Fwd: Re: Archive (18) Kaushik Bhaumik
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AR: This is actually the second time since yesterday that we are actually moving into indiancine.ma and into the Indian cinema material. It is extremely interesting and challenging to actually enter something like Indian Cinema and the archive of Indian Cinema and the history of Indian Cinema with a "don't wait for the archive" kind of challenge. Because there are certain ways in which I think the archives have been accessed historically by film studies people for certain ends and towards certain uses. As the archive however of Indian Cinema gradually increases and expands, and as we start looking at the ways by which machines might for example read into film materials and of-course film historians along with those machine, you can in fact start finding connections that aren't the usual ones bound by either textual or formal or authorial limitations. Today what we are going to do as we do not wait for the archive is to actually invite Kaushik Bhaumik, professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University and Madhuja Mujherjee from Jadavpur University to actually not wait for the archive. They are going to be looking at Indian Cinema materials from kind of perspectives that would literally be impossible until may be I don't know, a decade ago, or may be even more recently than that. So over to you Kaushik. Both in terms what he wants to read into those images the kinds of connections he wants to make as a historical inquiry as well as the mode of presentation of this material. So all yours Kaushik.
KB: For ease of time and presentation basically what I'll do is run the films back to back as a continuous edit without the sound. They are repetitive you know kind of tropes that run between 3 or 4 films that I have chosen here. And the very point is what Ashish is saying how to kind of use resource like indiancine.ma as a database containing thousands of films. And what we as people studying cinema for various purposes - in my case slight kind of exercise, a fun exercise to begin with, as a film historian what one could come up with.
KB: Before staring I'll just kind of introduce the films and introduce a certain kind of methodology that I've been thinking about. The films are basically four films - three made in the 1940's and one coming from 1957. The films are Ratan made in 1943 by M.Sadiq, there is a film from 1948 called Mela which was made by S.U Sunny and a film in between in 1945 by K. Amarnath called Gaon Ki Gori.
KB: The 1957 film is of course Mother India by Mehboob Khan. And that's how exactly this kind of work with the database stared - is that while teaching Mother India at JNU, I kind of was watching a lot of stuff and I started seeing these kind of you know... a certain kind of continuity between the style of cinema that was made between Punjab and Lahore cinema and Bombay cinema before the partition. So that's the interesting thing, that there was a kind of traffic of certain kinds of image types, gestures, tropes of narrative, even looks of actors, which to my mind informed a lot of Mother India. Then I started doing research into this kind of complex of films and then I said okay now there are actually historical connections in terms of certain biographies.
KB: For example: M. Sadiq and S.U Sunny got their breaks from another director floating in between Lahore and Bombay, Abul Rashid Kardar. And Mehboob Khan was very close to him, in fact Kadar's wife and Mehboob's wife was sisters. And there are numbers of things that connect them. The music director Naushad who again was floating in between these worlds of Lucknow, Calcutta, Lahore, Bombay. So this is pre-partition, just about pre-partition India and certain interesting things are happening. And we find certain resonances through biographies, through careers of actors like Nargis who'd kind of float in an out of this world in a certain sense. The great thespian and songstress Noorjahan who would appear in Gaon Ki Gori in one of the sequences here, would of course have a very complex history between Bombay and Lahore.
KB: So, given this, that was the start of kind of trying to re-read Mother India in a different way from how it has been read. And indeed it is this database of films where I can watch film after film that in a certain sense a certain unconscious of certain kinds of image tropes start to form. And you start then thinking that well may be Mother India yes of course it is about you know Nehruvian nationalism and how Nehruvian nationalism came to terms with agrarian base in India. Yes, of course Mehboob is being inspired by things coming from Russia, maybe a bit of (?), but there also things that are happening inside much more locally in a certain sense. Those narratives which might be inflected by a much more local history which begin in the Punjab in the 1940's... and that was the first thing.
KB: The second thing that came to mind was the fact that I had in my Ph. doctoral work been preoccupied with, a certain kind of cultural shift that happened between certain kind of islamic logic of Indian Cinema during the silent period and even early talkies period to a continuous hinduisation of it over that period. And undoubtedly cinema in the Punjab was very much the great islamic province of India at that point in time along with Bengal - the islamic majority province which gets divided up on either side of the subcontinent during the partition. And the cinema of this period would therefore be again a good starting point to kind of query what the processes of converting an islamic feudal empire intoa hindu modern nation state might look like.
