Destruction of weavers

Their bones will, Marx says, end up bleached on the plains of Bihar. Here Ranajit Guha in 1956 examines how colonial policy and corporation demands destroy livelihoods and skills fore generations to come. Some of the language may seem dated or unfamiliar I guess… but:

‘The Regulation on weavers,

framed by the Board of Trade in 1786, went further than this. But here also the proposed measure of improvement was administered strictly according to the commercial requirements of the Company. The Regulation provided for a number of legal safeguards favourable to the Companys weavers, but these represented no more than what was barely needed to ensure the regular and timely execution of contracts for investment. While the parochial labour of the textile producers of Bengal, thanks to the Company’s transactions, was being converted into an element of world economy, nothing was done to introduce a corresponding measure of improvement either in the technique or in the relations of production. The demands of a higher economic order were thus superimposed on a backward industrial organization without preparing the latter in any sense for such a function. There was nothing either in the nature of the East India Company or in Bengali society at the time which could satisfy the historical requirements of the situation. The result was that the Company, failing as it did to effect the release of the productive forces of native industry from feudal fetters, adopted the more facile solution of quarantine by isolating a part of the productive system from its original habitat and straitjiacketing it by the artificial organization of the English

factories. Thus, even before the indigenous industry of Bcngal had begun to wilt under the blasts that blew from Manchester in the first half of the nineteenth century, it was undermined at its very base due to the utter incompatibility between its mode of production and the nature of the market it was intended to serve’ (Guha 2009: 81-2).

From: The Small Voice of History: Collected Essays. Ranikhet can’t.: Permanent Black.


Marx on India in 1857

Marx writes to document the outrages committed by the British in retaliation for the uprising in 1857:

“The Punjaub is declared to be quiet, but at the same time we are informed that ‘at Ferozepore, on the 13th of June, military executions had taken place’ while Vaughan’s corps – 5th

Punjaub Infantry – is praised for ‘having behaved admirably in pursuit of the

55th Native Infantry’. This, it must be confessed, is very queer sort of ‘quiet’”

(New York Daily Tribune August 14,1857. Correspondence London, July 31,1857)

Isn’t this sort of reading of British troop action as an archival trace of something more significant that ‘provoked’ the reactions of the British exactly the sort of reading strategy that the founding Subaltern Studies scholars like Ranajit Guha suggested as critical historical method?

De-centrifuedalised or tropicalization: Marx outside the Euro-American Circuits

So, a bit bemused at the appearance of various Marx readers or ‘companions’ filled with US and UK based scholars, mostly, I thought it worth pointing to a few other irruptions of old beardo in the world.

Saurav Kumar offers this short read about misreading Marx, the horror of Modi, and experiments between communists and Ambedkarites:

While experiments in truth are the topic, this piece in The Hindu by Ramin Jahanbegloo, the Director of the Mahatma Gandhi Centre for Peace at Jindal Uni, is both trying to retrieve Marx from a bad rep and ‘nonsense’ accusations, and making some strange associations of his own about our ‘Socratic Gadfly’ walking to the British Museum every day but, allegedly, preferring dry tomes of philosophy than talking to the British masses!! Also cites Raymond Aron! Still:

Famed scholar Armatya Sen manages to promote Satyajit Ray’s film, Agantuk in this piece. Also funny on Hamlet, the Nobel Laureate references Hobsbawn and 1955 Labour Party stuff (the days of Rajani Palme-Dutt in the CPGB should have got in here to – debates with). Sen is not yet embalmed:

As a contrast, one could ‘sharpen and deepen’ one’s understanding according to last years (199) version of this sort of thing (what is this sort of thing?) from the CPI(M):

OK, CMP stuff comes in various forms, but there is life in the old dog yet. Comrade Vijay Prashad, much respected, imagined Marx reading the blue books (I want to link to my forthcoming on the Blue Books, but its not out yet). LeftWord is one of the best new(ish) publishers in India so check out the blog and sales list too :

The comrades of CPI M-L are serious about scholarship as well – this piece by Amitabha Chakrabarti at the 200 bicentenary commemoration is worth a read for its discussion of ground rent, agriculture and modes of production debates,though repeats a slight distortion in saying that in ‘last decade of his study Marx wrote about 30000 pages on Russian agriculture’ – Kevin Anderson is on the case, 30k notes in the last decade sure, but not all on agriculture. Yet, this is a healthy change of perspective from the Euro-Am usual fodder:

And just as a taster, meanwhile in Vietnam (and I do want to do a roundup for several other non-centrifuegalisms), this piece describes a presentation in Ha Noi by Nguyễn Xuân Thắng, Secretary of the Communist Party of Việt Nam Central Committee, Chairman of the Central Theoretical Council and Director of the Hồ Chí Minh National Political Academy. The text gives a bit of a flavour of how things can look quite different when you are winning. All students study Mac-Len Nin, relevant to the country and the world:


Lal Salaam.

