More snips from the cutting room floor

Despite the geopolitical machinations of superpowers and regional interests, there has been through the crises of imperialism, WW2 and the independence period, a parallel progressive leftist culture reproduced through creative labour. Why would the current period be any different? Of course the corresponding possibility of solidarity coming from the West is beleaguered because already from the 1920s that solidarity was not from the West but in reaction to, and sustained by, anti-colonial struggles elsewhere – Russia, India, China, Vietnam, Angola etc. The crisis-ridden left movements of the North cannot take up solidarity in a directing role, nor even participate progressively in any way until the old mole is woken up, austerity is refused and the abundant institutions full of still not wholly privatised universities for critical thinking are given root and branch self-criticism.

Consider how the 1960s counter-culture was annexed and separated into units that could be variously controlled and managed is the story of our era, already long ago anticipated by Adorno. Many recent examples can be invoked, but if we began in the 1960s, we can look at how Black Power morphed into disco and global hip-hop under the scourge of CIA-led inner urban drug swamping and CONTELPRO political assassination. The flower-power hippies became computer geeks and SDS and the YIPPIES such as Abbie Hoffman and Gerry Rubin were left without any mass base – Hoffman drifted into covert flight, Rubin to the stock market. Feminism became identitarian careerism and international solidarity became exoticist revolutionary tourism. Queer militancy became pink pound shopping and Mardi Gras, if not primarily invested more in royal patronage and marriage equality than political mobilisation. Anti-racist multiculturalism more quickly than most other mobilisations was turned from economic redress after systematic bias into targeted small grants for ethnic arts festivals and annual religious or national dress commemorations. Most important, each of the counter-movements were separated and any alliance among them – Black Power + Hippies + Feminists + Queer + anti-racism, anti-imperialism – was too easily broken by money drugs and cultural identity.

 

Terms like Bollywood or Postcolonial may not be better or worse than others, however ‘pragmatic’ (Sundaram 2013: 137), with no intrinsic coherence except they insofar as they are useful markers along the way. If definition means replicating another of the paradoxes of the scholarly penchant for classification

 

The moral-legal framework of the nation and its orders, connections to tradition, patriarchy, transnational diplomacy, and conflict, becomes the object of analysis with film and television the never transparent but nonetheless unavoidable forum for its working out. Policy and corruption, statesmanship, scandal and progress are each thoroughly newsworthy as mediatised. In the end, everything is contained or coded through the screen, but in an inexorable variety that exceeds even population numbers – as many interpretations as critics, as many critics as viewers.

 

That these groupings used involvement in cinema as a vehicle for interventions into the public sphere is possibly true of all contexts for film. And so, an academic industry of course follows in the wake of screen media, like some sort of camp hanger-on modelled by Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage who sells her children into prostitution and slavery, running after the marching army of the 30 Years War (Brecht 1939/1980). All academic studies are in danger of becoming a similar sort of campaign support and the logistical supply troop for a comprehensive cultural takeover in the interest of some social groupings over others – media courses, conferences and journals with critique, scholarship even, when this suits the operatives of commercial advance and technological aggression. No longer a diminutive fuzzy furniture item in the corner of the room – if it ever was, always trying to take over like it did, with aspirations to be the centre of attention – television is now ubiquitous, as a mobile in your pocket, an iPad platform, an airplane seat, taxi cab, station concourse, large public screen, festival feature, cricket stadium scoreboard, plasma proliferation (McQuire 2008). Reassessment of the volatile political place of screens means that the referent of television, and the complicity of television studies as market support, is always overdue. The whole world is flicker and pixels, coming to get you, already invaded intimately (Nandy 1983) and won.

(Brecht, Bertolt 1939/1980 Mother Courage and her Children, London: Methuen.)