KB: And the third thing that became quite clear is that when we watch the films of the 1940's carefully, you find a lot of the standard kind of narrative tropes as well as ideological drives of much of Indian Cinema or Bombay cinema at least that follows - are very much there in these films in almost like you know building blocks as if people are putting together in a certain sense the building blocks of what the problematic of Indian Cinema is and what are the categories through which we must think through the crisis of modernization and the modern nation state.
KB: More methodologically I think Ashish and I as it happens you know in these kinds of moments when we meet - coincidentally we stared actually affirming each others' idea that something like Indian Cinema is haunted with films being - literally being embedded in one another. There are just memories of films that float across a large number of films. And these are the kind of things... these are the new eyes with which we need to come to a large database. Not go through in a certain sense a rigorous empirism of sorts, but let the eye just free in almost like Deleuzian kind of lines of flight between films and one might then start actually doing other things. When the eye gets free and Ashish was in fact thinking of... maybe we could - and this is the fun part of the archive - that maybe we could embed bits of one sequence of one film into other, almost like mapping on some kind of an unconscious architecture of the mis en scene - which can then you know in a series tell us some other histories of this narrative. So, in a certain sense, therefore, as in...
KB: So, now I can start off the sequences. Now I can just tell you a little about - you know this is just a fun thing - and I think what the first presentation said, that the trick in these films - so the films say for example in these sequences that you will watch - dance, female dancing, romantic waiting, swings, harvest fields, tragic heroes, statue of Shiva which will keep appearing in these sequences would be the keywords for a certain start at the surface of things. And then we can then discuss what does this statue of Shiva mean when it floats between films like Ratan and Bela made in 1944 and '48, and when the Shiva statue reappears in Mother India. Of course the archive would need more films to be brought in. The 1940's is not that well represented in terms of the density of the films recoverable and watchable.
KB: Of course therefore an exercise like this also would require a recuperation of quite a substantial number of films which would then add to the kind of density of annotations and the relay histories that we might build over time. So, these are the keywords that actually have driven the selection of imagery that we have. Now over that I can just quickly go through a number of things that come to my mind, as a historian by training in history in general, but also watching these films.
KB: One of the things that strikes me as fantastically important in these films of the 1940's are three things. Number one, that the films are organised around dance, dance is the principle around which films are organised. So, every five or ten minutes there will be a dance sequence - it could be a dance of the heroine, or could be a group dance that would kind of happen in a romantic situation and increasingly in terms of harvesting or so on so forth. So, dance is one of the most important things.
KB: Then through the films we see that there is this problem of the modern man that keeps coming up these films. So, the films are set in a village, so-called village India, and it begins as a romance between these village characters - a boy and a girl - and the film is inevitably shows that the girl is married off - in the earlier films to an older man, and the modern young man gradually kind of either has to leave the town, but gradually deteriorates - dies. Most of these films end in the tragic death of either both the characters - the main characters of the film, or atleast of the male.
KB: So, in a certain sense therefore the logic that then one can read into is - one can start speculating that these films are setting up a certain kind of crisis for the tradition of marriages within the feudal circle. Which is to say that for a long time as we know feudal marriage circles are set up by exogamy of clan relationships and in a certain sense hypergamy women have to marry in a certain sense above their station. What modern education does, or modernization of lifestyle does, is create a crisis here. When we go to the archives, right on from the 1920's we see an absolutely disastrous end game that is happening to the feudal marriage circles in Punjab.
KB: I mean the colonial archives are just full, replete with documents which are saying that how modern education is completely destroying the traditional ways in which men and women would be distributed across a kind of 'fertility' - and this is what I call the 'fertility regime' of the feudal world. So, this modern man then becomes an excess who cannot be contained by a certain kind of feudal marriage circle and therefore, endlessly ends up dying or wasting away because the girl has been married off according to the rules of tradition. Whereas this man... so there will be many sequences where the man will say "let us run away", but that will not happen and it is the modern man who becomes in a certain sense a crisis... this is another one thing that we can see.
KB: By the time we come to Mother India we see a very interesting thing, that the crisis is there, one of the characters is indeed the un-marriageable kind of person, who has the crisis - is one of the crises in the film - but now its not modern person who has a crisis, its a village which has been separated from the city and this person is in a certain sense a residue, the pure village India that we see in Mother India. And the crisis is happening to another kind of character who is no longer the modern man. Which is to say two things happen - in the period between 1940's and 1957 is that in the early films we see that the village and the city are one feudal circuit where these marriages and all of these things are being thought through in 1940's.
