Friday, February 24, 2012

River Periyar viewd from Kalady

What is reality? A study

Sajit M.Mathews

What is Reality pertaining Photographs and Paintings?
Reality is a ‘concept’ which can be defined at various levels. A lay man’s definition of reality would be “that which is experienced with senses, as perceived in full consciousness.”
A level deeper, a philosopher could give us an ontological definition of reality. A flower I see can be real as much as a thought I have about that flower. Reality is subjective and objective. Objectively, a flower (in itself) is a reality, irrespective of the names given to it or the qualities attributed to it. Subjectively, a flower can be what I perceive the flower as. The same flower can be perceived and understood as a biological wonder and an aesthetic entity by two/the same observer.
At a level further, we can reflect upon the essence and esse of reality. There is a ‘flowerness’ in the flower which makes it the flower. Change in variety, colour, age, aroma, etc. are qualities added to the basic esse of the flower. We could say that is what a flower is.
Though we are aware of these philosophical facts about reality, we also know that a pragmatic way of looking at life and reality does not need deep thinking like this. Therefore, reality is what is perceived, for most of us.
Thoughts are representations of reality. But what is acutely real for me in thought may not be so real for another person. Thoughts of a person could be interpreted in various ways, as we discussed earlier. Just like thought, visuals (Photographs, Paintings, etc.) are also representations of reality. Only the mode does change. These representations too could be interpreted and understood at various levels.
A photograph captures the colours, light and shade of an object/scenery/animal with much technical accuracy. This accuracy can also be manipulated using special lenses, filters and computerized editing. The product of these processes of capturing, editing and reproducing portrays a slice of reality against a context which is almost always alien to the onlooker.
A photograph is as real as the original scene if only the context is already known to the observer. If it is known, a photograph could evoke the same emotions or responses as the original could have done. But the photograph - an extract from the reality - naturally loses continuity in both time and space.
Now let us consider a painting. A painting is an interpretation of what an artist sees in the world or in her/his mind, using imagination. It could be a real scene, or an imaginary scene or a mixture of both. The advantage of a painting is that the artist could mix colours and tell tales of life which (in a way) is impossible with photography. A painting may not always be understood by untrained eyes. There are codes of colours and light and shade embedded in it. Yet a painting is real as much as a photograph is. A painting can evoke the same responses as the original scene, if the background of the painting is known.
Paintings generally carry themes picked by artists and those themes are evidently manifest in them. A painter could bring in two opposing or contradicting ideas or objects into the same scene, which may be impossible for a photograph. Moreover, as a medium used by human beings from time immemorial, paintings have livelier relationship to us, humans.
When it comes to choosing which is nearer to reality- photograph or painting, I am confused. The reason is, to me, these both appear to be of the same level of reality. A photograph is better than a painting in terms of clarity, complete representation and technical perfection. A painting is better than a photograph in terms of imagination and creativity. Both photographs and paintings in their own way are close to reality. Both in one way or another are away from reality too.
            Yet, when a choice is necessary, a photograph could be much more realistic than a painting. Certain aspects of what is seen cannot be taken out of sight in case of photography. Whether photographer wishes or not, these inseparable aspects of visuals stick to the image. Quality reproduction keeps them intact and makes them all the more clear. The shape, size, contrast, etc. are some of such qualities. In that respect, the viewer cannot be completely alienated from a photograph’s reality. Whereas, this alienation is possible in case of a painting.
            Therefore, my vote goes to photograph as it has a higher degree of reality represented in it, than a painting.


