Security Theatre

This phrase was used on the BBC world service a few times yesterday in reference to the ban on laptops and other devices from some airports on some carriers, for reasons to do with airline competition, deflection of other news stories, or plain incoherence. I did not note who said it, but a quick search shows the phrase pop up a few times in the last 6 months, from for example, Shashank Joshi, a senior research fellow at a security think-tank: the Royal United Services Institute. The phrase has some affinity with pantomime terror, but I am more interested in how opportunist news stories can be used to run cover over less savoury announcements. The famous good day to bury a news story Sept 11 incident from Stephen Byers adviser Jo Moore.

This somehow got me to wondering about other ways news which must be gotten out is nevertheless buried in plain sight. I wondered if there were any dissertations written on The Chilcot Inquiry, because when that report finally came, after 7 years, on 6 July, 2016, it was released just one day before the ten year anniversary of the London 7/7  bombing. Was this an attempt that also benefitted from the plain sight effect of their simply being an avalanche of volumes, too expensive for popular reading, too thick for journalists to summarise, and too dull, making it the greatest unread tome since Quixote, so very uninspiring for public commentary, buried in plain sight without any action on the calls to put Blair in front of a war crimes tribunal.

Critics rating: 4 stars.

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Begum Jaan – trailer (remake of Rajkahini, রাজকাহিনী)

For those in need of an alternative to Gurinder Chadha’s Viceroy’s House, in April 2017 we will get the Hindi film Begum Jaan, I hope soon also for a UK release. It is a remake of Rajkahini by the same director, Srijit Mukherji.

Impressed that the fire stuntsperson managed a fair impersonation of the map of india in this scene from the trailer.

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Watch the trailer here.

Since Begum Jaan ‘is the Hindi adapted version of Bengali movie Rajkahini’, the promoters have taken the remake principle to heart as a marketing strategy by staging a debate as to who is the better Begum, Vidya Balan or Rituparna Sengupta?? See here for the way to beat this up into a smart promotional angle with a series of other character match-ups.

The trailer for Rajkahini (2015) is here, of course with Tagore song…:

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and if you are into mapmaking its a tragic feast…

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Bangladeshi Cinema and Tanvir Mokammel’s “1971”, a review of John Hood’s ‘The Bleeding Lotus’

Hood

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Prepare yourself for trauma. John Hood’s book The Bleeding Lotus: Notions of nation in Bangladeshi Cinema (2015, Palimpsest) is not intended primarily as a gore-fest horror but is the more devastating for being a documentation of real and brutal violence on film, presented in relentlessly modest prose, requiring careful and sustained, if confronting, reading.

 

Hood begins his wonderful study of Bangladeshi cinema with an all too cute first line recognition that there were still many people who were ‘born in India, grew up in East Pakistan’ and who, he is writing in 2015, without having travelled, now ‘live in Bangladesh’ (Hood 2015:14). His next 200 pages document that bloody and violent history, tracking films from Zahir Raihan’s Stop Genocide (1971), Tariq and Catherine Masud’s Ontarjatra (2006) through to Nasiruddin Yousuff’s Guerrilla (2011), all the while in extended (short) book length commentary on Tanvir Mokammel’s epic three-hour documentary 1971 (2011). An elegiac annotation of the horrors of partition, language conflicts, civil war, and other assassinations and atrocities, the discussion is all the while shot through with solemn insights about Mokammel’s other films. Hood’s book casts up an ensemble – if that term can be used – that includes the rapist Pakistani military, the bloated bodies of murdered women, groups of dead children in a screen violence perhaps unprecedented, and a horrific witness: ‘deeply moving, powerful visuals’ (Hood 2015:75).

 

Hood knows Bangladesh, and his descriptions of movies that treat the events of the 1971 war, the Pakistan Army, the Razakar collaborators and the resistance, are comprehensive and relentless. Returning over and over to Mokammel’s 1971 with intuition and argumentation, the commentary and synopsis of a great many related films, documentary and feature, are hung on this bleakly enticing frame. The overwhelming humanity of the treatment obliges close attention (many of the films are online, albeit sans subtitles for non-Bengalis). No other film scholars are mentioned and little obvious debt to film theory is required, but the writing is fluent, engaging and engaged. One learns both of Bangladeshi film and and of the difficult birth of Bangladesh as nation, in a fraught emergence which cannot be reduced to a concert or a newsreel summation. Hood shows more clearly than anyone else I have read on this subject that the secularist revolutionary struggle for Bangladeshi freedom was heroic and so are the films, in various degrees of cinematic dress and competence, not spared any necessary critique where warranted, but all in all informative and done with care.

