Sharmistha Gooptu’s ‘Bengali Cinema’ 2010

have just finished Sharmistha Gooptu’s wonderfully detailed book Bengali Cinema: An Other Nation, and while I understand her decision not to write about Ghatak and Sen et al, I do hope there is a follow up. For sure this will not be the first time such a lament has been aired, but I think there must be a sequel since leaving things pretty much at the end of Apur Sansar is a jolt. Even though there are a dozen pages that skim through the 70s and 80s, the text really stopped at the detailed description of Chatterjee as Apu and this suggests more to come – can only hope there is a sequel that engages with Apu’s subsequent political mobilisation…

Sharmistha Gooptu seems to be custodian of an archive of filmi memorabilia, you can see some of it here.

Ustad Alaudin Khan – by Ritwik Ghatak

(24 mins of music doco from 1963)

someone asked why I posted this. . OK. Maybe because Alaudin Khan was the father of Ali Akbar Khan and Annapurna Devi, uncle of Raja Hossain Khan, and guru of Ravi Shankar, Nikhil Banerjee, Vasant Rai, Pannalal Ghosh and more…

And that isn’t even to get started on the great films Ritwik Ghatak.

Big Fight, punchy new book to come… #India #Media #Film #SouthAsia (if I can get the final edits done this weekend).

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 22.47.58“TV is now increasingly entertainment. News is entertainment. You have to create some element of entertainment … people shouting at each other … or some kind of conflict. It is not always about information. I am not saying in the Big Fight you don’t try to inform but if the entertainment element was not there the programme would probably not have survived. You have to package it … First Punch, Second Punch … Otherwise who will see? There has to be some heat” (Sardesai interviewed in Mehta 2008:255)

(these pictures are not directly linked to the quote, which is about NDTV 24X7 news coverage as part of the new book < but there is indeed discussion of the film also>)

<Mary Kom was the winner of the 2008 World Boxing Championship>

the mortality of paraphrase – book scraps left on the cutting room floor.

It has often been noted that war is hell, or ‘heck’ in the old 1970s ‘M*A*S*H’ anti-war comedy version, but the cold war too has its unwelcome replays as austerity today, this time as grotesque rerun of terror and economic malaise.

For many in the West, a first look at ‘Asia’ came with Altman’s 1970 film M*A*S*H following the adventures of a front line medical unit in the Korean war, but the Vietnam War was the allegorical context. The long-running television series featured Alan Alda as Hawkeye and his bumbling foil Major Frank Burns, an incompetent officer and surgeon played by Larry Lindville, who offered the mortal paraphrase – ‘war is heck’. An occasional character, the paranoid Colonel Flag, played by Edward Winter, should also be remembered for his surrealist reinforcement of the absolute winning incoherence of the phrase ‘military intelligence’.

Notes to self – South Asian film and TV from here, where, now.

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 13.25.49Writing far from the UK, thinking about South Asian film and diaspora from another corner of Asia, and given trends and movements, the angular influences of culture are thrown into sharp relief. How we figure patters of production and consumption of popular culture is never simple. Even influences are not readily tracked when they are apparent: the old reception models, and the dissemination models that proffered a uni-directional distributive formula from an advanced centre, are faulty. The ‘americanization of popular culture in Asia’, as critiqued by Allen Chun when he stresses the importance of how we ‘perceive the concatenated entity called pop music culture in a local context’ (Chun 2012:503), should remind us that received models are hardly adequate for mapping patterns of practice and use. Hollywood does not shape Bollywood, and French New Wave did not shape Bengali new wave – Mrinal Sen et al – despite it being the case that the connectivity here is obvious to media historians, if not always to all viewers. What does it matter if so-called scholarship makes connections that publics – there are always more than one – might not? We are in a plural universe and there are plural Asias, travelling in several directions at once. At least.

For example, cosmopolitan and transnationalising nomad that I am (ahem, I wish) I am at present absent-mindedly watching what I assume to be the show ‘Japan Idol’ on an overhead TV in a Korean bbq joint. I may be wrong, I am in Japan, but given the restaurant, this could also be ‘Korean Idol’; how to tell without tuning in more carefully? I dismiss the effort, and let this just be, this time, background, even though the sound is awful, cranked out through not very state of the art loudspeakers, although it is not overbearing. I am simultaneously concerned with my meal, typing up notes from reading, and avoiding looking at Facebook. What concerns me most is the preparation I should really be doing, but I am also only attending to it with part of my admittedly lazy brain. I’ve a language lesson and should be better prepared for a test coming up in an hour. Japan/Korean Idol as revision session perhaps? It might be ‘Supergirl’, from China (see Jian and Liu 2009), so I already know that is not really going to help, even though I seem to be able to process popular culture and its moves more than I can the declensions of nouns or the – nightmare – pictographs of Kanji.