A response to Ravi Vasudevan's article: The Exhilaration of Dread: Genre, narrative form and film style in contemporary urban action films

 Sajit M. Mathews


            Film is a powerful medium. Nobody has a debate on that. Films have grown in the last century from being a fantasy and a hobby affair to be one of the largest industries of the world. What was taken for granted in the beginning is today, a field of specialization and research. And this huge cultural product and entertainment industry has to go through so many processes, since a huge sum of money is involved. That apart, the quality of films needs to be scrutinized on a regular basis. This check should be in qualitative terms, whether our films are up to the set standards.
            But a qualitative check is not all. There are a million ways in which films influence human lives. Millions of people who throng to cinema halls everyday enter the halls with different purposes. Cinema is not just a medium of entertainment. Cinema has powerful influence on what people think, decide and do. Such consequences make films all the more important. Film can fall into the hands of propagandists and malicious people, who can use to subvert human minds for their purposes. For this reason, there need to be constant analysis of what goes on in cine field.
            Off late, we are doing well in looking at the cinema, audience, its present, past and future. We should continue to look so. Ravi Vasudevan’s articles are a ‘looking at’ of academia, at the cinema of our country. They use the methodology of social sciences to analyze films and related issues.
            In this paper, I have summarized three of his articles and added my responses to them in the form of reflections and comments.

About Ravi Vasudevan

Ravi Vasudevan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). He completed his research on the history of Indian nationalism at Jawaharlal Nehru University and subsequently on Indian film melodrama at the University of East Anglia. His present research concerns are the history and theory of film and media experience. He is part of the Sarai programme of CSDS, which he co-directs with Ravi Sundaram. He runs the film and contemporary media transformations component in the Sarai project Publics and Practices in the History of the Present: Old and New Media in Contemporary India. Vasudevan teaches on film and is guest faculty with the Department of Film Studies, Jadavpur University, and the Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia. In 2004 he coordinated a lecture and film series for the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University.*
Vasudevan is a member of the editorial collective of the Sarai Reader series and the advisory board of the film studies journal Screen. He has edited Making Meaning in Indian Cinema (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000). Vasudevan also undertakes film curations regularly for Sarai. In 2003, he curated the film series ‘Selves Made Strange: Violent and Performative Bodies in the Cities of Indian Cinema’ for the exhibition on contemporary Indian arts at the House of World Cultures, Berlin.*
Vasudevan bases most of his studies on the Bombay film industry, the premier and biggest in India. The article The Exhilaration of Dread is a study of the narrative form and film style of the modern urban action films, emanating from Bombay. It appears to me that the article as a whole is composed in rather loose style. Ideas about city and city life and films come in and out of the article in a random style. In this particular article, Vasudevan talks about audience, duality of audience-entertainment relation, progress and shift of style in narrative techniques, play of city on the psyche of audience and spectator and spaces used in these action films.*
(* : Source: Internet)

Article : The Exhilaration of Dread: Genre, narrative form and film style in contemporary urban action films


            This article deals with the relationship of audience with the form of film, transformation in narrative structures, new awareness and knowledge these films brought about, relationship between space, politics and realism, and such films. The article is analysed and personal reflections are added.

Audience’s relationship with the Entertainment form

Vasudevan situates this study in the Bombay film industry of 1980s. Audience of those times is seen as having a dual identity relationship with films. While enjoying the film as spectator, they also are injected with anxiety about the life in the city. These action films of 80s provided the audience with ample opportunities to enjoy the pleasures of viewership, provided all kinds of entertainment, songs, sensual satisfaction, etc. But along with these incentives, films also filled the audience with a sense of dread- ‘a gathering sense of anxiety’ according to Vasudevan. This sounds quite realistic as a film is a reflection of real city life. The dangers of city are not visible to everyone. A film could very well spell out such fears. So the audience becomes more and more aware of what goes on around them. This awareness makes them look around with anxiety and they see more than they were seeing earlier. This is what a genre of films over a long period of time could do to a people.

Narrative structures

            From the article, we could allude that the earlier narrative techniques used in Indian films were usually based on binary opposites. Examples given are: east/west, country/city, police/criminal, public/private, etc. These binaries bind the form of the film itself to a certain frame. He points at the depressed and dystopian urban subjectivity of Bombay of mid 80s as a reason for this shift. Thus, in the new sensitivity, there were no clear-cut differences between the good and the evil. Good also could be a failure. Legitimate reasons and aspirations also could end up in death and un-fulfilment- as reality is most of the times. In this way, I would say, Indian films began to look at real life in films.
            The new style was basically confusion! This confusion was based on the portrayal of continuity between the binary opposites, shown earlier as belonging to water tight compartments. Vasudevan says, this conveys a sense of the contemporary urban imaginary as a kind of maze. In fact, it is not only a maze, but also a mess. Unstable and dangerous subjectivity governed the anxiety of audience.

