South Asian Cinema Conference Cinema South Asia



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presents

South Asian Cinema Conference

Cinema South Asia
organized by Suvir Kaul and Manishita Dass

Friday, March 17-Saturday, March 18, 2006
Venue: Rooms 108,110 & 111, Annenberg School for Communications,
3620 Walnut Street
, Philadelphia, PA 19104


Event is free and open to all Penn and non-Penn members
 RSVP required by emailing haimanti@sas.upenn.edu by March 13.

Co-sponsored by Project for Global Communication Studies (Annenberg School for Communication) & Cinema Studies


Paper abstracts provided below the schedule
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Schedule
Friday, March 17th

12:00 - 1:30
Lunch

1:30 - 2:00
Welcoming Remarks
Suvir Kaul, South Asia Center

Peter Decherney, Cinema Studies Program



2:00 - 3:30
First Session
Moderator: Suvir Kaul

Myths of Origin: Modernity and Early Indian Cinema
Manishita Dass, Swarthmore College

The Sant Idiom and Early Marathi Cinema

Christian Novetzke, University of Pennsylvania

Phenomenology, Film Theory, and Indian Popular Cinema
Anustup Basu, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

3:00 - 3:30
Break

3:30 - 5:00
Keynote Address
Introduction: Manishita Dass

Researching Indian Film
Ravi Vasudevan, Sarai, Center for the Study of Developing Societies

6:00 - 7:30
Dinner

8:00
Film Screening
Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (with English subtitles)
( A Thousand Desires Like This [One])
Directed by Sudhir Mishra, 2003

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Saturday, March 18th

9:30 - 11:00
Second Session
Moderator: Christian Novetzke, South Asia Studies


Bollywood, USA: Diasporas, Nations, and the Figure of the NRI

Jigna Desai, University of Minnesota


Untimely Bollywood: Globalization and India’s New Media Assemblage
Amit Rai, Florida State University

Knocking on Heaven's Door
Priya Joshi, Temple University

11:00 - 11:30
Break

11:30 - 1:00
Third Session
Moderator: Manishita Dass


Projecting the past
Lalitha Gopalan, Georgetown University

Immortal Story or Nightmare? Dr. Kotnis Between Art and Exploitation
Neepa Majumdar, University of Pittsburgh

The Critical Enchantment of Mourning
Bhaskar Sarkar, University of California at Santa Barbara

1:00 - 2:30
Lunch

2:30 - 4:00
Fourth Session
Peter Decherney, Department of English and Cinema Studies Program

A New Universalism: Terrorism and Film Language in

Mani Ratnam’s Kannathil Muthamittal (Peck on the Cheek, Tamil, 2002)

Priya Jaikumar, University of Southern California

An Anomalous Case: The Censorship of the Self-Sacrificial Woman
Monika Mehta, SUNY Binghamton

The Formalization of Informality
Nitin Govil, University of California at San Diego

4:00 - 4:30
Break

4:30 - 5:30
Roundtable (including, among others, Gayatri Chatterjee, University of Pennsylvania and Sangita Gopal, University of Oregon)


6:30
Reception and Conference dinner
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Myths of Origin: Modernity and Early Indian Cinema
Manishita Dass, Swarthmore College

The mythological or the "pauranika" film (a film based on any story drawn from Hindu mythology) dominated the Indian cinematic landscape in the 1910s and the 1920s. Its extraordinary popularity has often been ascribed to its ability to appeal to the religious sensibility of a devout mass audience. How does this genre, with its emphasis on the pre-modern and the traditional, fit into a revisionist historiography of early cinema as a cultural practice that simultaneously articulates and mediates the experience of modernity? More generally, what might studies of early Indian cinema contribute to our understanding of the relationship between early cinema and modernity, a relationship that has so far been explored largely in the context of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century European and North American film cultures? I explore these issues by situating the mythological in the context of Indian cultural nationalism on the one hand and that of an international cinema of attractions on the other, revealing the complexity of the viewing pleasures offered by the genre and the unexpected modernity behind its apparent turn away from the modern. I argue that the mythological absorbed the modern within discourses of the traditional and redefined the traditional through a distinctly modern(ist) aesthetic.

The Sant Idiom and Early Marathi Cinema
Christian Novetzke, University of Pennsylvania
I’ll look at the two sant films on Tukaram (1936) and Jnaneshwar (1940) by Damle and Fattelal, and relate them to two later Marathi films not by Damle and Fattelal,  Sant Namdev (Keshav Talpade 1949) and Sant Namdev (Yashwant Pethkar 1995).  I’ll be argue that a mixture of the old kirtan form (used since the 14th century or so) and modern scene composition create the sant idiom in Damel and Fattelal’s work, which becomes a form through which current political and social contexts are discussed in the two later films, just after independence, and just as India begins its neo-liberal reforms.