The Rumour of Calcutta – digital book

rumour-cover122 years ago my first book was typeset and laid out in the days before electronics – well, an electric typesetting machine was plugged into a wall, but no digital file was produced. Nevertheless, I had crossed out the digital rights clause in my contract with Zed so I own this. At last some kind anonymous soul has bootlegged it and set digital copy free on the nets, though its a large scanned file and the bibliography was left off (I’ve made a rough scan of the biblio but that too is a large file). Nevertheless, notwithstanding, and such like phrasings, the book is still one of which I am proud, if nothing else for trialling a way of citing tourist backpacker-informants, for its stuff on photography and maps and for the reviews it got (and indeed keeps getting discussed, for example on films – see diekmann2012) and especially for its critique of charity and what charity is for. In the context of do-gooder well-meaning hypocrisy, the effort of charity workers serves wider interests as well as their own, and only marginally any individuals they help – who would be better helped in better funded state-run facilities if the funds extracted through business-as-usual colonialism were, you know, made as reparations for the several hundred years of colonial plunder. Ah well, the critique stands up, the charity industry sadly thrives, second only perhaps to weapons in terms of so-called development, writing books does not yet always change the world as much as you’d like (and no, I did not ever think a book would single-handedly stop Mother Theresa, but…).

I would welcome new readers.

Download The Rumour of Calcutta here:  [John_Hutnyk]_The_rumour_of_Calcutta__tourism,_ch

Biblio here. Rumour biblio

And this retrieved by Toby:

Restored 18th century Danish tavern to be inaugurated today

[JH comment: now if you were plying the illicit opium trade on behalf of dodgy East India Company officials, you’d also need to stop by the Tavern and deal. I guess]

DanishTavernopenFrom; The Milennium Post

by Nandini Guha | 28 Feb 2018 12:20 AM

Kolkata: An 18th Century Danish tavern that was in ruins, has been finally restored into a 120-seater café and lodge overlooking the Ganges at Serampore, by the Ministry of Tourism and the Government of Denmank. The heritage property will be inaugurated on Wednesday by Indranil Sen, the minister of state for Tourism and several ambassadors representing the Nordic countries. The tavern dates back to 1786. Restoration work was taken up by heritage architect Manish Chakraborti and his team in 2015. “A lot of European vessels used to ply on the river during that time. They used to spend a night in transit at the tavern. When we took over restoration though, it was in ruins. The roof had collapsed and there was debris everywhere. Now the old building has been restored to its old classical beauty,” Chakraborti told Millennium Post. The cost of restoration has been borne by the National Museum of Denmark (Rs 3.5 crore) and the state Tourism Department (Rs 1.5 crore). The Tourism Department is presently looking for an operator to run the café and it is expected that it will be fully operational in a month. “The important thing is that the government is investing in a heritage building that has now been converted into a reusable commercial space. As far as the menu is concerned, the operator has to keep in mind that this is Serampore and not Park Street. The pricing could be similar to cafes like Flury’s or Mrs Magpie. And of course, it will be a boost for the state’s tourism prospects,” added Chakraborti. Chakraborti had earlier won a UNESCO award for restoring the 200 year old St Olaf’s Church in Serampore, again an initiative of the Government of Denmark and the West Bengal government.

On Madhava Prasad

an overdue appreciation.

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Read the rest of the review here, or below:

In Cine-Politics: Film Stars and Political Existence in South India, film studies becomes politics, but also society, identification and desire. Prasad’s book contains six well-thought-out chapters, and reappraises the context of focus upon the well-known names and stars of ‘regional’ cinema from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Larger-than-life political icons MGR, NTR and Rajkumar will need no introduction within India, yet, from this book, the outside reader will also get sufficient detail and a good idea of the kinds of films, from ‘mythologicals’ to ‘socials’, that made up their cinema careers. However, the chapters also present the political trajectories of these stars, and the book’s significance is that the turning of film into politics demands a wider scope than any film studies’ focus has hitherto provided. The book importantly goes beyond any mechanical understanding of how film stars might use the cinema for political gain.