New awareness

            These city action films made the audience aware that all are vulnerable to the terrors of the city. Fear, terror, unimagined danger, etc are part of the city, and anyone could be into it at any time or the day or night. The displacement of focus from binary opposites to related continuities left the audience without explanations. Consequently, vulnerability became the awareness. Vasudevan says, this has something to do with the way life is imagined in the city. Films have used acts of terror and fright to generate both fear and pity! Parinda is cited as an example. An act of terror invites the fascination of the audience in many ways- the burning of Anna’a wife and son. The psychosis of Anna is attributed to this act. But we don’t know if it is real or fake. However, this psychosis gives him the right to dominate others.
            Vasudevan also says that there is always an extra diegetic in films- a force or intelligence that drives the narrative in its ways. It can be director, conventions or its transmutation. Important thing is that, this intelligence appears to assume that the source of terror in the city always slips away, beyond the field of knowledge, into some cavernous other space. This is so real, and is noticeable in our films. The villain is not the real cause of the terror. There is another force or intelligence that designs all these. That force seems to be evading the camera, and the final resolution. It awaits another chance to come back, leaving our apprehensions open ended.

Space in Bollywood

            Here, Vasudevan tries to bring symbolic narrative dimensions and narration mechanism in terms of links between key Spaces used often in films. Those spaces familiar to terror and dread are police stations, dark alleys, courts, busy market, den of criminals, etc. These place have gained the representational capacity to speak for themselves now. Why space becomes important for audience? It’s because, no space is a safe space. There is a surveillance mechanism that penetrates through every kind of walls and secrecy. So the basic assumption in such films is that you are being watched everywhere- home, office, market, bus, train, even hide outs. This overarching gaze presupposes the characters’ ability to receive the hints of him/her being watched. No space is a safe space- for characters and audience!
Physical space is redefined and reinterpreted in the narrative as the internal space of the characters, and in turn as that of the audience. Codes available elsewhere are used to generate terror of physical space- resembling interior space. The logical structures of the underworld and the physical (architectural) structures in which the underworld functions are connected to each other by the fashion the latter is filmed. The dark alleys, shadowy rooms, carefully arranged careless halls, atmosphere of dampness, cobwebbed attics, etc. stand for the interior- psychology of those involved in such places. The audience is dragged into such spaces, both physically and mentally. This is terrible.
Vasudevan mentions why the gothic lineage of these structures is significant. These spaces disclose the inner logic of their narrative worlds. He also quotes Mazumdar as arguing that all these are self conscious drawing on of codes generated elsewhere (post-war American genre of film noir). That is, using codes that are historically available for us. Wherever the origin is, such films have changed the texture of our viewing pattern.

Space and Audience

            The history of Hindi filmdom is punctuated by formal transformations in the technology and style of international cinema. Global availability of ‘new’ changed things within India. 70s saw a transformation in filmic representation of Bombay, to accommodate the emergence of a character and urban subjectivity: says Vasudevan. Within this ‘new,’ the city remained a stage, rather than becoming a realistically evoked space. The reasons could be our tradition in drama based film making. City space, though considerably expanded within films, still worked as a background for new types of conflict, subjectivity, etc.
            One of the interesting notes of Vasudevan is that in such films, the audience is not left in their seats in the cinema, to look figures cast against a background. They are drawn into the film they are to flow amongst objects and figures within the space-rime of the fictive world. This involving cinema drags audience to interact with the form of cinema. The familiar sights on screen and expected responses transport us. Narrative comes to a halt. It becomes spatialised. Later, it takes the audience to engage in a dialogue with the space, and the objects within it. This is because the space in these movies is the urban space, which is integral to the urban dweller. So it is easy for urban audience to get into a discourse with the space.

Climate and space

            The climatic condition of the urban space is also important to films. They help to generate moods. The space which is already associated with various moods, when painted with climatic conditions, there emerges another texture which qualifies the space.