The illusion that the political somehow escapes television was always merely televised, and the economy seems now to perform for multiple media platforms, while socio-cultural change runs interference for a technological escalation that only sells us more [forms of] television. It does not matter that we are all always on screen and under scrutiny check in the garrison society. Or rather, it matters only insofar as the global economy is performed as TV, designed, like war, with all of us as screens. A co-constitution of camera and capital, such that the fiction of a single point of view – the camera, or the screen you are looking at now, even when it cuts from angle to angle – is the portal of a total commodification, which – with malevolent triangulation – condenses the multiple social input of a vast productive geo-political apparatus into the disguised and singular presenter speaking directly to you, telling you your news, encouraging you to laugh or cry and living your life right there, before your eyes, everywhere.

 

Sure, the uptake of cinema programming in healthy cross-fertilisation was one of the provocative bonuses for diasporic film – though this can never be endorsed without question as formulaic Bride and Prejudicial high finance dominate the scene. Now we see the ambiguity of so-called hybrid forms in disjunctive mode not only in the curiosities of Zee and NDTV pan-commercialism, but also the idiosyncrasies of flip channel goddery and the ready access of a global identification, for example of Shilpa Shetty and Jade Goody as superstars, or of Osama bin Laden and Barack Hussein Obama. Note already the couplet TV news stars are geo-political, and the alienation effect that such staged pairings should have still does not mean we understand that things are merely theatrical: this is not a Brechtian entfremdungseffekt.

The nationalist televisual project become global also fosters an orientalist TV which prevails in an Asia beyond Asia, where Global South Asia itself is vicariously and phantasmagorically screened – Michael Palin on tour in chapter two of this book. Indeed, it is the haphazard synchronisation of national and geopolitical that has most quickly expanded with the proliferation of screen culture large and small – culture televised, and no longer under pundit control.

If the cinema was festive, the news was stark, but both are dream media in a politics of interpretation: too often taken as media without mediation or meditation. Wanting to be Global but not universal, comprehensive without having to chase down every regional detail, inclusive but not exclusive – the political in the cultural is theoretical and conceptual when specificity is less urgent.

It is a cliché that there are two sides to every story, and yet. The other side of this story is that unpacking prejudice and exoticism makes possible an analysis that includes us all. To think of one place as uninfluenced by, and not influential upon certain other places just does not fit the facts. The politics of heritage and identity, diaspora and origins, of specificity and similarity, and conjuncture and formula means this book explores and evaluates a variegated and contingent political terminology for framing reconfigurations of power, and these reconfigurations are …

The analyses of just a few years back seemed to signal changes that are now even more epochal. Rajagopal had set this out clearly in 2009:

‘the media re-shape the context in which politics is conceived, enacted, and understood. Hindu nationalism represented an attempt to fashion a Hindu public within the nexus of market reforms and the expansion of communications, rather than religious reaction as such. Focusing on the moment of its emergence clarifies the historical conditions for the transition to a new visual regime, as it were, and at the same time shows the extent to which this emergence cannot be explained with reference to purely material circumstances’ (Rajagopal 2009:1).

This analysis has been not so much superseded as established, confirmed and extended by the narrowing of the global and the ubiquity of media technological fashioning. The gap between the screen and the remote contracts.

 

Reporting to that academy is not what this book is about. New methods surpass the old disciplinary rigidities to now take on an interdisciplinarity that is never just a please-everyone generalism and brand celebrity star-vehicle, even where regional genre and area studies have cini-star systems, grant approvals, book deals and a prestige prize.

 

Misrepresentations are not just that – the concepts of reification and recuperation can help us here. Against the national, diaspora or even South Asia, Global South is not a place or a constituency, but a perspective on the whole that has affinities with counter-culture solidarities, Black Power, international Marxist feminism, and internationalist anti-imperialism. The interests of the globe are at stake and the lessons to learn today are in a South Asian idiom. Even so, identity and regionalism in South Asia has too often been diminutive. Tamils, Bengalis, both transnational but neither, in political terms, bigger than the formal nation states to which they belong. Another possible regional perspective exists historically, a ‘subcontinental’ perspective that reaches beyond merely Himalayas to Lanka.

