GALIGE (Dir. M. S. Sathyu, 1995, India)

galige

I recently caught Galige (1995) lurking in the library of Amazon’s Indian film channel Heera. Many of the key titles first made available by the NFDC on DVD through the Cinemas of India label can be found in the library. Most of the films have subtitles and claim to have been restored, which judging by some of the films I have seen, either the original negative must be in a sorry state or the term restoration has been somewhat inflated. Galige, directed by M. S. Sathyu, released in 1995, returns to the topic of secularism (Garam Hawa, 1973) but this time through the perspective of two youth; an orphaned girl who does not believe in religion or caste and a young Sikh boy who is on the run after committing an act of terrorism in the name of religion. Since they have both seen the ways in which religion separates rather than unites brings them closer together, creating a striking and refreshing socialist worldview. It might be reasonable to include Galige as part of a cycle of films released in the mid nineties, including Naseem (95) and Mammo (94) that dealt with the politics of secularism at a critical historical juncture, broadly signalling the end of Parallel Cinema.

Galige does not have an entry in The Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema and I had problems finding information and reviews on the film which makes me wonder why and how so many of these films have made it to DVD and now on digital platforms without any context whatsoever. Although making a title accessible to film audiences is a major step in the right direction, especially for Parallel Cinema, the dearth of basic contextual information in the shape of reviews, interviews and analysis is unsurprising in the broader picture of Indian film titles shabbily making their way onto home video. Not all of the films warrant context but there is a critical historical dimension to Galige, namely the Khalistan movement, which demanded elucidation and has rarely been depicted on screen, perhaps in the shape of a booklet or companion video of some kind. In all, the Cinemas of India label is a missed opportunity in terms of bringing to life one of the most significant and prolific film movements of the last fifty years. I guess we should be grateful the NFDC didn’t watermark all their films!

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Canonizing Indian Parallel Cinema – Part 2: The Emergency (1975 – 1977)

This is part two in a series of five posts on canonizing Indian Parallel Cinema. Part one was published in January 2017.

The Emergency, an extended period of state repression and censorship, is one of the darkest times in India’s recent history. The foundational years of Parallel Cinema, where some thought it was possible to create an alternate non-commercial cinema, ended chaotically in 1975 when Indira Gandhi, foreseeing her dwindling grip on power, replaced information and broadcasting minister Inder Kumar Gujral overnight with V. C. Shukla. This was because Doordarshan had not given live coverage to an Indira Gandhi rally (Hashmi, 2013). Shukla’s dictatorial reign as minister of information and broadcasting was marked by notoriety, bullying film stars and coercing directors in a period of intense repression. (See Decline and Fall of Indira Gandhi, D.R. Manekar, 2014). No films were financed by the FFC in this period, indicative of the severity of state repression, albeit new and important voices still emerged including John Abraham and Anand Patwardhan.

When ‘In September 1975 V.C. Shukla informed Karanjia that the Board of the FFC would be reconstituted and a new policy framed’ (Vasudev, 1986: 158), it was based on the findings of the Committee on Public Undertakings (1975-1976). Shukla had falsely skewed the facts about the loans, which had been given out by the FFC, thus implicating Karanjia publicly. After a meeting with Indira Gandhi in an attempt to resolve the differences with Shukla, Karanjia and many of his colleagues would later resign in protest, bringing to an end the first wave of Parallel Cinema. In 1987 Karanjia would return to the FFC (later the NFDC), taking up the post of Chairman for a second time. In many ways Karanjia was the perfect candidate for the job, having been editor of Filmfare, he was perfectly placed to navigate between commercial and non-commercial cinema. Also, if one looks at the first phase, Karanjia’s reign was impressive to say the least.

In many ways, Indira Gandhi’s declaration of the Emergency has been interpreted as a last ditch attempt to hold onto the hegemonic idea of a developmental state but historian and cultural commentator Vivek Chibber poses the question: ‘Why did Indian political leaders and bureaucrats fail to build the institutions adequate to the task?’ (Chibber, 2003: 7). If film organisations and funding bodies established by the state, namely the FFC, the FTII, and the International Film Festival of India are institutions we can include in this paradigm then this is certainly a charge that can brought against the economic and industrial inadequacies of the state, which by 1975 had been repeatedly undermined by the capital class of the Indian film industry. As Chibber states: ‘The evidence for Indian capital’s resistance to state regulation and discipline, which is at the heart of any industrial policy, is overwhelming’ (Chibber, 2003: 224). Naturally, the issue of industry status, raised as early as 1955, that would take decades before it came to fruition, can be accounted for in terms of the deeper antagonistic cultural and patronage contest that had become entrenched in the national psyche by the late 1960s. In fact, Veena Nargal claims ‘the Bombay industry responded to the FFC program with an increasingly standardized “hold-all” entertainment formula’ (Nargal, 2004: 522), popularly known as the Masala film, which was ultimately able to communicate with a broad Indian audience.

