Tag Archives: Kolkata

sthaniya sambaad 19.3.2010 5pm

I am very pleased to announce a special screening of the feature film by Arjun Gourisaria and Moinak Biswas

sthaniya sambaad‘ (‘spring in the colony‘),

(105 min. 2009, 35 mm, cinemascope, EST).

Q & A with one of the directors.

5pm friday 19th March – Goldsmiths Cinema RHB

please take a look at  www.springinthecolony.com and also the blog www.sthaniya.wordpress.com for responses to the film.

A moving, and funny, story of life in a refugee colony south of  the city of Kolkata.

All welcome.

National Instruments

On the initiative of Moinak Biswas, Film Studies Jadavpur Uni, Kolkata, and with great input from Rosalind Morris, but initially inspired by the Preservation in Globalization workshop convened by Gayatri Spivak and Jorge Otero-Pailos, an interesting redevelopment seems possible. A disused factory site adjacent the Jadavpur campus was toured by our group in early December. A documentation of the site has begun by photographers invited by the Jadavpur Media Lab has generated some great pictures, see here. The site was left pretty much intact when the factory closed in 2003 – well worth  a look.

Now (see below) there is a plan to gut the site and turn it over to the engineering faculty. The site is huge – there is room for something alongside. Hence, the following draft international petition:

For continued innovation at the National Instruments site, Jadavpur.

The redevelopment of the National Instruments site offers a rare opportunity to look forward and back at the changing dynamic of industrial production. The extant materials, documents, personal effects, and machinery (lathes, punch card clocks, work desks) provide a physical record of workplace experience now passing. Jadavpur University, with its reputation, scholarship and global reach is well placed to facilitate an innovative approach that builds upon the proud history of NI and looks forward creatively to new developments.

A simple shroud should not be passed over this accumulated wealth of objects, and labour, from the past. The factory remains might be best preserved by the University in a working space that is devoted to tracking the transformations of industrial production and workplace experience in India. That a museum and art/technology laboratory has been proposed is supported by international scholars, a large number of whom have visited the site and/or noted the initial documentary work produced by Moinak Biswas and his team. We consider this an excellent, exciting and potentially rewarding possibility for joint work and international co-ordination. Scholars would seek international funds to locate research projects on labour history, urban development, new economy (service sector, technology, privatization) and co-research in joint ventures with Jadavpur scholars and students. A truly international project to unite workers of the world might be reanimated here.

The idea is that various people will sign this and it be put to the Jadavpur heads to consider the proposal, from Media Lab and Film Studies, to do something interesting with the site. Well, I think its interesting. I used to work in a similar factory as a grubby teenager. My dad spent a very large part of his life in one – Stanley, Nunawading, Melbourne, Australia. I have a touch of the heebie-jeebie’s looking at the machines, especially the drills where I had spent long low-paid days… (the picture I have used is from a post by Madhuban Mitra and Manus Bhattacharya – with thanks)

_____________

Giving some history of National Instruments, and of the original preservation project and future plans, Moinak writes:

The factory started off in 1830 under the name ‘mathematical instrument maker’, then became ‘mathematical instruments office’, both serving mainly the ‘survey of india’ instituted by the east india company. During ww1 it got seriously involved with the defense dept., became national instruments factory; was relocated to the premises you saw in 1957, renamed ‘national instruments limited’ (NIL) as a public sector unit under the union govt. the factory mainly made optical instruments for survey, measurement, photography, etc. and was popularly known for its national 35 camera. It fell into some crisis first in the 60′s, and then into a more serious one in the 80′s, got referred to the board of industrial and financial reconstruction (BIFR). Manufacture stopped in 2003. most workers accepted the voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) and left in march, 2003. 64 employees remained on campus and witnessed the ruination. In 2009, jadavpur university took over the property with the aim of building an extension campus for the engineering faculty.

the media lab of the dept of film studies at jadavpur undertook extensive photo documentation of the premises in june, 2009. we commissioned 10 young photographers and filmmakers to shoot for 4 months on the premises, covering everything possible. we have a bank of 20 thousand still images and 60 hours of video footage. a blog from the stills (http://darklythroughalens.wordpress.com/) and a couple of films have been made. more projects will follow. we have shot interviews with many ex-employees. it’s now a substantial labour and industrual landscape archive.

but there should also be preservation of a different kind. the university has started renovating parts of the buildings, and will soon remove most of the equipment and files, etc. we were thinking of proposing the creation of a space, using one big room like the canteen you saw, which will preserve their products, some of the tools, machine parts, workers’ id papers, bills, service documents, policy documents, the punch card machines, etc, and at the same time be an active space for independent art practice, including independent film screenings, installations, etc. the major problem is to persuade the university to spare that space. it would pay more serious attention to an international community of artsits and intellectuals. but we should keep in mind what can be sustained and how far, given the public funded university framework in india, and given the fact that anything doing with art has first to prove its vialbility to the engineering faculty dominated.