Phenomenology, Film Theory, and Indian Popular Cinema
Anustup Basu, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Western film theory has largely based itself upon a theoretical conception of the filmic apparatus that accords a centrality to the human subject and concentrates on the creation of a ‘secular’ and ‘realistic’ world picture devoid of miracles. Traditionally, this has been seen to be at odds with a primary mythic impelling of many popular Indian cinemas. This paper examines this so called division between ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ modes of seeing in the context of a new metropolitan cinema that has recently emerged in India in the age of planetary finance capital and electronic communication.

Researching Indian Film
Ravi Vasudevan, Sarai, Center for the Study of Developing Societies
This presentation will review various currents in the study of Indian film, reflecting on the spectrum of methods, materials and theoretical dispositions observable in the field.

Bollywood, USA: Diasporas, Nations, and the Figure of the NRI

Jigna Desai, University of Minnesota
This essay proposes alternative understandings of the dynamics of homeland cultural production by interrogating how the figure of the diasporic subject and NRI functions culturally, politically, and economically in the formation of national discourses on citizenship within popular Indian cinema. My goal here is not to create a coherent and encompassing narrative that sees films from a time period as reflecting the social realities of that time period, but rather to trace the emergence and prominence of a certain figure (the NRI) and its attendant discourses in the national imaginary. I argue that the emergence of the NRI as central to Indian cinema is predicated not only on the shifts in the state policy due to the liberalization of the economy, but more importantly is predicated on the rising dominance of the new urban middle class in India engendered by liberalization.

Untimely Bollywood: Globalization and India’s New Media Assemblage
Amit Rai, Florida State University

Drawing on the research that has gone into my current book project, I will explore the human-technological assemblages of perception that, for instance, enable the shift in vision in xenon lamp and digital light processing projection toward habituating South Asian media consumers to the “seamless” digital image in today’s multiplexes. I will show a short film on the twilight of the traditional talkies and the communalization of urban space through new mobile speaker systems in contemporary digital DJ culture in north India . Each of these interrelated sites I argue highlight the qualitative changes in the culture of Hindi-Urdu film-media and raise troubling questions of India ’s globalized modernity. For instance, how is a new sensory-motor schema coming into dominance through affective-bodily transformations, launching unpredictable becomings while also enabling a more thorough articulation of affect and control? From the potentialities of the body’s capacities put into play during “First Day, First Show” screening events in traditional single screen talkies, to the new security algorithms being developed in digital media software for mall-multiplexes, my argument follows the flows of capital, human security, pleasure, technologies, and the body through a series of localized analyses that underscore the multiple and always contested nature of power and culture in South Asia today.

Knocking on Heaven's Door
Priya Joshi, Temple University
In 1988 when Raj Kapoor died, the front pages of major Soviet newspapers splashed lengthy obituaries of him. One Moscow paper claimed that the three Indians who had most influence upon the Soviets through the 1960s were Nehru, Indira Gandhi, and Raj Kapoor, "although not necessarily in that order. Probably the reverse." Some years earlier in China-- that other major rival to US world influence-- the novelist Vikram Seth unexpectedly received a forbidden travel pass to Tibet because he was Indian, and the local police chief in Turfan, a remote town in Xinjiang province, thought Hindi films in general and Kapoor's Awara (1951) in particular provided recognizance enough for Seth's intentions. While Bombay's blockbusters have taught Soviet youth to weep for beautiful Nargis, Egyptian traditionalists to yearn for Dimple Kapadia's abundant thighs, and Peruvian peasants to hum Mukesh numbers in Hindi, their influence upon audiences in the US has been negligible at best. This paper argues that Bollywood's immense success among close to a billion viewers in the Subcontinent (and close to a billion more in the former Soviet Union, China, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, South and Central America, and continental Africa) explains partly why it has not succeeded (and perhaps not even tried to succeed) in penetrating Hollywood's home turf. As a popular cinema deeply invested in the preoccupations of its domestic audience, it has traveled only as far as those preoccupations have. Mapping the success of Bollywood worldwide, one sees its appeal among a swathe of nations where modernity competes with tradition, where urban and rural commingle in uneasy proximity, where underdevelopment meets development. Where Hollywood mobilizes blockbusters to make money, Bollywood's blockbusters have made the nation. Its typical narratives reassuringly downplay Westernization while embracing select forms of modernity; they uphold patriarchy even while extolling the disruptive pleasures of romantic love; and they celebrate chastity through shockingly salacious displays in wet saris and dances around trees. Focusing on the economics and politics of narratives in Bollywood blockbusters, the paper proposes that Bollywood's appeal in the US lies less in American indifference to the stock formulae and musical numbers of a typical Bombay hit than in Bombay 's insistence on targeting the interests and preoccupations of its domestic audience. While numerous narrative modes proliferating in Bollywood have long had an appeal in the US (modes such as melodrama and the musical), I argue that it is Bollywood's special confection of these modes into a formula that eschews narrative realism for psychological reality that establishes the greatest obstacle to its absorption by multiplex audiences in the US. The paper concludes by ruminating that as long as Bollywood remains a popular cinema tied to its fans in the Subcontinent, it will be held at arm's length in the US where popular culture long ago gave way to mass culture. Bollywood's insistent anti-realism and disruptive, episodic, polysemous narrative style celebrate an element of fantasy and escape deeply grounded in the very real social tensions of an incomplete modernity. Till the US comes to share these tensions-- and the profound desire for release that Bollywood offers its millions-- its multiplexes will remain unaware of the rich pleasures of a cinema that has kept the rest rocking while the West remains sleeping in Seattle.