Railway station

            Railway track and station are extensively used to indicate the proximity of death, terror and danger in everyday life - Existential condition of city life/the urban. The presence of railway in the city is used to create a sense of the everyday vulnerability of the crowded city to the railway accident. As described in the article, the villain could get rid of the key witness in a case against him, by plunging a cigarette into the witness’ hand. The city trains are naturally jam-packed. The victim had to leave his hand in unexpected pain and he falls out and dies- as easy as that. A natural accident is created. Such scenes suggest more than the chances of everyday life- something precarious, something unsaid. Probably, this kind of suggestions have increased the urban anxiety even while enjoying every moment of it.
            Railway tracks run parallel to each other, and parallel to urban life. A derailing of either of these parallels could pose danger to each other. This is an aspect of urban life. When camera moves parallel to the track, there is double presence accompanying the audience.

Realism and Reality Effects

            Use of realism in the 80s is attributed to the attempts to reduce explanatory force. The phenomenon of place being abstracted into a non-identifiable space of the globalised imagination took place in the early 90s. But in the urban action films, there is a strong orientation to local constructions of the city, mainly because Bombay functions as part of a national imaginary. Realism in such sense is there in the movies. Then comes the reality effects. These are auditory or visual cues which suggest that which is unexplained, that which doesn’t directly link with the characters. These effects enhance the experience of the movie space. This can afford to perceive incidental space, unlike realism procedure.
Another issue discussed here is how social world and terror tend to overlap everyday. Since the movie locates itself in the city which the audience is familiar with, the characters who are in danger are similar to the audience in the cinema. The same audience who sit in the theatre may be unaware of the dangers that are passing just outside or over the theatre. May be in their courtyard, a gang is hiding to attack another gang or even his/her family! Thus, such films problematise the inside/outside world in the city. Here we see how realism is used or adapted to the popular multi-diegetic format of the hindi films, using spaces of multiple narrations, to insert the spectator into the cinematic imagining of the city.


            The article, from the beginning hints about the politics of the city influencing film and the other way around. Character formation and space composition are influenced by the current political scenario. The single hero, wandering in the city of the 70s is replaced in the 80s with a group of youngsters sitting in city corners. This sense of joint political action has gone into films. This is seen as an echo of the worldview of the Shiv Sena in Bombay. The VP Singh government’s attempts to implement the Mandal Commission report and the subsequent uprising are other backgrounds to such political developments in these films. Cinema gains lofty position in giving an overview of political scenario in the city. As we see in the film Satya, the camera is placed above the Deity of Ganesha, to look upon the scene of chaos, where the gangster turned politician is bleeding to death. Here, camera along with the audience is privileged to see what people in the mess cannot see. People are made to witness this terror from another angle altogether. Head on engagement between present/ politics/ screen and audience has been a recurrent subtheme of our films.

