not arguing that we should accept the relativist school of postmodernism which holds that there are no historical truths, nor as some postmodernists assert, that any broad movements for social and revolutionary change inevitably lead to new forms of repression. Neither does he believe that postmodernism will have anything like the intellectual staying power of Marxism. But today it is raising questions that we need to consider and incorporate into any analysis of what is wrong with the world. What he finds particularly useful in postmodernism at this ideological juncture is its view that there are no absolute laws of history as well as its contention that modernism and the faith in progress that began in the age of Enlightenment are at the root of the disasters that have wracked humanity throughout this century. It is, according to Burbach, also important to recognize that modernism is the antagonist of postmodernism, and the fact that modernity is inextricably linked to capitalism and globalisation provides an opening that Marxists should be able to breach. When modernity is challenged, one is in effect "deconstructing" the world that capitalism has created over the past five centuries. Burbach cites a quotation from Daniel Singer that "history, far from coming to a stop is quickening pace. But the left is bewildered. Its project has to be reinvented." Burbach then maintains that at present the left does not even have a new, compelling label or concept to describe the project it is trying to reinvent. Whatever the label, it will have to be developed through practice rather than by proclaiming it as our banner from the start. "Until then we will need to be postmodernists in the sense that we discuss the particularities of the new project, using specific, activating concepts such as participatory democracy, human rights, environmentalism, feminism, economic democracy, sexual liberation, social justice, ethnic rights, local power, and worker’s power." Burbach uses the term "postmodern socialisms" to conceptualize what we may be about –- "socialisms" because of the tremendous political, cultural, and economic diversity of the societies that we have to work with. There may be no singular model or path that emerges. A great deal of flexibility and experimentation will be needed as we search for new options in the wake of the collapse of communism. Unless we find a way to create a new historic project that includes the masses of humanity, we, and not the capitalists, will be relegated to the dustbin of history, Burbach believes.
Burbach’s belief is not at all crazy. Some Marxists have already put forward the idea of taking help from postmodernism to enrich and rejuvenate Marxism. After the events of May 1968, a large number of French intellectuals and thinkers maintained that there has taken place a ‘crisis of Marxism.’ The crisis seemed to be much more a crisis of Marxism than a crisis in Marxism. It appeared that it could hardly be solved simply by restoring or revising traditional Marxist concepts. Attempts were also made to rescue Marxism by incorporating ideas from existentialism, structuralism, psychoanalysis and theories of language. Poulantzas was one among those intellectuals who undertook studies on Foucault’s works for that purpose. Bob Jessop, in his book State Theory commented that Poulantzas distinguished between Foucault as an epistemologist and general theorist and Foucault as someone who investigated specific techniques of power and aspects of the state. It is the latter Foucault whom Poulantzas found useful. Not only that. Mark Poster, in his book Foucault, Marxism and History mentioned similar ventures. According to him, since the appearance of Discipline and Punish Marxist historians of the prison have wrestled with the challenge Foucault’s book presents to their theoretical assumptions. At least in two important cases, Michael Ignatieff’s A Just Measure of Pain (1978) and Patricia O’Brien’s The Promise of Punishment (1982), the test has been met in most satisfactory ways. Both Ignatieff and O’ Brien acknowledge the value of Discipline and Punish and manage to integrate its advances into more traditionally Marxist approaches. A detotalized Marxist historiography may thus be compatible with Foucault’s interpretative strategy. In India some of the distinguished Marxist thinkers who happily borrowed ideas from postmodernism are Partha Chatterjee, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Ranajit Guha, Goutam Bhadra, Ajit Chaudhury et al. The Subaltern Studies volumes are a meaningful product of this endeavour. Ajit Chaudhury and others have sought to make a blend of Derridean deconstruction and Marxism. Their Marxist Study Group included Pranab Basu, Anjan Chakrabarty, Arup Mallik, Ishita Mukherjee, Kalyan Sanyal and Ajit Chaudhury. In Re(an)nouncing Marxism : Marx After Derrida, they write : "We announce here the project of a third world(-ly) reading of capital : a (re)search that liberates a discursive space outside the gaze of capital in a postmodern discursive field.... On the terrain of philosophy our allies are Hegel, Althusser and Derrida. Which, of course, presupposes/entails that (i) Althusser is not much of a break from Hegel and (ii) a dialogue between Althusser and Derrida is desirable and possible. We might note in passing that these apparently contentious propositions now have their spokespersons in the current postmodern discourse (Zizek S., The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989); Zizek S., Tarrying With The Negative (1993); Wolff R., ‘Althusser and Hegel : Making Marxist Explanations Antiessentialist and Althusserian Tradition’ in Callari A. and Ruccio D. (ed.), Postmodern Materialism and the Future of Marxist Theory : Essays in the Althusserian Tradition (1996) and our unique project of re-reading and re-writing capital would reaffirm this.
x... In this itinerary, our principal (strongest) alliance is with Derrida, particularly his ideas of deconstruction and spectrality.... Our project then is a deconstruction of political economy. On the plane of political economy, our solidarity is with a group of Marxist intellectuals associated with the journal Rethinking Marxism." Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak, the noted expert in literature and aesthetics, also endeavours to bring about a philosophical reconciliation between Marxism on the one hand and Derridean thought and Feminism on the other.
This is interesting to note that even Terry Eagleton, the noted Marxist literary critic, who made relentless attack on postmodernism, at the same time acknowledged certain positive aspects of it. Eagleton in his well-known essay, ‘Where Do Postmodernists Come From?’ published in Monthly Review (July-August, 1995) says: "Postmodernist culture has produced a rich, bold, exhilarating body of work across the whole span of the arts,... It has pulled the rug out from beneath a number of complacent certainties, prised open some paranoid totalities, tainted some jealously guarded purities, bent some oppressive norms, and shaken some rather solid-looking foundations..... It has released the power of the local, the vernacular, the regional,... All of this, however, belongs to a dialectical assessment of postmodernism."
In fact, the events of May, 1968 signified that an oppositional position towards the existing order was possible beyond the boundaries of traditional Marxism. In this period new groups and forces took part in the protest movement, which were not traditionally associated with the proletariat. They chalked out a set of demands in their wall posters that constituted a post-Marxist critique of society. For most leftist intellectuals and thinkers, May 1968 constituted a break in the traditions of revolution. The women’s movement, the struggle for prison reforms, the ecology and antinuclear agitations, the gay liberation movements, various regionalist movements and the anti-psychiatry movement all emerged in the early 1970s as responses to the events of May 1968. Traditional or Official Marxism was rather inadequate in accounting for the new aspirations. Foucault and others like Deleuze, Guattari, Lefort, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Lefebvre now sought to revise their thought. In the words of Foucault, "The first thing that happened after ‘68 was that Marxism as a dogmatic framework declined and new political, new cultural interests concerning personal life appeared." The events of May 1968 created, according to Foucault, "a consciousness of Marxism’s" powerlessness... to confront a whole series of questions that were not traditionally a part of its statutory domain (questions about women, about relations between sexes, about medicine, about mental illness, about the environment, about minorities, about delinquency)." With the student demonstrations and general strike that failed to coalesce into a revolutionary force, a criticism of Marxism began to crop up. It questioned the pertinence of historical materialism. The failure of the proletariat, the revolutionary vanguard, to stand by the ride of the student uprisings of 1968 and the series of expedient political compromises by the French Communist Party with de Gaulle raised questions about Marxism. The Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, the increased Stalinization of the French Communist Party which pursued a more nationalistic line on the Algerian question etc. worsened the situation. Foucault, Deleuze, Morin, Glucksmann et al saw the Gulag, the system of Soviet prisons and places of exiles, and the repression of the Solidarity trade union movement in Poland, as excesses of Marxism. Yet Foucault never denied the unquestionable influence of Marxism on the elaboration of his thought.
Gerald Raulet conducted an interview with Foucault some time before his death and published it as ‘Structuralism and Post-Structuralism: An Interview with Michel Foucault’ in Telos (Spring, 1983). In this interview Foucault made certain important observations on Marxism which stand as a clear evidence that Foucault cannot be called an ‘enemy of Marxism’. Raulet asked him, "... is Marxism not finished then? In the sense you use in The Archaeology of Knowledge that a ‘non-falsified Marxism would help us to formulate a general theory of discontinuity, series, limits, unities, specific orders, autonomies and differentiated dependencies’." Foucault replied, "... It is clear, even if one admits that Marx will disappear for now, that he will reappear one day. What I desire –- and it is here that my formulation has changed in relation to the one you cited –- is not so much the defalsification and restitution of a true Marx, but the unburdening and liberation of Marx in relation to party dogma, which has constrained it, touted it and brandished it for so long." Raulet further asked, "But does this reference in The Archaeology of Knowledge mean that, in a certain way, Marx is at work in your own methodology?" Foucault replied, "Yes, absolutely. You see, given the period in which I wrote those books, it was good form (in order to be viewed favourably by the institutional left) to cite Marx in the footnotes. So I was careful to steer clear of that."
While discussing the views of Foucault and Althusser, Mark Poster in his book, Foucault, Marxism and History, held that Foucault, rejecting the category of totality in general and the Marxist version of it in particular, refuses to limit himself to an analysis of the working class. The category discourse/ practice is thus not inserted into a totalized theory but floats like a hawk over the social historical process, ready to swoop down upon any topic that seems appropriate. The theoretical choice offered by these two theorists is dramatic and urgent. Poster said, "In my view Foucault’s position in the present context is more valuable as an interpretative strategy and ultimately, although this may strike a discordant note, more Marxist." Poster further explained his contention thus: if by Marxism one means not the specific theory of the mode of production or the critique of political economy, and not even the supposed dialectical method, but instead a critical view of domination which as historical materialism takes all social practices as transitory and all intellectual formations as indissociably connected with power and social relations –– then Foucault’s position opens up critical theory more than Althusser’s both to the changing social formation and to the social locations where contestation actually occurs.
After going through all this, can one still really believe that Foucault set out to destroy Marxism root and branch? If one can, let us then look into what Foucault himself said in Power/ Knowledge to his interviewer J. J. Brochier :
" I often quote concepts, texts and phrases from Marx, but without feeling obliged to add the authenticating label of a footnote with a laudatory phrase to accompany the quotation. As long as one does that, one is regarded as someone who knows and reveres Marx, and will be suitably honoured in the so-called Marxist journals. But I quote Marx without saying so, without quotation marks, and because people are incapable of recognising Marx’s texts I am thought to be someone who doesn’t quote Marx. When a physicist writes a work of physics, does he feel it necessary to quote Newton and Einstein? He uses them, but he doesn’t need the quotation marks, the footnote and the eulogistic comment to prove how completely he is being faithful to the master’s thought. And because other physicists know what Einstein did, what he discovered and proved,they can recognise him in what the physicist writes. It is impossible at the present time to write history without using a whole range of concepts directly or indirectly linked to Marx’s thought and situating oneself within a horizon of thought which has been defined and described by Marx. One might even wonder what difference there could ultimately be between being a historian and being a Marxist."
Not only Foucault. Another distinguished postmodern thinker Derrida also made several significant remarks about Marxism which clearly demonstrate that he can by no means be considered as an ideological enemy of Marxism and an intellectual agent of imperialism or capitalism. In 1980 when he visited Edinburgh he was interviewed in English by James Kearns and Ken Newton who were then lecturers in French and English respectively at Dundee University. This interview was published in the Literary Review, no.14 (April /May 1980 ). Derrida was asked whether he would not consider himself an anti-historicist. Derrida replied, "Not at all. I think that one cannot read without trying to reconstruct the historical context but history is not the last word, the final key, of reading. Without being anti-historicist, I am suspicious of the traditional concepts of history, the hegelian and the marxist concepts." In his book Positions, published in 1972, Derrida expressed the view that a meeting between his own critique of Western metaphysics and the texts of Marxism was necessary and that his own reflection on this problem was still to come. So, now in this interview, he was asked whether since Positions the meeting had come closer in his view. Derrida’s reply was indeed quite interesting and insightful. I quote him here at length :
"I have not written anything on this subject. Marxism, of course, is not an entity. There is not one marxism, there is not one marxist practice, so to answer your question I should first have to differentiate many sorts of marxist theory and practice and that would be a very long process. But I would reaffirm that there is some possible articulation between an open marxism and what I am interested in. I insist upon the open marxism. As you probably know, the situation has changed completely in France since Positions. At that time, as marxism was the dominant ideology among French intellectuals I was anxious to mark the distance between marxism and what I was interested in so as to maintain the specificity of my own work. In the space of four or five years, however, marxism has ceased to be the dominant ideology. I don’t want to exaggerate but I would say that marxists are now almost ashamed to call themselves marxists. Though I am not and have never been an orthodox marxist, I am very disturbed by the anti-marxism dominant now in France so that, as a reaction, through political reflection and personal preference, I am inclined to consider myself more marxist than I would have done at a time when Marxism was a sort of fortress."
James Kearns asked him, "Could you define the term ‘open Marxism’?" Derrida replied :
"It is a tautology. Marxism presents itself, has presented itself from the beginning with Marx, as an open theory which was continually to transform itself and not become fixed in dogma, in stereotypes. It is also true that it is a theory which, for political reasons which require to be analysed, has had a greater tendency than other theories to scholasticism, to refuse transformations which were taking place in the sciences, in psychoanalysis at a particular period, in a certain type of linguistics. This seemed to me an anti-marxist gesture on the part of those who called themselves marxists. Opening up has been a very slow, uneven, irregular process and this seemed to me unfaithful to the premises of marxism. So an open marxism is one which, without giving way, obviously, to empiricism, pragmatism, relativism, nevertheless does not allow theoretical restrictions to be imposed upon it by a particular political situation, by a particular political power, as has sometimes been the case in the Soviet Union, and in France too. It is one which does not refuse a priori developments of problematics which it does not believe to have itself engendered, which appear to have come from outside. I believe that it is possible, on account of laws which marxism itself should be able to analyze, for problematics to develop outside marxist theory, outside societies dominated by this theory."
What should draw our special attention in this conference which was organised and managed by the Centre for the Ideas and Society at the University of California, Riverside and which began on April 22, 1993 with Derrida’s plenary address and ended on April 24, 1993. His plenary address was delivered in two parts, in the evenings of April 22 and 23. That lecture, ‘Specters of Marx : The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International’ became the basis of the book which bears the same name. The book is a longer version, augmented and clarified and was originally published in French in 1993 as Spectres de Marx. The English translation came out in 1994. The editors of this book, Bernd Magnus and Stephen Cullenberg, said in the ‘editors’ introduction’, that it would be inappropriate, indeed, impossible, to convey in summary the many specters that haunt the texts of Marx, and, through him, of Derrida. Here they would merely wish to note that in this text Derrida takes his position for a certain spirit of Marxism, that "deconstruction", if there is such a thing, always already moves within a certain spirit of Marx. It should also be noted that,for Derrida, in speaking of a certain spirit of Marx "it is not in the first place in order to propose a scholarly, philosophical discourse. It is first of all so as not to flee from a responsibility. More precisely, it is in order to submit for your discussion several hypotheses on the nature of such a responsibility. What is ours ? In what way is it historical ? And what does it have do with so many specters?" (Derrida).
Derrida dedicated his book, Specters of Marx to Chris Hani, the communist leader of South Africa who was killed a few days before Derrida delivered his lecture. In the part, ‘Dedication’ of this book, Derrida wrote, "... I recall that it is a communist as such, a communist as communist, whom a Polish emigrant and his accomplices, all the assassins of Chris Hani, put to death a few days ago, April 10th. The assassins themselves proclaimed that they were out to get a communist. They were trying to interrupt negotiations and sabotage an ongoing democratization. This popular hero of the resistance against Apartheid became dangerous and suddenly intolerable, it seems, at the moment in which, having decided to devote himself once again to a minority Communist Party riddled with contradictions, he gave up important responsibilities in the A N C and perhaps any official political or even governmental role he might one day have held in a country freed of Apartheid. Allow me to salute the memory of Chris Hani and to dedicate this lecture to him."
Derrida raises his voice against all sorts of injustice. He says: "No justice –- let us not say no law and once again we are not speaking here of laws –- seems possible or thinkable without the principle of some responsibility, beyond all living present, within that which disjoins the living present, before the ghosts of those who are not yet born or who are already dead, be they victims of wars, political or other kinds of violence, nationalist, racist, colonialist, sexist, or other kinds of exterminations, victims of the oppressions of capitalist imperialism or any of the forms of totalitarianism." Thus, Derrida has spared neither capitalist imperialism nor totalitarianism and repudiated both capitalist imperialism and the authoritarian kind of socialism. How can Derrida be called then an arch enemy of socialism and an agent of capitalism or imperialism?
Derrida writes, "Upon rereading the Manifesto and a few other great works of Marx, I said to myself that I know of few texts in the philosophical tradition, perhaps none, whose lesson seemed more urgent today, provided that one takes into account what Marx and Engels themselves say (for example, in Engels’ "Preface" to the 1888 re-edition) about their own possible "ageing" and their intrinsically irreducible historicity. What other thinker has ever issued a similar warning in such an explicit fashion ? Who has ever called for the transformation to come of his own theses? Not only in view if some progressive enrichment of knowledge, which would change nothing in the order of a system, but so as to take into account there, another account, the effects of rupture and restructuration? And so as to incorporate in advance, beyond any possible programming, the unpredictability of new knowledge, new techniques, and new political givens? No text in the tradition seems as lucid concerning the way in which the political is becoming worldwide, concerning the irreducibility of the technical and the media in the current of the most thinking thought – and this goes beyond the railroad and the newspapers of the time whose powers were analysed in such an incomparable way in the Manifesto. And few texts have shed so much light on law, international law, and nationalism.
"It will always be a fault not to read and re-read and discuss Marx – which is to say also a few others – and to go beyond scholarly "reading" or "discussion". It will be more and more a fault, a failing of theoretical, philosophical, political responsibility. When the dogma machine and the "Marxist" ideological apparatuses (states, parties, cells, unions, and other places of doctrinal production) are in the process of disappearing, we no longer have any excuse, only alibis, for turning away from this responsibility. There will be no future without this. Not without Marx, no future without Marx, without the memory and the inheritance of Marx : in any case of a certain Marx, of his genius, of at least one of his spirits. For this will be our hypothesis or rather our bias : there is more than one of them, there must be more than one of them.
"Nevertheless, among all the temptations I will have to resist today, there would be the temptation of memory : to recount what was for me, and for those of my generation who shared it during a whole lifetime, the experience of Marxism, the quasi-paternal figure of Marx, the way it fought in us with other filiations, the reading of texts and the interpretation of a world in which the Marxist inheritance was – and still remains, and so it will remain – absolutely and thoroughly determinate. One need not be a Marxist or a communist in order to accept this obvious fact. We all live in a world, some would say a culture, that still bears, at an incalculable depth, the mark of this inheritance, whether in a directly visible fashion or not."
Derrida also condemned the current academic efforts to study Marx merely as another philosopher by dissociating his work from its revolutionary aspects. Derrida said,
"What risks happening is that one will try to play Marx off against Marxism so as to neutralize, or at any rate muffle the political imperative in the untroubled exegesis of a classified work. One can sense a coming fashion or stylishness in this regard in the culture and more precisely in the university. And what is there to worry about here? Why fear what may also become a cushioning operation? This recent stereotype would be destined, whether one wishes it or not, to depoliticise profoundly the Marxist reference, to do its best, by putting on a tolerant face, to neutralize a potential force, first of all by enervating a corpus, by silencing in it the revolt [the return is acceptable provided that the revolt, which initially inspired uprising, indignation, insurrection, revolutionary momentum, does not come back]. People would be ready to accept the return of Marx or the return to Marx, on the condition that a silence is maintained about Marx’s injunction not just to decipher but to act and to make the deciphering [the interpretation] into a transformation that "changes the world." In the name of an old concept of reading, such an ongoing neutralization would attempt to conjure away a danger: now that Marx is dead, and especially now that Marxism seems to be in rapid decomposition, some people seem to say, we are going to be able to concern ourselves with Marx without being bothered – by the Marxists and, why not by Marx himself, that is, by a ghost that goes on speaking. We’ll treat him calmly, objectively, without bias: according to the academic rules, in the University, in the library, in colloquia! We’ll do it systematically, by respecting the norms of hermeneutical, philological, philosophical exegesis. If one listens closely, one already hears whispered: "Marx, you see, was despite everything a philosopher like any other; what is more [and one can say this now that so many Marxists have fallen silent], he was a great-philosopher who deserves to figure on the list of those works we assign for study and from which he has been banned for too long. He doesn’t belong to the communists, to the Marxists, to the parties, he ought to figure within our great canon of Western political philosophy. Return to Marx, let’s finally read him as a great philosopher". We have heard this and we will hear it again."