_______________

This is great stuff – history and potential. But there are also things to debate. University take over of the fading industrial economy has a long track record (see here, here and  here). Is it really possible to tamper with such trajectories? Besides drafting the above call at Moinak’s request, I also offered my two pice worth of cynicism earlier in the discussion [note: I was a bit ill at the time]:

Moinak, your sentence on the the creation of a space that will both preserve the NI worker’s “products, some of the tools, machine parts, workers’ id papers, … punch card machines, etc, and at the same time be an active space for independent art practice” is a great start. But I wonder if the museum/archive route is too passive, and might not claim much in terms of physical space in the building (when it all should be kept in those terms - see Mao Mollona’s excellent film on industrial steel machinery in Sheffield, where a fully functioning workshop has been maintained 1890′s era machines in working, and profitable, order). I also wonder if, importantly, the preservation argument does enough in conceptual terms within the overall regeneration/transformation of the economy and the University – a discussion I imagine that must be going on, and needs new thinking.

I am acutely aware that here “anything doing with art has first to prove its viability to the engineering faculty dominated”, and wonder if the focus of what we present might be geared towards this. That said, I am stumped for where to look for initial funds, or clearly marked ‘preservation funds’. It is not my forte. However, ongoing funding could also be geared into the conception.

An Art/Laboratory would probably have pedagogical, research and creative components.

At issue is who inhabits the space, what it provides, and outcomes now and for the future.

Thus, neither a mortuary service for fading industry, nor a hollow art scene doing a ghost dance for dead capital (tried and tested, but too often turned into mere foyer or coffee shop – eg Tate Modern), the project has far greater inter- and intra- disciplinary purchase, and potential as for very wide participation. The former workers, the Jadavpur students, local residents, the city in general, and both national and international research teams across many areas can be drawn into the nexus of this site conceived as instrumental to the transition between older and newer economic modes. Research, teaching and creativity all have a role in transition.

A range of projects, both national and international – but many funded internationally – could locate in dedicated space within the project:

Possible internationally funded Research Projects for Instrument Lab

- changing infrastructure of economies, history and globalization, technology and colonialism, warfare and commerce, education and training history (see journal of the Confernce of Socialist Economists)

- class composition and worker’s inquiry, labour history, transition economies and the transformation of work, co-research with workers of older and newer economic production (this is a project I would like to pursue between Goldsmiths, Queen Mary Business School and Jadavpur – funded by Economic and Social Research Council UK perhaps, the Co-Research would involve workers paid as researchers in both discontinued production such as National Instruments, as well as in new industries in Kolkata such as creative economy, service sector, media and telecoms. They would be researching, documenting and theorizing their own conditions of work – aim initially at a three year project @ £500k for 4 paid researchers on site, plus money for collaborative work).

- precision capitalism, mathematical arts of production, skill, craft and body/machine knowledge: instrument hand and brain, cyborg labs then and now (Fuller/Harwood/MUTE or RAQS?).

- obsolescence and regenerative second life, industrial remains and urban renewal, science and fiction, creative revival as life force in cities (see P.Hall and M.Castells: Technopoles of the World).

- photographic imaging and war/industry convergence (as digital is to analog; globalization is [not] to industry)

- teaching exchange, especially in cultural studies of work, education, training, urban preservation and curating (possible Network Grants at £70k each)

These projects in various ways – there would be many others possible – would be conceived to locate researchers at Jadavpur, employed locally and internationally, and would work with local constituents and stakeholders (workers, researchers, students, local residents, support staff). Each would entail a pedagogical exchange function, as well as a display (installations, museum, art) aspect. The point is to keep this alive to change, the transformation of work, of class composition, or urban environs, and of the university itself (as universities move to project based work, and older models of disciplinary containment are supplemented).

Ahhh, now I have written all this down I think maybe its not strong enough yet to stave off the impending disposal of most of the workplace artefacts, beautiful machines (valuable machines) and other remains, but those remains are the resource and raw material of something potentially great in the future. Our labour can reanimate them – the sweat of our friends to whom we owe a debt (not just of mourning).

Sorry for the Derridisms – the flu drugs again kick in…

December 2009 in Kolkata

113_1387I am lucky enough to have been invited to go to Kolkata in December for a symposium on the “Cultural Politics of Preservation”, organised by Gayatri Spivak. Was asked today what I would present on. Gulp. I have no idea yet. How about this:

To work among the masses – co-research, institutionalization or vanguard intervention?

I am interested in the ways intellectual work, debates around method, and the ethical position of both the academic researcher and the vanguard political intersect with questions of preservation and globality.

Inspired by, and critical of, several examples in relation to this, I have three themes: a) I want to talk about the Co-Research or Class Recomposition Studies approach that emerges from Autonomist Marxism in Italy in the 1970s and which has been discussed a great deal by European activists in recent years (eg Kolinko group); b) my second ‘case study’ is the traditional project of ‘Anthropology’ as an institutionalized way of both ‘going to have a look for yourself’ and of inscribing ‘peoples’ inside a global knowledge apparatus (libraries, textbooks and the like); and c) my third example is the problem of the vanguard party and what, and how, it knows about the ‘masses’ (from Mao’s report on Hunan to the critique of Leninism today).

In this way, a perspective on the critique of cultural preservation might be developed drawing on my previous work on cultural exotica, rumour, writing and activism.