 

Whatever is said about media representation seems caught up in media representation, is it even possible to describe in absentia the prospect of learning something new, of developing further an allegiance to those parts of the planet, the majority, in which the protocols of Hollywood and Networks do not prevail? Is it still a quixotic gesture to insist upon another way of telling?

The challenge to found another third cinema movement on a grander cross-platform scale is not as great as sustaining the work that ventures towards such initiative. Other than media studies, the work ventured here is important for social theory, politics, geography, cultural studies, interdisciplinarity, but most importantly, the possibility of not succumbing to the one-flat-globe dominance of a mainstream.

 

 

 

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This is what a revolution looks like – ahem, slash and burn editing

A dump post for bits cut from a manuscript. So yes, I will not be talking about Bababababadiouuuuu. But leave it here in case I need to retrieve it from the hungry mouse:

that atrocities here and there and the perpetual state of war cannot be swallowed whole means we need not agree with the philosopher Alain Badiou when he claims ‘being indignant’ about a state murder is insufficient because ‘a negative emotion cannot replace the affirmative idea and its organization, any more than a nihilistic riot can claim to be politics’ (Badiou 2011/2012). Badiou’s claim is contradicted by the evidence of consistent and sustained mobilisation against the violence of such encounters, and the question of deciding, far too quickly in Badiou’s case, where the violence begins and ends, and what is a riot and what is organisation. Useful insights can be realised through faulty representations but more generally, there is rage and organisation that goes together in opposition to the dominant. The point is to not join with the dominant so as to merely, even critically, help engross its surplus.

I guess it is easy to see why this needs to be cut, even if there is a point in there somewhere.

More seriously though, I also cannot use this now:

While in the USA this sort of policing occurs with armed officers more frequently, the extraordinary number of cases of, unprosecuted, police killing in the UK confirms that police ‘encounter’ is not a problem specific to any particular nation state. Flagrant examples piled up as I wrote these sentences from notes, white supremacy with a uniform, and a litany of the names of the dead makes for difficult ‘research’. Which is only to say – and saying it is never enough – that police violence is institutional, a part of state ‘counter-terror’ everywhere. In 1999 the Macpherson Report identified ‘institutional racism’ within the British police forces, in relation to the Stephen Lawrence investigation but with wider, limited, implications. Some years later, the ‘institutional’ narrative was brought out again with the disappearance of CCTV video of the police murder of Jean Charles de Menezes on Stockwell tube in 2005. Lists of the dead are abject, no wonder documentation of racist attacks sometimes appears in fictionaliased forms, in films like Sammie and Rosie Get Laid, in pop video such as Dog-tribe by Fun-da-Mental, but at the point of delivery the violence is real. Public sentiment is naturally to resist such violence. The reaction to the killing of Mark Duggan in Tottenham in 2011 suggested more in terms of popular sentiment – that police killings are resented, that the civil compact is fragile, that revolt could transform polite complacency in a matter of days – just as much as the force and violence of political suppression needs a massive tabloid buttress for legitimacy, and carnival sponsorship, or photo-opportunism with a broom in Clapham, cannot resolve the tension.

 

Just as no police officer has been jailed for a death in custody in the UK and the full weight of the law was mobilised to halt the uprising on the third night when the ‘rioters’ in 2011 turned their attention to well-to-do Ealing, rather than Tottenham or Lewisham, people see the operation of hypocrisy and can locate who to blame readily enough. Police duty of care is flouted and ignored, and free rein was offered in Ealing as was evident to anyone who cared to look. It is also not without significance to me that the following August in 2012, the police operation to ‘protect’ the public at the Olympics were lauded, in the press after the fact, as having helped heal the wounds of a scarred city. I do not want to minimise the losses suffered and livelihoods ruined by the events of August 2011, but it seems to me that some new angles on the uprising are required in order to see it as it was – a stage managed media ‘riot’ graphed over the top of legitimate youth frustration built up over months of repressive austerity, cuts to services, the education maintenance allowance (EMA), and the student protests of 2010-early 2011.

