A somewhat strange take on the watch mechanism metaphor for history, and on village structure, from K.N.Chaudhuri. Asia Before Europe (explaining Braudel).
A somewhat strange take on the watch mechanism metaphor for history, and on village structure, from K.N.Chaudhuri. Asia Before Europe (explaining Braudel).
F.Scott-Fitzgerald’s ‘crack-up’ as a model for going on with when needs must and all around have been ripping each other to shreds in a mass fraternal suicide:
‘I must continue to be a writer because that was my only way of life, but I would cease any attempts to be a person—to be kind, just or genierous. There were plenty of counterfeit coins around that would pass instead of these and I knew where I could get them at a nickel on the dollar. In thirty.nine years an observant eye has learned to detect where the milk is watered and the sugar is sanded, the rhinestone passed for diamond and the stucco for stone. There was to be no more giving of myself—all giving was to be outlawed henceforth under a new name, and that name was Waste.
The decision made me rather exuberant, like anything that is both real and new. As a sort of beginning there was a whole shaft of letters to be tipped into the waste basket when I went home, letters that wanted something for nothing—to read this man’s manuscript, market this man’s poem, speak free on the radio, indite notes of introduction, give this interview, help with the plot of this play, with this domestic situation, perform this act of thoughtfulness or charity. The conjuror’s hat was empty. To draw things out of it had long been a sort of sleight of hand, and now, to change the metaphor, I was off the dispensing end of the relief roll forever’ from The Crack-Up (posthumous FSF, edited by Edmund Wilson 1945)
– Gets better as it goes on:
But enough.It is not a matter of levity. If you are young and you should write asking to see me and leam how to be a sombre literary man writing pieces upon the state of emotional exhaustion that often overtakes writers in their prime —if you should be so young and so fatuous as to do this, I would not do so much as acknowledge your letter, unless you were related to someone very rich and important indeed. And if you were dying of starvation outside my window, I would go out quickly and give you the smile and the voice (if no longer the hand) and stick around till somebody raised a nickel to phone for the ambulance, that is if I thought there would be any copy in it for me.
I’ve read most of Steve Redhead’s work over the years. Maybe not all the Virilio stuff as I leave that to Sophie, but this is the next one I’ll read:
And why now? – should have been earlier of course, but I am less often in bookshops with ready cash, and just found out the terrible, most terrible, news of Steve’s passing.
“Am deeply sad to find that just over a week ago the scholar Steve Redhead died. There are many tributes, well deserved. In Manchester in 1994, in another university and in a different discipline, how great was it that a (then) law prof took an interest in a talk on Derrida’s Marx book by an unknown postdoc and in conversation suggested archives I could read on the history of anti-racism activism in the UK, without which no “Dis-Orienting Rhythms”, among so much else. RIP Steve Redhead. Hope his family and friends and especially Tara Brabazon will be fine, despite condolences never being anywhere near good enough.”
For the reminder files, an email response to a student met doing Capital in India proposing a PhD on women in Bollywood. I'm not sure I'm the one to ask and if my response is any help, but here it is:
"Sorry its taken a few days to get back to you properly. I have been travelling.
I've read your research proposal and thought about what you ask, and mainly I have some questions for you before I can answer really. Well, I can make some guesses at what you might want as an answer and give some suggestions, but really I'm not clear enough on your circumstances to best advise.
There are some corrections to be made on your text, but they are minor grammar ones and hardly the sort of thing that matters, especially if this is a draft that will change. I've ignored them as they are minor infelicities of speaking, extra prepositions and so on. Mistakes anyone can make in a longer text. So, first question – is this a draft?
IF this is a draft, are you committed to this study in this form? I mean, the image analysis, textual analysis, and interviews with spectators aspect seems, well, of a certain vintage. Is this kind of analysis the best we can do? Will it provide any result that achieves what you perhaps want it to – and, most importantly, what is that? What is the purpose of the analysis in the widest possible sense? The promotion of women in films? An understanding of this? A critique of this? There are many other possibilities.
I ask about this because there are people you might seek to work with who have done similar sorts of studies, using similar methodologies. I can suggest some perhaps. There are others who would possibly seek out students to do things a bit differently.