[I am not sure if this will work out, but I think its where I am just now]

There was also a request for some relevant representative work (let’s debate that term, ‘representation’). I sent this lot:

http://hutnyk.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/junglestudies.pdf

http://hutnyk.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/ershybrid280104.pdf

http://hutnyk.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/bataille.pdf

(pic -taken on the train to Kolkata)

Patrick Swayze Dance with Death

There will be no “Dirty Dancing 3″ it seems. Sad, but at least we can luxuriate in the recollections of knowing that “DD2″ (2004 – where Patch was a dance instructor) will have been the last outing for the Rambo of the ballroom, and the flame will never be dimmed. I am dismayed that he has cancer, but also not surprised since his delicate health has always been an issue. There was a time, soon after his work in Kolkata on the film “City of Joy”, that we were very concerned. Roland Joffe, director, had had to build a secure fresh water pool for the monsoon scene of that film since to have his star swim in regular Kolkata water would have been too big a risk. After the shoot we got some souvenirs too (a jar full, see below) – we were fans not only of “DD”, but also his excellent, Keanu-mocking role in “Point Break”. But it was the “City of Joy” stuff that was a worry, Swayze said at the Melbourne premier that while he could normally command a seven million dollar fee for a film, he so wanted to do this one “for the people of Calcutta” that he accepted just one million dollars. Here are some excerpts from my “Rumour” chapter on the film [with pictures added for my amusement] detailing the story of the fake slum, the fake promo shots, fake protests and fake stool – a farce all round in a city that deserves more than a dirty two-step coin trick:

Cinematic Calcutta

This chapter considers cinematic Calcuttas … The Joffe film, “City of Joy” is the primary focus because this film was made in co-operation with volunteers from the Preger clinic living in Modern Lodge. It presents highly-worked, advanced media technology, scripted and choreographed version of the rumour of Calcutta, so that the experience of travellers and visitors as portrayed in the film version … Released in 1992, “City of Joy”, directed by Joffe and starring Swayze alongside Om Puri and Shabana Azmi, offers an opportunity to evaluate the role of the movie camera in the presentation of India, and Calcutta (to the world beyond its shores). The distribution circuits of the film are all the more relevant here since City of Joy takes as its subject a ‘volunteer’ visitor who works in a street clinic very similar to that in which the travellers I met worked. Indeed, ‘the same’.

The plot of “City of Joy” is simple. The film begins with the death of an anonymous patient on an operating table in a modern American hospital. The surgeon in charge of the operation suffers anguish and despair over his failure. Cut to India.
Hasari (Om Puri) and family travel to Calcutta by bullock and cart, bus then train – the acceleration of this travel trajectory is not accidental. With warnings from a Grandmother to “stay away from the cinema”, they arrive to the crowded Howrah station amidst a Communist rally (which is the only scene which indicates any formal political presence in the city at all). They spend a first night camped by the Hooghly river and are then deceived into renting someone’s apartment by the charlatan Mr Ganguly. After Ganguly disappears, and Hasari and family begin to settle in, they are suddenly chased from the apartment, which was not for rent, and was not Mr Ganguly’s in the first place. Having lost all their savings, they mark out a space of pavement.

Dr Max (Patrick Swayze) arrives at Sudder Street’s Fairlawn Hotel (no bar fridge, offers of a “lady”) and takes a shower, musing over his absent passport, which he has left at an ashram, and his earnest quest to find enlightenment/escape from his failed life in America as a surgeon. In the first of what are many uncommon occurrences for this ‘typical’ American tourist, the porter from the Fairlawn brings Poomina, (Suneeta Sengupta) an allegedly 20 year old “lady”, with whom Max has “some problem” (a euphemism for sex?), but resolves this by going out drinking. As must happen with all Americans stranded in a ‘foreign’ city, Max ends up in a sleazy nightclub, the drinking bout leads to a bar fight, as goondas bash him – a very unusual event to befall a tourist in even the most seedy of Calcutta’s bars, more likely in New York – and he is robbed of all belongings. Hasari, from his pavement space nearby, intervenes and brings the near unconscious Max, with Poomina’s assistance, to Joan’s ‘City of Joy’ street clinic. Joan (Pauline Collins) patches up his wounds, shows him around the clinic, its small dispensary and school, and pays his way back to his comfortable hotel.

Max “doesn’t like sick people” and resists Joan’s obvious plans to recruit him as doctor for the clinic. Hasari learns to pull a rickshaw, bringing Max back to the hotel in a mad zig-zag through proverbially crowded streets. The unlikely entrance of such a rickshaw into the grounds of the hotel is not the least of the inaccuracies (or rather, artistic licence) of the film – the street protocols and hierarchy of business and propriety which operate even in Calcutta’s relatively small tourist trade are glossed over in this realist portrayal.