KB: Gradually we find that the village and the city kind of fall apart and there are village films that happen in the 1950's, separate from in a certain sense the city films - in the sense that there is a certain dichotomy that happens and we can see these dichotomies happen across the same spectrum of fields, harvest songs, swings, women, tragic love and so on and so forth, which kind of continues in a certain sense. Another thing that what I found very interesting was the logic of certain kind of masculine women who were chosen as the main characters of these films throughout. And in a certain sense it is somewhat a certain tendency in Bombay cinema which I call 'trans cinema'. Because in a certain sense women are chosen for a certain kind of characteristic of masculine strength which is symbolic, which is to say that women on the one hand have to undergo the tribulations of losing their love and so on and so forth in the film.
KB: But increasingly in films through the 50's and 60's we find as there is a crisis of male subjectivity and men seem to be dropping off the production world and the world of modernity in tragic love, its the women who take on the responsibility of actually holding society up. So, in a certain sense this logic of the strong woman and the importance of women for Indian Cinema then becomes a problematic of this fertility regime. So on the one hand they are very important for cinema. And on the other hand they seem to be some kind of a problem that Indian Cinema is absolutely kind of in a certain sense obsessed with through this period, and right till the end, and right till today. So, even today when we see the gamine - feminine woman gets roles only in very modern romances, urban romances which are not part of the national popular cinema which must go out to a mass audience in a certain sense. So, these are kind of thoughts. These are just fun thoughts that come to mind when you start watching a bank of films and you can start kind of in a certain sense posing these questions.
KB: The one thing that Ashish and I discussed yesterday and what becomes important in just terms of the gestural kind of - the surface gestures of the cinema are:
a> the world of the feudal world which modernises. And how is it modernising? I would say that in the song and dance sequences the harvest sequences which run between say a film like Gaon Ki Gori and Mother India, you find a tailorisation of rituals. So, it is the modernization is taking on an industrial logic but it is being worked through harvesting and so on and so forth, which is a feudal logic of the farm. So, in a certain sense we can see in the rhythms of songs and dances or specially harvest songs and things like this, or the fertility songs, there is a certain tailorisation of reproduction, harvest and so on and so forth. Which in a certain sense retains the essence of feudal logic, but in a sense can modernise in terms of speeds and so on and so forth.
KB: So, in a way you begin in the 1940's and read it all the way through something like Mother India and all the way, to you know the industrial revolution happening, to the Bhangda beats in the 1970's in Punjab. The centrality of dance as somehow being symbolic of the agrarian modernity that the state of Punjab is now globally famous for in a certain sense. So, these are in a certain sense kind of historic questions that we can ask. But the other things that interests me is the ethos. The ethos that these films start with is the Islamic ethos of India. That India was an islamic country until the 1940's because it was part of the great Islamic global empires. And the public culture of India was Islamic. And when when we watch these films we see in the 1940's we can retrieve a certain vision of a feudal north India - and I am only talking about north India - Feudal north India which looks very different now. We can see what was excised and what was lost over time through the partition, through the kind of music, through the kind of sufic aristocratic modes of the Punjab cinema, how it connects this fertility regime of the feudal empire with harvest and so on and so forth through a very syncretistic mode. So Shiva is there because again, as a sign of asceticism, but tantra being central to a dialogue between Hinduism and Islam through Sufism, Shiva is there. So, those are the kinds of things that we can read from these films. And why Shiva is there - because it is a story of unhappy love, of acseticism, and Shiva is ascetic. Which is interesting that therefore in the Punjab feudal or the north Indian imagination which is being by done Muslim directors and Muslim writers, Shiva remains the archetypal ascetic, though he's a Hindu god. But for even an Islamic narrative of romantic love which is tragic, Shiva is the form that is being invoked in rural India which would have been in fact reality in a certain sense. Because these kinds of religious divisions wouldn't have taken place.
KB: So, to conclude in a certain sense what I would like to emphasize from the first thing is to to bring in history - Ashish and I have been having this rather interesting discussion and I wish I was there for the workshop for next week - Is that history is of course the big boy in the room as he said and to bring it in at this moment when you are just beginning to do a surface reading might be too much. My point is that let us think this history as some kind of dream history, (?) history which is happening in the unconscious, sliding across surfaces through lines of flight, rather than concretize them. And therefore to keep... the logic of doing such histories would be to therefore balance of this free floating eyes which is making these kind of absolutely oneiric, dreamy kind of connections across films, stay on with some validity of a historical reading and not concretize them into symbolic forms or authoritative historical readings, but keep them forever open to more and more material, more and more lines of flight and so on and so forth. Which might lead to a more kind of proliferative histories going in various directions, rather than things coming to a centre. So, the game will be that - how to keep the dream or dreamy reading of these surfaces as a start. And then taking on more kind of considered histories within that and not concretizing it. That would be my response to what Ashish and I have been talking about. So I'll stop here.