But Derrida chooses to give priority to the political gesture and takes position: "It is something altogether other that I wish to attempt here as I turn or return to Marx. It is "something other" to the point that I will have occasion instead, and this will not be only for lack of time and space, to insist even more on what commands us today, without delay, to do everything we can so as to avoid the neutralizing anesthesia of a new theoreticism, and to prevent a philosophico-philological return to Marx from prevailing. Let us spell things out, let us insist: to do everything we can so that it does not prevail, but not to avoid its taking place, because it remains just as necessary. This will cause me, for the moment, to give priority to the political gesture I am making here, at the opening of a colloquium, and to leave more or less, in the state of a program, and of schematic indications the work of philosophical exegesis, and all the "scholarship" that this "position-taking", today, still requires)."
When Derrida proposes "the New International" in his book, Specters of Marx, he says, "But without necessarily subscribing to the whole Marxist discourse (which, moreover, is complex, evolving, heterogeneous) on the State and its appropriation by a dominant class, on the distinction between State power and State apparatus, on the end of the political, on "the end of politics", or on the withering away of the State, and, on the other hand, without suspecting the juridical idea in itself, one may still find inspiration in the Marxist "spirit" to criticize the presumed autonomy of the juridical and to denounce endlessly the de facto take-over of international authorities by powerful Nation-States, by concentrations of techno-scientific capital, symbolic capital, and financial capital, of State capital and private capital. .....the recourse to a certain spirit of the Marxist critique remains urgent and will have to remain indefinitely necessary in order to denounce and reduce the gap as much as possible, in order to adjust "reality" to the "ideal" in the course of a necessarily infinite process. This Marxist critique can still be fruitful if one knows how to adapt it to new conditions, whether it is a matter of new modes of production, of the appropriation of economic and techno-scientific powers and knowledge, of juridical formality in the discourse and the practices of national or international law, of new problems of citizenship and nationality, and so forth...... fidelity to the inheritance of a certain Marxist spirit would remain a duty...... To continue to take inspiration from a certain spirit of Marxism would be to keep faith with what has always made of Marxism in principle and fist of all a radical critique, namely a procedure ready to undertake its self-critique. This critique wants itself to be in principle and explicitly open to its own transformation, re-evaluation, self-reinterpretation..... Now, if there is a spirit of Marxism which I will never be ready to renounce, it is not only the critical idea or the questioning stance ( a consistent deconstruction must insist on them even as it also learns that this is not the last or first word). It is even more a certain emancipatory and messianic affirmation, a certain experience of the promise that one can try to liberate from any dogmatics and even from any metaphysico-religious determination, from any messianism..... Now, this gesture of fidelity to a certain spirit of Marxism is a responsibility incumbent in principle, to be sure, on anyone.... The responsibility, once again, would here be that of an heir. Whether they wish it or know it or not, all men and women, all over the earth, are today to a certain extent heirs of Marx and Marxism...... deconstruction would have been impossible and unthinkable in a pre-Marxist space. Deconstruction has never had any sense or interest, in my view at least, except as a radicalization, which is to say also in the tradition of a certain Marxism, in a certain spirit of Marxism."
This is evident from above that Derrida launched a critique of Marxism from his deconstructionist standpoint and critique is by no means a total rejection. This will be sheer oversimplification to equate being a critic with being an enemy. Postmodern and post-structuralist thinkers, at least the most distinguished among them such as Foucault and Derrida, have certainly set out to make serious critique of Marxism and there is no doubt in the fact that they are not Marxists in the traditional sense of the term. They strongly condemn authoritarian tendencies of Marxism, the repressive roles played by the various ruling Communist Parties, the homogenizing domination prevalent in many really existing socialist systems, the economic determinism of an established kind of Marxism, the undue emphasis attached with the criterion of class and the dogmatic glorification of the historic, emancipatory role of the proletariat, the inhuman regimentation under party bureaucracy, the audacious claim to be the only proprietor of truth, etc. But this will be too much to brand them as arch enemies of Marxism and the clever agents of capitalism and imperialism. Marxism would do better if it does not get dogmatic and orthodox, and rather keeps open and critical instead, for the latter constitutes the most revolutionary aspect of Marxism. It is quite likely that Marxism should be able to make a dialectical critique of postmodernism, reject its reactionary elements, preserve and develop its progressive aspects, and thus itself become more democratic, more pluralistic, more open, less authoritarian, less orthodox and less deterministic.
1. Ratan Khasnobis, ‘Marxvad O Uttar Adhunikatabad’, in Aneek, 33, 8 (February, 1997). Bengali.
2. Terry Eagleton, ‘Where Do Postmodernists Come From?, in Monthly Review, 47, 3 (July - August, 1995).
3. Roger Burbach, ‘ Correspondence, For A Zapatista Style Postmodernist Perspective’ in Monthly Review, 47,10 (March 1996)
4. Michel Foucault, Power / Knowledge, ed. by Colin Gordon, Pantheon Books, New York, 1980.
5. Mark Poster, Foucault, Marxism and History, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1985.
6. ‘Appendix iii : An Interview with Jacques Derrida,’ in Antony Easthope, British Post-structuralism Since 1968, Routledge, London.
7. Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx, Routledge, New York and London, 1994.
8. Ajit Chaudhury, Re(an)nouncing Marxism: Marx after Derrida, A monograph in honour of Professor Jacques Derrida, Publishers and Booksellers Guild, Calcutta, 1997.
9. Dipesh Chakrabarty, ‘Aizaz Ahmad, Darbari Chinta O Ekti Sampratic Bitarka’ in Viswabharati Patrika, Nava Paryaya 2 (Kartik- Poush, 1401).
10. Michel Foucault, Politics Philosophy Culture. Routledge, New York and London, 1988.
11. Sudip Sarkar, ‘Prasanga: Uttar-Adhunikata’ in Gananatya (September - October, 1997), Bengali.
About the author
Dr. Pradip Basu (born in 1957) is at present a Reader in Scottish Church College, Calcutta. His doctoral thesis was on the evolution of Naxalite theory through inner-party struggle, 1953 - 1967. He is the author of the books:
Towards Naxalbari : An Account Of Inner - Party Struggle,1953 - 1967, Progressive Publishers, Calcutta : 1998 (in press )
Subaltern Studies and Indian Cinema
In recent years, this investigation has become more prominent, whether it is a case of popular Hindi or south Indian Films or an well developed, screened a modern realistic movie
In this issue we would like to discuss the subject of "how Subaltern studies have been used as Thematic Infrastructure in Indian film."
For this purpose, we have selected two recent movies Yuganta (1996) by Aparna Sen and Lal Darja (1997) by Buddhadeb Dasgupta.
First, let us enquire what are "Subaltern studies" and how this theory became popular / prominent in the studies of Indian History. We will also discuss what are its specialities and why it has been reflected not only in the study of Indian History but also in the studies of other subjects like sociology, Art, literature, theatre, cinema, etc. However, here we only discuss about films.
History and the Aim of Historian
History tells the story of the people in the environment of time and space. According to renowned historian, Marc Bloch "it is a science of men and time". The duty of the historian is not to judge the situation but to understand it. In this connection instead of going to debate / argument, we can recall the memorable statement of historian Namier who said "Historian imagine the past and estimate the future " Though Historians observe from a distance, they are not totally indifferent to the incidents / happenings. The Nationalist sentiment, class-interest, the spirit of the age or time indirectly influence their views. Each and every Historian, belongs to a typical social group or a class and is a product of an unique set of education. His in- born instinct, class-interest, taste and sentiments will influence his subject selection and conclusion or inference. Subject-selection along with the change of his own state of mind will definitely influence his works, specially with the present stage of development of technology.
Historian has got no interest in the universal truth, or eternal instinct. History does not deal with poetic imagination, philosopher’s views or universality, or the new invention and its application by a scientist. But all the great historians, like, Gibbon, Momsen, Bloch, Braudel have come forward to co-ordinate all these issues.
Advent of Subaltern Studies
In our Indian historical discussion after the era of Imperialists, Nationalist, Cambridge, Marxist and finally in the last fifteen years the subaltern studies have established an unique bright school of thought.
Since 1982 right from the emergence of subaltern studies, then first conference on 1983 the publication of ten volumes of different collection of subaltern studies has established a continuous flow of this historiography.
In the past sixteen years different publication of subaltern studies has not only influenced historiography but also created a stir or deliberation in the field of linguistics, literature, art etc. Its discussion is not only confined in the social world of India or South Asia, but also spread of other countries like Latin America, Africa, South East Asia, in their historiological field.
Definition of subaltern
In English language, the word ‘subaltern’ is used specially in the case of military organisation. Officers below the rank of Captain are known as ‘subaltern’. In general this word is used to indicate subordinate, or person who belongs to lower rank. In the Marxist-version, this word is used by Italian Communist philosopher-leader Antonio Gramsci (1891 – 1937) in his famous book ‘Prison note book’ (1929-1935). Gramsci used this word as ‘subaltern’ (in Italy) in two cases one as a synonym to proletariat Subaltern class is working class in the capitalist society. But in more general term Gramsci used the word not only in the case of capitalist society but in other historical conditions also. Clearly in this latter case-the word Subaltern does not indicate the industrial worker class only. In recent times, during discussion of Indian Society and history, the idea of Subaltern has been represented in a more modern form. In Bengali language, Ranajit Guha has drawn a synonym as "Nimna Barga".
The inconclusive but exciting debate among the Marxist politician, Intellectuals in 1970s indicated the existence of the root of these Subaltern studies. The first work manifesto was finalised on the basis of opposing the imperialist and Nationalist Historiography. Two issues became prominent-
(1) The difference between the political purpose and sentiment of the colonial and native-high-society with that of lower class or Subaltern.
(2) Autonomy of Subaltern sentiment. This second issue just followed the first. The subaltern political character has been framed on the subaltern Autonomous sentiment. This sentiment has taken its birth from their experience of dependence. This experience is a result of struggle for existence, through day- to-day slavery, exploitation and deception.
In the historical documents this subaltern sentiment is totally absent because those documents were prepared by elite class. The General convention was that the subaltern was just to carry out the orders of his master only. At the moment of revolt, the subaltern appeared as independent personality to the Ruling class. Right from Mr. Ranjit Guha, other subaltern Historians too draw a picture of peasant-sentiment, after a detailed study and investigation of subaltern studies (from ten episodes published till date) and other Articles.
In fact, in the established world of Historiography subaltern studies was highly acceptable in the form of Radical social History or ‘History from Below’. In the last seventies –eighties also this type of Historiography was very much predominant. Following the path of the English Marxist historian, Christopher Hill, Edward P. Thompson and Erich Hobsbawm, a number of articles were written about the forgotten – neglected people and their detached lifestyle, which was till then neglected or suppressed by the heavy drum-beating of European Capitalism and Industrial civilisation.
This "History from Below" was able to discover a number of incidents, ideology which were earlier dropped in the process of documenting the History. The writers of subaltern studies" also learnt a lot from the works of the radical social History, but there was a marked difference. In case of Europe, the stories of "History from lower class" were based in tragic note whereas in India it was difficult to cover them within such frame from a distance. In our country, stories of evolution of capitalist modernism could not be conducted in such a definite tragic note.
Second Stage of Subaltern Studies
The original criticism of first stage of subaltern studies was published in the works of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Her main theory was "it is not possible for a subaltern to express himself through the writings of the Historian. At the most it can carry a sign of honest sympathy of politics from the historian. In fact the historian is only representing the subaltern in the pages of history. Subaltern can never express or speak out himself. According to Spivak, a subaltern historian must find out the methods as how the representation build up the subaltern as the "other" from contemporary Elite.
Now the questions - "What will be social methods, who are the selected organisations, under what banner or manifesto they will achieve extensive social recognition". To discover all these methods or to formulate the ideas, became the most important duties of the subaltern Historian. Now the question is not to explain the ‘nature of subaltern’ but ‘how to represent it’. Here ‘represent’ has double meaning - one to exhibit or expose the idea and the second to appear as representative. As the methods are now become the target of analysis, the research-system will also be modified. The attention was directed to critical analysis of the text. Historical documents only shown an evidence of the building of subaltern class by the powerful elite class.
As the question of "Building of subaltern" came on the fore-front an urgent necessity was felt – to review the historical documents, covering the formation of the modern society and the system of studies of science and technology in colonial India, – from a completely different angle. As a result, in one side they started a fresh dissension of subaltern studies in the field or subject of extension of colonial administrations, English education, new awaken emergence of so called of nationalism, so called renaissance etc.
On the other side, the attention was diverted on different organisations of modern state and society, through which the ideology based on modern knowledge and power politics was developed, and extended its network in colonial and modern India. Ultimately school, college, newspaper, publisher, hospital, doctor, medical treatment, chemical system, census, registration, license, daily work etc. – organisation in modern industrial production, research institution have become the subjects of the subaltern studies.
In fact with the discovery of this methodology ‘Building of Subaltern’ the activities of subaltern historian is no more confined or restricted only on the mere description of the independent activities of the subaltern. Now it become possible to review the whole society, its organisation and ideology through the angle of Subaltern History.
Cinema - Reference
In the case of Indian serious cinema, this theoretical interpretation, of the independent subaltern activities have already been discussed starting from Satyajit Ray (Pather Panchali), Mrinal Sen(Parasuram), Shyam Benegal (Nishant), to recent Buddhadeb Dasgupta (Bagh Bahadur), Goutam Ghose (Padma Nadir Majhi), Prakash Jha (Damul), all of them expressed the subaltern stories in their pictures. And that was the case of first stage of subaltern studies. But in the second stage some changes occurred. Because it was no more the case of independent subaltern activity nor the exhibition of their exploitation and deception, but now this stage started to expose that how the elite represent the subaltern, how they interact with the subaltern how the "building of subaltern" was possible by them (i.e. the elite class).
Even this "representation" was also started, -(though in a scattered manner), long back. Right from Satyajit Ray (Simabaddha, Sadgati), Mrinal Sen (Bhuban Some, Akaler Sandhane) and many others have done this. But in a more conscious theoretical background, cinema appeared only in recent years, e.g. Satyajit Ray’s Agantuk, Aparna Sen’s Yuganta, Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Lal Darja, Goutam Ghose’s Patang etc. These films had a more conscious approach to the fact of "Building of subaltern" by elite class. Here we had selected two films, Yuganta and Lal Darja.
As regards subject matter, Yuganta has dealt with Woman-Man relation, Environment-pollution, the sea, sentiment of the people, subaltern life style, Myth and Mythological aspect, rivalry between creation and construction, life and the sense of learning, loneliness work-(environment) culture, conflict between practical life and artistic career and a lot more and their inter- relationships. All these evolve around with a Male and a female in their centre. Though Socially approved as husband and wife but even after seventeen year’s of married life, the relation could not actively have a firm base. Though not divorced, they gradually drift apart and do not vibe in their – sentiment, soul, person and feeling. But even after these seventeen years both of them, specially the husband, expects that the relation will be normalised with its intensity in future, and in turn this human- relation, environment, life and the life-style will find out a purpose and rhythm and harmony.
Here, the complexity of elite life and how it draws the film of "Building of subaltern" have been exhibited e.g. showing the relation of master and the boy-servant at home, and also the contrast in the life style of fisherman’s family with that of elite family.
But more sincere and stronger attempts were made in the background of second stage of the theory of subaltern studies – where "Building of subaltern" was represented through the complexity of elite life-style and sentiment. The key role of Yuganta consists of Dipak and Anasua. Anasua is a choreographer, a more practical person with the tendency of encashment every opportunity to represent a popular, commercial construction rather than wasting time in mere creation of art. She is not at all affected with violence of Gulf war and sorrow of the bird, but is more concerned as to how to compose a dance-drama encashing this situation of death and hazard. Human tragedy, miseries of life are the subjects of her commercial art, which in tern is merely a product of this commercial society. Thus Anasua is a Promoter-constructor and not a creator as she has got nothing to ask neither any philosophy nor a thought. Here survival is only based on career-planning & ambitious feeling.
But life of Anasua was never meaningless or without a feeling of human value. Thus the elite have exploited the subaltern, plunged into the pleasure of "commercial construction" much away from the joy of ‘artistic creation’ and thus completed ‘subaltern building’. Side by side, Dipak was represented as a man of completely opposite sentiment. The ‘subaltern-building’ construction by elite was very prominent when Anasua expressed her commercial dance composition plan by utilising the situation of miseries and sorrow due to environmental pollution of the village and establishing a large industrial sector at the cost of simple life of the common people. It was also proposed very cleverly, that the conclusion of the programme would not be revolutionary but a symbolic one, so that right from multi-commercial to the political hero / Government official etc. may be attracted and a sponsorship for foreign tour can materialise. It became an important example when director Aparna Sen had exposed the hypocrisy and cheating by the elite class through Anasua who utilised the subaltern and their exploited and deceptive life as ingredient of her commercial programme and gave a coating of yearning tears. Thus Yuganta has become a more matured philosophical movie now-a-days.
Director Buddhadeb Dasgupta was mainly busy in enquiring the root cause of the disease crippling the human relation among people or between men and women, and also to prescribe remedial measures. For this, he had to refer to the past - the childhood as dreamland. From the dreamland he used the symbol of a red door by opening the door man can taste the freedom. At Charachar he used the symbol of a bird. Here he used a young boy named Nabin with a red-scarf in the silent hilly environment, find out some red ants in the green grasses and chanting a folk-lore:
Chhoti Moti Pimpra Boti
Lal Darja Khol De
Through this chanting of Mantra Nabin had a sincere effort to open the door and with the opening of Lal Darja, Buddhadeb Dasgupta found out his opening.
Lal Darja is the story of Nabin who is modern, selfish, unhappy, cruel and totally distracted with his childhood. Nabin is the representative of an agonised man of this complex world of capitalistic modernism. In the expert hands of Buddhadeb, Nabin does not confine himself in his individual circle rather he plays the role of a representative. Nabin in course of time gradually becomes a person without the feeling of love and human sentiment. Seventeen years of conjugal life did not bring any mutual understanding, confidence on each other between Nabin and his wife Bela. Even their only child Kushal hates his father. His wife Bela though not in favour of divorce, prefers a separation. On the departure of Bela, Nabin starts a self-introspection. Buddhadeb in this case, brought an unique solution, which is both postmodern at the same time enlightened with subaltern philosophy in a planned manner. As a contrast to Nabin he has brought Dinu Driver who had two wives and one lover also. In other words as contrast to the elite class, Nabin Buddhadeb represented the subaltern Dinu and his married life with wife and another life with lover, their society, the total life style, sentiment etc. By this he could arrive the conclusion as to how to achieve solution, freedom and happiness of human being. Thus the "Building of subaltern" by the elite class has been self explained.
Capitalistic modernism makes a man Robot and he becomes selfish, introvert and lacks in human feeling. He fails to build a relation between man to man, is deprived of the heart throbbing sentiment. Buddhadeb explained this matter beautifully. Nabin gradually has the feeling that his body is becoming unusually stiff. Even a T.V. advertisement supports this symptom by naming a new disease which also carries this symptom and this disease is spreading in the country.
But on medical investigation, Nabin could come to know that there is no such symptom in his body. Thus the human complexity and agony of these days, has been presented by Buddhadeb as a modern myth. Red colour is symbolic in this picture. Starting from the Red colour of the sweater of young Nabin, till the attempt of opening of dream by the Red Door - this sincere yearning is beautifully expressed in the picture and this yearning has been generated from the heart of an agonised man of this complex world.
This subaltern studies have enlightened the Indian cinema and as earlier expressed this was started long ago. The important example of Satyajit Ray’s Simabaddha and Bhuban Some by Mrinal Sen. But recently the theoretical discussions are more prominent and Agantuk is a great example.
Now we are to observe what will be the effect on cinema if there is a turn in these subaltern studies in future. To conclude a request as because the subaltern studies is a theoretical element of history, in cinema also if more and more such historical elements are involved we can have a new era in Indian cinema and could understand better the relation between subaltern studies and Indian cinema. It is a matter of regret that Indian film directors have worked very little with the Indian history as it in comparison to what was done by Akira Kurosawa of Japan and other great film directors of the world. We can expect that as the Indian historiography developed more and more with such theoretical aspects, Indian films will also be enlightened with more developed philosophy.
The impact of Cine-Movement
on the Spectators of Mosabani
Mosabani Cine Society was formed in 1981. To find out the impact on movie-goers, a review is necessary to how the entertainment/ amusement activities enlightened them in this industrial pocket away from the Metro culture.
Pre–Nationalisation Period of Indian Copper Complex
The author’s observation in the 1960s goes like this –
Limited number of officers are club member and social character is based on typical colonial industrial culture. There was only one officers’ club, a forum for amusement of officer–community, but mainly it was bar-club with little bit of space for entertainment. The status in officer-society is again controlled by the status of the officer in the shop-floor of the organisation.