Another similar question, which shapes who might be suggested as a person to work with for PhD has to do with your engagement with a certain version of feminism. There are of course many versions, and not all scholars would put Laura Mulvey and Angela McRobbie in the same box, and some might find their work dated as well – there are others, doing good work. And not necessarily white western feminists. Of course not all women of colour feminists are the same also – ranging from identity to feminism-marxism you of course find the same range of variation. You must at least engage with these scholars. I guess I am asking if for this study you even need the version of western feminism that you set out in your draft?
Maybe you do want to do a study that is particularly focussed upon some version of feminism like that of McRobbie. I cannot think then who to suggest, but you could ask her. Similarly, you could ask Laura Mulvey. But then, I'd suggest asking someone like Meeta Rani Jha for advice. Actually she did interviews with women viewers of Bollywood film for her PhD. I've not read it in its final version, but read early chapters a can confidently say I am sure its really very good. I'd encourage you to look her up. I am not sure if she is teaching now, but she is on facebook.
My next set of questions are also pretty naive on my part. But why do you want to go abroad to do this research? If it is to connect to western feminism, then it of course makes sense, but for a PhD from abroad… well, the reasons are several, but in this day and age it is not a matter of access to materials. With good internet you can get everything you need in India book4you.org, and sci-hub though surely questionable sites in terms of copyright, will get you any text you need. My strong belief is that you should choose where to do your PhD by going to work with someone whose writing you really like.
That may be, as noted, Mulvey or McRobbie. Or someone else. There are certainly people in India that would be great to work with on this topic. If you have not considered this, then you must – IIT Kharagpur has Anjali Gera Roy and she is doing great and I think original work. Of course there are other stars in India eg SV Srinivas is really great, there is Moinak Biswas and Abhijit Roy at Jadavpur of course (as you know) and Madava Prashad in Hyderabad.
Anjali Gera Roy's work is not well enough known yet:
Gera Roy, Anjali (2010) '"Global flows": Ethnographic Studies of the Hindi Movie in Africa', Journal of African Literature and Culture 7(8):33-48.
Gera Roy, Anjali ed (2012) The Magic of Bollywood: At Home and Abroad, New Delhi: Sage.
Gera Roy, Anjali (2015) Cinema of Enchantment: Perso-Arabic Genealogies of the Hindi Masala Film, Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan.
Then, maybe there are other reasons for you wanting not to be in India – social, political even. I will not judge. Then you should look first to whose writing you like, then try to work with them. Have you heard of Rajinder Dudrah?
Dudrah, Rajinder (2002) 'Vilayati Bollywood: Popular Hindi Cinema-going and diasporic South Asian identity in Birmingham (UK)', Javnost, 9(1): 19-36.
Dudrah, Rajinder (2006) Bollywood: Sociology Goes to the Movies, London: Sage.
Dudrah, Rajinder (2012) Bollywood Travels: Culture, Diaspora and Border Crossings in Popular Hindi Cinema, London: Routledge.
Dudrah, Rajinder, Elke Mader and Bernhard Fuchs (2015) SRK and Global Bollywod, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Raminder Kaur at Sussex University would be someone to consider working with. she has done brilliant work on a wider range of things, all of it is great.
See her works, among others:
Kaur, Raminder (2003) Performative Politics and the Cultures of Hinduism: Public Uses of Religion in Western India New Delhi: Permanent Black.
Kaur, Raminder (2013) Atomic Mumbai: Living with the Radiance of a Thousand Suns. Routledge, India.
Kaur, Raminder and Ajay J Sinha (2005) Bollyworld: Popular Cinema Through a Transnational Lens, New Delhi: Sage
I do not know if it is my place to even raise this, but have you funds for a PhD abroad in one of the expensive places (UK, USA)? I mean, there is very little chance of funding for Indian nationals for UK and US so its a big lottery if you are not already of independent means. Cost of living plus fees in the UK would reach £30,000 per year. Do not even consider converting that into rupees unless you are ready for the shock.
Which means, considering some of the less costly places to do a PhD.
There is Tejaswini Niranjana at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. I've no idea about fees there, or cost of living in Hong Kong, but the University is good and Tejaswini is a great scholar.
Of course I am not ruling out he US or UK if you have funds, and there are many people there.
I don't know enough about where and why you want to go. I repeat again that I think you should choose based on who you want to work with. Of course prestige of a programme also matters to some people (employers also) but in terms of quality of the research, you want to work with the people you think are the best.
I have not included anything specifically on women in my book just finished a few months ago, but I did try to survey what I thought was interesting in South Asian film studies in the recent period. Since some of the people I discuss are not mentioned by you, perhaps you would like to look at the book. I include it here (please NOT to forward to anyone). It will come out in India later this year I hope, also in more costly version in the UK. Its attached.
Check out form the bibliography there the work of Jigna Desai, Amit Rai, and Ajay Gahlawat.
You might consider working with the wonderful Earl Jackson at National Chao Tung University Taiwan. Their cultural studies dept, where I have been visiting prof and so has Madava Prashad, is really well respected. And Hsinchu is a very interesting city.
In the US also look at the work of H Mann, references in my book bibliography.
I hope it might be of interest and/or stimulate further thoughts. I'm sorry it was not in my competence to write anything particularly good on the role of women in films, though of course I do discuss related issues inevitably, Fire, Parched etc…
The book was what I was working on when we met. After working on it intensely after classes through that month, it was finished soon after.
[ninth in a series of scrapbook overflow/rejects]
Yet ‘Epistemological performance is how you construct yourself and the world as an object of knowing’ says Spivak at the University of Kwazulu-Natal 8th Annual Teaching and Learning on Higher Education Conference. This was a workshop on her book An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization, (Spivak 2012). The effort of trying to train oneself towards openness to how others perform, and making this a part of a way of reading that also would resist inevitable exoticism and complicity, perhaps requires a more nuanced dialectic to which many are often not adequately sensitive. Admirable that this constructs the world, life, knowledge as equitable domain of differences, or at least the chance to imagine such differences.
Paraphrasing: the construction of knowledge as a knowledge industry is a cul-de-sac of meaningless vocationalism, repetition skills and information processing, not wisdom or learning what can be learned…
[and I really regret losing this, but its for another book, with updates after reading a lot of fafffffffffffs]: No less a ‘firing squad’ than the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry soft peddled the war crimes and encouragements to reaction given by bleeding heart prime ministers of dubious reputation. Blair’s questioning by Chilcot was more a pre-election stump speech than investigation or war crimes tribunal – documentation here: http: //www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/ (accessed March 10 2010). With Chilcot not planning to deliver the final report until after the 2015 election, as of June 2015, still no sign of the report, and Blair had been appointed to yet another new post (‘Palestinians baffled by decision to appoint Tony Blair to chair European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation’ Telegraph June 13 2015). Still no sign of the report, mid 2015, but petitions to have Blair up in front of the War Crimes Tribunal widely supported, giving some cheer. When it finally came on 6 July, 2016 – a day before the ten year anniversary of the 7/7 London bombing – the report was buried in an avalanche of volumes, too expensive for popular reading, too thick for journalists to summarise, uninspiring for public commentary, and so buried in plain sight without any action on the calls to charge Blair.
[and these movie recommendations:]
This is true if the images are big political movement material, from Maoists fighting the Kuomintang depicted as a fanatic horde in the Barbara Stanwyck vehicle, The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933 dir. Capra) – an impressive film nevertheless for its early interracial romance – through to the ways violent political encounters in Vietnam were framed as humour, with the soldiers singing the Mickey Mouse Club theme song: ‘M.I.C.K.E.Y’ as a dirge in Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987 dir. Kubrick). That same year Robin Williams was making a joke of the ‘Police Action’ in Good Morning Vietnam (1987 dir. Levinson), reprising the compromises of journalism already shown with Mel Gibson dining out in The Year of Living Dangerously (1982 dir. Weir) or of medics portraying the earlier war in Korea as contemporary allegory in M*A*S*H (1970 dir. Altman). There are many examples. If the footage is too real or too harsh, it is relegated, even when screened. Controversy surrounded the allegorical execution of a boy in MIA’s Romain Gavras song video Born Free (2010), but the 2009 atrocity video of Tamils executed by the Sri Lankan military in a UN ‘refugee camp’ was ignored. Despite video ‘evidence’ entered into a public ‘news’ system that is not designed to offer due process under law, the Rodney King video was dissected and anatomised by lawyers to normalise and exonerate the violence of that arrest while Tonight Show TV hosts did jokes. Only where globally connected communities fight for justice denied is there any degree of return.
What has all this to do with the topic? Can’t we just have more about Bollywood and music video, an upbeat tempo, several layers of colour and a massive popular following? Why fill up this book with lamentations about violence and appreciations of the films of Mrinal Sen and Anand Patwardhan? Who are ‘you’ to enter this domain? Let the experts then talk of film and you talk of ‘police actions’ as war someplace else.
I watch the films so that you will too.
That this big tent includes some wide stripes, but despite criticisms of the cash-in and anti-Muslim bias, Chadha making Bride and Prejudice and Viceroy’s House is still among those examples that work against the trend Mann identifies of films without serious treatment of issues. Alongside, of course, if not as lucrative, the Kureishi films, and examples like Wild West (1992), East is East (1999) and several others. It is not impossible to agree that, except perhaps in a few rare films, it is difficult to find films that offer ‘serious treatment of diaspora lives or any real engagement with their foreign homelands’ (Mann 2014: 499).
Is it possible to suggest there is more to be done here even if it is hard to disagree with the assessment that ‘NRI films, with their overwhelmingly reductive, stereotypical approach to the West, contribute to Bollywood’s churning out of preppy, feel-good romances, with song and-dance sequences punctuated by little narrative, and filmmakers reduced to entertainers solely’ (Mann 20145: 499). If structure, reverse stereotype, liminal phase and open interpretive quest are considered it becomes clear that many other factors are in the mix. No easy classification should control the interpretive frame, even if there may be co-ordinates mapped, probes and provocations sent out, cartographers and depth psychology, conversationalists and even ethnographers deployed.
South Asian film and television studies here then operate a range of perspectives and themes that could, for the purposes of experiment, be placed within the allegorical orbit of multiplicity and at least mark out a relation to a slightly more complicated tracking of historical developments. Without getting into the rights and wrongs of this move, reassessment of themes allows a summary. This would necessarily include the allegorical, as discussed, but perhaps just as powerful is the shift from ‘high nationalism’ to decolonising psychological with studies like those of Nandy (1998: 18). In the return and realisation, if not culmination, of ideology critique enabled by work of Madhava Prasad and those he released, or unleashed, openings like the Journal of the Moving Image at Jadavpur and the consolidation of cultural studies at Bangalore show what has begun. Work in the UK on diasporic film (see Kaur and Sinha 2005, bibliography in Dudrah 2012) also includes new ethnographic studies on venues, distribution, the extension of culture through family, financially driven migration and multiplying technological formats, but thus far this work still awaits any significant institutional commitment and funds.
 The early study of cassette culture by Peter Manuel in 1993 should not be forgotten. A trajectory then extending through the arrival of VCR and cassette tapes to the corner cable stall, the rewiring of neighbourhood connectivity and the explosion of satellites and portable screens, the purchase of technology is and its ‘alternate picture of globalisation’ in the pirate economy (Vasudevan 2013: 212, Sundaram 2009) now ends with the Internet bringing both global unity and ‘venomous diatribes’ on YouTube (Manuel 2013: 379).
The dynamic of political allegory requires a suture between specificity and the global, and film in diasporic and commercial circulation can provide that. The point is variously expressed.
In a different way, but with a parallel structuring, Moinak Biswas suggests that ‘the “person” becomes the last source of morality and ethics in the melodramatic world’. Black and white here infuses ‘ordinary human actions with larger significances’ (Biswas 2000: 128). The conjugal scene in private and intimate lives always also looks forward to the future, and so the family values variety of moral order claims general importance. The other political, outward facing, social critique, of class, of colonialism, oppression and war looks to the market sphere. It is for this reason that film can stitch between the family drama and the terror attack that makes cinema seem real even when not. The specificity of film and its interpolation of viewers has a global commercial imperative that was scaled up from the start: ‘The film industry in India from its very inception was intimately implicated in the nationalist project’ (Gopal and Moorti 2008: 10). Songs and scenes of melodrama convey and construct a sense of anxiety for the spectator-citizen even while delivering emotive pleasures and immersion, or through immersion ‘intimately implicated’ and the circulation of this intimacy ‘was decidedly internationalist in its mode of production and distribution’ (Gopal and Moortu 2008: 11). The mesh between a hybrid cultural ‘masala’ and the increasing imbrication with global commercial flows is the suture that must be reworked, sublated, detourned if Global South Asia would not merely sell conviviality to the world, in spite of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rogue! (2001).
There are by definition no agreed, fixed or stable global co-ordinates that can simply be plotted, mapped and drawn up on a vernacular grid ready for battle. It seems just as valid to be sceptical about concepts and political prescriptions as it is to give opinions on the world historical significance of artworks or films. Is this to elevate a few texts and ignore others because my reading and research list is faulty? I cannot watch every film, though childcare and YouTube facilitate extended viewing. [remember, I am cutting these sentences from the book because I think its rubbish. note to self, do not be tempted to put this back] Ostentatious excitation of the bibliography/filmography notwithstanding, would such a completion guarantee the power of the analysis?
‘Little attempt is made to unpick the problematic manner in which diaspora itself is often deliberately constructed as more open to the potentials of “performative” identity and hybridity than anywhere “back home”‘ (Banaji 2006: 31).
Ana Mendes takes up the Merchant Ivory films in a discussion of Rushdie and the film Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001 dir. Gowariker) to discuss the visual and exoticist nostalgia trope in films about the Raj, still potently representative of ideological positionings even when recognised as myth, reworked and reimagined for a diverse audience and yet still effectively romantic, hierarchical, and largely blind to economic injustice both during the Raj era and today. ‘Visual splendour’ in Merchant Ivory or in Lagaan evokes that fantasy Raj even in its ostensible critique, and Mendes contrasts the exoticism or self-exoticism of such films to the rejection of Raj revivalism that in part motivated My Beautiful Laundrette (Mendes 2007: 72).
The convergence of capital’s industrial production in cinema and new media and the docile bodies that consume and comment in the walled chat-rooms while cultural studies overestimates the resistive potential of media use and the susceptibility of the market to the enclosure of administration will perhaps not be undone. Festivals are a favourite of government officials wanting to provide economical panacea for the masses without risk of mobilisations less readily corralled – the festival as a fortress, and as commercial boosterism. The officially sponsored festival of the Global South as the last desperate attempt to distract from an empty administration of capital by hypocrites with weapons contracts. But since no amount of staged frivolity by nominated but beleaguered ‘community leaders’ can disguise from the community the violence inflicted upon that community, the life-support mechanism of civic bureaucracy flounders when people get together to talk about something other than sport. The alternative mobilisation rips these documents of barbaric proportion to shreds and scatters the enemies of the people to the four corners of the planetary Global South, zindabad!
Insisting on the more open connectivities can still, maybe, potentially, offer more than complicity with the market.
The footnotes are getting the chop chop treatment too. It is a sad sad day. A bad bad way to relegate people to the acknowledgements.
Is it just Truman World™? In his book Picturing Theory, anthropologist Jay Ruby discusses the ‘not illogical merchandising direction [of] The Truman Show [which] contains … “a catelog of products featured on the show, offered for sale and snapped up by its loyal international audiences”‘ (Ruby 2000: 250, quoting the Paramount Pictures Press kit for the film). Ruby’s point is that anthropologists cannot pretend to study people without the context of commercial capitalism ; similarly television without its connections would be television out of context. Yet, if Ruby wants to modernise anthropology, we might ask why his book is subtitled ‘explorations in film and anthropology’ (my emphasis), as if the explorer’s quest, Palin again, were something that did not need the idea of the pristine and untouched other as its slightly tarnished holy grail. I have always wondered why texts on visual anthropology, and film history in general, are fixated on the founding practitioners and nothing from ‘before’. I owe this point to Scott McQuire (1986, 2008), but also again in part to Theresa Mikuriya (2017).
An approach that experiments with a frame shift towards a political and allegorical register cannot keep up with that level of work, even as it relies wholly upon so much of it and tries to offer a related but limited meditation on a contingent perspective.
The slogan that sits behind both the success of diaspora and Bollywood film and the rise of Hindutva is a more radical political position – we are here because you were there – is not unrelated to the counter-reaction. The terror war that would be exoticism in one format – lyrical tunes, the films of Satyajit Ray – is in another time and place terror.
In his appreciation of the work of Stuart Hall, Madhava Prasad makes a powerful critical observation of ‘the indigenous dominant subject who wants to suppress the voices of the marginalised in order to maintain a semblance of unity and hold on to their own leadership position in the eyes of the world’ (Madhava Prasad 2014c: 193). Following Hall, Madhava Prasad agrees subjective working out or one’s position, and its contradictions, need not imply a resistance to theory, to not succumb only to autobiographic confessional seems a highly apposite critique given the traps that lie in wait for the postcolonial academic slowly detached from political movement of what is Left of the Nation. It is the residue of the theoretical in the residue of the struggle that can still be discerned in media studies, perhaps, and perhaps only there – the nation and the left having self-imploded beyond even confessional. The optimism of Madhava Prasad’s closing words can be reread as programmatic: ‘For the process of emergence to be successful, it must be simultaneously a transformation of the world into which we emerge’ (Madhava Prasad 2014c: 193).
This version of media theory emerged surrounded by, sometimes in contest with, historical, political science, sociology and anthropological scholarship offering sophisticated critical versions of the old semi-feudal, semi-colonial language of struggle. Indeed, SARAI grew into the space vacated by the activist neo-Gandhian wing of political science represented by Kothari, Nandy and Visvanathan. These latter thinkers were already deeply invested in South–South work, and Nandy had served on election commissions in neighbouring states, a not so secret politics. Can the suggestion of a model of global media studies that transcends the divisions and demarcations of regionalism and niche market sectarianism still account for diversity without normativity or the reduction of unity to mere comparativism?
The demonisation of Islam is also at base another example of a long term effort of capital to discipline any form of organised labour (see Du Bois 1998: 186). Capital in its crisis mode seeks scapegoats and by extension disciplines all those who would be potential scapegoats. Replace the word migrant with people and recognise that the discussion here can be talking about you, me, them, and all of us that move against fear – to see this migration is to see the demographic that induces fear – if all those who were on the move also formed a movement, something would be happening that would make the American Civil War and the French Revolution look like prayer meetings.
Empire did not fold, it morphed into arms sales and chaos diplomacy under cover of Merchant Irony nostalgia films.
If the desire to provide answers and a tool box or useful kit of what to do next is set aside for a minute as a dubious self-aggrandising cul de sac, might it be plausible to look back and try to make sense of why betrayal, loss and repetition seems to follow in repeat cycle. Might it be possible then to look at interventions made now, in alienated, individual, however distorted form, as the squeezed remnants of a sentiment that has been washed through global media, prejudicial representational profiling, demonisation, ideology and propaganda, etc., but still ask where and into what that immense energy dissipates? For sure, much energy is lost in the brutal squander of labour migration, with reserves of futility and despair no doubt, and moments of resistance and refusal of the State’s effort to channel that migration into appropriate reserves, but some of it also gets tracked in strange versions of media theory, pirate modernities, wanna-be alternatives, albeit atomised, and isolated – and institutionally co-opted, formations of radical thought not quite able to rethink the global in terms adequate to the modes of subsumption/restructuring that they necessarily tail. Murdoch Star, Soros Open Society, Google Don’t Be Evil, are out and out the neoliberal versions, but what then of people like Madhava Prasad and his subsumption theory of Bollywood, Ashish Rajadhyaksha and the extension of Bollywoodisation to the labours and commodities surrounding film marketing globally, Ravi Sundaram and others on pirate networks delivering cut-rate DIY cable connections etc… Potential here may be nothing, but it does seem plausible to at least try to see how these sorts of things can be said only because there was a Global South politics – tricontinental, non-aligned, pan-African, Comintern – once upon a time, which is now still operative but too often shorn both of its politics and its collective character.
Yet it might be the case that we need to adapt Ravi Vasudevan’s astute question about the ‘too rapid re-anchoring of the new technical fluidity of the cinema signifier in the politics and sociology of contemporary India’ (Vasudevan 2000: 22). If this same socio-reading were merely scaled up to the fragmented global that is diaspora, and its appearance in negative form in geo-political exoticist-terror full ideological spectrum, might this also be too fast a solution? Should every geo-political conflict be coded tradition versus modernity, or the star persona everyman (Bachchan) versus the villainous thug/naxalite insurgent?
This work in its progressive avatar might update the third cinema, transcend world cinema and extend the global Internet with tricontinental connectivities beyond imagination.
It could be that Global South Asian film and television is read as a lament for what might have been if the ‘third cinema’ had been more generalised. Not even a regional cinema, but a multifaceted and informed ecology of media critiques. Perhaps such a formation still exists despite the manifest surface occupation of the spaces of cinema by corporate and financial concerns. Dominated by a star system, entertainment press and multiplex/satellite distributor interests, there is nevertheless the requirement to speak to audiences not yet wholly lost.
If ‘third cinema’ theory arose ‘in response to world-wide liberation struggles and decolonization movements’ (Guneratne 2003: 3) then what is the shape of cinema’s response to ‘reconstruction, in Du Bois’ sense, or as a globalisation-driven assault upon the cultures of anti-colonialism? If the ‘tricontinental call to arms against social injustice and post-imperial exploitation’ (Guneratne 2003: 4) was distilled through the inspiration of reading Ho Chi Minh, Franz Fanon, Che Guevara and Amilcar Cabral, then also the films of Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen and even Satyajit Ray lent materiality of the image to sentiment.
The media work that inspired reconfigurations of the objects of media studies in the recent period, its overflow into the political, did not grow organically out of media studies so much as the politics of earlier mobilisations imported, albeit in disguised ways, while the process of digitalisation and indeed atomisation was already underway. I want to ague that the energies of an older collective politics was hard-wired into those who then developed the new media studies, even when they most disavowed the collective project, even as that collective project was actively undermined by digitalisation. Perhaps even when that project was being dismantled by those who inherited the places it had carved, there was still the inverted potential of a revival always already there, operating as a target and a distraction, a self-delusion and justification, deceptive and promising all the same.
South Asian film theorists are doing work in continuity with, but in atomised form, the older Bandung, non-aligned, Comintern moments. This atomisation of struggles matches the ways trendy theory has mutated into celebrity, in say Hardt and Negri or media activists on Facebook etc., where the politics is direct address to power, not organising alongside and in solidarity. In Hardt and Negri recuperation by capital via the publishing industry is too easy, but the new South Asian media theory does not necessarily get picked up so much, so I want to both critique how it plays into demonisation and celebrate its last gasp residues of a greater potential. This potential is the importance of popular culture forms adopting and borrowing a myriad of styles – and able even to ‘tame the exotic’ (Monty 2010: 123). Offering 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.
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 Shah Rukh 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.
None of this can presume to save the world as it is, though just to learn how to notice what is going on and what is good and bad about it would be a step forward. Simply put, see that demonisation of Muslims is not good, demonisation of migrants is not good, realising that migrant settlers are welcome and a boon, while nationalist xenophobia cannot reproduce a living caring world, is step one.
Is it any surprise that this would seem threatening to the hierarchical and static home nations and the elites who prefer no change, or at best incremental reform? Demonisation of migration and migrant community care – ‘they are living 15 to a room and sending money home/bringing their families’ – is the all too easy stagnant ideological nationalism that leaves us all the worse off. Breaking with xenophobia and adopting the migrant settler community model of social reproduction for all may be worth reconsidering. How would it look to support this? Would an influx of a certain film and television tradition be a battleground for such a contest? Not just Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge…
Was it movement that kick starts social transformation, and if so, what are the movements today, good and bad, public and covert, difficult or popular, and how does this change over time and focus in regions and globe? If it were possible to freely paraphrase a distilled version of Spivak’s language and keep it beside us as a toolbox for unpacking any media course or any political group, there might be a chance. A chance to ask the question that opens up eyes to what goes on with these screens. To ask: what if South Asia not Western Europe had done so well with the tools of trade and knowledge? Well, the weapons too, but the possibility of being the ones who ask for interpolation of others – who come by ship and demand, whether trader, anthropologist or film distributor: ‘hey you’ – need not be fixed forever more in a one-way model. Diaspora and post-national regionalism becoming a plurality of globalisms with a drive towards a multiply inclusive diversity and concern to not leave any member behind, leaving no-one to flounder in a new space, to settle everywhere as a community, this migration is can will be a transformation of the world.