Rickshaw work is controlled by the family of Ghatak, whose son Ashoka (Art Malik) – the one whose gang beat up on Max – demands that Hasari ‘neigh’ like a horse if he wants to pull a rickshaw. The more pragmatic father examines Hasari’s chest (for signs of tuberculosis) and demands “loyalty”, and Hasari becomes a rickshaw wallah. While in Pilkana, the real City of Joy, hand-pulled rickshaw’s have been long replaced by bicyclist-driven ones, artistic licence again erases the contemporary conditions of Calcutta and no recognition is made of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation campaign to end the use of hand-pulled rickshaws. Although the hand-pulled rickshaw is still prevalent in the inner city area, this fictive shifting of them to the City of Joy is another calculated inaccuracy: such omissions of urban planning efforts in Calcutta are significant devices in presenting the city as the exemplar of massively abstracted ‘grinding poverty’. Upon establishing himself as a rickshaw wallah, Hasari and family move into a room in the City of Joy. Hasari plans to save for his daughter’s dowry (no criticism of this practice acknowledged, despite signs of a school, and thus by implication the usual campaigns to prevent the illegal practice of dowry and the many tragedies to which it leads through extortionate demands).

The notion that Ashoka and the Ghatak family organization are somehow, consciously or unconsciously placed in the metaphoric location of the Left Front Government and its officials in Joffe’s version of Calcutta may occur to some. As the slippage from specific characterizations to generalized ‘how things are in Calcutta’, and with the conspicuous absence of the communist parties in most of the film, it seems clear that Ghatak, as embodiment of all evil and corruption, will be associated with formal authority in the city. The message is that the only authority in Calcutta is corrupt. This crypto-anti-communist lesson from Joffe will be acknowledged and internalized to varying degrees of conscious recognition – and moreso if audiences are aware of any of the wranglings Joffe had with the Government of West Bengal, Bengali intellectuals and the Calcutta press over the propriety of making this film. While it is not possible to show that the characterizations of the Ghatak family must be seen as a Joffe slag against the CPI(M) through ‘metonymic’ substitution, this does raise questions of the motivations of those involved in this sort of film-making, and that perhaps the film is about Joffe’s, and Swayze’s, frustrations more than much else. The explorations of Swayze’s tortured self, the search for enlightenment and meaning, the works of ‘charity’, in a psychoanalysis by substitution, can be read as Joffe’s own experience. Despite criticism from almost every quarter in Calcutta – from the Government who banned his film to other film-makers, including Satyajit Ray who said he couldn’t film on the streets of the city – Joffe belligerently and relentlessly pursued his project. There were great difficulties encountered in scenes filmed in the streets, although most of the film was shot in a specially built million dollar set in suburban Calcutta. Swayze recounted the excitement of filming with a certain tension in a promotional interview: “we were forced to just set up the camera and shoot before anyone noticed what we were up to”. (Less generous critics on the roof of the Modern Lodge called this the clandestine realismo approach to film-making).
Max, meanwhile, is trying to buy a hamburger in a streetside “no beef” cafe. He spots Ashoka, gives chase, but is detained by the police. Rescued a second time by Joan, he comments upon her work in the street clinic: “are you just nuts, or are you doing penance here?” Joan replies with the first of many pro-charity soliloquys that would not seem all that out of place at a Modern Lodge roof-top meeting: “I came on a whim in the first place, but then I stayed. In the beginning it was really frustrating trying to convince them not to be so bloody passive, and then I realised I was fighting a thousand years of passive acceptance”. The theme of passivity is the recurrent explanation of people’s predicament throughout the film.

Max: “Maybe you should stop doing this”. Joan: “Maybe I should … but I’m not very good at loving just one person, it seems to work out better if I spread it around a little bit”. After this exchange Max reaffirms his faith in the Dallas Cowboys, American cinema and Mickey Mouse. Joan’s “simple-minded, but tidy” three part explanation of the ways of the world – there are runaways, observers, and the committed – does not seem to impress as Hasari invites him to share a meagre dinner. After a planting ceremony of seeds in a pot on behalf of his daughter’s dowry, the farmer who must always watch something grow, asserts the ‘simple’ joys of life. But very soon after, this tranquil scene is disrupted by an emergency which only Max can deal with, and although there is no morphine, diazepam … local anaesthetic, he is able to assist in the delivery of a breach birth – an awesome scene in which the doctor asserts the full authority of the medical tradition contra indigenous superstition and fear. Amidst all this, Hasari’s wife Kamla (Shabana Azmi) assists the doctor on the strength of her experience as a mother of three, and earns a position as his nurse when – after the loss of his airticket home, and a little soul searching: “I don’t even feel good about what we did down there today, bringing another little mouth to feed into this cesspool” – he ‘volunteers’ to help in the clinic on a continuing basis. Max: “You call this a clinic!” Joan: “We’ve got no brain scanner either Max, but we’re doing the best we can” (these lines, and a scene involving the sale of donated milk, were offered to Joffe, I suspect, from the chief humourist at the Preger Middleton Row clinic).