There was of course a gap between the predominantly black youth organising and protesting the removal of the EMA that had supported so many disadvantaged families in keeping teens in education and the white, often middle-class, students who somewhat selflessly were protesting education fees they themselves would probably avoid by finishing their degrees before the introduction of the fees. The administration-led privatisation of education, and the political debate about this, was always about much more than issue of course fees, a message even the mainstream news media at the time occasionally comprehended. Yet, since vernacular conviviality is to be subsumed into the regulatory, the evident gap between two kinds of organising, and indeed at the protests, between those who were standing around waiting to be ‘kettled’ and those up for dancing and or a bit of barney with the police – and often it was South Asian youth in the latter contingent – was clearly a part of a struggle that would set coming directions. More creative modes of protest and articulation of dissent within the police kettles and refusal of the A to B march orthodoxy of the usual student protests should also be mentioned, even if they did not in the end prevail. The lessons of horizontal and cell based organising taken from observations of the ‘Arab Spring’, to the extent that it was possible to know via media, and before it was sabotaged by the reaction, did complicate the picture in the student demonstrations, and perhaps even set some of the scene for the following August. Thinking of protest as carnivalesque, as an alternative to predictable routes, and A to B protest marches, opened the possibility of going beyond the political conventions. This itself was perhaps part of the reason for the Police crackdown on student protesters, including significant jail time for a surprisingly large number, which in turn fuelled a degree of militancy that had been building to confirm the congealing roles. The gap, however, also still prevailed in august, with two kinds of ‘protest’ occurring would only be ‘theorised’ at a distance by largely the same groups that had contrasted ‘spikey’ versus ‘fluffy’ in the Criminal Justice Act protests of the med 1990s. Without even going so far as the reprehensibly fluffy ‘clean up’ broom movement photo op in Clapham, the site of white activists marching in a relatively orderly formation through Lewisham chanting ‘This is what a revolution looks like’ was a symptomatic incongruity and pointer that the lessons are still to be learnt.

 

It is no surprise that the variety of film reference consumes space that might have been given over to a shared theoretical effort. With the production of one thousand films a year – estimates vary, but hover around the Scheherazade number. All before anyone can cast about for angle or perspective. Especially if from these thousand and one films, only a very small number of these are discussed by experts in film studies.

 

And this brilliant but orphan squib from SV:

“Film analysis too often

  1. ‘restages the obvious as a major discovery’ (Srinivas 2012:79)

  2. talks itself into wanting to ‘pass’ in all contexts, then complains when this succeeds all too well, and hence benefits are withdrawn

  3. ‘Sometimes, you can’t understand what’s happening textually unless you are aware of the economic forces at work’ (Srinivas 2012:78)”

Srinivas, S.V. 2012 ‘Teaching India/Asian Cinema’, Journal of the Moving Image, 11:78-84

Srinivas raises key areas of problems for film studies: the different levels of attention, first of all to film and its excessive enjoyment; the pleasures of going to the cinema hall to sit in the dark awash with colour; to sit with others, on couches or in cinema halls or virtually, the problem of distribution; the grand claims of those who sit in the dark and proclaim themselves radical, subversive, pirates, revolutionaries, as if watching Jackie Chan in itself were progressive (see Srinivas 2012:79); that piracy can be reread and celebrated as theft and free content misunderstands both piracy and freedom (Srinivas 2012:81).

 

Moinak Biswas in a talk on ‘Ismat Chughtai and her Films’ (Biswas 2016) stresses the importance of Urdu writers in the development of Indian leftist culture and the movement of artists, writers and theatre workers and more from the Progressive Writers Association and IPTA into the film industry in Bombay.

