Showing posts with label Bollywood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bollywood. Show all posts

Friday 2 July 2021

Postcolonial Studies and Bollywood

 Postcolonial Theory and Bollywood Films

Lagaan: Lagaan (transl. Agricultural tax), released internationally as Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India, is a 2001 Indian Hindi-language epic musical sports film written and directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, and produced by and starring Aamir Khan, along with debutant Gracy Singh and British actors Rachel Shelley and Paul Blackthorne in supporting rolesThe film is set in 1893, during the late Victorian period of India's colonial British Raj. The story revolves around a small village in Central India, whose inhabitants, burdened by high taxes, and several years of drought, find themselves in an extraordinary situation as an arrogant British army officer challenges them to a game of cricket, as a wager to avoid paying the taxes they owe. The narrative spins around this situation as the villagers face the arduous task of learning a game that is alien to them and playing for a result that will change their village's destiny.

Reading resource on 'Lagaan'

1. Subaltern Studies, Bollywood and "Lagaan" 

Using 'Lagaan' as a case in point, this paper argues that popular Bollywood films with their appeal to the mass audience of uprooted peasants, factory workers, the unemployed, uneducated and poor can decolonise the imagination of the Indian masses. It points out that "Lagaan's" efforts at indigenisation and interrogation of prescribed discourses of modernity and history deserve credit for making possible the creation of public debates within a culture where the majority of the population is non-literate, and is unable to partake in elite discussions of culture and modernity.
Chandrima Chakraborty. “Subaltern Studies, Bollywood and ‘Lagaan.’” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 38, no. 19, 2003, pp. 1879–1884. JSTOR, Accessed 2 July 2021. 

2. Reading cricket fiction in the times of Hindu nationalism and farmer suicides
This paper will critique postcolonial theory's attempt to read the cricket nationalism portrayed in the Oscar-nominated Bollywood film Lagaan as one that subverts the civilizing mission of British colonialism and also restores the agency of the subaltern classes. Instead, it will argue that this cricket nationalism replicates Indian bourgeois nationalism, which has no place for the subaltern in its imaginary. It will also argue that the postcolonial thesis of decolonization and indigenization of cricket supposedly achieved by Lagaan is marked by a culturalism that does not take into account structural factors such as capital, class and caste that dominate the institution of cricket in India. Finally, against postcolonial theory's tendency to read a text in isolation from the context, it will be contended that the cricket nationalism of the film can only be understood by locating it in relation to the present socio-historic conjuncture wherein forces of capital and nationalism are hegemonic.
Nissim Mannathukkaren (2007) Reading cricket fiction in the times of Hindu nationalism and farmer suicides: Fallacies of textual interpretation, The International Journal of the History of Sport, 24:9, 1200-1225, DOI: 10.1080/09523360701448349 

Using the movie Lagaan as a case in point, the paper examines the post-colonial and political resistance in the 19th century. Lagaan is a Bollywood movie released in 2001 and is directed by Ashutosh Gowariker. The fictional story is set in a village in India and it explores the struggles faced by the citizens to earn their rights. Taking in account of the movie, the paper analyses the socio-political scenario of the country.

5. Subaltern Studies, Bollywood and "Lagaan" - Chandrima Chakraborty
6. Real and Imagined Audiences: "Lagaan" and the Hindi Film after the 1990s - Rachel Dwyer

7. What's so Great about Lagaan? - Sudhanva Deshpande

8. Leadership Lessons from Lagaan

Watch film 'Lagaan'

Rang De Basanti:

Rang De Basanti (transl. Paint it saffron) is a 2006 Indian Hindi-language drama film written, produced and directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, and co-written by Rensil D'Silva.
The film follows a British film student traveling to India to document the story of five freedom fighters of the Indian revolutionary movement. She befriends and casts five young men in the film, which inspires them to fight against the corruption of their own government. It features an ensemble cast consisting of Aamir Khan, Siddharth, Atul Kulkarni, Soha Ali Khan, Sharman Joshi, Kunal Kapoor and British actress Alice Patten.

A major point of criticism the film faced was regarding the possibility of the Indian Army attacking students in a radio station. When Rakeysh was questioned about the same in a scriptwriter's conference conducted by the Film Writers Association in the year 2008, he said the following, "So, in 2005, in Allahabad, a bunch of 4 students took the TV station there, and they were shot dead. Everything I did, it was kind of borrowed, as I said right here. Obviously, what I am also learning is the way I tell a story is not real; you can term it as a-real. For maximum impact, for the message to go through, I felt—since the story was against the establishment—let the establishment do it. After all, the establishment did hang Bhagat Singh. After all, the establishment did come down on the innocent, innocent students in Mandal Commission. After all the establishment did come down on Tiananmen Square. After all the establishment did come down when the whole concept of Flower Power emerged in America. So it's all there. It's borrowed, maybe not as realistically, but it is definitely there in the society. During emergency, there are horror stories. If we have to go back to Kriplani and his movement in Bihar, the stories are absolutely horrific."