In the meantime Poomina has been ordered to attend school under Max’s directive. Max and Joan visit Ghatak (Shyamanand Jalan), who offers Max a lesson in goonda philosophy: “I have learnt not to trust those who say they do things for the benefit of others”, which Max violently rejects. This is an interesting refusal which encodes much of Joffe’s message; unlike the passive and yoked people of the City of Joy, Max will not bow down before the power of the oppressor Ghatak. He calls upon the people of the City of Joy to rise up against the Ghatak family: “You should get pissed at the people who are really using you”. This is as admirable a message as it is naive. Even the most cursory history lesson about Bengal would have taught Joffe that any suggestion that Calcuttans need American coaching in order to organize a political mobilisation is wholly absurd. Passivity here works as Western arrogance and denial displaced by self-importance. Near the beginning of the film Grandmother had warned Hasari’s sons Shambu and Manooj to “stay away from the cinema”, but Max, a film-buff’s fanatic, had taken them to see an action-hero epic. Max is the agent of (cinematic) change, although a mature assessment of the effects of cinema upon him in his youth, where his adulterous father packed him off to the movies while pursuing his affairs, might lead to other evaluations of the impact of paternal directives. While Joffe does not take up the metaphor of movies and paternalism which could be read into this scene, the self-referentiality of Joffe’s cinema jokes may have unforeseen dysfunctions which should not be lost on critical audiences who are likely to note that the real “users” in this film are the Americans, Swayze and Joffe, and the imperialist system which makes possible this sort of cinematic characterization of Calcutta by wealthy celluloid “bosses”. Fatherly protection and paternalistic charity are the guiding themes. The rest of the film follows the script of classics like The Wild Bunch and The Seven Samurai, as Max leads the people of the City of Joy to organise and, subsequently, Hasari inspires the rickshaw wallahs to rebel against the oppression of the Ghatak ‘family’. There are several almost predictable setbacks: Hasari contracts tuberculosis, a common complaint among rickshaw wallahs; he loses his rickshaw to Ashoka and he is forced to sell his blood (a sensational aspect of poverty included in the story and around which the author of the book “City of Joy”, Dominique Lapierre, was severely criticised); an attack is organised by Ashoka and his goondas upon the leprosy clinic; and there is a near-death action-camera experience for Max during the monsoon flood (the 250,000 gallons of water for the flood was specially pumped into the watertight set Joffe had built to enable monsoon filming without regular ‘polluted’ monsoon water – the entire project overseen by Star Wars trilogy special effects wizard Nick Allder).

There is one terrible scene where Ashoka traps Poomina and uses a razor to cut her cheeks to “accentuate that beautiful smile”, although Max’s surgical skill is sufficient to restore her beauty. Moving from active woman to silent ‘child’, Poomina’s character develops in a way that underscores certain gendered and ethnocentric assumptions about Indian women. From an assertive, but fallen woman who initiates all interaction between herself and Max, and brings him to the City of Joy clinic, her increasing passivity contrasts to her initial resourcefulness as she is ordered off to school, is attacked with the razor by Ashok, is carried to safety by Max who sews her slit mouth shut – making her unable to speak in the entire second half of the film. After functioning as the catalyst for Max’s arrival in the City of Joy, as well as providing a hint of exotic and erotic intrigue, Poomina is silenced almost as completely as Hasari’s daughter, who, without a word, and possibly in Poomina’s place, is married at the end of the film with the dowry that Hasari has almost killed himself to earn.

After this, the film’s denouement is a scene reminiscent of the manger sequence in Jerusalem in late December two thousand years ago. Amidst a grey Calcutta, just one shining light beacons for all Christian souls – the clinic of the City of Joy – as the camera pulls back to a full panorama and the credits roll.

OTHER ANGLES ON THE CITY OF JOY

There is much in “City of Joy” that people could find offensive. The simplicity of the emotive codes in which poverty and the conditions of Calcutta are explained away as problems of passivity, and localized exploitation, avoids any analysis of the global economic factors which depress such sectors in Calcutta. Max, even though the audience recognizes that he is from the wealthy ‘West’, is still presented as the man with the answers, despite the self-help rhetoric of the clinic. It is never acknowledged that Max’s own patronizing attitudes and ‘answers’ are founded upon the full might of neocolonial exploitation of Calcutta by international capitalism. Nor does the representation of women in the film, as smiling, passive, beautiful and increasingly silent beings, provide any degree of analytic sophistication. Such formulaic representations of bodies cannot achieve more. The absence of those who in other (local) narratives of the city are seen to be doing things in Calcutta, be it the Corporation, or the militant communists and CPI(M), simply affirms the film’s misrepresentations of Calcuttans as passive (apolitically joyous), and Americans as those-who-have-answers. This is not Calcutta, and although I’m not sure what is, or how its diversity could be represented (but see the films of Mrinal Sen), it is possible to argue that despite being ‘about’ Westerners in Calcutta, Joffe’s film does not at any stage address an explanation of the problems of Calcutta in terms of international relations, nor does it consider the dimensions of local conditions – positive and negative – in the context of Calcutta’s political history, or provide more than a gloss over the factors of class and caste which should take at least some place in any narrative. That he prefers instead to lay all blame on a local petty bully boy, in an emotional and sentimental heart-throb wild west adventure in which Patrick Swayze saves the day – hi ho Silver – is nothing short of amazing.