 

The problem of circuits infects film distribution as it does publishing or politics, imposing an hierarchy of visibility and voices according to who shouts loudest with which speaker system. Distribution costs money or favours and without vast resources, sensation and political intrigue substitute for worth. Thus it can be that the most widely viewed documentary ‘evidence’ of the Pakistani Army atrocities is a film that owed its international renown to a cross-border machinations by someone previously not much into the business of facilitating film reviews. As Hood argues in discussion of Zahir Raihan’s Stop Genocide (1971):

 

‘Released even before the war was over [this] was perhaps the earliest cinematic expression of a people’s aspiration for freedom in the face of an occupation army’s inhuman barbarity. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi bought the film rights and had it distributed around the world to project the excesses of the Pakistani military [and so] to justify the Indian intervention’ (Hood 2015:17)

 

Never previously had a twenty minute film found such unlikely international backing, as Indira also used the cover of the war intervention to quash urban Naxals at home. It is then not without irony that Stop Genocide begins with a quote from Lenin and a refrain from ‘The Internationale’, before shadows of palms and the sound of marching boots, barking dogs, and gunfire. Lines of refugees – stop – close-ups of hungry faces and wide abject eyes – stop – the return of revolutionary anthem as a pleading dirge at the end smears misery across the screen, exceeded only with a reference to Auschwitz – stop, stop stop Genocide across the final frames.

 

What further circulates, however, supported in turn by that indubitably well-meaning and necessary Concert for Bangladesh, starring George Harrison and Ravi Shankar, is the globally distributed image of Bangladesh as a space of trauma. Abject nationhood sells, in the hands of such philanthropic friends. Other films or images of a tranquil Bangladesh find distribution deals harder to come by unless they can market the exoticist angles.

 

Hood’s lyrical description of the opening sequence of Morshedul Islam’s Khalaghar (PlayHouse, Dir. Islam, 2006) illustrates the dual tendencies in more recent times:

 

‘The setting is a lush and dense tract of riverbank. The camera focuses on a boat coming along the relatively narrow and secluded stretch of the river. Other than the boatman nothing comes into view; the only other sound than the splash of water by the moving punt is a gentle twittering of birds. It is a truly idyllic scene, which lasts for just about two minutes before the boatman draws to the bank under the cover of low over-hanging branches and in scary silence six young men emerge from the jungle behind the camera to meet the boat. Without a word the boatman proceeds to unload a cargo of arms, passing out guns to the men on the bank. Not a word is spoken’ (Hood 2015:122-3)

 

Reflections in the water play an important role in the sequence, ripples and shimmering in the image, the youth collecting the guns framed under the tree, before a bell rhythm introduces the opening credits. It is a full five and a half minutes before a word is spoken, when the teacher is informed of news about the fight for freedom. The idyll contrasts with an indication of the guerrilla war. Hood is right to double up on noting that words are unnecessary for the effect. Bangladesh, like Nepal, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are rendered as paradise with violence; only sand, dust, mountains, or swollen rivers are interchangeable, and these stereotyped images, along with the all-singing, all-dancing Bollywood ready reckoner, circle the globe. Partition horrors, the emergency and the pogroms dull the tune. Of course other images and critiques of stereotypes are possible. A counter-narrative is found in Humayan Ahmed’s Shyambol Chhaya (2004) where towards the end the Bengali freedom fighters approach a Pakistani Army post disguised as musicians, who, when they get close enough, ‘exchange their instruments for guns and grenades’ (Hood 2015:140). This book and these films take us beyond the lingering consequences of long years of colonial misrule, restoring initiative where there is otherwise only the fading of the vibrant Raj pink of Empire’s nostalgic fantasy – rose-coloured as if the Jallianwalah Bagh massacre of unarmed civilians or Churchill’s wartime ‘necessary’ famine were mere administrative anomalies. If Empire left its outcomes in arbitrary lines and compromises that were unworkable from the get go, Islam’s film Khalaghar, Mokammel’s 1971, and Hood’s book as a whole, alongside many other films and commentary (Prasad et al.,) are efforts to help us negotiate the difficulties and stereotypes that refuse, perhaps especially through invitation and containment, to otherwise succumb to critique.

