The Lumpen Audience
Duration: 00:05:10; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 41.233; Saturation: 0.170; Lightness: 0.168; Volume: 0.385; Cuts per Minute: 8.490; Words per Minute: 19.874
Summary: All three clips deal with the question of spectatorship, and the distinction between the idea of the middle audience and the lumpen audience marked by its excessive behaviour. These clips illustrate the idea of cinema as a space of immense contestation, and the cinematic public as one that exceeds the logic of the public sphere as understood in political discourse.
Back to Annotation 3
Annotation 4: Through the 1980s the Hindi cinematic hero has had more than a substantial overlap with the 'lumpen' audience with more or less one 'ideological' drive - the idealistic telescoping of fantasizing opened out nature, a metaphor for the dream of release from urban chaos and the 'discovery' of modern materiality that is denied to the middle or lower class young male. This mapping of two oppositional filmic spaces within a single of a film - one of transcendence and one of the paranoid material on to a single metaphor - 'discovery' or 'opening out of the field of experience' can lead to a spiraling upward of violence if the redemption of the material is read against the transcendence of space in nature - the explosion, the bomb going off. Or it could spiral downwards into the 'netherworld' of the bar if the redemption of space is read in the ornamental density of the material. The so-called 'lumpen' thus traverses this spectrum within a space of a single film and is in most cases rendered indecisive unless brought to stasis through sensory intimacy in the sexual. Haasil is an interesting culmination of the B- films that mushroomed on the blind side of the Bachchan and Anil Kapoor films of the 1980s and 1990s, film that had Mithun Chakravorty, Jackie Shroff, Suneil Shetty, Adiya Panscholi or the early Akshay Kumar as heroes. It's a genre that could be termed the 'regional nativist' film and Haasil sees the tensions of the emergence of the genre, its protagonists and audiences into the regional cosmopolitan. Interestingly the regional cosmopolitan is anything but a fun place. Instead it is marked by psychotic greed,a result of having to keep the 'regional nativist' forcibly 'in the dark', on the dark side of the legal system leading to a proliferation of political corruption and 'borderline' ritualism in the 'religious' sphere mixing kitsch bling and terror. Satya remain the most sophisticated cinematic re-working of this psychic space by mixing the properties of the gangster and the horror film to speak of Bombay as perceived by its denizens in the 1990s.Annotation 5 next
Rowdies watching a film (Haasil):
One of the more interesting films to be released in 2003, Haasil is about college politics in the University of Allahabad. This scene captures for me an interesting facet of the different ways in which people interpret the idea of the modern. This is a good example of a 'vernacular modernity' that defines itself against metropolis cities like Bombay and Delhi.
Look sonnie, this is the magic of Bombay
Arey, they have weapons which are English- type, which is why the cars fly up in the air like that
But here no matter how many bombs you throw, nothing ever happsn
The society there is different, because everyone there is modern
Even the thugs there, they travel everyday, Bombay, Dubai, Engaldn
Should we also go there
Just retain your pride, and watch the film quietly
There, its all about money, give me money or I will take your life, but here its give me power or I will kill you
Theres a big difference
They are a small industry, we run the country
Munna ( Aamir Khan) takes Mili (Urmila Matondkar) to watch a film, and he picks up a fight because of his loud and unruly behaviour in the theatre. As a result Mili gets angry and leaves, and Munna follows her home, where they argue about his behaviour. The exchange ends with Munna asserting his right as a member of the public who has payed money to watch the film to criticize the film in any manner that he wants to.
Spatial Dimensions of Cinema
A lot of work, especially in recent film theory/ history has started to break the barriers between exhibition/spectatorship, and if there was an excessive investment in textual analysis in earlier film theory, there is an equal danger of it being eclipsed by a focus on non textual elements of film practice without paying any attention to the text. One of the areas in which one has no choice but to avoid a neat text/context binary is in the regulation of cinema. The discursive construction of the cinema as an object of knowledge and regulation is premised on it being seen both as a space in which certain images proliferate, as well as a space produced by the proliferation of certain images.
Signaling to this idea of the continuum, Ravi Vasudevan suggest that it may be productive to consider the "cinema as a space, composed of the hall, its internal organization of foyer, auditorium, seating and the projected film, and its public presence, as in its façade, advertisements, marquees, hoardings. But also to see this space in relation to a broader space, in the market, near factories, schools, office blocks, in a mall, in residential areas; and how it is located in the depth of this space or on its margins, near main arterial thoroughfares, linking one space to another through transportation". (Vasudevan, 2003).
