Cinema emerged a little more than a century ago to become one of the most potent forms of expression that has made an impact on practically every sphere of theory and praxis. The most significant and controversial aspect of this phenomenon is its influence in the public sphere because of its mass appeal and wide outreach.
The present volume attempts to address some of the question that arise in a consideration of the complex role that cinema has performed and continues to perform in the public sphere in India. The focus of this volume is on issues related to the shifting responses of the colonial state, the Indian nationalists and intellectuals, and the popular press to the emerging medium of cinema and its creative potential. The book examines the threats as well as the challenges to this new medium; the transitions and the continuities, the filiations and the ruptures, from the colonial to the postcolonial as represented in cinema. The schisms, fissures, and conflicts of the state, and later of the postcolonial nation state which is increasingly marked by the economic and cultural processes of globalization, accompanied paradoxically, and perhaps inevitably, by bitter local and ethnic conflicts are critically analysed in the context of the local, national, and global financial networks within which cinema is located.
This collection of essays by subjects specialists examines the politics of violence communalism, and terrorism as negotiated in cinema; the representations of identitarian politics; and the complex ideological underpinnings of literary adaptations.
Manju jain retired as Professor from the Department of English, University of Delhi. She is author of T.S. Eliot and American Philosophy: The Harvard Years (Cambridge, 1992) and A Critical Reading of the Selected Poems of T.S. Eliot (Delhi, 1991). She is currently translating Premchand’s novel Rangbhoomi.
The Nucleus of this volume of essays is the seminar on ‘Reflexions: Film, Literature, and Culture’, organized by the Department of English, University of Delhi, in March 2004. Six of the articles published here were presented at the seminar; ‘The Art of Adaptation: The Remains of the Day’ by Seymour Chatman (presented at a video conference organized by USEFI); ‘Panoramic Vision and The Descent of Darkness: Issues of Contramodernity’ by Rashmi Doraiswamy; ‘Cinema and Hindi Periodicals in Colonial India: 1920-1947’ by Lalit Joshi; ‘The Natives are Looking: Cinema and Censorship in Colonial India’ by Madhava Prasad ; ‘“Filmi” Shakespeare’ by Poonam Trivedi; and ‘History Matters: Film Theory as an Obstacle to Film Historiography and Analysis’ by Valentina Vitali. I am grateful to the Department of English, University of Delhi, for permission to include them in this volume. The essays by Rashmi Doraiswamy, Lalit Joshi, Poonam Trivedi, and Valentina Vitali have been substantially revised for publication. Madhava Prasad’s essays has since been published in Law’s Moving Image (London: Glasshouse Press, 2004).
The seminar on ‘Reflexions’ was funded by the University of Delhi and the Department of English. Grateful acknowledgement is made to them. Warm thanks are due to Manjit Singh who, in his capacity as Finance Officer, University of Delhi, generously made funds available and gave his unstinting support. Thanks are also due to the Director and the staff of the India International Center for providing excellent facilities and space for holding the seminar, to Sumathi Ramaswamy and the Ford Foundation for providing the airfare for two of the participants whose papers could unfortunately not be included in this volume, and to USEFI for organizing the video conference width Professor Seymour Chatman. I should like as well to thank my colleagues on the Seminar Committee: Alok Rai, Udaya Kumar, Subarno Chatterjee and Rimli Bhattacharya; Ira Bhaskar for her valuable suggestions and help; the students who helped with the organization of the seminar: Anuja Jain, Sangeeta Gupta, Shweta Sachdeva, and Simran Chadha; and the office staff of the Department of English for their hard work and organizational skills. S.K. Chauhan, Hari Singh, Kavita Talwar Sahib Singh, and Krishna Chander.
Priya Jaikumar’s article’ A New Universalism: Terrorism and Film Language in Mani Ratnam’s Kannathil Mutahmitta’ originally appeared in Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities, vol. 25 (3) (Summer2006):48-64, and is reprinted here with the permission of the publisher.
Madhava Prasad’s article ‘The Natives are Looking: Cinema Censorship in Colonial India’ originally appeared in Law’s Moving Image, edited by Leslie J Moran, Emma Sandon, Elena Loizidou and lan Christie (London: The Glasshouse Press, 2004); pp. 161-72 and is reprinted here with the permission of publisher.