Perhaps the most audacious moment of this second phase was the boldly experimental, collaborative work Ghashiram Kotwal (dir. K. Hariharan, Mani Kaul, Kamap Swaroop, Saeed Mirza, 1976), a film about the Emergency which saw the daring marriage of blackboard political cinema and the austere avant-garde sensibilities first nurtured in the foundational years by the cinema of Kaul and Shahani. This phase also produced perhaps Benegal’s finest work, Manthan (1976)yet another film cooperative venture in the vein of Ghashiram (Yukt) and Abraham’s dazzling Agraharathil Kazhuthai (1977, Odessa). Significant in this phase is that many of the films and the best ones came from beyond the Hindi centre, regional cinema particularly in the form of Malayalam, much of it starkly political, continued to wield an iconoclastic agenda that took on many prevailing social maladies such as feudalism and broadening the intellectual and aesthetic scope of Parallel Cinema.

 Second Phase: The Emergency (75 – 77)

47. Aandhi, dir. Gulzar, 1975, Hindi
48. Kabani Nadi Chuvannapool/When the Kabani River Turned Red, dir. P.A. Backer, 1975, Malayalam
49. Chhotisi Baat/Little Affair, dir. Basu Chatterjee, 1975, Hindi
50. Chomana Dudi/Choma’s Drum, dir. B.V. Karanth, 1975, Kannada
51. Ganga Chiloner Pankhi, dir. Padum Barua, 1975, Assamese
52. Hamsa Geethe/The Swan Song, dir. G.V. Iyer, 1975, Kannada
53. Jana Aranya/The Middleman, dir. Satyajit Ray, 1975, Bengali
54. Nishant/Night’s End, dir. Shyam Benegal, 1975, Hindi
55. Avasesh, dir. Girish Kasaravalli, 1975, Kannada
56. Samna/Confrontation, dir. Jabbar Patel, 1975, Marathi
57. Waves of Revolution, dir. Anand Patwardhan, 1975, English
58. Bhumika/The Role, dir. Shyam Benegal, 1976, Hindi
59. Ghashiram Kotwal, dir. K. Hariharan, Mani Kaul, Kamap Swaroop, Saeed Mirza, 1976, Marathi
60. Hungry Autumn, dir. Gautam Ghose, 1976, English
61. Manthan/The Churning, dir. Shyam Benegal, 1976, Hindi
62. Mrigaya/The Royal Hunt, dir. Mrinal Sen, 1976, Hindi
63. Pallavi, dir. P. Lankesh, 1976, Kannada
64. Chitrakathi, dir. Mani Kaul, 1976, Hindi
65. Bonga, dir. Kundan Shah, 1976, Hindi
66. Agraharathil Kazhuthai/Donkey in a Brahmin Village, dir. John Abraham, 1977, Tamil
67. Ghattashraddha/The Ritual, dir. Girish Kasaravalli, 1977, Kannada
68. Kanchana Seeta/Golden Seeta, dir. G. Aravindan, 1977, Malayalam
69. Manimuzhakkam/Tolling of the Bell, dir. P.A. Backer, 1977, Malayalam
70. Kodiyettam/The Ascent, dir. Adoor Gopalakrishnan, 1977, Malayalam
71. Kondura/The Boom, dir. Shyam Benegal, 1977, Hindi/Telegu
72. Oka Oorie Katha/The Outsiders, dir. Mrinal Sen, 1977, Telugu
73. Shatranj Ke Khiladi/The Chess Players, dir. Satyajit Ray, 1977, Urdu
74. Swami, dir. Basu Chatterjee, 1977, Hindi
75. Alaap, dir. Hrishkesh Mukherjee, 1977, Hindi
76. Jait Re Jait, dir. Jabbar Patel, 1977, Marathi
77. Chaani, dir. V. Shantaram, 1977, Marathi
78. Khatta Meetha, dir. Basu Chatterjee, 1977, Hindi

Bibliography

Chibber, V. (2003), Locked in place: state building and capitalist industrialization in India: 1940 – 1970, Woodstock: Princeton University Press

Mankekar, D. R., (2014), Decline and fall of Indira Gandhi, New Delhi: Vision Books