Annotation 5: The Lumpen Audience and the space of the spectacle needs to be seen as a world on to itself reflecting various states of the mind to which correspond various psychic speeds of materialities moving in space in the interface between mind and the spectacle. They can vary between an 'opened out' chaotic impulsive cinematic articulation of the material and speed in space to the closed claustrophobic 'blueness' of the dance bar. It would be pointless to try and fix the 'lumpen' (and by that token the 'middle class' cinema hero) to any idealized stereotype. The haptic-oneiric sociological personality type correspondences between the Aamir Khan tapori character and the 'pimp' are one of the unconscious anchors for a film like Rangeela. The perilous of nature of love for the lumpen caught between the two trajectories of redeeming life in space is finally resolved in the 'happy ending' but not before producing the psychic discomforts of mapping imagic metaphors of the object of love on to a prostitute being pimped by the self. Mythic references in the Indic would go back to the Parasuram myth and more famously Ram where his paranoia about Sita's sexuality in nature leads to a fantasy of being engulfed by a more flamboyant and powerful 'patron' for Sita's favor - Ravan. There is also the hidden temptation of Ram wanting to become villainously wanton in his desire for Sita in a scenario of psychic repression of exile in the forest. Being virtuous in a scene that tempts to set the senses free does not help and produces a violent self-righteous deity. This is the psychic danger that the Aamir Khan character faces in the cinema hall or on the streets of Bombay where his girl might be propositioned in his presence and he might be asked how much would he be liked to be paid for the girl. Such are the prices to be paid for being an exile in a city like Bombay.
Also see Chitrakarkhana footage on audiences in the Elgin Talkies, Bangalore:
Flowers, Posters, Fandom
Fandom / Night Show
Projection Room, Premises, postersNext annotation
The movement from an examination of cinematic spaces to a larger idea of cinematic practices may entail a shift into a larger spatial history, one that foregrounds the importance of space in relation to the larger histories of the state and the public sphere. A history of spectatorship for instance does not merely provide us with a way of engaging with what people see, and how people see, but also with stories of crowds, of their interaction with each other, with the space in which the film was screened and how this may have bearing on their interaction with the screen. It also involves a history of "urban regulation and tactical maneuver, the reinvention of technological formats and social selves"
The birth of an Indian cinematic public emerged within a highly regulated and highly suspicious environment, where the entire enterprise of cinema was constantly under the threat of law, and subject at every point to the gaze of the law. If on the one hand cinematic space was coded as an always-already legal space, then cinematic space also created a new space in which existing social relations and conflict, primarily class-caste, be both enacted and transgressed at the same time. Sivathamby notes for instance "The Cinema Hall was the first performance centre in which all Tamils sat under the same roof. The basis of the seating is not on the hierarchic position of the patron but essentially on his purchasing power. If he cannot afford paying the higher rate, he has either to keep away from the performance or be with all and sundry"(Sivathamby, 1981).
Despite the colonial government's attempts to discipline the space of cinema, cinematic practices displayed a rather stubborn refusal to be subordinated to the panoptic gaze of the state. As the cinematic apparatus travelled from urban centers into smaller towns and villages, the cinema hall merged with older forms of travelling theaters to become tent houses that became mobile cinema halls. The "place" of cinema that was sought to be regulated was dispersed into a plethora of spaces in which cinema unfolded. The history of cinema in India is marked by a history of extreme regulation and extreme tactility, the evolution of a new public arena of participation which was also marked at the same time by older histories of exclusion, all in all a highly charged space of conflict, anxiety and ambivalence.
Salaam Bombay, 1988:
This clip is taken from Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay which looked the lives of street children in Bombay. The clip shows two kids watching a song ( Hawa Hawai) from Shekar Kapur's Mr. India.
Unlike most accounts which deal with the plight of street children, this clip interestingly shows them in their moments of pleasure. The conflict between the proper middle class audience and the excessive antics of the children also serve as an interesting contrast in ideas of spectatorship. Ashish Rajadhayksha has argued that cinema introduces a new public sphere which is marked by a certain idea of a cinematic citizenship, where the ability to pay for a ticket and enter public space is a reworking of older ideas of public spaces which were marked by various forms of exclusion. In this clip, the kid asserts his right to be present and to participate as an equal by having paid the same amount of money for the ticket as the disciplined audience. It is a claim that is similar to Munna's response in Rangeela
Fed-up of being continuously bullied by his elder brother, Krishna sets fire to his motor-bike, and this gets him into big trouble with his mother. She takes him to the nearby Apollo Circus, and tells him that he can only come home after he earns Rs.500/- to pay for the damaged bike. Krishna agrees to do so and finds employment with the circus. One day the Circus Boss asks him to run an errand, and when Krishna returns back he finds that the circus has packed up and traveled elsewhere. Alone, with nowhere to turn to, and unable to find Rs.500 to repay his mother, he decides to travel to the nearest big city - which is Bombay. Upon his arrival in Bombay, he is robbed of all his meager possessions. He follows the thieves, and befriends them. He ends up in Bombay's notorious red-light area of Falkland Road near Grant Road Railway Station. One of the thieves, Chillum, also a drug pusher and addict, helps Krishna get a job with the owner of a tea stall "Grant Road Tea Stall". Krishna's gets a new name "Chaipau", and learns to live with it. His goal is to get the Rs.500 and return home to his mother. Krishna soon finds out that saving money with his surroundings and people near him is next to impossible. To make matters worse, he has a crush on a young prostitute, Sola Saal, he sets fire to her room and attempts to elope with her - in vain. This gets him a severe beating, and he also loses his job. He works odd jobs to feed himself, and look after Chillum, who cannot live without his drugs. He and his pals also rob an elderly Parsi man of his belongings by breaking into his house in broad daylight. One night while returning home, he and several of his friends are apprehended by the police, and taken to a juvenile home. But this detention was not to last very long, as Krishna escapes, and goes back to his world - the world of drug-pushers, pimps, prostitutes, and nurture his dream of someday going back to his mother.