My students walk into class with iPhone buds in their ears. They also listen to ‘Japan Idol’, and more or less tolerate my insistence on subjecting them to music from old Indian cinema, or diasporic British South Asian sounds, and commentaries. The point of reference at first, to get them interested, was The Beatles, but they also show me the influence of other traditions and ideas that lead them to an interest in India and this course, and I realise that the direction and question of influence is never straightforward. Despite being able to point to ‘the discursive construction of an “East Asian Popular Culture” as an object of analysis (Chua 2006:200) the criss-crossing of national borders extends and extends. Of course this is true for film, music, television drama, comic books, magazines, websites and fashion magazines. In Japan the visibility of Bollywood, and more, of Bengali Art film, is less than some, but this term rather more than nothing. What they will make of it as they collect points and units for their degree awards is really not clear – the hope that the famous obsessive fandom of Japanese youth can be accessed to promote learning is of course not far away. I have something of that tendency for sure.

Also for the films of Ichikawa Kon, even though my students expected me only to know Kurusawa and maybe Ozu. I am able to introduce them to a great – lost? – figure from their own film culture. But it is Akira Kurusawa who was the better known in Bengal, and who is famously paired with Satyajit Ray as the twin stars of World Cinema from tis part of the world. Ichikawa Kon and Mrinal Sen are perhaps the two antithetical alternatives to that mainstream crown. Kon’s films are sometimes profound, sometimes comic, sometimes political, and while I will not belabour this analogy, and the depth of attachment of the Bengali public to Sen is possibly greater than the Japanese appreciation of their own Kon, I certainly class them together. That other book awaits another time however, even as I note also the potential to write such a comparison through the crucial importance of their wives as partner-actresses and muse-like support. No, that book must wait, my language class first. And in Bengal, Mrinal Sen himself is hopefully still to make another film, even though he is pushing towards his mid-90s as I write.

A consideration of unpublished – no, even unwritten – comparative tracts within Asia must immediately take into account the framing that such conversations might have in the wake of the emergence of two new economic ‘superpowers’ in the twenty-first century, China and India – which would have perhaps more significance in terms of encounter than that between east an west (Chakraborty 2012:138). I realise the word encounter has a particular history in at least one context here, but I don’t doubt the possibility of separating the brutality of one kind of encounter, with the police, and that more cosmopolitan and engagingly transnational encounter that might add to our cultural repertoire and sensitivities in the coming era. Here the importance of popular culture forms to adopt and borrow a myriad of styles – and even to ‘tame the exotic’ (Monty 2010:123) – offers a powerful allegory for cosmopolitanism even as it must always be remembered that borrowing and exchange has its hierarchies and power brokers all the way down. Remembering the argument made with Virinder Kalra that the visibility of cultural borrowing is just a first step of recognition, and that it matters what happens next (Kalra and Huntyk 2002), the simplistic celebration of hybridity as political vocation is also to be used with caution (see Kalra, Kaur and Hutnyk 2006).

Sometimes cultural representation goes off on its own and makes more mileage and covers more territory through technology than the efforts of contestation for space could ever achieve. Zee TV for example caters across Europe for South Asian diasporic expressive culture in ways that could not find, or have not yet found, mainstream visibility (Dudrah 2010:164). Perhaps the visibility is achieved through exactly the horizontal broadcast that Zee provides, unable to compete for space with national broadcasters forces a transnational and becoming dominant pan-European Asian television. China TV and NHK are somewhat far behind in this respect, and NDTV and web-based services do not yet viably compete. How would we start to valuate the implications of Zee-sharing on a greater South Asia, or, very plausible if we consider the reach of K-pop into Japan and other places, the softening of particular cultural traits for a kind of regional or trans-continental palatability. Contrast Amitabh Bachchan or Nargis with Shahrukh Khan or Ashwariya Rai, and you can begin to see how maybe some of the desi dust as been airbrushed away with today’s global stars.

[The picture is a still from Mela (1948) starring Dilip Kumar and Nargis, with music by Naushaud – and yes, I am aware its not diasporic film, but, its a pretty good film, with great songs, and I am writing about this also, for real]

COTTON FOR MY SHROUD (India 2011 75 min) – 26 May 2015 – plus ‘Damned’ 27/5/15 and ‘Candles in the Wind’ 28/5/15

You are invited to a unique free screening of this award-winning film, together with a Q&A session with the directors, Nandan Saxena and Kavita Bahl with John Hilary, Executive Director of War on Want.