Can the camera, in the hands of a Western visitor, see otherwise? If “images of Calcutta are restless and constantly shifting in meaning” as Joffe says (Filmnotes 1992) is it possible to disrupt the code that he has played out here? There are other films of Calcutta, but I do not think the ‘difference’ that these films display is a difference that enters or effects the codifications that determine Joffe’s images. The reasons for this are prejudices and ethnocentrisms that are not specific to the camera, but are neither disrupted nor displaced by it either. Imperialist business-as-usual seems to be the order of the day – the camera is a fold in perception, and yet nothing much has changed. Similarly, Joffe can present himself as a more sensitive film-maker, alert to many of the pitfalls and assumptions of cultural difference, able to recognise at least a degree of the indeterminancies of meaning in which he is involved – “Calcutta taught me to take nothing at face value” (Joffe, Filmnotes 1992), and yet still make a very conventional film which reiterates Kipling-like arrogances.

There are too many of these bad news stories in a city which gets a bad press. Its inscription as the exemplary site of photogenic poverty and overcrowding is continually reinforced, the analysis and action which might address Calcutta’s problems is not forthcoming, and despite all this Joffe persisted in forcing his production onto our screens. In Calcutta the filming was bizarre; riots outside, and invasions of, the set, hijacking of the cast’s food truck, union bans, huge crowds come to see the Indian film stars, stone throwing, police lathi charges (bamboo baton), delays of all kinds, the shooting of the film attracted much – perhaps too much – attention. There were, it seems, also some problems with Patrick Swayze’s bowels: in April 1991, Modern Lodge volunteer workers were able to auction off a stool sample bottle with the star’s name upon it found among junk donated by the departing film crew. If we were interested in authenticity we might expect to find Dr. Max in “City of Joy” spending most of his time in the bathroom attending to his diarrhoea. This, of course, would be unseemly in a popular film, however much it would resonate with the experience of visitors and their ongoing shit-talk. The viscous limit of “City of Joy” is reached by blood, childbirth and a fairly sanitized focus upon the stumps of leprosy. With a fabricated slum, with imitation monsoons from pumped bore water, hand-pulled rickshaws where there are bicycles, joy in destitution, and what the film crew described as ‘chaos all around’, it is still a wonder that the film appeared at all (a tribute to Joffe’s cash reserves). During the period of filming there were numerous reviews, pro and con, and promotional articles in the Calcutta press reporting the sensations of riots and intrigues on the set. A whole gossip and rumour system in itself. Subsequently the whole affair has entered more literary writings as a background event in other stories about Calcutta. For example a character in Sunetra Gupta’s novel “The Glassblower’s Breath” announces his successful tender for the contract to build Joffe’s set: “So he would be building a slum, a slum to slum all slums in this city of slum, for no slum had proved slum enough for the City of Joy … Do you feel no shame?” (Gupta 1993:233).

Wholesome purchase and transportation of slum dwellers’ houses went into the construction of the ‘City of Joy’ set. One volunteer noted that the bustee dwellers must have thought Joffe was mad; ‘he comes in, sees the broken down roof of hessian and the tin sheets and says, “I love it, I’ll have it” and peels off three or four hundred rupees to give to the owner. Then his henchmen get to work, remove the old wrecked roof as carefully as possible and replace it with a strong solid new roof!’ (Kath). Yes, it is crazy. The old roof is fitted into Hollywood’s authentic Calcutta.

As a coda to this, the scene in “City of Joy” where Max gives a rupee to the begging children can stand as an emblem for all the themes of third world tourism and charity. Max plays this out as a sleight of hand in a way that recalls Derrida’s presentation of Baudelaire’s counterfeit coin tale. Unlike Lévi-Strauss who dismisses the begging child’s call for one anna as ‘pathetic’, Max engages with the children, and amuses them with coin tricks. Here we can read a routine of savage curiosity over colonial magic often played out to remind Western audiences of their technological advantages. Max is soon overwhelmed by the numbers of children his offer of coins attract and he is forced to flee – the very same scene appears in John Byrum’s 1984 film version of Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, where Bill Murray arrives on the steps of the Ganges in Varanasi4. What does the coin trick signify here? Is it that the Western visitor has the power to give and yet also to fake the gift, and abandon the effort when the demand gets too much?

The coin, as symbol of money, is not, here, the universal marker of value that it is in the money form for Marx. The burden of money in Marx is to be both a commodity exchangeable for itself as well as for all other commodities. Max’s coin cannot be exchanged. The coin, however, is a marker of an exchange in another way – the coin given to a beggar is a marker of power. This is a transaction which shares its structure with the appropriation of photography or film, an abstract directional exchange. Max exchanges his coin for the return that comes to all who give … The coin Max gives has its value “stripped away” (Marx 1858/1973:147) and it comes to stand for a social relation, so that the trick of this scene is that the gift of a coin, as any similar scene of ‘poverty’ is reinvested through the media circuits and wider economy of received images of India. This scene travels. In another context Spivak provides an analysis of this counterfeit and quotes Marx as saying: “in the friction with all kinds of hands, pouches, pockets, purses … the coin rubs off” (Marx in Spivak 1985:81), recalling that Nietzsche too mentions coins which have lost their face through rubbing. This occurs in his famous comment that truths are only metaphors, of which we have forgotten their illusory nature – “coins no longer of account as coins” (in Spivak intro to Derrida 1967/1976:xxii). Another formulation; in Capital, Marx says, “During their currency coins wear away” (Marx 1867/1967:125). “Im Umlauf verschleissen namlich die goldmunzen, die eine mehr, die andere weniger” (Das Kapital p.139).