There was a cinema hall accompanied by the bar-club where Sunday-English movie, and Saturday Whist Drive, Tambola and other gambling items, was the regular routine. In the English movie-shows, officer and his wife is allowed. In the market area, as welfare measure, every Sunday one Indian movie was exhibited in the open air. Sometimes a few Indian officers were also interested and used to carry chair from their quarters to that open air cinema. Two clubs mainly controlled by non–officers are also existing in this locality, mainly to maintain a typical Indian club.
Post-Nationalisation but pre-Cine Society Period (1972 –1981)
Gradual change in officer culture, work culture, and finally social culture was observed. Four English film show were replaced by two Indian and two English films. Finally since 1980s onwards all the films, shown in the hall, were Indian films. But most of these films contain cheap entertainment elements. Outside the cinema hall – the old, colonial, industrial work-culture was changing rapidly, in the meantime.
The cinema hall atmosphere, initially meant for a matured spectator have now been a social gathering forum with the presence of all members of family. The author, in particular did not like this hall-atmosphere which did not allow to visualise, to study a film from its realistic angle. Unexpectedly some officers, themselves start demanding this family forum as their right to watch the film show. Ultimately this resulted a typical suburban cinema hall atmosphere of matinee show where the standard of the picture and taste and culture of the Cine goers are mostly controlled by the commercial-sentiment. These facts have been observed by some enlightened officers of the company who came forward to found the Cine Society, Mosabani in 1981. The idea behind this is to develop a refined taste and modern culture to review a realistic picture of society through cinema.
First decade after the formation of the society, 1980-1990
Anything newly formed create sensation either to develop or to demise. In this case it created a high demand or response for collection of membership among the officers for various reasons. A good majority of them, expected a scope for seeing uncensored films in a censored hall, some tried to find out some special motive, clue or smell of communalism in the activities of the society. Though in less numbers, but definitely some enlightened officer were interested to see good films and creations of world famous and renowned filmmakers. A small number of course was interested in replenish their knowledge by sharing the taste and social culture of other states as well as foreign countries.
Cine Society, Mosabani performed its duties properly and sincerely. They, not only arranged for exhibition of famous films created by renowned film makers of the world but also arranged a number of seminars, lectures, and discussions. The members got the scope of discussing various social and art systems with a number of renowned film directors and critics of the country, in this remote Mosabani cinema hall. The film makers explained various social parameter of the film, the musical and other aspects of film direction and their relevance with the existing and past societies of our country as well as foreign countries.
Some members were even encouraged to make a film based on the rural and tribal society. Some organisations were also developed in nearby Ghatshila area, who are engaged in production of this kind of films.
Finally, let us summarise the total impact of this Cine movement, obviously in this Mosabani officer culture.
1. With nationalisation Indian Copper Corporation all on a sudden a great jump in the financial status changed the whole society culture and a sudden change in industrial relation had a great impact on society.
2. The work culture and officer society discipline experience a rapid change
3. Even in the family life of each and every person realised the change in taste, culture and the moral values of society.
4. The items of entertainment/ amusements are becoming available at Mosabani and the people are ready to purchase them at any cost. Video parlour, VCP, VCR and the uncensored low-taste films are available in plenty. Along with narcotic drugs this kind of films are part of the culture now a days.
5. Lastly, the inevitable result of public sector culture was available and the company at present is passing through its bitter financial crisis and facing the wall writing of closure.
6. The theatre witnessed a lot of low-taste commercial entertainment items with an equal standard of spectators or participants.
At this point when we are moving towards twenty-first century, specially when Dr. Amartya Sen received the Nobel Prize and his famous theory/ hypothesis on social choice are very much relevant.
The conflict between these terms - liberty, unanimity and right are again coming to picture. A so called commercial hit film with low taste full of sec and violence may be acceptable to majority of the spectators but in the name encouraging human liberty should we encourage these films, should the officer demand for his legitimate right to see these films with his teenaged son or daughter.
Initially the authors expectation was a bit broader sense change in the outlook, taste, and culture of Cine goers. Probably, his expectations were not totally irrelevant, as the sincerity and efficiency of the society - office bearers encouraged this impression. For example, the society has arranged seminar/ discussions with film–critics who explained a number of film-sequence with demonstration of that scene – a part from a renowned movie. The author was enlightened with a similar film-discussion regarding Art–Direction. The situation was that of drawing-cum–dining hall/ room. The Art-director is to study the following social parameters of the society-under reference –
The Drawing-cum–dining room
1A The number of family members is important regarding of the drawing room
2A Time is very important. Whether it is ancient times or mediaeval ages or present time. Them pre-independence or Post-independence.
3A Status of the family – Elite, Middle Class etc.
Second Set of Parameters
If it is a small family – husband, wife, and one children
Then – (i) Age of husband and wife
(ii) How marriage was performed
All these factors will decide the
And there are so many other parameters – which automatically suggest the nature of the hero/ heroine or other characters.
The dialogues and the background music will come later, because by that time the character is already established.
To study a film from this angle will definitely need a proper hall atmosphere – the audience/ spectator nature and finally the serious mood of the film. All these are necessary to visualise a film.
On the contrary, now a days, we find a copying tendency from "Yes, Minister" etc. where a laughter–casette is played as a particular interval of time, making the issue a "noisy fun".
Unfortunately in both social cultural field experienced in the last fifteen years a great changing atmosphere and that is the reason the society’s achievement could not reach that expectations. However last but not the least, the Mosabani Cine Society is one of the few film-societies who could publish such review-Cine-magazines every year till date and the society got recognition for its cultural and literary activities. The author expresses his gratitude to the society pray that it still engaged itself to continue all its positive activities.
Cinema, Popular Culture and the Sadharon Loks of Calcutta
Dr. Mahua Sarkar
In the present day world situation, films should be perceived more in the context of the spectator’s decoding of the text than from an emphasis on the film text or the machinery of the cinema itself. Film critics are constantly demanding an autonomy for cinema from the clutches of literature. The question of cinematic specificity is always being attached with the artistic status of the medium in a context, where the art/ and commercial division in Indian film culture is being formulated with a perception of the high and the low.
The spectator is determined by a range of factors, and, any deterministic theory can never be rigidly accommodated with the spectator’s mind. The postmodern era, for instance, exposes a series of simulations, governed by models, codes, and cinematic images, often close to hyper-reality.
The present crisis in Bengali cinema, which has had commercial success, but has majorly failed to draw the attention of the intellect should be traced long back, in the different popular diasporas, related with Bengal’s common audio-visual culture. Theoretically, the Bengali/ Indian cinema cannot be equated with the so–called ‘Hollywood mode of production’ – which represents a particular economy of narration, that has worldwide applicability. On the other had, in its own situation, a Bengali film like Beder Meye Jyotsna is watched and discussed, with a degree of attachment and animatedness, that indicates larger paradigms of popular culture. Spectators’ demands, as they see a film, for self–actualisation and their interaction with the categories of ‘who the film is meant for’, and ‘how to see’ manual, i.e., in all films inscribed into the category of the narrator or narrative agency, is related to the commoner’s cultural phenomenon. Cinema functions as a sort of supplementary, shadow structure of representation in cultures, where the sadharon lok’s identity is produced in the 19th century and is continued even today.
To the sadharon loks of Calcutta therefore, cinematic expressions are mostly close the hyper–reality. Hyper–reality blurs the distinction between the real and the unreal and retains the spectator in his own world of myths, and realities. His own ideal of mythical heroism, value judgements of an ideal joint family with few villain retractors, the ideal mother and boisterous female agencies, and also the concept of jati and desh are self-actualised in the popular films. In his sense perception, the prefix ‘hyper’ comes as more real than real. At the same time, the real is according to a typical model with explosions of melodrama of a popular level. The supernatural, the pervert, the sexual, the violent – are inextricably linked to the popular, narrative structures of these films.
The postmodern cinematic world has failed to cross the gap between high and popular culture. The technicality, essence, and expressionism of postmodernity have not been accommodated within the emotional shocks and fabrication of sequence in a commoner’s mind. As part of the peculiar nostalgia for the popular thinking of the 19th century, the people constantly are opting for literary and musical productions for the preceding century. This culture of nostalgia is mobilised differently among the middle class and the so–clalled chotoloks. To the latter, films with mythological heroes like Krishna, social stories with a female personification of Ghor Koli (black age) like Chotobou and gorgeous semi-feudal sets bring greater satisfaction, greater security and better wish-fulfilment. The film directors making films like Baba Keno Chakar also deploy the situation to construct a cultural platform with hegemony of their own. The global cultural economy and the consumerist market values of the contemporary period are also intelligently diluted with these films
The common people recapitulates in these cinematic expressions, the nostalgic charisma of the Jatra of the 19th century. It appears that the folk culture of Bengal could never be marginalised by the Victorian set-patterns of a colonised world. The sadharon loks were neither willing nor able to adopt the language or culture of the bhadraloks. In spite of a constant denigration of the popular forms of entertainment, the common people created a world of their own, and retained their own genre of cultural productions even in the 20th century. The romantic stories of the 19th century, the satire, caricature, parody, tragedy are all popular and accepted in cinematic forms. The audience at such performances looked for diversion rather than deviation from the uniform taste. Both in their understanding and appreciating of religious, and social subjects, the Calcutta commoners try to defy the gloomy seriousness that surrounded their economic existence. The folk culture of the 19th century provided a popular base from which innovations began in the modern cinema. The same formula is predominant in the mass entertainments of the commercial media. The cinema artists also utilise the same stereotypes and formulae to simplify and popularise the experience. The folk forms are also appropriated in a bastard way in a consumerist world.
The entire problematic therefore highlights the failure of the so–called film movements or efforts of the progressive film societies to create an illustrious audience. The sadharan loks also suffer from a subconscious insecurity from the threat of an alienation from their original cultural forms of entertainment. The elite dominated film-media has appropriated rural entertainments with a tinge of commercialism for the market. Caught between this ambivalence the spectator has no choice except viewing Swami Keno Asami. They are far from the crowd of intellectual film textuality, neither are they close to their original village identity. The solutions for a broader field of film narration, where spectators are capable to appreciate both the mechanics of the cinema’s construction of them as audiences, as well as each judge the plot and the cinema’s mode of address are yet to come.
Dr. Mahua Sarkar is Reader and Head of the Department of History, Jadavpur University. She is presently doing her post–doctoral research on the social and cultural history of 20th century Bengal. She teaches Life and Thought in 19th and 20th Century Bengal in the Post Graduate classes.
The Cinema of Andrej Wajda and its Contours
Most illustrious exponent of the cinema of ‘moral concern’ espoused by Polish school of film, Wajda in a career spanning over 40 years of filmmaking has recorded the social, political and psychological undercurrent in the post-war Poland. He is parochial, born and always having lived in Poland, rooted in the soil of his origin, the environment which influenced his growing- up years and moulded by the times he lived and worked. Wajda’s films aroused controversies but were not didactic. In this article, Bhaskar Sen gives a brief account of Wajda’s most representative works, along with his more distinctive and reflective ones.
The Short Films
Wajda made a number of short films while at a film school at Lodz from 1950-1952. The first, While You Sleep (1950) was based on Tadeusz Kubiak’s poetry, about those who work at night, fusing verse with reportage and music. In the next film Bad Boys (1951) Wajda adapted a Chekov story; trying to give it a tone of 19th century painting. In 1951 he made The Pottery of Ilza. At the Documentary Film Studios at Warsaw, he made I Walk Towards the Sun (1955) about the sculptor Ksawery Dunikowski. Shots of sculptures of pregnant women on a sun-drenched beach show ties between the sculptures and nature.
Wajda got his first break as an assistant to Aleksander Ford on Five Boys of Barska Street, which challenged the established aesthetic cannon. A new vision was born with his first independent break. A Generation shows ordinary people capable of acts of great courage, not only for ideological reasons. Stach, played by Tadeusz Lomnicki changes to a more positive hero from a layabout, for his love for Dorota. Ultimately the hero’s personal tragedy combines his grief at his arrest and death of his beloved. Jasio is more cowardly and yet capable of extreme violence by shooting down a German officer. He with his doubts, hesitations and final defiant suicide is a prototype of Maciek of Ashes and Diamonds.
Canal/ They Loved Life(1957)
A group cut off from the main group of Home Army Resistance fighting a losing yet heroic battle with the German, enters the sewers, the only escape from death. Madry, a daredevil leads this group, comprising Halinka, the courier and a deranged composer. Strokrotka (Daisy) and Korab continue to talk about love amidst the surrounding filth. Zadra, the officer who has strongest doubts about the movement, acts as a counterpoint to Madry. Zadra reach the exit only to finds his sergeant had misled him about the rest of the group following close behind. Meanwhile they had died a gruesome death. Discarding the light and life ahead Zadra returns for his comrades. Kanal diminishes the gulf between the reality of actual events and the mentality and behaviour of the characters and an abstract vision of a sealed world whose inhabitants are doomed to extinction. It is basically a human drama where the participants cannot surrender nor do they have a choice of victory.
Ashes and Diamonds(1958)
In the spring of 1945 it was the end of the Occupation. Two gunmen of National Armed Forces, Maciek and Andrez ambush a jeep, but kill a wrong man instead of the new communist party chief. The orders to Maciek are clear this time. He has to kill him and strangely the assassin and his target spend the night in rooms next to each other in a hotel. In this moment of transition and uncertainty, Maciek discovers love in an encounter with a barmaid. His momentary reprieve, when he has experienced love, ends with day-break as he is reminded of his duty to kill or be killed. Maciek supports in his arms the dying man, who he has just killed, a burst of fireworks light up the sky. The polonaise is danced at the end, while Maciek shot and writhing with pain runs through a wasteland.
Ashes and Diamonds is constructed around the pull of contradictory forces as war/peace, tradition/reform. The action takes place on the last day of the war and first day of peace. The hero is unprepared for a mental confrontation with the old ideals; obedience, a fight to finish in a losing cause and hence passive to fermenting changes around him.
Innocent Sorcerers, a behavioural drama, was Wajda’s first look at psychology and mores of post-war generation set in contemporary Warsaw as an one night drama, it centres around Bazyli, a young sports doctor with a blonde rinse, fond of nylon socks, quality cigarettes and jazz, hearing tape-recorded conversation with his girlfriends.
One evening he chances upon Pelagia, a girl whose wits matched his. Within the four walls of his room they play out a psychological cat and mouse game, putting on and casting off masks. The duel ends with dawn, in emptiness, as they realise they cannot conceal their selves or their desire. During rehearsals with his thoughtful lead actor Tadeusz Lomnicki, the reason behind why the boy does not make love to the girl becomes clear, while in the short story it was vague. Wajda realises the boy was a homosexual, who inspite of his love for the girl is afraid of himself. But this had to be left out as officially homosexuality did not exist in Poland.
Interestingly, the authorities found this apolitical film very disturbing as it is about a generation, disillusioned and disinterested in politics. Official intervention led to a changed ending, a smiling Pelagia opening the door to a companionable future, In the intervening years Armed resistance has been brutally silenced and those not murdered had been released from prison and everything seemed settled and quiet. And here disillusionment with communist ideologies, once sown in human heart, is reborn as the disinterest in politics of the young generation.
With Samson Wajda returned to the war period. Jakub Gold, a Jew is threatened by anti-Semite goons and kills one in self-defence and serves a long-prison term. When the Germans invade Poland, the prisoners are set free but soon Gold finds himself in a different kind of prison - the Warsaw ghetto. He escapes to the Aryan side and serves the winter in the cellar of prison-acquaintance Malina’s house. With Malina’s death he rushes back to the ghetto to find it razed to the ground.
He is soon led to Pankrat, a communist leader he met in jail, in the organisation’s underground hideout. He joins their struggles and during the German attack on the premises, he fights his last battle.
Wajda deliberately cast a French actor, who was short and delicate, a contradiction of the mythical Samson and could only play the role in reverse. It studies the travails of individual fate linked to social, class, political and ideological determinism. In his first three films, men were objects of dominant and overpowering forces of his tradition and times. But as he grasps the mechanism and forces of history, he gives up passivity and fatalistic acceptance and assumes his own and fellow’s responsibility and fate. In Samson there is a significant departure in moral and philosophical content of Wajda’s cinema. It is a clear break-away from the heroes of A Generation, Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds, where determinism is linked to flux in various levels of society.
Everything for Sale(1968)
An evening in London in 1967 Wajda thinks of making film with the charismatic actor Zbygniew Cybulski (the Maciek of Ashes and Diamonds) - the Polish James Dean, he learns about Cybulski death in an accident while trying to board a train. The entire Poland is stunned but more so Wajda.
Wajda was his friend and mentor and given him first break and most of the directors early projects were a close collaboration between the two. He played himself in films with his own character and individuality and hence an irreplaceable actor. This triggered off Wajda’s mid-career self-interrogation. He felt outsider to the students and their struggle and found deceit and betrayal everywhere. He cross-examines himself and his art. Wajda made a film about himself - about a director, making a film entitled Everything For Sale which is transformed into a tribute to its leading actor who dies at a train-accident. It is shown an artist may unfeelingly use for his art, his personal/ crises and most tragic events. The viewer has many vantage points as he is unsure whether he is watching the film or the film within the film. The whole film is full of deliberate visual reference to his cinematic world. The major theme being the interrelationship between art and reality.
Landscape After the Battle (1970).
The film shows the liberation of prisoners of war and their transfer to camp for displaced persons and shows after the Battle takes place in the same year as Ashes and Diamonds - 1945. Just after the war an American camp in Germany is filled with Polish refugees, POWs, concentration camp survivors. They argue over everything and the choice before them is whether or not to return to Poland. The period is not realistically recreated and the ambience shows plastic beauty. Tadeuz – who is devastated by the war, aloof and indifferent, and whose embittered veneer cracks when he meets Nina, an equally wounded Polish fugitive. In their encounter surface the main strand of the film - love, an awakening for life not fated to be. The climax comes in a raging brawl which occurs during the pageant ‘The Battle of Grunwald’. The main protagonist is an artist – who detests regimentation of the camp, which is a form of living death, yet he is afraid to leave as he can not forget the past or his deep attachment to Poland and he cannot adjust to the present, as life represented by the young Jewish girl.
Birchwood is based on a 30s story by avant garde writer Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz. Wajda states that death is inescapable, except in consummation of libido; love can counteract death.
Beleslaw, a forest warden is physically robust but under the contagious influence of death – his wife recently died and is buried in Birchwood has left him a daughter – Ola.
His brother Stanislaw, return from a sanatorium and inspite of approaching death finds fulfilment with a brief affair with Malina, the village girl. This arouses in Beleslaw an intense jealousy, hatred and finally a longing for Malina. Events reach a point... Though a fleeting episode in Wajda’s oeuvre, it marks a milestone in his career.
Wajda tackles a timeless and universal theme – a new dimension of love and death. To the eternal question of life and death he brought a new emotional climate and a fresh dramatic shape.
The Wedding is a classic Polish play by Stanislaw Wypianski, written in the 1900. It is set in the background of contemporary apathetic intellectual situation in Poland in the post-1968 phase and which follows in shipyard worker’s riot in 1970. Through a historical theme Wajda conveys a significant contemporary message.
It is a great social occasion; set in Cracow – the marriage of a poet (intelligentsia) with a country girl (peasantry). During the celebrations, these builds up a drama with two strands; there are the flesh and blood figures – and their diabolic encounters with apparitions drawn from history, literature and legend – an internal projection, troubled conscience and guilty feeling of the characters. Events seem to move towards a denouncement but finally fades away with dawn with the end of the dance strains.
The propensity of the elite to dream of its splendourous past and in drunken stupor talk of a need to act, and sink back to conformity in the light of cold reality. Visually Wajda imparted alikeness with the art of the turn of the century and with the painting of Wypianski.
The Promised Land(1975)
The film appears to be more contemporary now than the time when it was released. The director focuses on the world of first generation parvenus, the unique Polish-Jewish-German union of business interest with their big industrial fortunes, in Lodz, a town considered promised land in those days. People obsessed with making big fortunes are often dismissive of the traditions and values of their forefathers. It was about competitive people, people whose success was connected to their own activities and abilities in the past, in the contrast to the present situation where the mechanism is dependent more on forces outside his control.
Man of Marble(1977)
Man of Marble uncompromisingly shows horror of Stalinism and absurdities of ‘social reality’ in the 70s. Agniezska, a young film school graduate, wants to make a TV film on Mateuz Birkut, a brick layer, who had been a hero of socialist labour in the Stalinist era. But he seems completely untraceable.
One very relevant scene had to be cut out. The director, accompanied by the son of Birkut, in the Gdansk cemetry, looking for but unable to find one grave. Birkut was killed during the 1970 strikes in Gdansk. Wajda wanted to make sequel to it, with focus on the life of Birkut’s young son.