Cinema Emerged a little more than a century ago t became one of the most potent forms of expression that has made an impact on practically every sphere of theory and praxis. From the very outset it has raised a host of issues that have challenged the premises of art, aesthetics, philosophy, psychology, and politics. Some of the questions that it has continued to pose are its relationship to the other arts as well as to technology; the ways in which consciousness and perception are influenced by this new medium; and its impact in the public sphere because of its mass appeal and wide outreach. Also, how do we theorize the specificity and the commonality of film, literature, and other modes of cultural expression in an age of increasing interplay among these forms? How do changes in the public sphere-through state intervention and regulation, changes in structures of dissemination and spectatorship, and processes of globalization-inflect the history of cinema in various locations? How do cinematic representation map the transitions and the continuities, the filiations and the ruptures, from the colonial to the postcolonial, as well as grapple with schisms, fissures, and conflicts of the colonial state, and later of the postcolonial nation state which is increasingly marked by the economic and cultural processes of globalization, accompanied paradoxically, and perhaps inevitably, by bitter local and ethnic conflicts? This volume aims to address some of these question with a focus particularly on issues related to the shifting responses by the colonial state, the Indian nationalists and intellectuals, and the popular press to the emerging medium of cinema with its creative potential, its threats as well as its challenges; the local, national, and global financial networks within which cinema is located; the politics of violence, communalism, and terrorism as negotiated in cinema; the representation of identitarian politics; and the complex ideological underpinnings of literary adaptations.
Writing Cinema: The Colonial to the Global
The emergence of cinema in the early twentieth century in India as a powerful tool for the manipulation of the masses generated deep anxieties in the colonial state about its relationship with the colonial subjects. At the same time, there were debates and controversies among the Indian nationalist leaders, the intellectuals, and the writers about the advantages and the disadvantage of this new medium. A study of these varying response therefore throws important light on the history and political conflicts of the period, many of which continued into to the postcolonial nation state.
These issues are explored by Madhava Prasad in his examination of the Report of the Indian Cinematographic Committee (ICC Report) and the accompanying volumes of evidence. The Committee was set up 1927 to investigate the issue of censorship and the question of Imperial preference for the film industry to counter the popularity of American films. As Prasad explains, the ICC Reports ‘bears witness to a singular moment in world history when a colonial order encounters in cinema a threat to the social order that as built up by a consensus among the elite leadership of the different communities’- Hindus, Muslims and Europeans’. The need for censorship was felt by the colonial rulers not only because of the corrupting influence of America films but also because of the intrusion of the unwelcome ‘native gaze’ into the private domain of the ruling race, especially when it came to representations of Western woman and the use of the cinematic technique of the close-up in kissing scenes, lronically, Prasad argues, before the advent of cinema, it was only the native communities that had sought to protect their ‘inner domain’ from the reformist, interventionist gaze of the colonizers. The Report also raises the complex issues of spectatorship and the often paradoxical; identification of incident witness by the Chairman of the Committee, Diwan Bahadur T. Rangchariar, when the native’ audience of a film sympathized with the white heroine rather than with her Oriental’ persecutors! While the colonial rulers and the conservative Indian elite highlighted the corrupting threat of cinema, nationalists such as Lala Lajpat Rai took an uncompromisingly radical position as harbingers of modernity, opposing censorship and Imperial preference. Prasad goes on to show, however, that for several decades after Independence, the Indian state ‘Would continue with the same censorship rules informed by the same colonial; logic’, with the nationalists taking refuge in the conservative opinion that they had so firmly opposed earlier.
Many of the ramifications of Prasad’s article are future explored by Lalit Joshi, with reference specifically to responses to cinema in four Hindi periodicals from 1920-47: Sudha, Madhuri, Chand, and Hans. Joshi has chosen this period because it marks the extraordinary development of the film industry well as of vernacular print capitalism. It is also representative of the most decisive phase of India’s anti-colonial struggle in which the colonial elements of modernity were beings negotiated in an attempt to foreground an ‘Indian’ identity. In this context, Joshi investigates the interrogations of nationalist positions on the merits and demerits of cinema in popular journalism. He further examines the generation of multiple concepts of art, aesthetics, language, and culture in the contested space created by cinema in Hindi journalism. Joshi also argues that the Hindi public sphere and emerged around this time when cinema in India was undergoing a period of metamorphosis. He shows how cinema entered the Hindu public sphere and engaged with the contentious issues of the period, and how issues related to censorship, art, aesthetics and the market, ethics and morality, glamour and fashion, became part of the larger debate on what constituted an Indian identity and Indian culture.
Finally, Valentina Vitali takes up the issue of the historiography of Indian cinema. She maintains that with the burgeoning of film studies as part of the curriculum of universities, it was primarily Lewis Jacobs’ The Rise of the Film: A Critical History (1939) that was adopted as model for writing histories of cinema in many parts of the world. Jacobs relied on a unilinear trajectory of history that posited the nation state as the natural result of an evolutionary development. Vitali, however, questions the use of this historiographic template for Indian cinema since it conceptualizes the nation as an organic entity, ignoring local and global networks. In her study, Vitali foregrounds the neglected issue of film exhibition. She also emphasizes the importance of reframing Indian cinema within local, national, and global financial networks as well as marketing and distribution strategies for an understanding of cinema in Indian as a practice constitutive of Indian civil society.
The three articles in this section then throw light on the trajectory of Indian cinema from the earlier colonial period to its imbrications in a globalized economy, contributing to an understanding of its historical development and role in the public sphere.