The first chapter shows how central government initiatives, especially the States Reorganization Commission of 1953, had deep ramifications for regional film, reflected both in the organisation of cinema as an industry and in the role accorded its emerging stars. The phenomenon of the ‘star-politician’ in South Indian films uniquely impacted upon politics there. Successive chapters then discuss MGR in Tamil Nadu, NTR in Andhra Pradesh, Rajkumar in Karnataka, and ‘fan Bakhti’, with an appendix on Jayalalithaa (see below). MGR, NTR and Rajkumar are so famous that we recognise them by their familiar initials or single names (Marudhur Gopalan Ramachandran aka MGR; Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao aka NTR; and Singanalluru Puttaswamayya Muthuraju aka Rajkumar). Yet, even though each of them played a significant political role in his respective state, he did so in quite different ways and reflecting different political developments and changes. MGR was already a Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party activist before starting in films, and his film roles helped his party to success in 1967, before he formed a new party in 1972 to continue on as chief minister of Tamil Nadu until his death in 1977. In Andhra Pradesh, NTR’s entry into politics and film was through the Telugu language and Telugu nationalism; this gained him status and prestige in the state, but was less readily translated beyond the regional. Similarly, Rajkumar was identified with the identity politics of Kannada. As a political investment, this identity politics suggests a wider path and pattern, indicating a parallel organisational format between his political persona and his screen personality.

It is Prasad’s contention (and not inconsequentially Freudian in analytic reach) that ‘an adequate explanation for the cine-political phenomenon…cannot really be found in the content of the relevant films’ (p. 57). He makes this claim at the very end of a chapter on the cinema strategies of the DMK party in Tamil Nadu, whereby a kind of commodity logic is expanded. Prasad gives us the truism that, certainly in the last ten years, Bollywood has become ‘an appendage of the consumer goods industry via advertising’ (p. 22) and ‘a reflexive commodity, consciously produced in conformity with its own image’ (p. 23). It is not beyond the readers of this book to recognise an anti-commercial and regional argument that Bollywood is shaped by and yet also subsumes the regional. While not ‘any’ South Indian film will do to establish this point, a preponderance of star persona films, and the accompanying film marketing strategies, are identifiable and discernible as influences in, of and on Bollywood.

All the same, a question about content might clarify some issues for us. Do we need to have seen the films of the larger-than-life MGR for Tamil Nadu, or NTR for Andhra Pradesh, to know that there is something different going on with the star-persona film vehicles here than in that ‘other’ dominant Indian film tradition that regionalism necessary backs up against? In Prasad’s discussion of comparative cinema, the scope is larger than the screen. At stake is history itself when he develops a point from an earlier essay in which ‘modernity continues to be identified with the historical concretion of Western modernity, [and so] it will always seem that every other form is a deviant, or not yet modern’ form.11. Madhava M. Prasad, ‘Singular But Double-Entry: Paul Willamen’s Proposals for a Comparative Film Studies’, in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Vol. 14, no. 1 (2013), p. 9.View all notes This deviation is important because where once Hollywood, even at a remove, was regarded as ‘a source of knowledge and values that hold the promise of a better life’—and its ideas were ‘stolen’ and inserted into Bollywood films—today, instead, we see ‘an epochal change in cinema [that] comes in the wake of opening up of the economy in the process of liberalization and globalization’.22. Ibid., p. 10View all notes This gives us the rationale for Prasad’s new book as a development beyond his own 1998 scene-setting work on the melodramatic in Ideology of the Hindi Film;33. M. Madhava Prasad, Ideology of the Hindi Film: A Historical Construction(Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1988).View all notes it is by going beyond melodramatic narrative content that the political appeal of an MGR or NTR is activated in a wider context.

Cine-Politics asserts that after a distinct period in which writers were dominant in the movies, the celebrity star system took hold, and this star persona system now acts like a contagion. In the past, and consistent with melodrama, the fragmentary and episodic form of stories and plots existed within an abstract whole. Subsequently, the movement from writers to star system evident in Tamil films and in the discussion Prasad offers of MGR, means the writer’s message-communicating model has been hollowed out. The message is now the star. It is revealing that the phrase used to warn against dismissing this transition is that of the haunting spectre of denial. To take cinema as transparent is to remain caught within a communicated messages model that had already been warded off as a mere propaganda tool, thus inviting ‘positive or negative valuation depending on one’s agreement or disagreement with the content of the propaganda’ (p. 46). The cultural content that haunts here is not a contained narrative or plot; MGR is not seen to be significant in any particular film, but across all films. Grand narrative returns as embodied persona. MGR plays the gods in general, and in the ‘socials’.