The Maids of Wilko(1979)
The film is set in the thirties, in Central Poland after a dramatic war and defeat. After a long absence, Wiktor Reuben, returns to a country cottage, the home of five beautiful sisters. He had spent his youthful and happy days here. A bond existed between each of the sisters and Wiktor. A changed Wiktor tries to retrieve those lost moments but is unable to do as what has gone by will never comeback. This is an adventure of a man seeking vestiges of a world which no longer exists. The women are aware of and self-sufficient in their femininity and Wiktor is a mere intruder at Wilko.
The Orchestra Conductor(1980)
Wajda transplants the conflicts and competitiveness in the political world to the realm of art. The Orchestra conductor contrasted the careerism of an ambitious provinsial orchestre conductor with the dedication of an aged expatriate of world renown. Here the art has become a weapon of cruelty and viciousness. The young conductor doesn’t have a liberty, which comes from his art, inside himself and is incapable of expressing or giving it to others. Wajda’s preoccupation with contemporary Polish scene resulted in this tale of two conductors, where the symphony orchestra symbolises the social organism.
On a visit to New York, Marta a young violinist from a provincial Polish town, comes across Jan Lasocki, world-famous conductor played by John Gielgad. Loasocki also hails from the place where once Marta was born and was once in love with her mother. She returns home. Adam, her husband, is the director of the local symphony orchestra. Marta’s enthusiasm for the Lasocki’s work creates problem between husband and wife. Unexpectedly, Lasocki comes to the town to conduct the 5th Symphony of Beethoven with the local orchestra. The return of the maestro after his 50-year absence creates a sensation. Furious to find some of the musicians from Warsaw hired by the officials in place of local talents, he refuses to conduct the orchestra and walks out. When Adam and Marta finally locate him at the end of eager queue waiting for tickets, he is found dead.
Wajda expresses the prevalent frustration in Poland and an expectation for a miracle to happen in form of a prestigious role-model from the West.
Man of Iron(1981)
Man of Iron was about the Solidarity Revolution of 1980 which lasted 16 months. As President of the Association of filmmakers, Wajda could record historical events for archives, including the talks between the striking works in Gdansk and the government. A worker’s guard suggested the subject and the name of the film. A new and an indissoluble link with his earlier film Man of Marble was born, which was about the social unrest in the 70s and had ended at the very gates of Gdnask shipyard; Wajda could now film the scene with the door on which the agitators carried the slain workers body - with which he wanted to end Man of Marble.
Wajda ingenuously got around the unhelpful officials with the support of Solidarity Union. The use of archival photographs, tape recordings, documents, eyewitness accounts, poster texts wall graffiti, spontaneous songs – give the film the feeling of a revolutionary poster. It was released before the imposition of martial law after several cuts.
In 1975, Wajda directed for theatre - the play ‘Sprawa Danton’. In 1883 a very different film Danton was made. The film traces the French revolution from the ‘fall of Bastille to the building of guillotine’. Wajda inserts undercurrents of the Solidarity movement. Danton focuses on the moment when a revolution started to uphold freedom destroys freedom in order to uphold revolution.
The film counterpoises two powerful figures of the French revolution - the incorruptible Jacobite Robespierre at the centre of a savage and uncontrolled revolution, and the popular hero, Danton, a revolutionary with love of life, want to end the killings and thus must die himself.
Prior to the imposition of the martial law in Poland (1981) Wajda took Gerard Depardieu (Danton) to Warsaw to view the tired face of the revolution and how its leader behave before its collapse - a deep fear and a hurry inside them as they become aware the revolution may never reach its conclusion, the pressures of which result in desperate action. With the martial law, the project was shifted to Paris and shot on the authentic locales of Paris streets and its historic interiors.
D. Korczak is about a character who according to contemporary social norms would be regarded as a saint. Wajda’s Korczak is humanised as he compromises, gets drunk and gives into anger. In an extreme situation, he makes the hardest choice of self-sacrifice over self preservation. In a straight forward narrative, Wajda shows Dr. Korczac rejecting the possibility of leaving the Warsaw Ghetto and saving himself and decides to stay with the children in his orphhanage and share their fate in the death camp.
During the official screening in the Cannes festival, the film got a standing ovation but a section of the media accused it of being anti-semitic in character and the resultant furore made its release difficult.
Marysia, fifteen-year old modest girl moves to a big city from a small town. At her new school she is drawn to her two classmates - Kasia and Ewa. Kasia, unconventional and independent minded, is musically gifted and introduces her into a world of art and creativity. Marysia realises she has moved far away from her religious and traditional family and rejects her friendship,. She then befriends the rich and beautiful Ewa, and moves into a materialistic, consumerist world of stunning clothes and parties. In the process she becomes beautiful and chic, but also cruel and ruthless. She now become unsure of which way of life to choose. Meanwhile her two friends unite against her sneeer at her naivete and call her ‘Miss Nobody’. She becomes an outcase to their worlds and wakes up to reality.
In this film an wiser Wajda has to explore the world of the fifteen-year olds and their attitudes in life. The director, not very familiar with the subject has to rely on his ‘film vision’.
A Homage to Basu Bhattacharya
Basu Bhattacharya was one of the most well-known exponents of ‘middle cinema’ in Bombay. Whatever the quality of his films might have been critically his own individuality was reflected in his films. He tried to connect the mainstream Bombay films to the more artistic and socially aware cinema. In this article, Bhaskar Sen looks into the life of Basu Bhattacharya, his own growth as a filmmakerand his place in the middle-of-the-road cinema.
The Early Years
Basu Bhattacharya (1934 - 1997) was born into a Brahmin family in Murshidabad in West Bengal. From his family came the priests to the royal family of Cossimbazar and that would have been his future as well. After being educated in Berhampur and Calcutta, his interest in films took him to Bombay. In 1958, he started his movie career as an assistant to Bimal Roy in Madhumati and Sujata. Soon a rift followed as he married his mentors daughter against his wishes.
His first independent directorial venture was Teesri Kasam (1966) produced by the poet-lyricist Shailendra. Shailendra had a highly successful career in Bombay teaming up with the composer duo Shankar - Jaikishen and together they provided evergreen hits for most of Raj Kapoor’s musicals. But the creative artist and sensitive poet remained artistically dissatisfied he chose a very beautiful subject, a story Teesri Kasam by the Hindi author Phaniswarnath Renu. Together with Basu Bhattacharya he wanted to present a refined and a redefined entertainment.
Hiraman, a simpleton bullock-cart-driver after two misadventures and the two initial vows is forced to transport a nautanki dancer to a remote destination. In the course of the journey, he gets acquainted with the dancer Hirabai, forming a relationship as ‘mita’ or namesakes. Simple and uncomplicated Hiraman sees her as a pure and virtuous woman and she in turn is charmed by his innocence and lack of guiles. Their relation, their world is short lived like the journey. Hiraman, on reaching the fair comes into conflict with almost everyone including his friends who sees the ‘dancer as an object of lust. This initially angers Hirabai but she starts understanding Hiraman and his pure devotion. She sees herself with Hiraman’s eye and starts dreaming of a life with him and an escape from her own tinsel life. He deposits all his savings with her and she cooks and feeds him. The local lecherous landlord lusts after Hirabai and her refusal angers him. This endangers Hiraman’s life and Hirabai chides him and sends him away. The disillusioned and heart-broken Hiraman takes the final and third vow to not to trust or transport in his cart another nautanki dancer. Meanwhile Hirabai leaves that nautanki and sends a message to Hiraman as she wants to return his savings. Hiraman does not turn up at the railway station where she waits for him in vain and them boards a train to perhaps to go to another nautanki.
Waheeda Rehman was perfectly cast as Hirabai but it was difficult to imagine the fair- complexioned Raj Kapoor as the rural Bihari cart-driver. But he insisted on playing the role and to conceal his complexion the film had to be made in black and white and shot by Satyajit Ray’s early cameraman Subroto Mitra. Inspite of the critical acclaim in garnered and memorable music by Shankar Jaikishen the film was a box office disaster. A financially ruined Shailendra died very soon.
Though Basu said he was influenced by Ray’s Pather Panchali, the influence of his mentor Bimal Roy was more than evident. Bimal started as a cameraman in the New Theatres, Calcutta. Later he moved to Bombay and successfully adapted literary themes like Parinita, Kabuliwala, Sujata and Bandini. He took stars and made them act effectively. He also understood music well and blended many beautiful songs composed by Sachin Dev Burman and Salil Chowdhury into his films. The soft tone and lighting of his films were matched by his delicate story-telling and refined sensibilities. Along with Guru Dutt he made lyrical and poetic films and were the major icons of the sixties. Directors and writers like Gulzar, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Nabendu Ghosh and Basu Bhattacharya learnt their ropes under him.
Teesri Kasam was most Bimal Royish of all Basu’s films but despite its excellence and President’s Silver Medal, Basu was to move way to a new kind of cinema. Basu would never touch a literary theme again, despite his affinity and familiarity with them.
The 70s’ trilogy
The middle of the road cinema was resurgent once more in the early 70s with Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Gulzar at the vanguard of the movement. films like Anand, Guddi, Abhiman, Parichay and Koshish were liked both by the critics and the masses. Basu was now to explore the world of man-woman relationship with Amar and Manasi, the eternal man and woman at its epicentre. Basu was now to venture on the Amar-Manasi trilogy which would take a look at modern, urban marriages and its fragile nature and its inherent contradictions.
Anubhav (1971) was the first one of the trilogy with the lead pair Sanjeev Kumar and Tanuja. In between moments of love and understanding, there is a conflict which arises out of ego- clashes between two assertive individuals. The husband expects his wife to play a subservient role in the marriage while the wife opposes the egoistical male dominance. The haunting songs were rendered by Geeta Dutt and Anubhav was her swan-song. The next film Avishkaar (1975) had in lead the then successful star-pair Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore who played a couple very much in love and marry against all odds. After the initial happy years, they are discounted and disillusionment sets in as they have a wider view of each other’s shortcomings and flaws. The husband tries to befriend another woman but then returns to his wife. They realise they had not understood each other in totality and fully and they accept each other with their short comings. Rajesh Khanna won the Best Actor trophy at the Filmfare awards. The third film was about an extramarital relationship. Uttam Kumar was to play Amar in Grihapravesh (1977) but he left the project after a difference of opinion with the director and was replaced by Sanjeev Kumar. Sharmila Tagore was to play the wife (Manasi) and Sarika the other woman (Sapna). The wife remains content with her humdrum middle class life and penny pinches to save in order to buy a new house and move out of the rented one. The husband is pursued by his attractive and younger colleague and finally gets seduced by her after his initial aloofness. After the painful realisation, wife gets the act together by painting the peeled off walls and dolls up glamorously. She invites the girl over to her home and assuredly presents a picture of a happy and a working marriage. The girl is confronted by this facade and becomes unsure whether this awkward and domesticated man is the person she loved and turns back. The intrusion is soon forgotten and couple re-enacts their set part once more.
Apart from the main characters played by different actors, named Amar-Manasi, the songs were penned by Gulzar and composed by Kanu Roy, an assistant to Salil Chowdhury. This trilogy is about claustrophobia in a marriage and reconciliation emerging from growth and maturity and a sense of responsibility. The trilogy would be remembered inspite of its inherent superficiality as it explored urban middle class marriages against the changing nature of consumerist society. All the three films were made under his banner of Aarohi films.
In 1975 Basu wanted to make Asampt Kavita based on the life of the Bengali poet Sukanta Bhattacharya. He cast Sharmila Tagore with Gulzar as Sukanta. But the project had to be abandoned. He then made a breezy comedy Tumahara Kallo (1975) set in the rural milieu with a fresh pair in the lead. Most of his later films like Panchavati did not get a theatre-release or he himself did not release the final product as in Anand Mahal. He produced Sparsh, a film directed by Sai Paranjape with sensitive performances by Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi. He made a T.V. serial Anweshan and a documentary on the Jnanpith award winning Punjabi writer Amrita Pritam, sponsored by the Sahitya Akademi.
After a long gap Basu returned to films, but had to conform to declining audience taste. It is about an acquisite housewife played by Rekha who is sexually repressed and dissatisfied in her relationship with husband Om Puri. She take to part time prostitution to buy trifles. The film lacked depth, substance or any convincing psychological probe. It became an instant hit due to its explicit and voyeuristic love making scene. Astha was a follow up to the Amar – Manasi trilogy.
Soon Basu passed away in Bombay.
Basu Bhattacharya served the filmindustry in various capacities – as the Vice-President of the Federation of Film Societies of India, President of the Indian Film Director’s Association and was on the board of National Film Development Corporation.
Bhaskar Sen is an active participant of Film Society movement. He is deeply interested in literature and other fine arts like painting and music. He has been particularly interested in the changing trends in modern European cinema. As an artistic medium, cinema fascinates him most and his primary concern is the search in a film maker for a distinctive cinematic language.
Satish Bahadur on Satyajit Ray
Dear Ashim Ratan Ghosh/(I am sending a copy directly to you brother.)
Thank you for the two copies of your magazine. I have already passed on the other copy to Dr. Mrs. Shyamala Vanarase.
I admire the effort that has gone in putting the journal together, and also the undoubted academic interest reflected in the contents. Personally, I am slightly old fashioned, and to me, a great deal of current film theory is impressive, but of little help in my current concerns. For me, the author is not dead, but very much vibrantly alive in the film he has created ; my main concern as a critic is to understand what the author has created. I must assert that the text of the film created by the film maker is an objective fact fixed once for all on celluloid. The proof of this assertion is in the fact that every time you run the film, the structure of the text would be the same. The spectator, any spectator, does have personal reactions and personal opinions and interpretations, which are subjective to him as a person. And these personal reactions and opinions will change from person to person. Therefore, a necessary mindset toward understanding the film is to make the distinction between the objective fact of the film and the subjective opinion the spectator. The spectator needs self-discipline (and some humility) to let the film maker "speak" unhindered, and "to listen" to what the film maker has to say, before the spectator gives play to his subjective opinions. The operative difference here is between the fact of the film which is verifiable, and the opinion of the spectator, which, by its very nature, is subjective, and not verifiable.
I have read with admiration Dr. Ghosh’s paper applying the Derridean model to Pather Panchali. But for me, it poses three problems. One: the line up of critical authorities, Derrida, Barthes, Lawson... is impressive. But do they actually integrate as a unified critical system ? Two : are we sure that we are applying the whole system, and not merely picking up elements which are convenient for our immediate use ? Three : does the exercise throw light on any elements in Pather Panchali which were otherwise elusive, and could not be handled by the usual methods of analysis of the design in the film fiction ?
I am simply posing the first two questions, but honestly, I cannot attempt an answer ; this involves a kind of scholarship which I do not have.
But, I have done some thinking around question no. 3, which involves the film text of Pather Panchali, which is objective, and freely available around in fairly reliable video copies. Hence, I confine myself mainly to some several points made in Dr. Ghosh’s paper.
Poverty and poetry do not seem to be binary. The opposition to poetry would be prose (or something of that kind). The opposite of poverty would be richness or plenitude (or something of that kind.) It is unfair to credit Nargis with any academic importance. Her statement is merely an example of Ray-baiting, a favourite pastime of many critics and film makers. The problem was not with the film, but with Satyajit Ray. The commercial bigwigs were posing these kinds of questions to make some sense of this phenomenon of Satyajit Ray as a film maker. Who was he ? and why was he ? He was not in the Bombay/Calcutta studio hierarchy, and he was daring to make films without using any conventions of Indian cinema. And people all over, are talking about him. Let us handle him, and dispose his off, by the convenient weapon of character assassination:
Here it is goes ; Ray merely panders India’s poverty abroad. That is Nargis for you. Who would question the dictum of the holy cow, the Mother India of Indian cinema? So, the Nargis quote is in the permanent dictionary of myths and lies painstakingly built up the Indian commercial film press. I think it is important to identify the jealousy-born, non-rational level in much of the rejection of Ray and his films. (J. B. Homi. Wadia, after seeing Jalsaghar, was worrying about this filmmaker who does not know how to edit a dance sequence.)
Reference : the discovery of Tunudi’s bead necklace reminding of the dead Durga. If you look at the details of all the scenes after Durga’s death, they have been composed of elements, (which have been) associated with (the composition of scenes of) Durga’s activities in the earlier part of the film. It is repetition of the earlier-used elements (variation of the motif, in the design sense) which is important here. To illustrate, let us note such motif-variation-repeat element in the glass-bead-mala discovery scene. (1) Recall the start of the events on day of the theft of the beads ? Apu was hungry and wanted a pice from mother ; instead mother asked Durga to give him some muri from the jambati ; But Durga was planning some much more interesting concoction of raw-mangoes (pilfered ?) to be done in oil (also pilfered). In fact, Apu, under Durga’s instructions has located (on the upper shelf), some (pilfered ?) oil in a coconut shell and brought it to Durga, by jumping across a window. The window is unmistakable, Apu has scrawled his name across the window sill.
(2) While the children are testing the sour concoction, the bell of the sweet seller passing by is heard, the children see him from a distance he stops and tempts the children by naming the sweets he has in his pots. Durga coaxes the reluctant Apu to try again (with Father this time) if they can get a pice for the sweets. Apu tries, Harihar agrees, but mother senses the father-son coin-transaction from a distance and prevents it in clear, stern instructions. The sweet seller moves away Durga decides, coaxes the reluctant Apu, and the two children followed by the dog, move in a little procession around the pond.
The round ripples of (the relatively clear) surface of the pond DISSOLVE (compositionally) to swinging round pots of the sweet seller, as he moves into Shejobou’s courtyard for assured sales.
(3) Durga is called in by the girls playing in the courtyard. Apu hesitates and keeps out. Ranu has noticed Durga with the playing girls, and calls out offering a sweet to her. Shejobou reacts sharply and orders Ranu not to give any sweets to the greedy girl and mutters suitable harsh words about the greed of the girl and the poverty of Durga’s family. Durga moves up to the terrace with the playing girls, and sees Tunu handling the round glass beads. She starts cajoling Tunu to let her handle the beads. Ranu, (meanwhile has pilfered a round shaped sweet from the family stock, against Shejobou’s explicit orders), comes to the terrace and stealthily gives the sweet to Durga, while Durga is still trying to cajole Tunu to let her handle the beads..... (4)...evening scene.... (5)....night scene on the verandah.... (6) The next day, Shejobou comes in to Sarbojaya, accusing Durga of the theft of Tunu’s beads,..... Apu is watching as Durga denies having stolen it.... leading to more distorted argument and eventually, Shejobou leaves, calling Sarbojaya and daughter a bunch of thieves. Then, Sarbajaya recoils in anger, pulls Durga by the hair, out of the house, (recall the strong background music of drums over the punishment of Durga)..... reconciliation.... (7). The night scene, Harihar returns with salary arrears..... the kitchen scene as Harihar talks of better prospects of work in Dashghora..... (8) now follows a scene which is crucial..... Apu and Durga settle down to sleep; first they talk of how many days to the puja etc... dissolve :the camera moves closer to Apu’s face as he asks crucial confidential question: Did you take Tunudi’s mala? Answer: Don’t be silly... Apu pauses, but persists with his question: Who has taken it then?.... Answer: I don’t know. Go to sleep... Dissolve.
Now, it would be interesting to see how the several elements (marked in bold, above) enter into the composition again in the different context of the discovery scene.
The discovery of Tunu’s mala comes right at the end of the film. Harihar has decided to leave: Nilmoni’s wife and Shejobou have already met Sarbojaya, Shejobou had brought with her a basket of mangoes as a parting gift, (recall the opening scene: Shejobou shouting at little Durga stealing the guava from the orchard/the unripe mangoes of the sour concoction to (the binary) taste of the sweet that Ranu pilfered for Durga). The five village elders have come to meet Harihar, asserting the old tradition of sticking to ones’ village home, but in effect, doing the last formal duty to bid farewell; the last packing for the journey is being done.
Now the discovery scene. (Note that the location and things/objects are the same, but composed differently.) Apu is clearing the top shelf, when a coconut shell falls off and from it Tunu’s mala, also disturbing a spider which crawls away. (The drums of Durga’s punishment scene recur on the soundtrack.) Apu picks up the mala, stares at this sudden revelation of an aspect of Durga, (the dead sister’s guilt (?) of pilfering (?), and telling lies even when asked in confidence (?). He decides to keep this secret: runs out of the window, (the same window, with his name still on the sill), clambers over the broken wall towards the pond. Apu looks around ensuring that he is not seen by anyone throwing the mala in the pound. Now, the season has changed, there is no breeze to ripple the water, the surface of the pond is still, and covered with little dead leaves. The still surface could be (binary) contrast to the ripples (?) of the pond when the sweet seller rounded it, with the children and dog in tow. The leafy surface opens up and hides for ever the secret of the mala, the secrets of the dead sister, and the secret of Apu hiding the secrets of the dead sister. The drum music ends. Apu watches the pond for a while, as you hear a distant bird. Dissolve. (The spider ? the animal motif has never been a problem in the composition of this film. These human characters live in close contact with nature and with animals (dog, cat, birds, live chirping frogs, dead frog, snake, spider, bugs.... and many more... in fact, the dissolve at end of scene from Apu’s sad face, leads to the abandoned family dog in the courtyard of the house, and a moment later, a snake which moves out of the rubble to move on to the verandah and into the room, where we had seen so much human drama.)
