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 and film present their papers of high thought of culture in popular level for an interesting better reading of the subject.
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 WilliamsRaymond Williams, and on the other, that type of Franchophore structuralist Marxism establish by the philosopher Louis Althusser3 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 WilliamsRaymond 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.
Raymond WilliamsUplifting 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 hiRaymond Williamss 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 WilliamsRaymond 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 CinemaIndian 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.
Culturalism fails to distinguish adequately between texts and society – rather they are deliberately run together as ‘culture’.
It is humanist, conceiving people as freely expressive (and this appears symptomatically in the way Williams at this juncture objects to Marxism on the grounds that it denies freedom to the human subject, whether individual or collective).
It is moralizing, referring always to a politics arising primarily as a form of moral choice and in terms of personal experience.
Although it aims to contest the dominance of the high cultural artistic tradition, in effect it leaves that tradition in place since it seeks merely another place for working-class culture as well (sometimes termed the ‘enclave’ theory).
Its method and procedure, as you might except in Anglo-Saxon culture, is empiricist, pragmatic and descriptive; there is simply no attempt at theory.16
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
Andrew Milner, ‘Culturalism’ in Contemporary Cultural Theory, UCL Press, London, 1994, p.31
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.
* Althusser, Louis, Ideology and the State, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. tr. B. Brewster. New Left Books, London, 1977.
** Rice, Philip and Waugh, Patricia, Modern Literary Theory – A Reader, pp. 52-53, Edward Arnold, London, 1992, 2nd edn.
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 Chen1 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 and 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.
1. Ranajit Guha, Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India, Oxford University Press, 1983
2. Subaltern Studies, Vol. I – IX, Oxford University Press, 1982 – 1996
(Translated from Benagali by Pranab Mukhopadhyay)