The Cycle

Sajit M. Mathews 
Blackie was just out of the nest when his girl friend Golda came round and rubbed her beak on his neck. He felt so happy and energized that morning. It seemed an easy opening to the day. Dew and cold wind were taking an early leave that day. ‘Crows are a privileged race. We can see everything around,’ thought Blackie as he looked at Golda’s beautiful eyes.
As horizon made itself visible under the orange red sky, a thousand stories took off their flight into life. Blackie knew he had a long and interesting day ahead. He had to go around hunting for food and stories. Most of those stories used to amuse him very much.
One such story was taking off in John’s house too. Yes, Blackie could see John’s house from his nest. That little house is painted peach-puff. How cute a house it is! Golda came near him and asked, “what are you looking at?” Blackie said, “Ah! Look at you; you are interested in having a look at John. Let us go and see.” Golda was interested and enthused. She liked human kids. Once she has even fed a child with what she gathered! Both of them flew to John’s house.
John is a little kid. He’s only 8 years old. Of course he is a cute child. His smile has powers to take you off your feet and throw you into the sweetest of smiles. “Hush, you can see him. Come, look at that window”, said Blackie.
The morning wind was blowing strong through the window into the house. The window curtain flutters in a jolly rhythm. We can see glimpses of John’s bed. He has covered himself with a blanket. “Oh... What is that sound? An alarm?” asked Golda. “Yes. That’s an alarm. See, John is sticking his hand out of the blanket and switching the alarm off. Haha, he must be terribly sleepy,” observed Blackie, smiling. John switched the alarm off, turned around and slept again.
Golda often wondered why human beings were so addicted to sleep. Every day, he gets up at the first ray of red on the sky, because he knows he needs to do so. These human beings! But John is a little kid. He can do so, thought Golda.
As they kept looking, they saw light coming on in his room. His mother came into the room calling him to get up. He didn’t seem to pay heed to that. Look at that! She pulled his blanket away. “Now he has to get up. Like us, he too has to go work,” said Blackie. Mother pulled him up and made him sit up on the bed. John’s face looked very sleepy. He pulled his hands up and wiped his eyes and face in an unsuccessful effort to throw his sleep away. Yet he yawned and yawned, trying to wake up! Golda was quite amused.
It was then, that he suddenly pulled out something from under his pillow. He looked at it carefully, and sleep seemed to be instantly away from him. It was a little toy cycle. Sitting with that toy in hand, he looked up to see the wall. There was a big poster of a cycle on the wall. He looked at it. There was a mysterious smile on his face when he did so. He got up from his bed, put the toy cycle on the cupboard along with other toys and went to the toilet.
Golda thought about what human life meant after all. They are so mechanic and calculative. What fun do they have? Always doing the same things in a boring way. Why can’t they follow their instincts and be happy like crows? She was awakened from her thoughts by the slamming of a door. John is out of his bath, wrapping himself in a towel. He got ready wearing his school uniform. This is the only thing Golda liked about human kids. They all look alike when at school.
Blackie and Golda had to change their positions to get a vision of John when he came out of his room into the dining room. His mother was there preparing something for him to eat. That was something both Blackie and Golda did not like. They ate dry bread with some colour pasted on that! ‘That would be the last resort for us,’ said Golda.
Mother was serving him with sandwiches. John was not so happy and energetic today. He went around with gloomy face as if something grave went wrong. His mother urged him to eat well, but he was not so happy to do so. Mother noticed this. She too had a mysterious smile on her face.  He got up from his table without finishing what was given. So mother had to force him to drink some milk. Golda told Blackie that they would love their children in the same manner. Blackie smiled at her.
Now John was ready to leave home with his bag stuffed with books. Mother added to the weight, by giving him his lunch. Blackie and Golda flew to a tree to get better view of John getting out of home. He gloomily waved to his mother, who rushed in soon after he left. Humans- they always hurry, reflected Blackie.
John was walking on the way, head down- still gloomy about something. He often felt something in his pocket. Golda felt curious about what was in his pocket. So next time he took it out, she took a close flight and discovered that it was the same toy cycle he took out from under his pillow. “So that’s what he is gloomy about” thought Golda. She has seen many kids becoming extremely happy and excited about riding those two wheeled vehicles which they called cycles. It looked quite funny, but kids liked it very much.
Near the street coffee shop, John saw a cycle parked on the road side and was much attracted to it. He went near it and was admiring it. He closed his eyes as if he is dreaming of something. Just then, his friends passed that way on cycles, shouting at him to hurry to school. John looked at his watch and rushed to school.
He was late to class. Golda couldn’t control her laughter when John responded to attendance call from the door. If Blackie hadn’t rebuked her, she would have made hell of a noise near John’s class room. In the class too, John wasn’t a happy and naughty kid like others.
Golda admired the rows and coloums of kids wearing uniforms. She wished to have kids like that- all in same attire. She would feed all of them one by one in rows and columns along with Blackie. Golda went deep into imagination.
She was suddenly awakened by the bell of the school, along with the hustle of children rushing out of their classes. It was the end of the class. Everyone rushed out of class, except John. He took his time to gather his things and to pack his bag. He went alone out of the class room and walked gloomily to home. How sad, thought Blackie. He wanted to console him, but he knew John won’t appreciate a crow’s consolation!
While John was walking to the gate, Blackie and Golda had to go to the school ground to hunt for a few morsels to fill their stomachs. From the morning, John was keeping them busy, so that they never found time to eat anything. Gathering a few mouthfuls, they rushed to follow John. He was walking through the same way he came. It was a sad sight to see such a cute child walking head down, sad and gloomy.
He reached the coffee shop. He could see people coming out of the coffee shop talking and happily walking. He stopped to look at that. Blackie and Golda sat on top of a tree and were watching him. Out of the blue, someone came from behind and picked John up. Blackie was alarmed. But Golda told him to cool down, “it’s his mother.” Blackie let out a sigh of relief. Last week he had seen another child like John being taken away like this. It was a horrific incident. They took that child and mutilated it in a dark room outside the city. The child was screaming in pain. He hated human beings for that. He didn’t even share that incident with Golda, as she won’t be able to bear such a story.
“Look Blackie, they are going into the coffee shop” said Golda. Blackie saw that both John and his mother were inside the shop, sitting on a table facing each other. Mother was asking something to John. But John wasn’t in a happy mood to answer her. It would be difficult for any mother to see her child like that, thought Golda.
Mother ordered coffees for both of them. They were having coffee. All of a sudden, the mother got up and led John outside the shop, blindfolding him. Blackie and Golda got curious to see what is going to happen now. Mother led him to the courtyard of the shop, led him to a corner and opened his blindfold. John opened his eyes to see a cycle- all decorated and shining. He couldn’t understand what the meaning was. He looked back at his mother. She smiled and gave a nod. John went near the cycle and was amazed to see a tag hanging on it with these words on it, “for my little sweet heart, John.”
John couldn’t control his joy. His eyes were full. He turned to his mother and embraced her in joy. Both were so happy to be in each other’s arms. Golda pecked on Blackie’s face and said, “Blackie, I love this moment.” Blackie’s eyes were filled. He kissed her beak and said, “Golda, that’s love. What flows from their eyes- that’s love.” They looked at the mother and John for a few moments and flew into the sky.
Gold looked down to see the John and his mother still in the embrace. She felt so happy. Blackie felt that the day was so fruitful that they could witness such a sweet story. They flew up into the sky, carrying the love John and his mother shared outside the coffee shop. As they flew up, they could see the setting sun drawing beautiful patterns in the sky. Blue and orange and red. Blackie looked at Golda in love. She winked her eyes, feeling her little ones inside her. They added to the palette drawn by the sun on the sky, as they flew high into the sky.