I have gone into (this rather expanded detail of) the mala discovery scene to identify the motifs (from earlier scenes) and their variation in the composition of this scene. We are reminded of Durga since the discovery scene is composed of (variations of motifs) connected with the activities of Durga, the sweets, the necklace, the pond, the ripples, mother’s punishment of Durga, the lies of Durga... and so on....The focus is on the desire of a girl for sweets and bead trinkets (which she knows that her poor family cannot afford for her.) The mala discovery scene has no elements to build up something as substantial as "the loss of innocence/desire of a young poor unmarried rural girl of that time", suggested by Dr. Ghosh. In some other scenes there are, of course, wonderful suggestions of the rise of feminine sexuality in Durga, and her anticipation of marriage, but not in the mala - discovery scene.
In addition, let me suggest some factual correction in the draft of Dr. Ghosh’s paper:
page 45, col. 1, India as text :... "Like the telegraph wire and the hissing sound of the passing signal... ".It would be more appropriate to call it: hum of the telegraph poles. Factually (scientifically) speaking, the hum is caused not by the passing telegraph signal but the vibration of the telegraph wires in the wind which is transmitted to the poles. This hum can be heard by placing the ear to pole surface, as Durga and Apu do in the scene.
Page 46, col2, last para, second and third line,
a proof reading error, the sentence should read: Signs are the signifiers (not signifieds)...... This is very difficult problem in proof reading, the slip between the writing and the printing. (I have suffered it all the time.) If the writer does the first proof reading himself, these slips will go unnoticed. Ask someone else who has nothing to do with the writing, but who knows the subject, to do the first proof reading, and then there is a good chance that errors of oversight, spelling mistakes and formal mistakes of language construction will be identified. The final proof must, however, always be corrected by the author. And never permit the printer to rush you in the last stage of printing. They always try to rush you, and that is where strange mistakes creep in. Otherwise, How can Derrida be printed as derrida, with a lower case d, as on page 44, columm 1, line 11?
Page 47, col. 1 last para, reference to the faint hissing (whistling should be more appropriate) sound of the passing train without any apparent connection in the scene when Indir Thakrun is threading the needle.....There is some mix up here..... The sound of the distant train whistle occurs in the following context in the night scene : On the main verandah, Harihar seems to be working on his (office) account khatas, and also keeping Apu engaged writing on his slate, while Sarbojaya is doing Durga’s hair. Indir, from her verandah, is trying to thread the needle, in vain attempt to draw attention to her torn chadar: Harihar had promised to buy a new chadar at the forthcoming festival time. From the far distance, the train whistle is heard (for the first time in the film). Apu and Durga actually talk about going to see the train some day. Durga says that she knows where the railway line is, and she is pulled up by Sarbojaya for telling lies. Indir’s death is pretty well distant from this scene. Also, we do not hear the train sound before Durga’s death. The screech sound is more likely the screeching wind of the rain storm.
The train motif does not seem to be related to the forthcoming death of anybody in the fictional events of the Trilogy. However, the railways are well integrated in the design of choice of locations (in Bengal, and elsewhere), locations on which the human drama of the Trilogy unfolds. Nischindipur is in the interior countryside. It does not have a railway station, but the railway track is some 3 or 4 miles always. In Pather Panchali you hear only the sound of the trains in the night. Of course, the children did go far out one excited afternoon, and had a first look, a quite unsatisfactory look, at a train. In 1920, we enter Benares on a train, and also leave Benares on the train, running right through the night in south Bihar and reaching Bengal the next day. The Aparajito village, Manaspota has a railway station and, indeed, from this house one can actually see the train, not merely hear it. Later, of course, this train will take Apu to Calcutta to grow up and to grow away from Sarbojaya. In Apur Calcutta Sansar, the house is next to a railway shunting yard, all kind of things happen to Apu, railway-wise. Even at the end when Apu and Kajal move on to a Promethean assertion, the amazed Dadu is left holding the toy engine which the repentant father had brought for the neglected son.
(iii) Some minor mistakes, the sound like my cribbing, we might note them while we are at it.
p. 47, column 2, para 3, last but one line, instead is one word, not two as in stead.
p. 44, column 1, line 11, derrida is a distinguished philosopher and should be honoured with a capital opening as Derrida.
p. 48, column 2, last para of text, last but one line a masterpiece a unified whole. Why hyphenate it?
I found the look, the format, the printing quality of the journal rather unsatisfactory. I am well aware of the problem of costs of printing but I am sure DTP can give much better results.
Building up the paid circulation of any serious film journal in India is a near impossibility. I do not think any serious film journal has been able to survive without any larger organisation picking up the bill as if, counting roughly from Indian Film Culture in the early 1960s. It is a sad fact of culture life in India and (I suppose, internationally, too)
I would be very happy if you could respond to the various points in the note. In fact I would be happy to strike to up a discussion with you around these points.
Some Notes on the Film Medium
By Satish Bahadur
Film is the study of Man in Environment
This compulsion is inherent in the very nature of the film image. When the camera-and-mike records a human being in action (say, a boy runs), the environment around the running boy will naturally get into the composition of the picture. The camera will record the running boy and also the other visual elements in the space where the boy is running, for example, the trees, the buildings or pavements or telegraph poles or other cyclists on the front road. Likewise for sound: the mike will record the words shouted by the running boy, and also other sounds of the environment like the chirping of birds on the trees and the tinkling of the cycle bell, and, may be, also the sound of an approaching car, even though the vehicle is not yet visible in the camera range.
In a fiction film, the main locus of interest is the revelation of human character: in Pather Panchali, the way in which interpersonal relationships develop between fictional human beings like Apu, Durga, Sarbojaya, Harihar Ray... and many others. However, these human characters act and interact in an environment. Thus, for the fiction of Pather Panchali, we have, of necessity, to create the related fiction of the village Nischindipur. In making the film image, the camera-mike will photograph-phonograph the characters in relation to this environment.
The environment will consist of visual Details of Nature like the earth, and sky, and the light of the day and night in the various seasons, and water and vegetation, and animals, birds, even snakes and frogs (and related sounds), (visual and sound) details of social-cultural kind like the houses and huts in which they slive, the food they eat, the clothes they wear, the language nuances in which they speak... also visual and sound details of a technological kind, the tools and machines and material objects like the pots and pans and numerous objects and artifacts involved in their activity of living. The railways will occur in the composition in this large framework of the environment.
When we say that Film is the study of Man in Environment, we are distinguishing Film from the medium of Theatre, and also the medium of Literary Fiction (novel or short story).
Theatre is also study of Man, but not of Man in Environment.
A scene in a play may indicate "environment" as laconically as "The Garden". The rendering of this "Garden" scene in a theatre performance could be completely convincing on a bare stage. And for the next scene, the very same bare stage space could become "A Room in the Palace". Theatre is a symbolic medium. Hence, "environment" on the stage is created by the symbolic (performance) details of the actor on the stage. The actor would perofrm some symbolic gestures like looking out the room window, and then settling down on a comfortable throne,... and these would be adequate to suggest that the King is now in "A Room in the Palace". Another style of stagee set could use a wooden cut out frame for a window and a stool for the throne. However, these props will "become" the window and the comfortable throne only when the actor playing the King enters the stage and starts his scene. It is the presence of the actor on the stage which creates the environment and gives life to the properties. If there is no actor on the stage, these properties will be seen as mere wooden cut outs, which indeed they are.
Likewise, Literary Fiction. A novel or short story is also the study of Man.
However, the images are created in the abstract medium of verbal Language (English or Hindi or Portuguese or German... or any other...). And the details of environment included in a scene will depend entirely on its relevance to the human action. In an extreme case, a story may be written taking place between He and She without mentioning any detail of the room in which the interaction is taking place. Or, in another case, the table under the window may be suggested by a table-top detail around which any of the characters interact. In such a case, the literary composition will only trigger off images in the mind of the reader, but the specific image of the table would be according to the imagination of the reader.
The Railways Motif in the Apu Trilogy
Some Preliminary Notes
By Satish Bahadur
I use the term railways motif, rather than the limited term train motif. The railways include trains and also engines, wagons, bogies, railway stations, platforms, human details on platforms, and in passenger bogies... also technological artifacts like rail tracks, shunting yards, signals, bridges, embankments, telegraph lines running along the rail track, and (add on) landscape seen from running trains, (... keep on adding...) rumble of a train, whistle of an engine... smoke from an engine...
The railways are in the ambience of the Indian landscape and the Indian socialscape. Hence, they occur in the background of several scenes in the Apu Trilogy. The fiction of the Trilogy is essentially a design of developing human relations of the Apu story, and the railways recur with the palpable consistency of an integral element of the design. We need to trace this in the design of the Trilogy.
Running the railways is an activity related to the human needs. In composing a film scene, some aspect of the railways (in the background of the scene) can be brought into an expressive relationship with the feeling of the (foreground) drama of human requirements, human compulsions, human tensions, human expectations... (add to this list, to include the entire range of human character and inter-personal relationships...).
A quick preview of some situations which occur in the Apu Trilogy. A train can take a beloved person away from you. A train can also bring the beloved back to you.... A train can be an object of wonder for a child. For a growing mind, the train comes from there, and goes there: the train can stimulate the desire to know the world out there.... An oncoming train can be violent, even lethal, it can kill man or animal. An engine steamed up for a journey exudes brutish power.... A whistle is a sharp reminder, even a warning.... One could be lonely in a train compartment or a crowded platform, even though surrounded by many others... and so on.
The Apu Trilogy is the fiction of Apu from birth through childhood and adolescence to early youth when he marries and has a son of his own. The time period is identifiable. Pather Panchali begins in Nischindapur with Apu’s birth around 1910. Aparajito opens in 1920 with the Varanasi episodes which fix the years of Harihar’s death and Sarbojaya’s return to Mansapota. Apu is about 16, when he goes for college studies in Calcutta. The end of Aparajito when Sarbojaya dies should be about 1927. Apur Sansar opens sometime in 1930. The offscreen slogan: Inquilab Zindabad from a political procession on the street outside can be heard as the professor encourages Apu to take up writing seriously. Apu is about 21. At the end of Apur Sansar, when Apu returns for his son, Kajal is about five years old. The year could be around 1935.
Throughout the late 18th and 19th century, the British administration had introduced several devices of modernisation, designed mainly to tighten the hold on the socio-economic frame of Indian life: the railways, the post and telegraph, revenue collection through the zamindars, money economy replacing the commodity barter system which destroyed the traditional basis of the village self-sufficiency, growth of ports and trading cities; education in the English language and in modern science and technology... These new elements interacted with the traditional factors in shaping he evolution of the Indian personality during the first half of the 20th century. One not-designed effect of these measures was the heightened sense of national awareness in the Indian mind. (The Apu Trilogy has shades of most of these in its composition.)
Thus the fiction of Apu’s life (1910 to 1935) is placed against such a backdrop of social and cultural change in Bengal.
Here we try to relate one factor of change, the Railways with the fictional events of the Trilogy.
Notice some decisions of the scriptwriter in the overall macro-shape of the script. There are several major village/ city locations of the Apu story. Can we place these locations in relation to the railways in a meaningful manner?
Pather Panchali is confined to Nischindipur, a small village deep within the Bengal countryside. It is not on the railway line, but not too far away either. Bengal is the first conquest of the Raj, and it has been ensured that the railway network penetrates deep enough into the countryside. The railway line is about three miles or so away from Nischindipur, and the children can hear the sound of passing trains in the stillness of night. Apu and Durga promise that someday they will go to see the train. One excited afternoon, they wander that far away from the village and see a train. Apu has his first close view of the train as the wheels thunder past the little boy clambering up the embankment. (To anticipate the script design, in Apur Sansar the grieving Apu just about escapes coming under the wheels of a train in a last-moment-circumvented suicide bid.)... After the first shock of the family disaster, when Harihar Roy settles down for the night, he cannot sleep, and the sound of the distant train whistle is heard on his wide awake face, and we know this is the precise point when he decides to leave the village. The last shots of Pather Panchali show the decimated family in a bullock cart trundling away from the abandoned home moving towards the (not-shown) railway which will take them away to Varanasi... (Anticipating Aparajito, the precise point of decision to return from Varanasi also will be signalled by a train whistle on Sarbojaya’s face.)
In Aparajito, we enter Varanasi in a train, rumbling past he massive girders of the railway bridge opening up the river front of the city. The British have provided a secure railway connection from the Bengal countryside to this ancient holy city and for the last lap they also made this bridge across the wide Ganga. Harihar’s family must have come along this rout: they will also return the same way. Some months after Harihar’s death we leave Varanasi on a train going out past the same massive girders of the bridge, closing out the view of the river front of the city. The train is carrying back the further decimated family, Sarbojaya and Apu, past the tile-roofed villages on the other side of the Ganga, speeding through the hilly nightscape in south Bihar into the next-morning-verdure of the Bengal countryside.
The mother and son are now in the village Mansapota in Bhabataran’s house. In the text few years, Apu will grow up and grow away from the mother. He will go away to Calcutta on the train. The scriptwriter’s question is... how to place Bhabataran’s house in relation to the railway. We locate the house with a back door, from where one can see beyond the fields, the rail track. For Apu’s growing mind the train is a constant beckoning of the world out there. This visual location of the house can be used in a deeply moving situation. A very ill Sarbojaya can totter in the evening dust to see the train from Calcutta, which may (or may not!!) bring the son to the dying mother.
In Aparajito, the rail entry into Calcutta is markedly different from the entry into Varanasi. The train carrying the older Apu for studies changes several tracks snaking along the wide railway station yard before entering the platform at Sealdah.
The unplanned growth of Calcutta had created railway sidings leading to factories, and for shunting, and handling of coal and bulk commercial products. Along these railway sidings grew slums and cheap tenement buildings. For Apur Sansar, the scriptwriter decides that Apu’s rented room will be on the top of a three storied building in a slum next to a railway siding. This is just about the lodging which the unemployed Apu can afford. The railway siding provides several interesting possibilities involving Apu. Apu will walk with Pulu one might along the railway track, excitedly recounting his autobiographical novel. The scene ends with Apu’s confused protest at his lack of actual experience of romantic love with a woman.... (Months have passed, Apu had married and had wonderful conjugal experience with Aparna... Continuing, as if, from that night scene, Apu walks along the railway track again, deeply absorbed in (the absent and the pregnant) Aparna’s letter, which sensitises him to prevent a neighbour’s child from crawling too close to the railway track. This scene, in continuation, leads upstairs to Apu receiving the violent blow of Aparna’s death, which triggers off his ineffectual violence of hitting the hapless bring-er of bad news, all played against the impersonal ugliness of the shunting yard below. From this point, the drama moves on to Apu’s breakdown. An engine whistle and train sounds over Apu’s grieving face trigger off the passing possibility of suicide under shunting train which is circumvented by the shriek of a run-over animal... Recall the earlier departure scene at Sealdah platform: the inevitability of the guard’s whistle and the engine whistle on the faces of both, Aparna and Apu, as they attempt to make the most of the moments on the-already-moving train, carrying Aparna away from Apu... And earlier, the first morning of this family. The shrill engine whistle which had annoyed Aparna when she was struggling with the smoky coal sigri for cooking their first meal.
... Recalling Aparajito, the departure from Varanasi is, as if, triggered of by an engine whistle. Sarbojaya, now widowed, has been serving temporarily in the Varanasi household of a zamindar. She has just now been offered a permanent job in the Dewanpur establishment of the zamindar. Coming down the stairs, she sees Apu, down there, blowing at the tobacco chillium for the master’s hookah.... Apu’s future (?) as a household servant!! This is the precise instant of decision for Sarbajaya. The shrill railway whistle comes right on Sarbojaya’s face coming down the stairs, a swish pan away from her, and they are already leaving Varanasi on the train rumbling past the massive girders of the bridge closing out of riverside view of the city.
Likewise, one could take up a detailed analysis of the composition of all the scenes in the Trilogy where the Railways occur in some aspect, and show how the feeling-tone of the foreground human drama is appropriately expressed in the feeling-tone of the railway details.
The train is a vehicle, a mode of transportation in the Apu story. In the Trilogy we have numerous events happening at several locations in villages and towns. Logically it follows that a range of other modes of transportation would also consciously be brought into other scenes. This, indeed, is the case. And the formal symmetries in the script design are striking.
(In theory terms, if the train is a motif, the other vehicles oftransportaion are variations of the motif. In Metzian terminology, train and other means of transportation would form a paradigmatic relationship.... The richness of a design is due to the coexistence of a motif with its variations.... Recall the school-science example of the sound of a tuning fork of frequency N, or a vibrating sitar string. The richness of the sitar string sound is due to the main vibration at frequency N, and the simultaneous vibrations at the harmonics of N, like frequencies N/2, N/4, N/8, N/16, N/32... and so on... If N is the tone, N/2, N/4, N/8... are overtones.)
The trilogy is observing the changing life styles of the people in this fiction. The train is a vehicle. Wherever it is possible other vehicles have been brought into the film composition, indicating the rich diversity of transport vehicles at the different levels in this changing society. Let us see how.
At the end of Pather Panchali, a bullock cart carries Harihar’s family away from Nischindipur towards the train to Varanasi. In Aparajito, when the decimated family returns from Varanasi to Mansapota, the bullock cart is used again in the last lap from the railway station to the village house. We had seen boats on the huge Ganga river front at Varanasi. A tiny boat being poled on a tiny water channel in Mansapota as the family returns from Varanasi. A horse drawn phaeton brings the Inspector to Apu’s school at Arboal. The street in Calcutta has a motor car coexisting with hand carts. Boats of all kinds float on the Hooghly, even big smoky steamers triggering off thoughts of going abroad.
The romantic Apur Sansar journey to Aparna is in a large sail boat, appropriately suffused with poetry recitation. The bridal chamber in Aparna’s house overlooks the river and the distant boatman’s songs... The (to-be-rejected) epileptic bridegroom arrives in a traditional palanquin, along with the English style band playing "He is a jolly good fellow"... In Calcutta, Apu brings the bride in style in an expensive horse drawn carriage to his room in a slum adjoining the rail shunting yard. Aparna’s bedroom in Calcutta has the constant presence of railway shunting noises all the time, day or night. Returning form cinema, the privacy of a closed horse drawn carriage provides Apu and Aparna the space to dream of the soon-to-arrive-Kajal... Five years later, when the repentant Apu faces for the first time the-long-arrived-Kajal, the preferred gift from father to son will be a toy railway engine. At the end of the Trilogy, when father-and-son move towards a possible new future, the toy engine is forgotten, abandoned in the hands of the old grandfather.
And so on and so forth...
A train is a train is a train, a whistle is a whistle (is a whistle)... In the film medium, everything is what it is and not another thing. The main quality of the film image is its verisimilitude: the image looks exactly like the thing which is imaged. The running boy on the screen looks like a running boy, a passing train on the screen looks like a passing train.
If we pose a question seeking a one to one relationship of the kind: What do the Railways symbolise in the Apu Trilogy?), and expect a smart one-line answer, we have made the initial mistake of posing a wrong question... and we should never expect a correct answer to a wrongly posed question. It is important to realise that the fiction of the Trilogy traces a complex design of changes in traditional lifestyles and character traits under the impact of modernisation of a (definite) cultural segment of society during a (definite) historical period of 20th century India. Hence, the significance of a single element like the railway motif can be understood only by exploring the details through which the numerous aspects of the railways are integrated in the growth of the human design of the Apu Trilogy.
We have attempted a first level exercise of this kind in these notes.
Rounding off, one may not that a symbol is something which stands for something else. Theatre is a symbolic medium, so is Dance. Hand mudra gestures in dance stand for a range of meanings. Verbal language is, in this sense, a symbolic system. The sounds produced by a speaker stand for the meaning of what is spoken. The black markings of paper which you are calling "reading" stand for the idea which is triggered off in you by this sentence.
Also, in actual cultural life around us symbols work effectively. A cross stands for the presence of Christianity. A building with a cross may indicate a church or Christian dwelling. A cross on a garment or a neck would indicate that the wearer is a Christian. A film will photograph these symbolic devices realistically. And symbols can be used effectively for identifying traits of the characters in a film plot in many subtle ways. Pather Panchali opens with Sejobou on the roof shouting the little child away from the guava orchard below. Shejobou is dressed like a married woman. Between this day and the next time we see her, sometime Shejobou’s husband died. This death is not shown in the film, but is symbolically reported to us when Shejobou accuses Durga of the theft of glass bead necklace: she is in (a Bengali) widow’s white weeds. The Aparajito headmaster, Paresh Babu, in a very Bengali dhoti and buttoned-up coat, also identifies himself as a Christian; he has a tiny cross on his pocket watch chain. (The missionary had also come to Bengal along with the British Raj...). In fact, when the Inspector of schools is visibly moved by Apu’s recitation of the patriotic poem, Paresh Babu is quietly touching the cross in prayer. For the headmaster it is a happy moment. The performance of a student is being approved by a government official!!