Reading resources on Rang De Basanti
The central objective of this thesis is to explore whether the consumption of RDB stimulated citizenship among young audiences and caused an expansion of the public sphere in India.
This essay sets out to explore the relationship between violence, patriotism and the national-popular within the medium of film by examining the Indian film-maker Rakeysh Mehra’s recent Bollywood hit, Rang de Basanti (Paint It Saffron, 2006). The film can be seen to form part of a body of work that constructs and represents violence as integral to the emergence of a national identity, or rather, its recuperation. Rang de Basanti is significant in contemporary Indian film production for the enormous resonance it had among South Asian middle-class youth, both in India and in the diaspora. It rewrites, or rather restages, Indian nationalist history not in the customary pacifist Gandhian vein, but in the mode of martyrdom and armed struggle. It represents a more ‘masculine’ version of the nationalist narrative for its contemporary audiences, by retelling the story of the Punjabi revolutionary Bhagat Singh as an Indian hero and as an example for today’s generation. This essay argues that its recuperation of a violent anti-colonial history is, in fact, integral to the middle-class ethos of the film, presenting the viewers with a bourgeois nationalism of immediate and timely appeal, coupled with an accessible (and politically acceptable) social activism. As the sociologist Ranjini Majumdar noted, ‘the film successfully fuels the middle-class fantasy of corruption being the only problem of the country’.
 Watch film 'Rang de Basanti'

Reading Resource:

Postcolonial theory has hardly been a defining paradigm in the field of film studies. Postcolonial theory originally emerged from comparative literature departments and film from film and media studies departments, and despite the many intersections postcolonial theory has not been explicitly foregrounded. However, there are more similarities and natural points of intersections between the two areas than it would at first appear. For example, both postcolonial theory and film studies emerged at the end of the 1970s with the development of semiotic theory and poststructuralist thought. Both areas engage intensively with the field of representation, implying the ways in which a language, be it cinematic or otherwise, manages to convey reality as “mediated” and “discursive,” and therefore influenced by power relations.

In her article "The Anti-Colonial Revolutionary in Contemporary Bollywood Cinema" Vidhu Aggarwal discusses several contemporary films including Rakesh Omprakash Mehra's Rang de Basanti with focus on the figure of the revolutionary hero. The Bollywood film is a cultural form that combines several aesthetic styles, from within India and from the outside. With its formal heterogeneity and as a product of one of India's largest cities, Mumbai Bollywood has had an ongoing fascination with "arrival," that is, with India's status as a contemporary nation-state. While some Bollywood films seem to celebrate fantasy scenarios of India's arrival on the global scene, at the same time they express anxiety about affective possibilities within a new Bollywood of higher production values and larger global reach, an India of mobile borders and attenuated historical context. Aggarwal examines the way the contemporaneity of Bollywood — both in terms of acting style and aesthetics — is negotiated through reenactments of the colonial period and compares Bollywood cinema with aspects of the British film Slumdog Millionaire, directed by Danny Boyle.

Sunday 11 October 2015

Zero Dark Thirty: Event, Film, Technology, Illusion (Maya)

Zero Dark Thirty - a film

The historical event, the literary expression, the illusion and freedom from time and space

Zero Dark Thirty (2012) is a film about  "the story of history's greatest manhunt for the world's most dangerous man". Yes, it is none other than Osama Bin Laden. The film dramatizes the decade-long manhunt for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. This search eventually leads to the discovery of his compound in Pakistan, and the military raid on it that resulted in his death on May 2, 2011.
Watch the film dubbed in Hindi - 

Zero Dark Thirty received wide critical acclaim, and appeared on 95 critics' top ten lists of 2012. It was nominated in five categories at the 85th Academy Awards, including Best PictureBest Actress for Chastain, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Film Editing, and won the award for Best Sound Editing. The film also earned Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Motion Picture – Drama,Best Director, and Best Screenplay, with Chastain winning the award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama. (Wikipedia).

The film is not about the brave and courageous attempt of Navy Seals in killing Osama Bin Laden. The film is about CIA agents who worked very hard in Afghanistan, Pakistan and various tough locations, at the cost of their lives, to track the trace of hidden Laden. On the morning of 3rd May 2012, we read in newspapers and watched on news channels about the tough tasks done by Navy Seals. But the real success of such operations lies not in field victory, it lies in feeds collected, organised and passed on to higher offices by secret service agents. If the best of the brains are employed for this task, the task for the field operations become child's play. That's what the film proves.

However convincing the film documents in fictional narration the events of the decade adter 9/11, the conspiracy theorists are not going to believe the story of the murder of Osama Bin Laden. With America's past records being mired in with doubts by conspiracy theorist, it is not easy to believe that some good morning, Osama Bin Laden is killed in an operation 'without casualties', except for a helicopter.

The question about the reality of this Geronimo Operation looms large. After all no body has seen the body of Laden. It is reported that it was buried in the sea.