 

Gehlawat would break with ‘adherence to a devotional paradigm’ (Gehlawat 2010:26)

 

‘On 26 June 1975, Indira Gandhi declared a State of Emergency, allegedly to prevent a conspiracy from undermining the progressive measures being undertaken by her. A national railway workers’ strike and broad-based popular campaigns in one of the more urbanized and developed states, Gujarat, and in one of the most backward, Bihar (campaigns which were both escalating into nationwide opposition movements) formed the background to the decision. Individual rights were revoked, including the right to move courts and the right to trial; over 100,000 arrests of political leaders and dissidents were made during the eighteen month period before elections were called side by side with political repression were measures to promote economic growth and equity, such as the Twenty Point Program, heralded as a ‘‘direct assault on poverty.’’ It gave priority to implementing laws on land ceilings, housing for landless labor, abolition of bonded labor and of rural indebtedness, and providing higher minimum wages for agricultural workers. Special teams were instituted in the large cities, to undertake house-to-house searches for undisclosed or undervalued property. Widely publicized campaigns against tax evasion and smuggling were launched, and within twelve months over 2,100 alleged smugglers were jailed and property worth over ten million rupees seized. Labor ‘‘peace’’ was achieved, with a dramatic decrease in strikes and lockouts of about 75 percent. The government’s aim appeared to be to stop at source all conceivable political opposition. Elections were suspended and press censorship instituted’ (Rajagopal 2009:47)

 

In Chandidas (1932, dir Deboki Kumar Basu) the burning of Rami’s home, and the fire taking the bird cage a poignant moment in the most poignant of films. Against the prohibitions of the bigoted temple priests, Chandidas chooses Rami and they leave for a new house

The game show format imparted, like cricket, to India is not offensive, nor should it surprise us that the abuse of legal process first devised by the British lingers. What we see played out on the hanging channel are the global effects of the terror psychosis that spread fear as revenge for national insult. 9-11 and 6/7 meant a bureaucratic anxiety was imposed as control. Internal Security, Homeland Defence, Prevent, Radicalisation and Human Terrain network Analysis are all variants of a prime-time police operation reliant upon fear of ideas and the burning of books. The pantomime factor is huge in the effort to make people in the west forget that they are far far more likely to die in a car crash than the proxy war of terror weapons sales push that occupies strategic imperatives in so-called ‘diplomatic’ planning.

 

‘The Indian films which pertained most to Third Cinema grew out of the New Indian Cinema of the 1970s and 1980s, and it is this movement to which I devote some attention here for two reasons: it is not treated elsewhere in these pages while remaining one of the important cinemas neglected (for a variety of reasons) by Western criticism – this even though the films produced by these radical filmmakers outnumber those of the Nouvelle Vague and the New German Cinema combined; the New Indian Cinema also constitutes a superb illustration all the difficulties and contradictions that filmmakers and film critics encountered and continue to encounter wherever Third Cinema has come into being. India’s “Parallel Cinema,” as it has come to be known in some quarters, remains unparalleled in its richness as a case study’ (Guneratne and Dassanayake 2003: 20)

‘The vanguard of the New Indian Cinema that began to emerge in the 1970s either studied under committed leftist filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak at Pune or abroad either at such centers of filmmaking as Moscow’ (Guneratne and Dassanayake 2003: 21)

 

Understanding then Pather Panchali or Baishey Shravana in this code brings only sadness and despair to the nation. Poverty, not independence would be a more adequate context, especially in a filmmaker like Sen who will track the communist left and Maoist political lineage in Bengal.

 

No romance of the beleaguered ethnic community. Austerity accounts for all associations other than big business and what community there is that can be applauded is a community of struggle. Struggle is not yet success, but the aspiration remains. Even where beset by inner city problems – code for drugs, gangs, crime, violence, hip hop – there is organisation. In the face of a collapsing left, even a crack house might in some conditions be shelter.

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.

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.

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 11.54.55

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…:

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 12.12.49

 

and if you are into mapmaking its a tragic feast…

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 12.28.56

 

 

 

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

Hood

::

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.