Saibaba ‘given’ life = court takes life from a nice guy in awful #repressive state anti #maoist trumped up show trial. 

One of Indian Judicial Systems Most Shameful Decisions since 1947 : DU professor GN Saibaba and four others get life sentence for ‘Maoist links’

Democracy and Class Struggle says this must be one of the most shameful legal decisions since the Independence of India in 1947 a wheelchair bound professor given life Imprisonment 
The wheelchair-bound academic was arrested in May 2014. He and five others were convicted under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
DU professor GN Saibaba and four others get life sentence for ‘Maoist links’

The District and Sessions Court in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, on Tuesday sentenced Delhi University professor Gokarakonda Naga Saibaba and four others to life in prison under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
Besides Saibaba, the five people convicted under the draconian law are journalist and social activist Prashant Rahi, Jawaharlal Nehru University student Hem Mishra and tribals Pandu Pora Narote, Mahesh Kareman Tirki and Vijay Tirki. While five have been sentenced to life term in prison, the court sentenced Vijay Tirki to 10 years in jail, reported ANI.
The wheelchair-bound academic was arrested in May 2014 after the Gadchiroli police claimed that he had links with Maoists and was “likely to indulge in anti-national activities”. Saibaba was granted bail in April, 2016. The Supreme Court had cited his medical condition – he suffers from 90% disability after being struck with polio as a child – and the fact that all material witnesses in the trial had been examined.
On February 22, Saibaba had complained of chest pains and was taken to a local hospital, where he had been admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. He was said to have a pancreas infection, besides stones in his gall bladder stones. Doctors had recommended he have surgery in three weeks, after recovering from the infection.
Between June 2015 and December 2015, he was out on interim bail for medical treatment.
Saibaba’s family said they had been expecting an acquittal. “It is shocking,” Vasantha Saibaba, his wife, told Scroll.in. “There is barely any evidence against him – the trial proved this. We will definitely challenge the verdict.” She also claimed there was “state pressure” to have him convicted too.
His lawyer Rebecca John said they would appeal against this order. “There is absolutely no evidence against him. If the State trying to enter the mind of a person, into what his ideology is, we get these kind of orders under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.” She added that there was no evidence that he had “any role to play in any violence, or in incitement to violence, or any active participation at all.”
Saibaba had extensively campaigned against the Salwa Judum militia and the human rights violations that accompanied the Operation Green Hunt against Maoists launched under the previous United Progressive Alliance government.
Vasantha Saibaba’s statement to the media is as follows:
Our advocates will move High Court soon. This judgement is shocking. In the history of Maharashtra this is the first case in which all the persons charge sheeted were convicted in all the sections with life imprisonment. Saibaba’s brother attended most of the arguments of our advocates before the hon. judge and found that the judgement has not taken those into consideration. No evidence has been proved by the prosecution, electronic evidence not sealed. It seems the state and Central governments have put a lot of pressure on the judiciary to implement anti people and undemocratic policies at the behest of corporates and MNCs. The governments have selectively chosen to suppress the voice of people to plunder the resources of this country. The BJP govt. wants to push nakedly the agenda of RSS through such people like Saibaba behind the bars.
The government has chosen this case through courts to silence the voice of Dr. Saibaba. By honoring the Court, Saibaba has been attending the Court all these years and today also despite his deteriorated health. As a wife, I will fight in the higher courts to seek justice. The government has been putting relentless pressure on my family for the last four years by raiding my house in Delhi. I appeal to Democrats, people’s organizations, intellectuals, students to condemn such undemocratic character of the government. After the pronouncement, judge has rejected to issue any order on the appeal of our advocate. Advocates asked to issue an order to direct the Jail authorities to give required medicines, help of assistants for Saibaba movement, operation to perform for gall bladder etc. The minimum requirements previous the Court has given when Saibaba was in jail as under trial are also not given. 

Film India archive

Pretty excited to find parts of the FilmIndia archive online, especially 1948 with a (idiosyncratic) review of Sunny’s Mela (stars Nargis and Dilip Kumar). Also I am quite taken by the concept of ’emotional masochism’ used to describe the film. Other films reviews are in a caustic tone, with the phrase ‘hotch-potch’ appearing in at least three article titles I read, and ‘hotch-potch of coincidences’ possibly the most often repeated phrase. But great details, covers, and things not to be forgotten. Full credit for making this available (John McElwee donation to the Media History Digital Library, scanned from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art Library). A lock on resources, but opened up a little, thanks heaps.

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