Dear Asim Ratan Ghosh,
Thanks for your e-mailed comments on my note of the Railway Motif in the Trilogy and related matters. I am glad you like the material. I am struck by your sentence, end of paragraph 1,, I quote : "Actually these two notes are bridging the gap between the film maker’s intention and his artistic representation and the process of pleasure and meaning making." Are you saying the following ? I would be grateful if you confirm that I have understood your meaning correctly.
The film maker made the film in some past situation in which his personal elements interact with objective elements which are independent of the film maker’s control. Personal elements like "film maker’s intention " and his "artistic representation", his own understanding and control on film language, his personal character and temperament and hang ups. objective elements (independent of the film maker’s person) would be like social, economic, political conditions, censorship control, financial constraints, producer’s constraints, audience expectation constraints... go on adding any other related and relevant factors. The resultant of interaction of all these factors was that the film maker put on celluloid film a structure fixed once for all, which is objective in the sense that it would not change any time you see it, now, three days later, or three years later, any time, anywhere. This finished film fixed once for all would be the source of the spectator’s "process of pleasure and meaning making." If this is so, it is important to realise that a firm method by which we can get to the "meaning" of the film is to make a careful study of the details in the structure of the film and to trace the logic by which these details are related to each other. Likewise, the source of "pleasure", which the spectator may receive from the film should primarily be in the structure of the film itself.
Let me identify that in the two papers I have tried to make an objective analysis of the role of the Railways Motif in the Apu Trilogy, drawing all the evidence from within the films themselves. Thus, the interpretation of the "meaning" is not a matter of my opinion as a critic, but based on verifiable facts from within the film, where they exist objectively fixed once for all for anyone to see.
The train has always been in the cinema from the word "Go ", as you rightly point out from the Lumiere programme. The reason is not difficult to see. Film deals with movement,and the train is movement par excellence, with the numerous things the railways do in human relations, in the drama of human requirements, human compulsions, human tensions, human expectations... (add to this list, to include the entire range of human character and inter-personal relationships...) The several films, Hitchcock etc. and numerous others use the train in these numerous human emotional contexts. There is no one reason for using the train in a film. It is always related to the structural requirements of the plot.
And perhaps the railways in the Indian landscape draws much more attention than any other modern engineering construct, much more than roads or bridges or cars... of course, partly because trains move, and partly because they are spectacular, much more than roads or bridges or cars.
If you want to work on the railways in Indian films, it may be interesting for you to read something about the social aspects of the Indian railways. A very extraordinary book on the subject is Bill Aitken : Exploring Indian Railways (Oxford University Press, 1994).
Honestly, I find your notes on the river rather confusing. One can make serious mistakes by the kind of sweeping generalisations inherent in your notes on the rivers. You mention several films. In each of these films, the river has an entirely different function.
This kind of exercise needs a careful analysis of every film individually. In a strict sense, these films are not comparable at all.
Incidentally, there is no Ganga river at all in the text of Raj Kapoor’s film : Jis Deshme Ganga Behti Hai. Ganga occurs only the title of the film and the first line of a song in the film.
I would like to talk about Ritwik Ghatak and the use of the Railway station scenes after I have read your analysis. Ghatak is a very important film maker, and Subarnarekha is marvellous, but that is a very different style of film, compared to the work of Satyajit Ray.
At the moment, I would not like to mix up the two. Regards,
Satish Bahadur 5.7.98
Cinema for the Cause of Theatre
S V RAMAN
Other than Shakespeare, it is perhaps the German playwright Bertolt Brecht who is the most well known and often staged Western dramatist in Bengali theatre. Nevertheless, the package of 12 films programmed in six parts under the title The Bertolt Brecht Workshop, presented in the tribute section of the recently concluded 4th Calcutta Film Festival, was a revelation to theatre-lovers and film-lovers alike. Put together by the Goethe-Institut Munich on the occasion of the playwright’s birth centenary and made available by the Max Mueller Bhavan, this package for the first time provided Calcuttans the opportunity of visually closely observing Brecht’s style of working.
Like his contemporary Sergei Eisenstein, Brecht also got fascinated by the medium of cinema in the early twenties. However, while Eisenstein moved from theatre full-fledged into films, Brecht used cinema to further his theatrical goals. "A film makes the bed for a play", he had said in 1926. He was drawn by the documentary nature of the medium and its ability to show "us the naked reality" which is "the good goddess of revolution", a point repeatedly stressed by author-journalist Hans-Joachim Schlegel from Berlin who conducted a day-long seminar on Brecht and Cinema with video illustrations, organised as a supplementary event to the film package.
"There are only two directors in the world", Brecht and apparently said once during a debate and continued "And the other one is Charlie Chaplin". The influence of Chaplin is amply evident in the first film of the package, The Mysteries of a Hairdresser’s Shop (1923), a grotesque slapstick featuring Munich comedian Karl Valentin as a hairdresser apprentice providing surrealistic humour with relish and exaggeration. A Man’s a Man (1931) is an experimental film shot without sound and using single-frame photography with interruptions and is the first cinematic document of a theatre production by Brecht. As the audience was very much an integral part of Brecht’s productions, it was nearly impossible to film stage productions live due to the heavy and noisy cameras used at that time. Hence Brecht restricted himself to filming parts of rehearsals to show the actors their mistakes, or to Private Film (1928-29) showing Helene Weigel putting on make-up, or some other scenes.
Perhaps his best cinematic collaboration was with the Bulgarian director Slatan Dudow when he wrote the screenplay for and practically co-directed Kuhle Wampe or Who Owns the World (1932), a powerful film on unemployment and solidarity of the working class and comprehensive document of Brecht’s artistic aspirations. It was initially banned by the censors and later allowed to be shown in a toned down version. Although his play The Threepenny Opera was a runaway success in 1928, Brecht chose to distance himself from the film version directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst two years later, due to disagreement on several counts.
With Hitler coming to power Brecht, had to emigrate to the United States. He was however quick to realise that he could neither have his grand theatre productions in Hollywood, language being a major barrier, nor could he compete with Hollywood filmmakers. He utilised there 16 years to concentrate on writing. During this period however, he collaborated with Fritz Lang who had also emigrated to USA, notably for the film Hangmen Also Die (1942), unfortunately not included in this package. He also managed to win over Charles Laughton for the title role in the stage and film version (1947) of Galileo, the latter directed by Joseph Losey.
Returning to Germany after the War, Brecht established his famous Berliner Ensemble in East Berlin in 1949 and got back to the business of regular theatre productions. He continued to use the medium of cinema for the sake of theatre. Syberberg Film Brecht (1953-93) is an interesting document with excerpts of film material shot in the fifties by the then teenage Hans Juergen Syberberg during rehearsals of Puntila, Urfaust and The Mother. Syberberg put this film together finally in 1993, adding his own commentary and some other interviews of Brecht’s contemporaries. The result is a close insight into Brecht’s style of working in the Berliner Ensemble.
After Brecht’s death in 1956, his co-workers and pupils art the Berliner Ensemble felt the necessity of documenting some of his production in film form. The last three films in the package: Katzgraben (1957), The Mother (1958) and Mother Courage and Her Children (1961) succeed in doing that with a cinematic professionalism that had eluded Brecht during his lifetime. However, they do bear the unmistakable and unchallengeable stamp of the great master’s theatrical creativity and class.
(Courtesy, The Statesman)
Shri S. V. Raman is Programme Officer at Max Mueller Bhavan Calcutta, free-lance journalist and film / theatre critic as well as guest lecturer for Film Studies at Jadavpur University and George Telegraph Training Institute.
GLOSSARYAll definitions are partial We have provided these brief definitions to help the reader who is new to feminist theory. However, it should be remembered that most of the terms are the subject of contestation within feminist theory and our definitions of those terms should not regarded as the only interpretation of them.
Some comment is needed on the use of inverted commas throughout this book. In post-structuralist criticism it has become practice to put within inverted commas those terms which you are treating with a certain amount of suspicion., terms like ‘feminine’ and ‘race’, which appear to have a common sense meaning and which for theoretical and practical reasons need to be questioned.
A group of: theorists, Levi-Strauss, Barthes, Genette and Propp amongst others, who were interested in analysing the basic structural components of texts, reducing groups of texts to their lowest common denominator; for example seeing what all fairy tales had in common in terms of their structure.
alienation A Marxist term used to describe the process whereby the worker gives up their labour in exchange for wages and thus becomes a part of the capitalist machine: the worker no longer experiences the satisfaction of producing goods themselves, but feels distanced from production. Marxist critics, for example Theodor Adorno, stress the alienated nature of reality in contemporary society and argue that the work of art acts within reality to expose its contradictions. – Mills and Pearce
antithesis The second element in Hegel’s dialectical system which is in opposition to the first proposition or thesis (see thesis and synthesis). – Mills and Pearce
base Within Marxist theory, it is assumed that economic relations underlie or predicate all other relations; this is the economic base (see superstructure) – Mills and Pearce
binary opposition A characteristic of western thought which casts qualities as direct opposites, for example: black / white; male / female; nature / culture. A great deal of feminist and poststructuralist work has aimed to show that these terms are not ‘true’ oppositions, but depend on each other in order to have meaning. – Mills and Pearce
biological essentialism An assumption that the differences between the sexes are determined by specific biological differences and not socially-constructed gender. Thus women are seen to be essentially different from men. – Mills and Pearce
camp: Theorists of camp behaviour define it as the culture and taste of marginal groups who celebrate the fact of their marginality through parody and self-mockery although it is often associated with homosexuality, camp in this broader definition can be practised by other kinds of outsider group, for example by the dandy, the declassed intellectual, or ethnic minorities. The prehistory of homosexual camp taste is necessarily obscure. In 1725 Samuel Stevens, a moral crusader visited the house of Margaret Clap in Holborn, London. There he saw ‘between 40 and 50 men making love to one another, as they called it.... Then they would get up dance and make curtsies, and mimic the voices of women’. Was this camp behaviour? It was certainly dangerous. As a result of subsequent prosecutions several men were hanged and others died in prison, so the culture of homosexual behaviours had good reason for discretion. Camp style therefore originates as a private language, shared by a group as part of a common identity and a protection from outsiders, it is a perverse elitism, taking pleasure in tastes and values which are conventionally scorned. Camp in this sense can also be applied to the valuation of normally despised objects, where a taste is developed and shared among a cult following. A carefully cultivated bad taste is camp for example a refined pleasure taken in late-night T.V. shows such as Cell Block H, or in the 1960s spoof mystery The Prisoner. Vladimir Tretchikoff’s Cbinese Girl was a popular print bought by tens of thousands of people in the 1960s for 76/6d from department stores. The print in its original period was kitsch, but to value Tretchikoff now is camp (or else just plain unreconstructed). Camp tastes and enthusiasms spread beyond their specific audiences during the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s in all kinds of genres. An early British example from the 1960s was the camp humour of the BBC radio comedy Round the Horn, and later the television series Art You Being Served. These were characteristic examples of very British social comedy playing the new frankness about sexuality against comic stereotypes of old-fashioned class attitudes. During the same period American camp taste for particular movie stars such as Bette Davis and Mae West, or chanteuses such as Judy Garland and Barbara Streisand either revived interest in old film careers or contributed significantly to the artistes’ success. Stars such as Davis or Garland were valued by gay audiences partly because they succeeded in spite of the conventions of appearance and performance expected of film stars and singers. Bette Davis’ histrionic acting style was a parody of screen femininity, acting out the artifice of sexual identity which was deeply sympathetic to homosexual experience. As both feminists and gay activists increasingly questioned routine assumptions about gendered identity and behaviour, a performance by an artist such as Davis could be viewed as a critique of any idea of an intrinsic sexual identity. By contrast, some stars can never be celebrated by camp taste, because they are ‘only’ male or female, and are, as it were, dumb-struck by the weight of their inescapable gender: Jean Gabin for example, the French heart-throb of the 1930s and 1940s, is a stupefied victim of his masculinism, from a camp point de vue.
canon This term is used by theorists to refer to that body of literary works that has become established as the proper texts to study on literature courses. It is marked by a preponderance of what feminists describe as ‘dead white men’s writing’. – Mills and Pearce
code : A systematic set of rules which assigns meanings to sings. A code is a symbolic system. For Barthes, it is a part of our competence in drawing on certain frames of reference. – Green and LeBihan
colonial discourse The group of texts, both literary and non-literary, which were produced by British writers within the British colonial period (see post-colonial) – Mills and Pearce
cultural essentialism It assumes that women can be spoken about as a group because they share the same cultural experiences. In the writings of feminists like Elaine Showalter this model of difference was initially preferred because it seemed less essentialist than models based on biology or psychology (see biological essentialism), but theorists soon recognised that it is equally problematic to assume that women of different ‘race’, class, nationality, education, sexuality and historical moment share a common culture. – Mills and Pearce
deconstruction This term was originally coined by the French theorist Jacques Derrida to describe a method of reading which focuses on the structure and operation of the text rather than on its content. The method undermines the notion of definite meaning in language, because an examination of any single words or concept reveals that it is only understood in relation to its opposite (see binary oppositions), or by its difference from other words or concepts. Developing the work of Fredinand de Saussure. Derrida demonstrates the arbitrary nature of the language system, thereby calling into question the meanings it attempts to convey (see differance). Deconstructive criticism has thus been particularly concerned to show how texts undermine their authors’ intentions. – Mills and Pearce
desire: (Lacan) Produced by the gap between a fundamental need and the inability of language to articulate a demand to see the need is met. Desire is effected by the transition from the Imaginary into the Symbolic: it is the mark of the failure of language and of the loss of the undifferentiated pre-Symbolic state of the infant. – Green and LeBihan
differance A world used by Derrida. His misspelling is deliberate, drawing attention to the written (rather than verbal) nature of language. It is a play on the two meaning of the French verb differer: to differ and to defer. Language depends on the difference between signs (words) as the basis of meaning (see difference below). The sense is deferred as one word refers to another word in an endless play of meaning, as is illustrated by our use of a dictionary which always sends us to another word and never the source ‘object’. – Mills and Pearce
difference This term is used by Saussure to denote the way that meaning depends on the minimal contract (difference) between words, rather than any correspondence between an object and the word used to name it. Language is not a naming device but a system of differences with no positive terms (i.e. no one term can be singled out to have its meaning in isolation from other words). – Mills and Pearce
discourse a term associated with the theorist Michel Foucault, used to designate established ways to thinking together with the power structures that support them (for example, the discourse of science’, ‘the discourse of patriarchy’). Discourses are the product of social, historical and institutional formations. The existence of ‘discursive practices’ within a society allows for certain subject positions to taken up. Modes of discourse are established and modified over time and ideas of class, gender, race, individuality, etc. are determined by them. A discourse depends on shared assumptions, so that a culture’s ideology is inscribed in its discursive practices (see below). Discourses embody power relations, and social meaning often arises at the point of conflict between different discourses. For example, concepts of gender result from the struggle between the legitimised discourse of patriarchy with the marginalised discourse of feminism (see Macdonnell, Bibliography). – Mills and Pearce
Double-voiced discourse A discourse in which two voices co-exist in competition or tension with one another, or which address two audiences simultaneously (see also polyphony). – Mills and Pearce
eclectic Using elements from different theories or practice to work out a new position. – Mills and Pearce
écriture féminine A term associated with the French Feminist and used to refer to writing practice which might be seen to be specifically ‘feminine’. Helene Cixous, whose own experimental writing may be regarded as an example of ecriture feminine, has dismissed attempts to define or theorise the concept but, in her work, as in that of Julia Kristeva and Luce lrigaray (see parler femme) connections are drawn between the non-linear or irrational’ nature of women’s writing and their gender-specific ‘privileged’ access of the repressed, unconscious stages of psychic development. – Mills and Pearce
Ego: (Freud) A controlling or pacifying function of the id, a mediator between what is acceptable and unacceptable. – Green and LeBihan
essentialism The assumption that there is an ‘essence’ of woman which all women share. – Mills and Pearce
ethnicity: Distinct from racial (biological) identity, a person’s ethnicity includes all features of his or her cultural origin, including religion, cooking traditions, philosophies, etc. – Green and LeBihan
Eurocentrism The assumption, often unacknowledged, that European values, culture, governmental and economic system, etc. are in essence superior to those of other cultures. – Mills and Pearce
feminine aesthetic A concept used by theorists who wish to prove the specificity of women’s writing in terms of either language, style, address, or indeed, themes based on cultural difference. – Mills and Pearce
feminine mystique a concept developed by Betty Friedan (see Bibliography) to describe the way in which women have been restricted to the role of wife and mother through the force of powerful ideologies and discourses that have circulated throughout patriarchal culture. – Mills and Pearce
feminine Whilst male and female can more clearly seen to be based on biological differences, feminine and masculine refer to the way society encourages us to identify in terms of gender. Feminine has also been used by Julia Kristeva to mean a position of marginality, of being outside the mainstream, which is a available to both males and females, and from which they can write (see masculine and gender). – Mills and Pearce
feminine: The cultural attributes of womanhood, as opposed to the biological, and which changes according to history and to cultural identity. – Green and LeBihan
first generation feminist Those involved in the revived Women’s Movement of the 1960s. The problem with the term is that it implies that there were no feminists before; whereas there have been feminists since at least the seventeenth century. – Mills and Pearce
formalism: A critical theory and practice where form and structure are seen as the fundamental elements for aesthetic consideration. Content is subordinated to form. – Green and LeBihan
gender It is a socially-constructed masculine or feminine role as opposed to the biologically-determined difference (i.e. sex). – Mills and Pearce
gender studies It is an analysis of masculinity and femininity, drawing on feminist theory and Women’s Studies. – Mills and Pearce
gynocriticism It is a term which refers to the practice of turning away from the analysis of male-authored texts to an analysis of female-authored texts and their specific difference from one another. – Mills and Pearce
gynocriticism: A woman-centred critical practice which privileges women’s criticisms of woman-authored texts, first promoted by Elaine Showalter. – Green and LeBihan
hermeneutics: Essentially, the theory of interpretation. The hermeneutic circle can be seen in relation to historical discourse: we can not understand the parts of history without and idea of the whole, and we can not understand the whole without a knowledge of the parts. This can be applied to the reading process. – Green and LeBihan
history: ‘A systematic account of the origin and progress of the world’. (Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary)’. – Green and LeBihan
hommelette A term which Jacques Lacan developed to describe the pre-Oedipal psychic condition of the child. He plays upon a pun in French (hommeltte = little man and omelette) in that the child is both an adult in the making, with sexual desires, but also a-dispersed consciousness which does not distinguish between self and other clearly. She/he is thus like a runny egg without clearly-defined subject boundaries. – Mills and Pearce
id: (Freud) The instinctual drives of the body. – Green and LeBihan
identity politics It is the politics predicated upon a particular identity (e.g. gay, lesbian, black ) and which has been contested by queer theorists who have made the post-structuralist de-centring of the subject central to their critique. – Mills and Pearce
imaginary In Lacanian psychoanalytical theory there is a period which roughly corresponds to Freud’s pre-Oedipal phase, but which is associated particularly with the mirror stage of psychic development. Although this stage is actually the child’s first move towards individuation, its recognition of itself in a mirror is accompanied by a sense of plenitude and authority. The pleasure it gains in waving its hand and seeing its hand wave back is also connected to its feeling of unity with the mother who, like the mirror image, responds to its actions and demands. In adult life this state of imagined unity and control thus becomes a touchstone of (unfulfilled) desire (see symbolic order below). – Mills and Pearce
Imaginary: (Lacan) The pre-Symbolic State, dominated by a non-differentiation of the subject from the world. It is a dimension of unconscious and conscious images, experienced or fantasised, which cannot be told apart. – Green and LeBihan
interpellation Literally this means ‘calling by name’. It is a term taken from the Marxist Althusser, to describe the process by which people are given positions within an ideological frame. The person is constructed in language and individuals recongnise (or misrecognise) themselves in the position assigned them within ideology, i.e. they are ‘called’ to adopt certain rules and do so unquestioningly. – Mills and Pearce
ISA/Ideological State Apparatus This is an umbrella term employed by Althusser to refer to the educational system, the law, the family, literature, art, the media. All these systems reinforce the dominant ideology of a particular culture and are instrumental in constituting people as subjects (i.e. positioning people within that ideology). – Mills and Pearce