Tuesday 26th of May 2015

Doors open at 7.00 Screening at 7.15 and the programme finishes at 9.30pm

First Floor, Conference Centre, Garden Court Chambers, 57-60 Lincoln Inn Field, London WC2A 3LJ

Book your place with Eventbrite

Watch the trailer here

This is a story about cotton farmers in the Vidarbha region of the Indian state of Maharashtra. The film investigates how Monsanto, in collusion with the government and politicians, promoted genetically modified Bt Cotton field trials amongst farmers. This was accompanied by propaganda about high yields and reduction in pesticide use.

Vulnerable farmers were enticed to take out loans in order to pay for the GM seeds and the exorbitant prices of pesticides and fertilisers. They found themselves trapped in heavy debt to the money lenders on the one side, with cotton merchants manipulating prices downwards on the other.

With poor yields and high costs, many farmers found themselves with a mountain of debt that they could never hope to repay. In despair, the only way out they could see was to put an end to their lives by drinking pesticide, leaving behind widows and orphans.

A quarter of million farmers have committed suicide in India. If we had a comparable number of middle class professionals committing suicide, the world would not be silent. The film depicts a heartless world where capital and its sibling debt kills daily.


Myrdle Court Press, Invitation!

Screening & Discussion

Join us for a free screening of ‘Dammed’ followed by a discussion with the directors Nandan Saxena and Kavita Bahl.

Wednesday 27 May 6-8:30PM Unite Auditoriam 128 TheoBalds Road, WC1X 8TN London

“Dammed challenges the paradigm of development that assumes mega dams are critical to notions of progress”.

The film follows the Narmada struggle in 2012 when the NHDC (The Dam Corporation) raised the water level of Onkareshwar Dam, defying court orders.

The dreaded submergence was at hand. No alternate land, livelihood or compensation was provided. This was the last straw. In the face of this corpo-political apathy, the villagers of Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh resisted – sitting in the rising waters, submerged neck-deep for 17 days.
Join us to speak with the film-makers about this specific situation, along with a critical discussion on the politics of caste, privilege and image-making.

Watch the trailer

RSVP via FB.

Reserve free tickets via Eventbrite


South Asia Solidarity Group invite you to a Film screening of the award-winning

‘Candles in the Wind’ (India 2014 52 min)

Followed by Q & A with the directors Nandan Saxena and Kavita Bahl

7.00pm Thursday 28 May
(doors open at 6.30pm)

Room V111, SOAS Vernon Square Campus,

Vernon Square, Penton Rise, WC1X 9EW

(nearest tube: King’s Cross)

Free (booking not required)

Punjab is known globally as the success-story of India’s Green Revolution. Popular cinema from Bollywood keeps this carefully cultivated image alive. This image is a mirage.

Behind the smokescreen of an idyllic Punjab, there is real smoke, from the smouldering pyres of the farmers who are driven to suicide by the debt burden due to high costs of seeds, fertilisers and pesticides set by the almighty corporations in collusion with the State.

With suicides of men spiralling, women are left to bear the burden of their debt, and the responsibilities of taking care of children, ageing parents and the chemically-abused fields.

‘Candles in the Wind’ witnesses the silent determination of these women to survive and struggle against the politics of domination. The film provides a unique insight into the effects of neoliberal globalisation on rural India and the socioeconomic flux which has accompanied it.

Watch the trailer for <a href=" Candles in the Wind

Awards: Special Mention, 61st National Film Awards / India; John Abraham National Film Award for Best Documentary / SiGNS Film Festival / Kerala / 2014; Special Mention / IDSFFK / Trivandrum / 2014; Official Selection: Indian Panorama-2014, IFFI-Goa.

Nandan Saxena & Kavita Bahl are independent filmmakers and media trainers.
They received the National Award for Best Investigative Film at the National Film Awards (2011), for the film ‘Cotton for my shroud’. It was screened as ‘Headline Film’ at the World Investigative Film Week at London in 2013.
Almost two decades into filmmaking, they work in the genres of documentary and poetry films. Their oeuvre spans the domains of ecology, livelihoods, development and human rights.

Their most recent film ‘I cannot give you my Forest’ has been awarded the ‘Rajat Kamal’ for the Best Film in Environment, including Agriculture at the National Film Awards (For 2014).