The articles in this section take up further the interventions of cinema in the public sphere and its engagement with the political conflicts and divisions of the time from Partition onwards, focusing primarily on issues of communalism and terrorism. Rashmi Doraiswamy discusses the traumatic communal violence depicted in films on Partition through her deployment of the panoramic vision as a narratorial mode and as an effect of the technological apparatus of cinema. She explores what Homi Bhabha terms the ‘contra-modernity’ that is at work in everyday acts such as walking in colonial and postcolonial societies. She discusses this unfolding of the panoramic gaze in connection with the routine act of Walking and the motif of the train as a narrative strategy in literary and cinematic texts on Partition, specifically with reference to Bhisham Sahni’s novel; Tamas and its adaptation by Govind Nihalani into a teleserial and films and to Ritwik Ghatak’s Komal Gandhar, using the theories of Michel de Certeau and Walther Benjamin. Doraiswamy argues that a great deal of Partition fiction is concerned with the topography ad charting of one’s small, intimate lived space, which is threatened by the horror and violence of political events such as riots. What is evoked in Tamas, Doraiswamy elaborates, is the sense of micro-histories that unfold to give a panoramic view of the violence and hatred of the communal passions of the time. In Ghatak’s Komal Gandhar too, there is a complex interweaving of micro- narratives, while the walk of the protagonists through the landscape and the outing of the dream troupe into the countryside evoke memories of an undivided Bengal. Doraiswamy sensitively shows that rather than follow the path of New Realism as in Italy, or of modernism as in the French New Wave, ‘Ghatak combined realism with the rituals of the everyday on the one hand, and of the archaic on the other’, creating what she calls’ geological images that encapsulate within themselves many time frames, archives and contemporary, mythical and achingly real’. The train too haunts Partition fiction and film, functioning as the paradoxical image of modernity, combining notions of connectivity, and uprooting, thus encapsulating the darkness and the trauma of this historical moment.
Anuja Jain’s essays carries forward the discussion of representations of the politics of communalism to recent times, in the context of the demolition of the Babri Masjid 6 December 1992 and the subsequent communal violence in Bombay in 1992-3. Jain argues that it is the visual representations and complex struggle over their interpretations that have dominated the discursive field about these events. She takes up the cinematic representations of these events both in the fiction film and in the documentary, exemplified by a Mani Ratnam’s popular Hindi film Bombay (1995) and Suma Josson’s documentary, Bombay’s Blood Yatra/ ‘Bombay’s Journey of Blood’ (1993), to argue that the intervention of the documentary filmmakers in the socio-political conditions within India use many of the strategies and idioms that are common to mainstream popular Hindi cinema, such as melodrama, in order to negotiate such apocalyptic moments. In doing so, documentary films play with the expectations of the audiences of popular cinema and also interrogate its status as the most pervasive source of insight into the public sphere. Jain concludes that whereas a film such as Bombay uses the melodramatic mode to endorse the Nehruvian, utopic ideals of national unity and progress, a documentary such as ‘Bombay’s Journey of Blood’ deploys it in order to compel the audience to interrogate their utopic desires as well as to confront the deep-seated sectarian conflicts that fracture the Indian nation state.
Priya Jaikumar up another films of Mani Ratnam’s-Kannathils Muthamittal (A Peck on the Cheek, 2002)-to discuss contemporary representations of terrorism in cinema, while also including in her ambit Ratnam’s other films on communal violence and terrorism-Bombay, Roja, and Dil se. Her objective is to interrogate Ratnam’s films for their coupling of terrorism with reconstitutions of regional identities as bourgeois, cosmopolitan, and trans-regional in an attempt to attain a new universalism in the postcolonial and uneven globalization. In the process of this interrogation, Jaikumar also engages with questions of cinematic from, asthethics, spectatorial pleasure, and cultural recognition in order to analyze the politics of the film. She takes up the negotiation of political issues with the personal and familial realm in Ratnam’s films on terrorism as well as his use of the mode of melodrama for his negotiation. Jaikumar extends the discussion on terrorism further by suggesting that terrorism in Kannathil Muthamittal is interpreted not purely through the language of a nation state but also as a critique of bourgeois modernity, of which the nation state is just one powerful manifestation. She uses Soren Kierkegaard’s idea of melancholy, as sadness for no apparent reason, with which he opposed he philosophical underpinnings of European modernity that was vital to colonial nation formation. Jaikumar invokes notions of faith and melancholia as response to modernity because, she claims, they are resuscitated in Ratnam’s portrayal of female suicide bombers in Kannathil Muthamittal and Dil Se. She suggests, in conclusion, that the conditions through which films from regional industries arrive at national and global centres of film circulation reveal the political stakes of their new universalism. To this end, in Kannathil Muthamittal a middle-class Tamil family is confronted with an LTTE militant in an attempt to address a fractious regional identity and to find a centrist consensus acceptable to a national and global audience.
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