logocentrism: This term is criticised by deconstruction as the philosophical understanding of words (logos means ‘word’) possessing metaphysical presence, Logocentrism is the belief that language can be authentic, fully representative and capable of producing fixed or certain meaning. – Green and LeBihan
Marxist-feminist A practice or theory which considers both gender and class to be essential components of an analysis. – Mills and Pearce
masculinity: The culturally acquired attributes of the male, assumed by Freud as the norm against which feminine development has been judged wanting. – Green and LeBihan
materialism Materialism or historical materialism is the central tenet of Marxist theory, stressing that institutions and socio-economic relations create social conditions rather than any metaphysical agency (that is material relations are the primary element and consciousness is secondary to this). It is opposed to idealism, systems of thought based on metaphysics. In literary criticism, the focus is on the modes of literary production and consumption, and social conditions which determine access to these. – Mills and Pearce
materialism: Often opposed to the aesthetic materialism relates to the economic base. Economic activity is primary activity. Philosophical materialism views all that exists as material or dependent upon matter for existence. Marx’s dialectical materialism is opposed to monologic idealisms such as formal religions. These systems have ‘one voice’ (a monologic God) and are idealist in that they are ostensibly only concerned with spiritual experience. – Green and LeBihan
Mirror Stage: (Lacan) The transition from the Imaginary to the Symbolic, the acquisition of subjectivity, language and awareness of differentiation. – Green and LeBihan
mytheme: Analogous to the phoneme, the mytheme, according to Levi-Strauss, is the smallest unit of signification in myths. – Green and LeBihan
Name of the Father (nom du pére): (Lacan) The third term or figure of law that is a feature of the Symbolic. It is a repressive figure, but also a guarantor of meaning, and therefore of normality or sanity. – Green and LeBihan
neo-colonial: Newly colonial or currently colonial; used to refer to nations who may have gained their independence but are still subject to domination by European or US capitalism and culture. – Green and LeBihan
New criticism Textual criticism associated with the American academics John Crowe Ransom, Cleanth Brooks and R. P. Blackmur, amongst others. Its emphasis is on the linguistic structure of the work and its verbal complexities as an object in itself without reference to its historical context or the psychology of either the author or the reader. – Mills and Pearce
New Criticism: A critical practice that dominated the middle part of the twentieth century. Central figures include Wimsatt and Beardsley, Cleanth Brooks and Allen Tate, all conservatives from America’s Southern States. Their central tenet was that the meaning of a text lies in the arrangement of the ‘words on the page’ and they rejected the notion that the author was the sole source and arbiter of meaning. – Green and LeBihan
New Historicism A form of criticism which attempts to set a text within its socio-cultural and textual context. – Mills and Pearce
not-said This term depends on Pierre Macherey’s ‘symptomatic’ approach to the literary text, whereby locating the ‘lack’ in the work, what it cannot articulate, becomes the means of detecting that which threatens and undermines its conscious project. The process whereby the ‘unconscious’ of a text is formed is thus directly paralleled to the child’s entry into the symbolic Order where all that which ‘cannot be spoken’ is repressed. – Mills and Pearce
Oedipus complex: (Freud) The normalising description of process of a subject taking up a sexualised identity, by transferring affections from the mother on to non-family members of the opposite sex. – Green and LeBihan
other (objet petit a): (Lacan) The object, the version of itself that is received back by the subject from others, the marker in the Symbolic realm of the relationship between subject and object. (The petit a, or ‘little a’ refers to the French word for other, autre – the English equivalent would be ‘little o’, but Lacan insists that the term should not be translated.) – Green and LeBihan
other In the writing of French feminist it is the tendency of western discourse to posit the feminine as the other in relation to the masculine that is at issue. Thus, the masculine becomes the positive against which the feminine is defined as negative (i.e. not-man) – Mills and Pearce
Other This term has multiple meanings in Lacanian psychoanalytical theory. Most simply it means the difference which stimulates desire. It is used to denote that which creates the sense of lack (see above) in the subject and initiates desire. The primal Other is the role of the father within the Oedipal triangle. This introduces a gap between desire and its objects that cannot be filled. Lacan suggests that the key discovery of Freud is that we bear this Otherness within ourselves. In post-colonial theory, the Other refers to the colonised country and its inhabitants described by westerners. – Mills and Pearce
Other: (Lacan) The realm of femininity, the realm outside the Symbolic, the unrepresentable and therefore associated with the unconscious. – Green and LeBihan
penis-envy Freud’s much maligned account of the way girls recognise a difference between themselves and their boy-peers (see Oedipal phase). Juliet Mitchell suggests that rather than reading Freud’s account as the girl’s envy for the penis, it is possible for feminists to read it as the girl’s envy of the boy’s social advantages. – Mills and Pearce
phallogocentrism: The connection of phallocentrism with logocentrism produces a system which privileges the phallus as both the main marker of sexual difference and as the guarantor of truth and meaning in language. – Green and LeBihan
phallus The symbol of difference at the heart of the language system is the distinction phallus/ lack of phallus and from this follow the other differences which form our language system male/female, head/heart, culture/nature, sane/mad and so on. It is the phallus that can be seen to be the central or primary signifier in the language system, since it is the sign of difference and dominance. – Mills and Pearce
phallus: The transcendental signifier, the marker of gendered difference, a symbol of power and authenticity. – Green and LeBihan
phalocentrism: The ordering of Symbolic systems of difference around sexuality, where difference is determined according to possession or lack of the privileged signifier of the phallus. The term is mostly used in association with Lacanian discourse, and with the écriture féminine. – Green and LeBihan
phenomenology: Philosophy associated with Hussrel, who said that objects do not have independent existence, but are filtered through human consciousness. – Green and LeBihan
pluralism A theoretical position which suggests that more than one position or theory possible in the reading of a text. It is not necessary to assume that all possible theories or positions are equally valid in all situations, but does not, like traditional criticism, assert that only one view is right. – Mills and Pearce
polyphony A term developed by Mikhail Bakhtin (see Bibliography) to refer to the many voices which exist in a text. Conventional criticism sees the text as coming from one source, spoken by one voice. Bakhtin, however, sees the text as a collection of voices, competing for dominance or existing in tension. – Mills and Pearce
post-colonial A term used to describe the situation in countries which have undergone a colonial relation with Europe in the past. This is not to assume that the colonial experience is the most salient feature in those countries’ histories. Post-colonial discourse theory aims to analyse this legacy of colonial intervention and its effects on current cultures. – Mills and Pearce
post-colonial: Generally used to refer to a once-colonised nation that has gained independence, although Ashcroft et al (1989) use the term to refer to any period from the moment of colonisation onwards. – Green and LeBihan
post-feminism A position of having worked one’s way through feminist theory and politics to such an extent that basic tenets of feminism can be taken as read. It can also mean (a much disputed) position where feminism itself is no longer necessary because all its objectives have been gained. – Mills and Pearce
postmodernism It may refer to (a) an aesthetic practice (b) an historical period (i.e., we live in a period of post -modernity) or (c) a mode of cultural analysis, may of whose central tenets are shared with post-structuralism but whose politics and political project are frequently unclear (including its relationship to feminism). As an aesthetic, literary postmodernism is frequently associated with texts which self- consciously experiment with language, and which pastiche different styles of writing without wishing to form a unified whole or make specific points by so doing. – Mills and Pearce
pro -feminism The position men can adopt if wish to play a part in the feminist debate: it means that they can show their solidarity with women’s work by reading feminist theory etc. while not directly intervening. – Mills and Pearce
psychodynamics A term used in psychoanalytical readings of literature to describe the way a text is written with reference to psychological predispositions, for example, gender. – Mills and Pearce
Queer theory It is the name that has been adopted by certain contemporary theorists to describe a radical re-thinking of how gender and sexuality operate. Rejecting the essentialism implicit in the terms ‘gay’ and ‘Lesbian’ critics like Judith Butler and Eve Kosofsky Sedgewick (see Bibliography) have argued for the provisonality of all (sexual) identity and shown how the supposedly positive terms like ‘femininity’ and ‘heterosexuality’ have to constantly work to ‘prove’ themselves (see performativity). – Mills and Pearce
Radical feminism It believes that patriarchy alone is the root of women’s oppression, and that resistance must take the form of a radical dismantling of the patriarchal system. – Mills and Pearce
realism: The antithesis of postmodern practice. From the postmodern position realism is inadequate because it implies an unexamined relationship with some prior reality, as in a painting or photograph which so convincingly represents its subject that all questions about the possible selectivity of the image or the distortions which it may introduce are simply not raised. In so far as realism pretends to an unproblematic representation, it is in fact the most deceptive form of representation. reproducing its assumptions through the audience’s unexamined response to an apparently natural image or text. In the early 1980s Sherrie Levine rephotographed a selection of photograph of victims of rural poverty which had originally been taken by Walker Evans in the 1930s. One effect of Levine’s appropriation of Evans’ moral realism was to emphasise the un-reality of the original images, suggesting that they were reliant on period-specific expectations to do with the representation of poverty and stoical resignation (Singerman 1994). Another kind of difficulty is presented by the tradition of socialist realism, which is art containing an explicitly political or broadly ethical purpose. The crudest version of this might be Stalin’s description of writers so ‘engineers of men’s souls’, an authoritarian definition which then required the subjugation of all artistic conventions to the demands of state propaganda, as in Soviet socialist realism (Jameason,1977). For the postmodern, realist works have not been subject to an adequate epistemological critique, that is, how do you know that you mean what you think you mean? They are doctrinaire, insufficiently knowing and (most acatastrophic) boring. A realist aesthetics for a postmodern critic abbreviates crucial issues of representation by imposing social or moral imperatives which suppress the most urgent questions: what is being imaged by whom and on whose behalf? These concerns are directly addressed in the contribution in part II by Gayatri Spivak and Trinh T. Minh-ha. – Wheale Niget
referent: The question of reference is that of the relation between words and the world. The referent is the ‘last’ element in the process of signification. The word cat signifies a concept and ultimately can refer to a specific ‘cat’. – Green and LeBihan
repressive State Apparatus RSA within Althusser’s work, the institutions which are established to maintain the status quo (the police, prisons, judiciary, etc.) – Mills and Pearce
second generation feminist Feminists who were not involved in the first wave of the revived women’s Movement in the 1960s, and therefore did not go through the political struggles of first generation feminists, but who developed forms of feminist theory based on their work. – Mills and Pearce
semiotic Julia Kristeva uses the term to refer to flow of pre-linguistic rhythms or pulsions experienced by a child before it acquires language (i.e. before it enters the ‘Symbolic’). The rhythmic pulses are themselves a sort of language which is repressed once the child learns to speak, since our linguistic system is not capable of expressing everything the child experiences. But the semiotic is not totally repressed. It lies beneath the symbolic order and can make itself evident in the movement of word play of avant-garde or modernist writer, marked by rupture, absences and breaks in symbolic language. – Mills and Pearce
semiotic: Not to be confused with semiotics, the semiotic is a term developed by Julia Kristeva, and indicates the pre-symbolic state of the infant, before its mind and body are regulated by language and the Symbolic order. The semiotic is the location of the feminine, after the subject has become integrated into the masculine order. The semiotic is not abolished with the entrance of the subject into the Symbolic; it remains in a repressed form, and is evident as a disrupted force, for instance, in moments of linguistic instability, in anti-social behaviour or transgressive and avant-garde art. – Green and LeBihan
sign It is the term used in Saussurean linguistics to describe a unit of language comprised of the concept (the signified) and its form (the signifier, that is the words on the page, or sounds in the air). It is arbitrary and creates meaning in its difference from other such signs rather than by any correspondence to the material world, so for example, the word ‘cat’ is used arbitrarily to mean a small, furry animal – there is no actual relationship between the word and the object. We know the meaning of ‘cat’ because we have not said ‘mat or ‘dog’. – Mills and Pearce
sign: The linguistic sign unites the signifier and the signified in the triad of signification. – Green and LeBihan
simulacrum: In a world of commodities that are endlessly reproducible the process of serial replication takes on a logic and momentum of its own, to the point where it becomes impossible to distinguish between the original and the facsimile. We may simulate images, objects, environments, the past, other people, our selves. There is even a disease that looks suspiciously like a postmodern affliction the unfortunate victims of Capgras’ Syndrome believe that their acquaintances have been replaced by identical substitutes. Jean Baudrillard is responsible for the theoretical development of this fantasy where the all-pervasive nature of imagery in the contemporary world ‘derealizes reality itself, to the extent that truth and falsity cannot be distinguished. Notoriously, for Baudrillard the Gulf War did not take place, only a mediatised simulation which ‘we’ all watched. But better than this charlatan theory are the science-fiction versions of the idea. Philip K. Dick’s fiction is full of nightmarish replication as in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? filmed by Ridley Scottt as Blade Runner. Primo Levi, the memorialist of the holocaust wrote a hunting variant on the idea of human duplication in his short story ‘Some Applications of the Mimer’ (Levi  1990), in which Gilberto’s ‘a child of century’, replicates first his wife, and then himself. In postmodern theory, re-presentation is intrinsically factitious, and should be displayed in its artificiality (Krauss, 1986B), in this way mimesis can be read as delusive, and known to be not-the-thing-which-it-presents (which can never be known). Representation offers the reader/viewer an imitation where the simulacrum stands in the place of the authentic. Because the simulacrum is indistinguishable from the original, all confidence in authenticity and uniqueness of the object has to be abandoned and what is celebrated is the success of artifice. Therefore postmodern works refer by layerings of reference within their own systems, by parody, and by eclecticism. The vehicle has priority over the message, and primary meaning as such is suspended, because there is nowhere to refer for meaning-closure. – Wheale Niget
soap: The term ‘soap’ arises from the fact that US daytime shows, aimed at a housewife public, were pioneered with the sponsorship of soap manufacturers. In this sense, neither Coronation Street nor Dynasty is strictly ‘soap’. Their evening audiences are more heterogeneous than the house-board wife and mother. – Iain Chambers
social audience: Annette Kuhn has made a ‘distinction between the ‘spectator’ and the ‘social audience’. Now we find Dorothy Hobson ‘to distinguish analytically between the spectator who is ‘constituted in signification, interpelled by the film and TV text’ – and the ‘social audience’, ‘social audiences becomes spectators in the moment they engage in the processes and pleasures of meaning-making attendant on watching a film or TV programme’. On the other hand, ‘in taking part in the social act of consuming representations, a group of spectators becomes a social audience’. Thus ‘women’s genres’ both address themselves to an already gendered spectator and help to construct a feminine subject positions. Such a move still contains a dualism, however, in which one term (the social audience) is historically specific but the other (the spectator) is not. ‘Is there a way’, she asks, ‘in which spectator/ subjects of film and television texts can be thought in a historically specific manner, or indeed a way for the social audience to be rescued from social/historical determinism’. ‘The way around this apparent impasse’ she feels, is through ‘a move into theories of discourse’. – Sue Thornham
subaltern Non-elite colonial subjects – those group, like peasants, who do not have so much contact with the colonial powers and from whom resistance often springs. – Mills and Pearce
sub-genre A division within genres; for example, feminist detective novels are a sub-genre of the detective genre. – Mills and Pearce
subject Since most psychoanalysts do not believe in a unified individual consciousness, they use the term ‘subject’ which does not suggest wholeness or control in the same way as ‘individual’ does. – Mills and Pearce
superstructure Within Marxist theory, societies consist of an economic base which determines all other structures, such as education and culture. These other structures are termed the superstructure (see base). – Mills and Pearce
Symbolic Order in Lacanian theory this is the stage of development children enter when they acquire language. Language imposes a social order on the child’s experience. In the process, some of the child’s experience prior to the acquisition of language is lost because it cannot be expressed in language and is thus repressed into the unconscious. The phallus is the ‘transcendental signifier in the symbolic order, not because it contains any absolute meaning, but because it marks the child’s separation from the imaginary. – Mills and Pearce
Symbolic: The order of language and representation. It is the order into which the subject must become integrated to gain recognition of its self, and to be recognised by others. It is also the order which depends on repression of disruptive forces. Feminists argue that the Symbolic order is a patriarchal one which needs to be transformed to accommodate feminine aspects. – Green and LeBihan
synthesis The third element in Hegel’s dialectical system, which resolves the conflict between thesis and antithesis (see thesis and antithesis). – Mills and Pearce
text A term which can refer to all types of writing, both literary and non-literary. – Mills and Pearce
theory / theoretical A position which provides a way into a text because of already thought out ‘schemes’ or models of the way texts work. These models are at a more, generalisable level than an intuitive response to individual texts, and are seen hold true of a range of texts. – Mills and Pearce
thesis The first element in Hegel’s dialectical system; a first proposition within an argument which is then challenged by its opposition, or antithesis (see antithesis and synthesis). – Mills and Pearce
unconscious Within psychoanalytic theory the subject consists of the conscious mine (the thinking subject which appears to be in control), and the unconscious (that zone within the individual where repressed desires are expelled). The unconscious is not accessible to examination but its existence can be traced through the eruption into the conscious of modified elements from the unconscious (in dreams, in slips of the tongue and in symptoms ). – Mills and Pearce
unconscious: Probably Freud’s single most important discovery, it is the result of the negative constitution of the conscious mind (through repression and denial). All that is negated takes up a parallel existence in the unconscious, which operates according to an entirely different logic and mode of representation to the conscious mind. – Green and LeBihan
utopian Concerned with a depiction of a distant, ideal future word. – Mills and Pearce
What do schlock, kitsch and camp have to do with postmodernism? They are all invaluable categories for works which play games with the history and conventions of taste. They are also inseparable from the excess, exploitation and trivia of mass-commodity culture, and they are unavoidable when we are thinking about our idea-of-America (even if we are also American). Watching pre-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) may take us closer to the postmodern heart than almost anything else. – Wheale Niget
Woman: A generalised woman, used by Jacques Lacan and the French Feminists to talk about the condition in which all women are placed and the way in which they are (inaccurately) represented by male-centred discourse. The term has been criticised as being essentialist, fixed and ahistorical. – Green and LeBihan
womanist a term developed by Alice Walker that avoids the race blindness implicit in the term ‘feminist’ (since other feminisms need to define themselves as non-white, such as Black feminism). Womanist writing identifies itself as writing to other Black women and is concerned to focus on their experience. An example of ‘womanist prose’ can be found in Alice Walker’s In search of our Mothers’ Gardens (Virago, London, 1983). – Mills and Pearce
1998. Yet another year that has passed in the realm of memories – both good and bad, joyous and gloomy. This has been a year that the film world of the country would both like to remember as well not to. For, apart from some major jolts that it had to contend wit, the year has also had its prizes to offer, both in the box–office and without, in the form of unprecedented films that have won international acclaims. The audience of Indian Cinema too has developed symptoms of maturity with its appraisal for the content of the film than that for the formula, flipping and famous starts; thereby tolling the knell for those that take the audience for granted.
Ajay Bandopadhyay (Sonar Kella fame) September ‘98
Akira Kurosawa September ‘98
Anup Kumar 3rd September ‘98
Aparesh Lahiri May ‘98
Dada Konde (Actor–producer–director) 14th March 1998
Jaywant Pathare (Cinematographer) 9th October 1998
Lalita Pawar 24th February 1998
Laxmikant 25th May 1998
Mazhar Khan September 1998
Om Prakash 21st February 1998
Ram B. C. (Producer–distributor) 6th January 1998
Ramchandra Das (Cinematographer) November 1998
Talat Mamud 9th May ‘98
Events Worth Remembering
Kalpana Lajmi sued by the producer, R.V. Pandit for going over–budget four times during the making of Darmiyaan. Kalpana, however, refuted the charges against her. Instead, she accused the producer for causing financial problems in the course of making the film.
Shabana - film controversy – Vinay Shukla’s Godmother starring Shabana Azmi was caught in an embroiled situation in Rajkot over a controversy caused by the local people during the shooting of the film, as they objected to the title role on the basis of its resemblance with one of their respected leaders.
Tapan Sinha’s telefilm, Shatabdir Kanya was in trouble due to financial dumping by the producer, as the director of the film has alleged. Sinha accused the producer, Mumbai based Shunya Communications to have issued cheques in favour of artists that had bounced which led to a lot of problems, thereby impeding the progress of the shooting. The veteran director that Sinha is also accused Shunya Communications of tarnishing his reputation in the process.
Veteran filmmaker and freedom-fighter, G. P. Sippy had received the National Citizen Award from the President, K. R. Narayanan.
Lifetime achievement award 1998 given to Kalyanji given by The Giants International
Goutam Ghose has launched a project of an hour long documentary on Satyajit Ray to capture the multifaceted genius of the maestro. His plan was to deal with the known and unknown facts equally that concerned. Ray’s skills in designing, illustration, calligraphy, film making, music, cinematography, editing, and publicity. The documentary was launched to commemorate the 77th birth anniversary of Ray on the second of May, 1998’.