Projecting the past
Lalitha Gopalan, Georgetown University
This paper considers the growing fascination with the past in a spate of recent Indian films and videos as a way of understanding the different strategies of writing history that surpass the costume drama, a genre has for long been the dominant mode of evoking the past.

Immortal Story or Nightmare? Dr. Kotnis Between Art and Exploitation
Neepa Majumdar, University of Pittsburgh
Dr. Kotnis ki Amar Kahani (V. Shantaram, 1946) offers a case study in shifting canon formations and taste cultures as we follow its transformation from middle-brow, canonical Indian film to low-brow U.S. exploitation film (Nightmare in Red China) via a brief and unsuccessful detour as a high-brow international art film. The paper discusses 1) ideological and textual shifts tied to multiple nationalist imperatives (Indian freedom struggle/British war-effort/U.S. Anti-Communist Propaganda); 2) ethnographic representations and culturally coded modes of “realism” or the lack thereof; and 3) multiple viewing contexts, with special focus on the shared discourses of art and exploitation cinema in the U.S. during the 1950s.[If possible, please screen Dr. Kotnis ki Amar Kahani some time before the conference.]

The Critical Enchantment of Mourning
Bhaskar Sarkar, University of California at Santa Barbara

This paper examines divergent strategies of memorialization and mourning in recent cinematic mediations of the Partition. At stake is a theory of the politics inherent in cultural mourning work.


A New Universalism: Terrorism and Film Language in Mani Ratnam’s Kannathil Muthamittal (Peck on the Cheek, Tamil, 2002)
Priya Jaikumar, University of Southern California
A regional Tamil-language film can connect with Indian and international audiences through tropes of terrorism made globally familiar by an increasingly normative, urban, middle class perspective. But the film is equally constituted in relation to its local state and class formations, divulging the stakes of its new universalism. Depictions of terrorism thus activate fundamental social and spatial conflicts in regional cinema.

An Anomalous Case: The Censorship of the Self-Sacrificial Woman
Monika Mehta, SUNY Binghamton

Albeit a mediocre film by Hindi cinema standards, Pati Parmeshwar (Your Husband is Your God, 1989) is an anomaly in the history of Indian censorship. Examining committees have generally employed the rule stating “scenes degrading or denigrating women in any manner are not presented” to cut sexually explicit scenes, including close-ups of bosoms, thighs, gyrating hips. However, in the case of Pati Parmeshwar, the examining committee used this rule to ban a film which employed a ubiquitous trope: the good, self-sacrificial Indian woman. This anomalous act and its subsequent consequences reveal the ambivalent nature of state practices. At first, the reviewing committee, the Film Tribunal, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting supported the examining committee’s decision. When the case was appealed, the Bombay High Court overruled this decision and granted the producer the permission to release the film. This paper traces how the female body becomes the site for debates on tradition and modernity, engendering India’s national identity.


The Formalization of Informality
Nitin Govil, University of California at San Diego
In mainstream press accounts, academic scholarship, among active practitioners, industry insiders and cultural policy wonks, Bombay film is characterized as a chaotic industry in perennial crisis. This presentation situates this longstanding narrative of collapse within contemporary initiatives to ‘formalize’ the industry and poses the following question – how does Bombay film engage fundamental shifts in our assumptions about the operability of the culture industries today?

Conference organization assistance provided by Jody Chavez and Haimanti Banerjee
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