From: The Rumour of Calutta: Tourism, Charity and the Poverty of Representation. Zed 1996.

The pictures I have included here also tell a story – here they are in order:Patrick and Suneeta; advert for City of Joy with Howrah bridge in background (remember this pose); Howrah Bridge itself; original scene for the ad pic with Art Malik as goonda-henchman – with no Howrah Bridge; and finally, a two-step trick just to show my love for PS is boundless – our two families; made into one, since we are all having the time of our lives…

and I never felt like this before

Yes I swear it’s the truth

And I owe it all to you”
.

Kolkata-Melbourne

Reading The Telegraph from Kolkata, I guess we have to see this below as good news – coming from Melbourne to work in the capital of West Bengal, I always thought there was a major similarity between both cities. Not obviously, but it was something to do with the same architects working for the East India Company and the big old merchant banking firms of Victoria. These two affable guys (pic) I spent part of New Years Eve 2005 with might not be ‘youth’ or ‘students’ but they had very positive views about the livability of Cal. I agree, place just needs a little less exhaust, and reparation payments for hundreds of years of colonial theft… (Ah yes, city links are also a reminder of the Tram Jatra – another good reasonfor twinning these two places – see here and – for the Karachi linkage – here)

From The Telegraph
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Students pitch for more liveable city

A STAFF REPORTER

The youth of Calcutta dream of making the city like Melbourne — recently judged the world’s most liveable city by an international agency — by 2020. Riding high on history and the information technology boom, the students of various city colleges also have the blueprint to achieve the goal.

The plans, to make Calcutta the “best living city” were presented at Youthcon 07, a convention organised by Concern for Calcutta at St Xavier’s College auditorium, which saw participation by several colleges and management institutes. The “best living city” is not just comfortable to live in but also full of life, according to the organisers.

The convention on September 1 and 2 was inaugurated by mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya and attended by the Union minister for youth affairs Mani Shankar Aiyar.

The minister lauded the students for their enthusiasm and faith but pointed out that any plan for the city should not leave out the economically backward. “You need to be more practical in your approach and include the less fortunate in your plans,” said Aiyar.

Concern for Calcutta, an autonomous, non-profit organisation formed in 1948, launched its youth cell last year to involve the younger generation in the mainstream of development.

“There are some who dream of making Calcutta the queen among cities but there are also those who don’t care,” said Bhattacharyya, who was the chief guest.

The mayor called for the participation of young people can help in maintaining the underground drainage system for reducing waterlogging in the city. “Youngsters can help spread awareness about how plastic bags clog up drains,” said Bhattacharyya.

Short coins

Some years ago, I wrote a piece about the coins Job Charnok used to buy the three villages that eventually became the city of Kolkata. These were pieces of silver earned from the slave trade, making an interesting if brutal link between the great British adventure of exploitation in India and across the Atlantic. Coins are of course the potent symbol of capitalism. And I guess of stereotypes about Calcutta too – that scene with the coin tricks in the Swayze film City of Joy. THere is much more to say (so dig out my chapter on Calcutta coinages in Bell and Haddour’s book “City Visions” 2000), but this little item caught my eye today as I was perusing the northern press (as one does):

“Mysterious shortage of coins grips Calcutta

This is from The Scotsman 16 June 2007

A MYSTERIOUS coin shortage gripping Calcutta has shop-keepers begging for change from beggars and buying coins at prices above their face value.

No one knows exactly why there is no change in the eastern Indian city, but the situation has spurred the Reserve Bank of India to emergency measures, distributing millions of coins to try to satisfy the demand.

Since the coin shortage became acute in early June, the bank has distributed five mill-ion rupees ($121,950) worth of coins, including a million on Thursday alone, said Nilanjan Saha, the bank’s treasurer in the city. But the emergency supplies have failed to stem the demand.

“There is no reason for it ,” said Saha. “But I have heard reports that some unscrupulous traders are melting coins because the face value of the coins is lower than the metal value.”

Sacred Media Cow


From Somnath over on on “Sacred Media Cow” [SACREDMEDIACOW is an independent postgraduate collective on Indian media research and production at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London]:

Oh Calcutta

Folks, been away from active blogging for a while. Apologies. The PhD writing and thinking alongwith other activities been taking its toll. Hopefully back now.

My thesis concerns itself with two urban news centres, Calcutta (I still cant bear to do away with the colonial imageries) and Mumbai. Been reading a bit about both the cities lately and a book by John Hutnyk called The Rumour of Calcutta is a quite fascinating account of the city and deconstructs the myths around this “city of extremes” created through the views and notions of representations, from foreign travellers on missions of mercy staying at a cheap tourist lodge to travel guides, books and films.

I have also been logging how the media in recent times has been portraying the city. By all accounts, Calcutta has finally come of age. It is the city on the mend. The government is being applauded, the Chief Minister felicitated. Right wing Conservative Shekhar Gupta in Indian Express speaks and applauds the Indian Left and its erudition, the Politburo and its concerns. Sagarika Ghose cant stop gushing in her interview with Buddha Babu. Protests by “nay sayers” are brushed aside as the crumbling city wakes up to a new dawn. These are not my metaphors. So what’s going on.