Vasudev, A. (1986) The New Indian Cinema, New Delhi: Macmillan India

Nargal, V. ‘Bollywood and Indian Cinema: Changing Contexts and Articulations of National Cultural Desire’ in Downing, D. H., (ed.) (2004) The Sage Handbook of Media Studies, London; Sage

MACHINES (Dir. Rahul Jain, 2016, India/Germany/Finland)

machines

The worker as machine is not a new phenomenon. It goes as far back as the industrial revolution. But I have to admit though. I thought this documentary was going to be about the singularity of the physical, industrial and technological symbolism of machines. It still is in some respects. But Rahul Jain trains his eye on translating the processes of manufacture, waste and labour into a hypnotically poetic synthesis of the toils and uncertain rituals of economic liberalisation. And what rises to the surface through a series of revelatory interviews with the factory workers in particular is a voice that speaks not of Marxist revolution but of the want for better (and safer) working conditions, a reasonable work shift, and acknowledgement from the boss that they exist. The interviews with the workers are interspersed with observational footage in the labyrinthine textile factory, relaying a socio-political discourse aligned to a wider social conscience. But this sort of comes undone towards the end. In an instant, the quizzical workers reduce the filmic apparatus to an obsolete ideological entity – deftly overturning the gaze of the documentarian and raising doubts about the ethical validity of the entire project. Machines is a tactile work that has a remarkable tempo that draws you in with its sincere political testimony of the migratory, factory worker. A masterful, accomplished exposition on the perpetual effects of globalisation.

CHOMANA DUDI / CHOMA’S DRUM (1975, India, B. V. Karanth)

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In Chomana Dudi the sound of the drumbeat never really stops. It is a sound at first made by Choma (Vasudeva Rao in a remarkable performance), the aging bonded labourer and untouchable, used to express the rage he feels about his oppression. But later it appears more frequently, punctuating the narrative, an incessant reminder of feudalism and casestism as perpetual to history. The sound of the drumbeat is one of political impotency; a pathetic cry of futile social conditions from which Choma and his family are unable to escape, no matter what they do. Chomana Dudi is based on a classic of Kannada literature, Choma’s Drum, written by acclaimed novelist K. S. Karanth. Choma’s dream of buying his own land, having toiled his entire life for a despotic, exploitative landlord, is a fatalistic death kneel, conjured from the debauched universe of noir.

Directed by B. V. Karanth (interestingly director Girish Kasaravalli is credited as assistant director) and released in 1975, Chomana Dudi, was part of a Parallel Cinema that transpired in Karnataka in the 1970s, a new wave that often gets lumped in with Indian Parallel Cinema as a troublesome monolithic entity. Of course, there are undeniable frissons and intersections between the regional Parallel Cinema that emerged in the late 60s and early 70s in Karnataka, West Bengal and Kerala. But the Kannada Parallel Cinema, much of it pioneered by Girish Karnad and B. V. Karanth seemed to coincide with Benegal’s rural realism in the mid 1970s, forging a path that branched away from more initial avant-garde concerns to a notable ideological engagement with representations of the subaltern; a project that would come to life theoretically in the 1980s with Subaltern Studies.

In part, films like Ankur, Samskara and Chomana Dudi were a return to the questionable neo-realist experiments of the late 1940s and 1950s, notably Do Bigha Zamin and Dharti Ke Lal. However, a work like Chomana Dudi fuses melodrama with a pronounced Marxist address, whereby caste discrimination is brought to light in some impenitent, startling instances. For example, when one of Choma’s sons is drowning, an upper caste villager runs to the aid of the boy. While this is happening someone can be heard shouting that the boy is an untouchable and the villager should not intervene. Having reached the boy, the villager stops and simply lets the boy drown. Choma looks on despairingly. It is an extraordinary sequence, a blunt rejoinder to the horrors of the caste system, articulating a history that still bears a silence around it in Indian cinema.

Although Choma’s beating of the drum acts as a pulse in the film, a symbolic manifestation, his earthly connections to the land imagine the peasant farmer and untouchable as resolutely magical, transcendent and epic. Absent though is any attempt at political resistance, embracing fatalism and futility that is overwhelmingly bleak. Perhaps this best describes casteism but it also problematically situates the lower caste peasant farmer as a politically redundant, subjugated figure with no recourse to implementing social change. In this case, how should we read the final shot of Choma’s drum rolling into the frame: another defeatist aide-mémoire of the supremacy of caste politics that remains intact or the benign trace of an individual, dignified victory against the system?