Surprisingly enough, the film approved with edits by CIA, also remains silent and ambiguous about the real identity of Osama. In the film, except for Maya, CIA agent, no body is sure about the identity of the person in that hideout in Abbottabad. Maya, too, is in doubt. She do not have any proof to prove her claim. In fact, there were no proofs to prove that the person in that compound house was Osama Bin Laden. Several attempts to know the identity of the people failed. Even after the encounter, when the women in the house are asked about the old man, they said some other name. The photos are taken. The body is flown to US base n Jalalabad. Maya, 'visually confirms' (Yes, these are the words in the film) that the body is that of Osama. How can she? She has not seen him. No body has seen Laden for more than decade. So there is no certainty, in the film, about the identity of Osama. There are no blood samples and DNA things shown in the film. Why? It was fictional narration. Why this is not depicted? Why is the film silent on this issue of ascertaining identity of an old man killed and disposed off somewhere (film does not show that either) as Osama Bin Lade? Why the film ends with mere assumption that the man must be Osama? Why it is not proved scientifically? 

Well, there will be theories and histories but no facts or truths. Nietzche has rightly remarked that there are no facts, only interpretations. Julian Barnes in The Sense of an Ending wrote about History (citing Patrick Lagrange) that - 'History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation'. The 9/11, death of an old man, operation by Navy Seals are historical events. Very recent ones. We know that it happened, in a way, before our eyes. Quite consciously, we have experienced them. They are in our memory. And yet, the events are full of inadequate documents. Because there are no valid truths to connect Al Queda with 9/11 and certainty of the man killed in Abbottabad , they are recorded in memory as imperfect facts / truths. 

The one who are victorious, becomes the writer / narrator of the history. One who believes in this definitions are the defeated on and thus history is also self-delusion of the defeated. History and literature are deeply connected. Northrop Frye observed that Literature stands on the support of Philosophy and History. The film is a literary expression. Thus, an imaginary narration of the historical event. As time passes on the line of difference between history and its imaginary narration starts getting blurred and seems to be one and the same. Therefore, it becomes necessary to ponder upon the historical events which are near in time and consciousness and its narration in literature. This film (Zero Dark Thirty) is classic example of certainty produced at the point where inadequacies of documentation and imperfections of memory meet. Without any evidence, we are at the mercy of 'visual confirmation' of Maya. Maya is a Sanskrit word for “magic” or “illusion”) a fundamental concept in Hindu philosophy, notably in the Advaita (Nondualist) school of Vedanta. Maya originally denoted the magic power with which a god can make human beings believe in what turns out to be an illusion.

Well, the film is worth watching.Watch it for Maya. Her unflinching doggedness in pursuit of her goal. Her belief in what she believes. . . and later on she is the only one to confirm what she believes. That's where the symbolic significance of her name 'Maya'- an illusion becomes crucial to understand the film.

Brief note on Hollywood and Bollywood

Comparison of any sort is odious, but it is quite obvious. One can't escape comparison. It seems to be hard-wired in human psyche.  One thing is for sure that Bollywood (Hindi films) are very loud, melodramatic (which is pardonable looking at the way life is exuberantly lived) and 'unrealistic' (which is not pardonable). While we see films with similar themes, we find quite opposite treatment in Hollywood and Bollywood. It is not an issue. The films come from different culture and hence they ought to be different. But if the difference is breaching law of probability and necessity and dives deep into the ocean of unrealism, one's attention is drawn to it.
'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' - a Meera Nair film based on Mohsin Hamid's novel (same name) and Kabir Khan's 'New York' are based on similar theme. It is post 9/11 and muslims in USA. Apart from the loudness and melodramatic depiction, what gives us unrealistic and quite opposite images is the way FBI treats the alleged convicts. Needless to say, Meera Nair seems to be more realistic.
Even in this film (Zero Dark Thirty) and films with similar themes (Man hunt in foreign land) like Ek Tha Tiger, Holiday, Baby, Phantom etc, similar sort of unrealism is found. The agents (FBI or CIA or RAW) are picked up for their mental abilities and not physical. The Marines, Navy Seals, Military Jawans are picked up because of their physical abilities and not mental. So, when it comes to man hunt, the agent will apply his mental abilities but will never (and should never) jump in with open AK 47 or grenade bombs and start fighting with the one to be hunted. Maya (in Zero Dark Thiry) or any male agents do not do so. They feed in the information and seek help from the others, who are best for that task. Let us hope, Bollywood will be more realistic is portrayal of characters and situations.

I watch this film on YouTube. I rented the film for Rs. 50 for 48 hours. It was quite unique

experience. Though I watched on mobile phone, I had an option to screen share on Smart TV and have better cinematic experience. I rather opted for watching it while travelling in car from Ahmedabad to Bhavnagar. It is amazing to see how technology is changing the way we entertain ourselves. Technology of 21st century is giving us freedom - the freedom from time and space. There is no need to wait for the film to start (time) or to go to cinema theatre or near TV (space). Where-ever, when-ever, how-ever, we want to entertain ourselves, we can. Yes, we can!
How illusory is this freedom from time and space offered so easily by technology?