Nuns had objected to Dominique Lapierre’s film on Mother Teresa, In the Name of God’s Poor, produced by Hallmark Entertainment, a Los Angeles based film. It went unapproved by the Mother herself during her lifetime allegedly because of ‘distortions’ of facts. Lapiere was also charged with betraying the Mother and deviating from the original script.
Despite La Pierre’s efforts, no foreign distributor has come forward to release the film in Calcutta.
The national award winning film Dil Se Pagal Hai has dubbed in French and English. There are more offers to dub the film in several other languages of the world as well.
Yash Chopra has been honoured by the B.B.C. for his contribution to the Indian Cinema at the B.B.C. for the first time.
The 59th Annual General Meeting of the Indian Motion Pictures Producers’ Association (IMPA) was also held at the packed ISKON auditorium in Mumbai.
Priyadarsini Academy, a Mumbai based socio–cultural organisation presented its prestigious Smita Patil Award for best actress to Tabu.
Mithun Chakravorty has donated one lakh rupees to Assam Chief Minister’s relief fund for the flood affected people of Assam.
The fourth Calcutta Film Festival, 1998 has acquired an International Status that was formally granted to it. A. Brisson, the chairman of the FIAP.
The joint venture of India and the United Kingdom, Sturla Gunnarson’s film Such A Long Journey was selected for the Venice Film Festival, 1998
Shekhar Kapoor’s Elizabeth received a standing oration when it was premiered at the Venice Film Festival, November 1998.
The second Satyajit Ray Foundation Award for 1997 (organised by a London Based organisation) went to Czech filmmaker, Ivan Fila for his debut film Lea – a film on the life of a lady who dies young of a stroke in Hamburg dies young of a stroke in Hungary.
Dance of the Wind – Rajan Khosa’s first feature has won a number of awards such as the 1997 London Film Festival’s audience award as the Most Popular film; the Best Director award at the Nantes’ Festival of Three Continents; Best Actress – Kitu Gidwani at the same festival in 1997. In 1998, it was selected as the best Asian film at the prestigious Rotterdam Film Festival, which gave it a NETPAC award. NETPAC – Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema.
Oscar: Titanic by James Cameron has bagged a record of 14 Oscar nominations, closely followed by L.A. Confidential and Goodwill Hunting with nine nominations each.
Oscar winner, blockbuster Titanic has broken film business records all over India. It is estimated to have done $7.5 million through June 1998.
Dr. M. Karunanidhi has completed his 52 years in films at the Nehru Indoor Stadium, Chennai.
Writer-director Dinkar Choudhury has completed a biographical film on the Sarvodaya leader and disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, Acharya Vinoba Bhave.
The birth centenary of the doyen of Marathi cinema, Bhalji Pendharkar was celebrated with full fervour at Mumbai on May 2.
Nandan organised a retrospective of Mrinal Sen’s film on his 75th birth anniversary.
The Chennai Telegu Film Journalists Association held a condolence meeting at M. M. Theatre to condole the death of veteran journalist and president of CTFJA, T. R. Srinivas.
Prakash Mehra to make the sequel of Zanjeer, the film that took India to storms in the 70s and established Amitabh as the ‘angry young man’ firmly in the Mumbai filmdom. Zanjeer-II is going to include the same stars, viz. Amitabh, Jaya, Pran and Vindu.
First Indian to be nominated for three Golden Globe awards Shekhar Kapoor
The 29th International Film Festival of India (New Delhi) (IFFI- 98).
Venue Siri Fort Auditorium
Main Section Competition (Asian Cinema)
Cinema of the World
Opening film of the documentary section
Nachni by Ladli Mukhopadhyay
Highlights Seminars on 50 years of Indian Independence vis-à-vis cinema
Mainstream selection / Nominees
Raja Hindustani (Hindi)
Raja Hindustani (Kannada)
34 films selected of which 13 are features and 21 are non- features
The Outhouse English
Dahan P Bangla
Athyunna thangalil Koodaram Malayalam
Bootha K K Kannadyh Malayalam
Train To Pakistan Hindi/ Punjabi
Kaal Sandhya Hindi
Chaar Adhyay Hindi
Roi Ka Bhoj Hindi
4th Calcutta Film Festival 1998 was dedicated to the memory of Akira Kurosawa, the legendary Japanese director who died recently. CFF also arranged a retrospective section of Robert Bresson of France, Nelso Pereira Do Santos of Brazil and Bertolt Brecht.
The weeklong Mumbai International Film Festival for Documentary, Short and Animation Films ended on March 7. MIFF screened select films of Patrecio Guzman, Bert Hanstra, Robert Cohen et al. Adoor Gopalakrishnan inaugurated the festival and in this occasion the veteran documentary filmmaker Fali Billimoria received a special V. Shantaram award.
Screen Video Awards
Best Film and Director Border – J. P. Dutt
Best Story Virasat – Kamal Hasan
Best Actor Anil Kapoor – Virasat
Best Actress Madhuri Dixit – Mrityudand
Best Supporting Actor Amrish Puri – Virasat
Best Supporting Actress Shabana Azmi – Mrityudand
Best Negative Role Mohan Joshi – Mrityudand
Best Newcomer Akshaye Khanna – Himalaya Putra
Aishwarya Rai – Aur Pyar Ho Gaya
Best Screenplay Border – J. P. Dutta
Best Editing M. Gopala Krishnan – Virasat
Best Cinematography Kabir Lal – Pardesh
Best Art Direction Sharmistha Ray – Dil To Pagal Hai
Best Action Bhiku and Tinu Verma – Border
Best Dialogue Hriday Lani – Yashwant
Best Composer Nadeem Shravan – Pardesh
Best Lyricist Javed Akhtar – Border
(Sandese Ate Hain...)
Best Background Score Aadesh Shrivastava – Border
Screen Videocon Awards
Best Sound Deepan Bhatterjee for Veerasat
Best Playback Singer (Male) Abheejit for Yes Boss
Best Playback Singer (Female) Chitra for Veerasat
Best Choreographer Shaimak Davar for Dil To Pagal Hai
Special Jury Award Govinda
Lifetime Achievement Award Suraiya
Ramnath Goenka Memorial Award Dilip Kumar
Screen Videocon South AwardsKannada
Best Film Bhoomigeetha
Best Director Kesari Harvoo (for Bhoomigeetha)
Best Actor Ramesh Arvind (for Amrutavarshini)
Best Actress Suhasini (for Amrutavarshini)
Best Music V. Mohanlal (for Laali)
Best Film Aniyathipravu
Best Director Rajiv Anchaal (for Guru)
Best Actor Mohan Lal (for Aram Thampuran, Yatra Mozhi, Guru, Chandralekha)
Best Actress Manju Warrier (for Aram Thampuran, Krishnagudiyile, Oru Pranaya Katha)
Best Music Ousepachan (for Aniyathipravu)
Best Film Bharatikannamma
Best Director Vikraman (for Suryvamsham)
Best Actor Sarath Kumar (for Suryavamsham)
Best Actress Meena (for Bharatikannamma
Best Music A.R. Rehman (for Minsarakanavu)
Best Film Annamayya
Best Director Muthyala Subbaiah (for Pellichesukundam)
Best Actor Chiranjeevi (for Hitler, Master)
Best Actress Vijaya Shanti (for Osey Ravulamma)
Best Music M. M. Keeravani (for Annamayya)
Common Awards for All Four States
Best Cinematography S. Kumar (for Guru)
Best Choreography Lawrence (for Hitler, Master, Premichundara)
Best Playback Singer S. P. Balasubramaniam
The Jury’s Special Awards
Nagarjuna for his performance in Annamayya
Murali for his performance in Karunyam
Filmfare Award 1997
Best Actor Shah Rukh Khan (Dil To Pagal Hai)
Best Actress Madhuri Dixit (Dil To Pagal Hai)
Best Film – Veerasat (Mustar Riaz)
Best Actor – Anil Kapur (Veerasat)
Best Actress – Tabu (Veerasat)
Best Film Dil To Pagal Hai (Yash Chopra)
Best Director J. P. Dutta (Border)
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Amrish Puri (Veerasat)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Karishma Kapoor(Dil To Pagal Hai)
Best Performance in a Comic Role Johny Lever (Dewana Mastana)
Best Performance in a villaneous Role Karishma Kapoor(Dil To Pagal Hai)
Best Newcomer (Male) Akshaye Khanna (Himalaya Putra)
Best Newcomer (Femle) Mahima Chowdhury(Pardesh)
Lofetime Achievement Award Sharmila Tagore
Special Award Jaya Bacchan
Filmfare Award Rishi Kapoor on completing 25 years of film acting.
Filmfare Award Randhir and Rajiv Kapoor on completing 50 years of the R. K. Banner.
Best Background Music Viju Shah (Gupt)
Best Lyricist Javed Akhtar (Border)
Best Playback Male Singer Abhijeet (Yes Boss)
Best Playback Female Singer Alka Yagnik (Yes Boss)
R.D. Burman Award Kartik Raja
Best Music Director Uttam Singh (Dil To Pagal Hai)
Best Story Kamal Hasan (Veerasat)
Best Dialogue Aditya Chopra (Dil to Pagal Hai)
Best Screenplay Subhash Ghai (Pardesh)
Best Art Direction Sharmistha Ray (Dil To Pagal Hai)
Best Cinematography Ravi K. Chandran (Veerasat)
Best Editing Rajiv Rai (Gupt)
Best Sound Vinod Potdar (Border)
Best Choreogrpahy Farah Khan (Veerasat)
Best Action Bhiku and Tinnu Verma (Border)
Festivals and Awards
FIRPRESCI (Mumbai) 1998
Kathapurusham Dir. Adoor Gopalakrishnan
Dahan Dir. Rituparna Ghosh
Lifetime Achievement Award Dev Anand
Contribution to meaningful cinema Adoor Gopalakrishnan
Best Actress Kaushalya Gidwani for Rajan Khosa’s Dance of the Wind
Arte Audience Award Dance of the Wind
5th MIFF (1 – 7th March)
Golden Conch (Best Nonfiction) Bhiwani Tragedy by V. Packirisamy
Best Nonfiction Mumia – Abu Jamal: A Case For Reasonable Doubt (U.K.) by John Edinton
Best Fiction Little Preludes (Grece) by Vengelis Kalambakas
Best Animation I Move, So I Am (Netherlands) by Gerrét Van Dijk
International Jury Award Riding the Rails (U.S.A.) by Michael Uys
National Competition Best Video Documentaries
1st A Season Outside Dir. Amar Kanwar
2nd Lesser Humans Dir. K. Stalin
3rd YCP ‘97 Dir. Jayashankar and A. Monterio
Certificate of Merit 1. Portraits of Belongin
2. Snow by Seba Dewan
NETPAC Award – Dance of The Wind by Rajan Khosa
Third International Film Festival of Kerala was held in Thiruvanantapuram from 5 to 12 April 1998.
NEW DELHI IFFI 1998
Golden Peacock King of Masks (China) by Wu Tianming
Silver Peacock The Flight (India) by Samtana Bardoloi
Most Promising Film Paper Airplanes (Iran) by Farhad Mahranfar
Mumbai Academy of Moving Images presented the second Festival of films from November 23 to November 30, 1998.
The 17th Annual Vancouver International Film Festival (September 25 to October 11, 1998)
Dance of the Wind Dir. Rajan Khosa
Play of God (Kaliyattam) Dir. Jayaraaj
Sardari Begum Dir. Shyam Benegal
RAPA awards held (Radio and TV Advertising Practitioners Associates of India) on Dec. 1 at Nehru Centre, Mumbai.
The Indian Film Directors handed over the lifetime achievement felicitation to B. R. Chopra.
Dr. A. Nageswara Rao was presented the Kalasagar Critics’ lifetime achievement award by Dr. Sivaji Ganeshan.
J. K. Film’s Paij Lagnachi bagged a maximum of 14 top awards, including best film, best director, best actor, best actress and best music at the 35th Maharastra State Film Awards function held at the Rang Bhavan on May 10.
Visit of Important Film Personalities to India
K. Zanussi and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Baldoni, Antonio Urano, Mrs. Donmez Collin, Mrs. Hanna Fisher, Mrs. Gila Almazer, Mrs. Irene Brignardi, Mrs. Brenda Liles, Mr. Hans - Joachim Schlegel and many other notable delegates were present during 4th Calcutta Film Festival, November 10 to November 17, 1998 at Calcutta.
The 3rd Intentional Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) had hosted 20 odd foreign delegates attending with their films: Rafi Pittis, Amos Gitai, Kristof Zanussi, Vladimir Levin, Michel Heath, Vuong Due, Bill Seipmann, Dorothy Wenner et al.
Duplicate (Hit) Starring Shah Rukh Khan, Sonali Bendre and Juhi Chawla, it is an out and out comedy with the obvious touch typical of Mahesh Bhatt.
Gharwali Baharwali (Moderate Flop) A man with two wives. A typical David Dhawan film. The film has had a good opening though far from sensational. The film stars Anil Kapoor, Raveena, Rambha, Kader Khan. The music is by Anu Malik.
Jab Pyaar Kisise Hota Hai (Moderate Flop) The film stars Salman Khan, Twinkle Khanna. Directed by Deepak Sarin of the Ainaa fame, the out and out love story has had a decent opening in all over India with its music composed by Jatin-Lalit and lyrics by Anand Bakshi and already taking the country in its sway.
Jeans (Flop) Shankar’s film with its starrer Aishwarya Rai is somewhat successful solely in the South with all its innovativeness of a cyber age cinema, for, in other places the dubbed versions of the film have been outrightly rejected. The reason may be traced back to a lack of a saleable hero and to a weird title, Jeans that really did not make sense of this original reference to ‘genes’.
Zor (Moderate Hit) Directed by Sangeet Sivan, this Sunny Deol-Susmita Sen starrer had a good start in the box office but could not turn out to be hit.
Bade Miyan Chhote Miyan (Moderate Hit) In this David Dhawan film Amitabh Bacchan could achieve moderately good success in this second coming.
China Gate (continuing) The film is inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. The film is released in Japan with dubbing in Japanese.
Kamasutra (Hit) Nair’s extravaganza mad a major hit of the year. The star of this sexual odyssey is Rekha.
Dil To Pagal Hai (Hit) One of the most successful commercial films of the year with stars like Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit and Karishma Kapoor.
Dushman (Hit) Debut film of Tanuja Chandra, a film graduate from USA, was a hit. In the film Sanjay Dutt, Kajol, and Ashutosh Rana are major actors.
Satya (Hit) A slice of life underworld, Satya is a successful thriller of the year.Actors: Urmila Matondkar, Chakravarty, Manoj Bajpai.
Pyar To Honahi Tha (Hit) The deshi version of Kevin Kline – Meg Ryan confection, A French Kin. Starring Ajay Devgan and Kajol.
Hazaar Chaurasi ki Maa (Dir. Govind Nihalni) The film has been inspired by a Bengali written by the Jnanpith award winner, Mahasweta Devi. The film opens in the Calcutta of the 70s when the air was heavy with revolutionary fervour and the young gone vent to their anger against the hypocrisies, injustices, betrayals, and counter violence of the state. The film stars Jaya Bacchan, Nandita Das, Milind Gunaji.
Ishq (Moderate Hit) Indra Kumar’s film about a love story starring Amir Khan, Juhi Chawla, Ajay Devgan and Kajal.
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Super Hit) A love triangle among Kajol, Shahrukh and Ranee Mukherjee made a big success in Karan Johar’s debut film.
Soldier Starring Bobby Deol and Preity Zinta. Directed by Yash Johar.
Dil Se (Moderate Flop) A Mani Ratnam film starring Shah Rukh Khan, Manisha Koirala, Preity Zinta, Sabyasachi Chakravorty. The film is about a love story set amidst the background of terrorism. Despite a gala opening, inspired performances by the casts, breathtaking visuals by Santosh Sivan and a terrific musical score by A. R. Rehman, the film could not avoid a heavy loss of 50% of investment. The film, however, could place itself in the British Top Ten for quite a few weeks.
Fire Starring Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das, this Deepa Mehta film has raised violent controversies over the fact that the film has allegedly displayed explicit lesbianism which is considered to be detrimental and sacrilegious to the concept of ideal womanhood as defined by Indian culture.
However, the filmmaker firmly denies that the film is about Lesbianism. She is persistent in claiming that the film is an honest effort to reveal the persecution of women by patriarchy, especially, sexual repression; either by neglect and deprivation (as in the case of Radha or Shabana) or by rejection and adultery (as in the case of Neeta or Nandita Das). The reflection on this particular sexual aspect, the film actually harp on the ultimate story of women’s deprivation and suppression on the whole thereby raising voices against the moral dictates of a society and culture – defined and directed by a tyrannical, opportunist and selfish patriarchy.
Patang A film by Goutam Ghose with a script by the maker in association with Ain Rashid Khan on the wagon breakers of Bihar.
Dance of the Wind A film by Rajan Khosa with Kaushalya (Kitu) Gidwani as the central protagonist, Dance of the Wind is an attempt to treat the traditional guru–shishya relationship in Indian Classical Music with a philosophical brooding. In doing so, it weaves out a complex web out of issues such as convention, traditionality, schooling, heritage and above all the artist’s struggle to establish her own individually, her own identity at the same time yearning for a perfection and precision of her art. This philosophical treatment of the film has been successful primarily because of such factors as an extremely mature and restrained acting by Kitu and Dr. Kapila Vatsayan, exquisite and selective visuals, use of limited dialogues and above all, Shubha Mudgal’s musical score.
Thai Sahib Based on the novel of the famous Kannada author, S. Lokappu, Girish Kasaravalli’s Thai Sahib reflects the eternal problem disturbing Man through ages although in different ways, namely, Time and Transition. This film deals with the degeneration of old feudal ways of life vis-à-vis the erosion of political ideals with time. The entire theme is woven out against the background of a familial story.
Shesh Drusti Directed by A. K. Bir, this film has been released in the CFF ‘98 in the Indian Panorama section. It is about the conflicting relationship between a father and a son whose opinions differ from each other strongly as each have their own perspective of things around them.
Chalo Cinema A debut feature by the ad-filmmaker, Piyush Jha under the patronage of NFDC, this film is a warning to the young souls aspiring to go off to America, the land of all roses, milk and honey as they conceive of it. Rooted in reality, the film reveals the greater truths about the toughness and harshness of life in America.
Gaach (Tree) A multi-narrational documentary on Soumitra Chatterjee, this Catherine Burge film emphasises upon the artist’s development amidst his very own, native socio-cultural milieu. This is the reason that all his creativity and performances reflect his socio-cultural identity. The uniqueness of the film is in the use of double narration – that within the film in the form of ‘Bahali Patkatha’ (narrated by Rabi Ghose) and the voice over the film itself.
Kichu Sanglap Kichu Pralap Second film by Ashok Viswanathan screened in the ‘Indian Select’ section of the CFF ‘98; it had been screened a month before the festival at Gorky Sadan. Another unconventional film by Ashok Viswanathan, Kichu Sanglap Kichu Pralap is a step ahead of Shunya Theke Sure in its experimentation with form and technique of representation. As usual, with so much of ‘shock elements’ for the audience, the film deliberately avoids a well-knitted plot and there is not much scope for story telling although the basic ‘theme’ is set against contemporary middle class / upper middle class aspirations and frustrations. There has also been an introduction of a deliberate stylised acting in which Nandini Ghosal and Laboni Sarkar excel exceptionally. This truly new-generation film, however, is yet to be released for the general audience.
Bengal Film Journalists’ Association Award
The 63rd annual award giving function of the Bengal Film Journalists’ Association was held on 23rd December, 1998 at Science City instead of Rabindra Sadan in association with ‘Meridian’ an advertising agency. There was a lot of controversy on several aspects including the venue. The evening was studded with Madhuri Dixit, Govinda, Rani Mukherjee, Kiran Kher, Kiran Shantaram, Yash Chopra, J. P. Dutta, Udit Narayan, Bhupen Hazarika, Bappi Lahiri – all of them the award winners.
Some significant awards given away included that of Madhuri Dixit for Dil To Pagal Hai (best actress), Bappi and Chitrani Lahiri for Lal Darja (best producers), Soumitra Chattopadhyay (best actor of Bengali cinema), Bhupen Hazarika (Satyajit Ray award), Soma A. Chatterjee for best film journalism, Debdyuti Bandopadhyay for best book on cinema Pratiker Cinema Pratidiner Amra.
In a weeklong Film Festival from 20th to 27th December 1998 held in Agartala several award winning national and international films were screened.
Pramod Lahiri, the veteran film producer, and the secretary of Cine Club of Calcutta passed away on 15 December 1998 at the age of 77. He was directly associated with the film industry as a producer since 1957. Of the numerous films he produced, the most significant ones are Parash Pathar (Dir. Satyajit Ray), Louha Kapat (Dir. Tapan Sinha), Ajantrik and Bari Theke Paliye (Dir. Ritwik Ghatak) etc.