It is very much like the errant child who has come home. Give it it’s just rewards, bring it into the fold, hand out the sops and make sure it feels welcome. The media house, the corporate entities cant stop falling over each other to felicitate Buddhadev Bhattacharya’s “coming to sense” wisdom and merging Calcutta with the other metros; long live the Left, so long as it can be managed.

City Requiem


City Requiem, Calcutta: Gender and the Politics of Poverty

by Ananya Roy

Uni of Minnesota Press.

Roy she was paralysed by “Rumour”, but went on to write her book anyway. Some pics too, and discussion of New Communism. “Roy shows how urban developmentalism, in its populist guise, reproduces the relations of masculinist patronage, and, in its entrepreneurial guise, seeks to reclaim a bourgeois Calcutta, gentlemanly in its nostalgias”.
.

Why I love Spivak

Yet another reason anyway… Not only is “Critique of Postcolonial Reason” a great book (for teaching, for method, for insight), but Gayatri is generous and committed, and she liked my rumour book:

A case in point would be John Hutnyk’s brilliant book “The Rumour of Calcutta”…’

in Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty “Harlem” Social Text – 81 (Volume 22, Number 4), Winter 2004, pp. 113-139 Duke University Press
you need Athens access to get the whole thing..

http://muse.jhu.edu/cgi-bin/access.cgi?uri=/journals/social_text/v022/22.4spivak.html&session=8944196
.

The Akha heritage Foundation

“Today, I’d like to present excerpts from a
thought-provoking book by John Hutnyk, entitled ‘The
Rumour of Calcutta: tourism, charity and the poverty
of representation’. The book was already published in
1996, and some of you may remember that I mailed out a
summary at the time when tourism NGOs began to discuss
as to how to apply the ‘fair trade’ concept in
tourism. I’m now sharing this piece with you again
because I believe it is an excellent and highly
opportune contribution to the current debate on
tourism and poverty alleviation.

Yours truly,
Anita Pleumarom
Tourism Investigation & Monitoring Team (tim-team)”
http://www.akha.org/content-100.html
.

New internationalist Rumour Notice


The Rumour of Calcutta:
Tourism, Charity and the Poverty of Representation

‘…. John Hutnyk, in his fascinating study of Western interpretations of Calcutta, attempts to excavate the city from under the layers of accreted prejudices. He shows convincingly how, even before the traveller arrives, the reputation of Calcutta has laid down a sediment of ideas that acts as a modifier on subsequent experiences….’

Third World Network

Third World Network excerpts latter parts of The Rumour of Calcutta.

Vijay Prashad review of Rumour of Calcutta

In Light of Calcutta by Vijay Prashad
The Kathmandu Post Review of Books
30 November, 1997Vol. 2, No. 8

“John Hutnyk’s book does not tell us of the visions of the city among its long-term inhabitants. His book introduces the people who travel to South Asia on a budget, mostly from North America, Europe and Australia. ‘Budget travellers’ come not to bask in the glory of the Raj, but to explore the underbelly of Asia and to do some volunteer work as a means to assuage their guilt or redeem themselves. Despite their best motives, Hutnyk explains, these travellers do not question how they see the city. They have heard the ‘rumour of Calcutta, the imagery by which the city is known’…”

KWark review of Rumour of Calcutta

Against Mother Theresa

John Hutnyk’s Rumour of Calcutta, reviewed byMcKenzie Wark
Wednesday, 10 September 1997

dead link above, but republished HERE.
.

THE RUMOUR OF CALCUTTA


THE RUMOUR OF CALCUTTA:

TOURISM, CHARITY, AND THE POVERTY OF REPRESENTATION

John Hutnyk 1996 Zed books, London.

An original study in the politics of representation, this book explores the discursive construction of a ‘city of intensities’.

The author analyses representations of Calcutta in a wide variety of discourses: in the gossip and travellor-lore of backpackers and volunteer charity workers; in writing – from classic literature to travel guides; in cinema, photography and maps. The book argues that Western Rumours of Calcutta contribute to the elaboration of an imaginary city which circulates in ways fundamental to the maintenance of an international order.

Throughout, the focusis on the technologies of representation which frame tourist experiences of Calcutta, particularly Calcutta as an image site of decay. For example, volunteer charity workers’ explanations of their experience fit into a framework which attributes blame locally. In this perspective tourist volunteers cannot acknowledge complicity in its own production of the city as a phantasmagoric space of poverty. Travellers visiting Calcutta are shown to be located in a place through which ideological and hegemonic effects are played out in complex yet coordinated ways which are to be analysed within the context of international privilege and domination. Here specific practices and technologies, of tourism, representation and experience, are intricately combined to reinforce and replicate the conditions of contemporary cultural and economic inequality.

A provocative and original reading of both Heidegger and Marx, the book also draws up on writers as diverse as Spivak, Trinh, Jameson, Clifford, Virilio, Bataille, Derrida, Deleuze and Guattari.

Available from Zed books
7 Cynthia Street, London N1 9JF
Tel 020 7837 4014

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,688 other followers

%d bloggers like this: