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Category — Film and Politics

Terrible trends at Bollywood award shows

It’s Labor Day weekend here in the US and I just watched IIFA, the very last of Bollywood award shows for the films and stars of 2012. Beginning some time in March, the award show season is peppered with glitzy lights, star-studded performances, terrible starry humor and (mostly objectionable and dissatisfying) awards. We’ve all spent many cocktail parties discussing these often cringe-worthy awards, but this year I noticed something much more disturbing—a normalization of distinctly religious Hindu aesthetics and a strange erasure of female stars as actors and active contributors to the industry.

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September 1, 2013   3 Comments  

100 Years of Indian Cinema: Whose Cinema? Whose Centenary? – The Politics of Temporal Film Historiography

Forgetting, I would even go so far as to say historical error is a crucial
factor in the creation of a nation, which is why progress in historical
studies often constitutes a danger for [the principle of] nationality.
 —Ernest Renan,
Qu’est que c’est une nation? 

Quoting Ernest Renan, the famous British historian, Daniel Woolfe (2006), wrote not long ago that the national framework predominates in historiography and the temporal scope of the same is anchored along four premises. “…four variants of temporal scope. [Read more →]

August 5, 2013   1 Comment  

Why I don’t want Meryl Streep to win the Oscar

To make my cinematic allegiance very clear, let me say at the outset that I think Meryl Streep is one of the finest and most versatile actresses Hollywood has seen. She is an inspiration to several actresses of following generations and few have been able to match her prowess in variety and perfection.

That said, I will add, that this fine actress does not deserve an Oscar this year for her performance as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. [Read more →]

February 24, 2012   7 Comments  

Back to the dungeon

It is, without doubt, the worst of times. BTJunkie, the haven for cinephiles across the world, was not even cold (neither was Megaupload), when news of lib.nu shutting down hit academics across the world. Lib.nu, formerly gigapedia, was the online reservoir of knowledge, free knowledge to be precise, housing hundreds of thousands of PDFs of books, available to download, no questions asked. As most of us woke up to an ominously bare page that merely had the words “rip lnu”, a sense of reassurance died.

The crackdown on the grey legal area of intellectual property rights has forced us to rethink the kind access that globalization promised us. Books published by foreign publications that were not easily available even at libraries and films that the increasingly strict and not to mention ridiculously prudish Censor Board refuses to release, were accessible to those of us who wanted to watch something beyond the lazy Las-Vegasness of Kareena Kapoor’s latest outing.

Let’s face it, production houses don’t need an audience any more to break even or even to be successful. The economics of production have changed thanks to intermediary players like television rights, music rights, overseas distribution etc. A full-house is just an incidental feel-good factor, an ego massage really. And as far as books are concerned, especially academic books, students or individuals have never really bought personal copies. No profit comes from individuals, and libraries will buy books irrespective. What then is the crackdown going to achieve?

As we pledge our support to the unidentified owners of lib.nu and to the hopeful aggression of piratebay, may be it is time to rethink what freedom means any more and who it is meant for.

And as I end yet another “The end of…” piece, here’s one by Lawrence Liang who seems to hold more hope than I dare to. Click here to read.

February 19, 2012   2 Comments  

Filmmaking as a Social Ritual in India and Indonesia

I had the opportunity of spending the last two days with a delegation of film makers, film affairs officials and film lab owners from Indonesia. One important highlight of the exchange of ideas was a session hosted today morning by Mr Hariharan, film maker and Director of LV Prasad Film and Television Academy, Prasad Studios, Chennai. Here are his arguments about why we must engage with Indian film industry not through the Western notion of realism or the marker of “escapism”. Hariharan broke new ground in Tamil film industry with his Ezhavathu Manithan (Seventh Man),1982. He is an alumnus of FTII, Pune, and partnered with Mani Kaul, Saeed Mirza in the Yukt Film Cooperative and the making of Ghasiram Kotwal.

“We make 1100 films in a industry that is worth just US $1.8 billion [Read more →]

December 17, 2011   No Comments  

The Dirty Picture vs a dirty picture: Quick thoughts

from bollywoodhungama.com

The following could arguably be the most crucial scene of Milan Luthria’s The Dirty Picture: a beautiful actress, the object of every man’s desire is sitting in a bathing tub, covered with nothing but some strategically placed foam. The tub itself is placed like a centerpiece of the tiny room. A flustered journalist is barely able to hold his camera still as he frantically takes pictures of Silk (Vidya Balan). Within seconds, what would have been a sensational expose of Silk’s humble home, turns into a feat in seduction as the journalist was all but forced to ignore the humble surroundings and focus on the star in the most thrilling, inviting pose. Silk’s plan to overshadow the shortcomings of her house by putting herself on display worked wonderfully. Something similar happens with the film, The Dirty Picture, which is somewhat patchy, plastic and awkward, but no one cares because Vidya Balan’s stunning performance overshadows the failings of this film.

In the first instance, it is a conventional story about the tragic life of a film actress who decided to make her way up in the industry by using her sexuality. However, despite a less than spectacular story, the film deftly positions itself in complex ways. Consider this: in the run up to the release of the film, producer Ekta Kapoor said in an interview to The Indian Express, “The Dirty Picture is about female sexuality and about a woman who created her own niche.” This sanitized, even progressive view of what the film wants to achieve was in contradiction, to say the least, on ground zero as a packed house of audiences clapped, whistled, hooted and even passed comments each time Balan licked her lips, bent provocatively to show her cleavage and moaned loudly as the couple next door tried to have sex. Even as it plays itself out as a biopic of the mysterious, exploited and tragic figure of Silk Smitha, it simultaneously uses the very tropes a number of Silk films used back in the late seventies and eighties, making it impossible to draw clear, moral distinctions between ‘celebrating’ female sexuality and ‘exploiting’ it.

The key player in complicating the politics of this film is the promotion. While talk of National Awards has gone viral (particularly with Ekta Kapoor saying she would be surprised if Balan didn’t get a National Award), the Web is still flooded with reports that emphasize what is constantly being referred to as the ‘boldness’ of the film. A sampler: “Simpleton to sexy siren: Vidya Balan goes ooh la la!” (Mid-Day), “The Dirty Picture: Breast Wishes” (blogpost), “Lots of Oomph, Sex in this Vidya Balan starrer (koimoi.com) and most importantly, Luthria’s quote that made headlines, “I have used sex to market The Dirty Picture” (Rediff). And this is not counting the sea of videos on YouTube that are on similar lines.

The most interesting bit of news in this regard was reported by The Economic Times, that said, “Readers of popular Hindi magazine Manohar Kahaniyan will get more than their dose of pulp fiction when they pick up its latest issue, the cover of which promises the raunchy story of a “sexy heroine”. The magazine with actress Vidya Balan on its cover is an enticement for an upcoming movie, The Dirty Picture, offering more than its staple fare.” It goes on to explicate that the production house has enlisted the services of a marketing agency called Spice Bhasha that was helping them promote the film in “non-metropolitan India…B-Towns”. Sidestepping the narratives of freedom and progression, the film is being promoted here in a way that is eerily reminiscent of how a Silk Smitha film would probably have been promoted a few decades ago.

It isn’t surprising therefore that the cover of the magazine has an image that is used as a magazine cover about Silk in the film as well. In other words, what serves as an image of Silk in the film, is being used as an image of Vidya Balan. To put it crudely, the unstated but ubiquitously understood distinctions between an award-winning actress of Balan’s caliber and Silk Smitha, who occupied the space between B-grade and soft-porn, are blurred. The very idea of representation, as something that is distanced from “what is” becomes shaky as these distinctions become unclear, underscoring the film’s confrontation with the moral hypocrisy of the film-making and viewing community, particularly in India.

Occupying multiple categories The Dirty Picture ensures that it manages to play to the gallery in diverse economic and cultural spaces. As action films return with a vengeance with films like Bodyguard, Ready and Singham breaking Box Office records in 2011, the only other film that successfully played a tongue-in-cheek game of now-an-action-film-now-a-parody, was Abhinav Kashyap’s Dabangg (2010).


December 7, 2011   1 Comment  

Pirate film appreciation

An eclectic collection of comments on the piratebay (torrent) page of Lars Von Trier’s The Idiots (1998). The protocol of critical comments on this page sheds light on fundamental changes in where all and in what form film criticism can emerge. On the one hand, thought comes wrapped with profanity and disgust, while on the other, this very pirate, very illegal page has the germs of a fan club, a discussion forum and indeed a quick film appreciation session! [Read more →]

August 10, 2011   No Comments  

Rethinking Tamil Television News With Walter Lippmann Part – 2

If one agrees with Lippmann’s notion of news, news has a functional attribute: “to signalize an event.” And Lippmann’s notion of truth extends this purpose further by getting us the larger picture of reality in terms of facts. News and truth are not the same , according to Lippmann,but they are tied up inextricably in terms of their purposes with regard to the event. If one applies this logic of news and truth to what Tamil television news channels seek to convey in their “news casts.” what results is a shocking picture of what Lippmann would not have approved, In the name of “news “and “truth,” the news channels which are owned by the politicians take recourse very often to the dissemination of political propaganda as “news” in matters involving their parties and government. [Read more →]

May 8, 2011   No Comments  

Rethinking Tamil Television News With Walter Lippmann Part – 1

One of the seminal contributions of Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion (1922) lies in pointing to the linkages between news and truth, censorship and propaganda, democracy and news. In this post, I would like to engage with the objective of rethinking Tamil Television news through the prism offered by Walter Lippmann in Public Opinion. [Read more →]

May 8, 2011   No Comments  

8th Orphan Film Symposium

NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Department of Cinema Studies, and the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program present the 8th Orphan Film Symposium, April 11-14, 2012 at the Museum of the Moving Image, Astoria, NY, USA. [Read more →]

February 6, 2011   No Comments