Cine-Politics is not just a fan book on the extraordinary and curious phenomenon of larger-than-life film stars, it is also a commentary upon issues of such long-term interest that the book will surely become the standard reference for persona studies and a major contribution to film theory, significant well beyond its subject area and location. In Ideology of the Hindi Film, the discussion of screen kissing and subsumption, the conjunction of melodrama and Marx, made that book an indispensable reference; now Prasad recaptures his pre-eminence via a regionalism that reaches out to place region at the centre of an already full field. This is the peculiar brilliance of a study that thereby changes everything at the same time, such that arguments about melodrama as the presentation of the ideology of the nation as family drama are now worked through not only Mother India, but via the regional cousins too. The family resemblance of subsumption, even as a difficult theoretical framework, is explained and reinforced with local detail. The films are described with a film buff’s affection, but the analysis relocates MGR, NTR and Rajkumar, and with a passing mention of Rajinikanth and Jayalalithaa, conceptually in the mainstream.

Along the way, the too-quick judgements of journalists and sociologists, who should know the context better, are exposed as inadequate. MGR was indeed a heart-throb and hero through many films, but the viewing public is not simply programmed or predetermined to worship personalities. Nor, despite NTR’s penchant for portraying deities, do these film stars somehow ‘replace’ the gods in the public’s estimation. Prasad displays a healthy scepticism here; even if there is some truth to the adoration and identification observed in such commentary, it does not in any way satisfy or explain the political appeal of personalities, or the persona role, for the stakes are higher than that. Prasad offers substantiation via statistics to show that, for example, NTR’s roles in ‘mythologicals’ were secondary and subsequent to his roles in ‘socials’, films about issues and themes of social relevance. Playing gods was not typecasting of him (p. 76); his ‘star’ recognition had already been established long before his first appearance as Lord Krishna in K.V. Reddy’s Mayabazar (1957).

Some questions remain for debate: is NTR’s election as chief minister of Andhra Pradesh subsumed under a greater regionalist Telugu politics, or is Telugu regionalism subsumed in NTR’s star narrative? Is how the theatre tradition gives way to mass popular film, where the allocation of roles within theatre groups moves towards a different kind of logic in that the central character acquires an importance, beyond the symbolic importance accorded to the drama itself (p. 99)? Does film technology figure deeply here, in close-ups, tracking shots and audience responses to stars, persona and life, and in ways relevant to ‘star systems in every popular cinema industry’ (p. 100)?

Gaps in the text can leave these questions open, and this might help us think for ourselves. What perhaps is needed is a larger chapter on MGR’s co-star and political successor, Jayalalithaa Jayaram. We can perhaps understand why she only receives a short discussion in the appendix, but it could be fruitful to consider how continuity might have played out if the book had taken on her mastery of self-presentation and indeed ‘fan Bakhti’ in both film and politics. Here, regional analysis of the particularity of South Indian films of a specific time and context shows that the figures of MGR, NTR and Rajkumar, as well as Jayalalithaa in particular, can be understood as ‘roles’ or personas who extend beyond the film text into the socio-political in unprecedented ways. The ‘socials’ too contain specific characters for whom patronage and clientelism prevail, but also in which uplift projects and social programmes are initiated in the generic name of the star. The cine-political is not star charisma at the ballot box, nor is it a propaganda vehicle, but a moment in the history of cinema when specific audiences have been prepared to follow the leadership of on-screen political investments orchestrated by adept political operatives—and then act to consecrate such figures as leaders. It is with this that Prasad’s text is full of suggestive insights inviting further analysis. For example, he notes how an actor’s persona across films ‘begins to communicate through other channels than the films’ and even in ‘parallel to the diegetic content of the narrative’ (p. 142). His commentaries centre on enthusiasm, sovereignty, language, ideology and the commodification, and even mass reproduction, of star persona effects (p. 184). With these openings, Prasad’s thoughtful and thought-filled volume should become a classic of film studies, and not only for its regional specificity.


1. Madhava M. Prasad, ‘Singular But Double-Entry: Paul Willamen’s Proposals for a Comparative Film Studies’, in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Vol. 14, no. 1 (2013), p. 9.

2. Ibid., p. 10

3. M. Madhava Prasad, Ideology of the Hindi Film: A Historical Construction (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1988).

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