-----THE END-----

A Critical Analysis of Arogyasri Health Insurance Scheme - A Project of Andhra Pradesh State Government

(A Project of Andhra Pradesh Government in India)

This study is published as a chapter in the book titled "Health and the Media:Essays on the Effects of Mass Communication."

Click to Buy

The details are:

Title: Health and the Media: Essays on the Effects of Mass Communication
PublisherMcFarland (26 May 2016)Place: Jefferson, North CarolinaEditorsValentina Marinescu and Bianca MituPrint Length: 260 pages
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B01GKC7HI4

Monday, February 20, 2012

A message from a worm

A Worm's Message to us about Life

A Message from a Worm

To Say Good Bye

To Say Good Bye...

Audience and Spectator in South India: A short Study

Sajit M. Mathews

With regard to South Indian cinema, the terms ‘audience’ and ‘spectator’ gain much importance as they determined and continue to determine the fate of the art and the course it should take in the future. From the times when cinema was silent, it was the role of the audience (in some cases, spectator) that remained stable and unchanging. Trends came and disappeared. Stars appeared and vanished. But audience remained. The interesting phenomenon of the audience in the South, which shares meanings with spectator, fan, citizen, admirer, rowdy, supporter and even protector is worth detailed study.
The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (2003 Edition) defines ‘Audience’ as: ‘the group of people gathered in one place to watch or listen to a play, film, someone speaking, etc., or the (number of) people watching or listening to a particular television or radio programme, or reading a particular book’ and ‘Spectator’ as: ‘a person who watches an activity, especially a sports event, without taking part’.[1] Wikipedia’s definition of Audience is more elaborate and throws more light into our kind of study.[2] It says ‘An audience is a group of people who participate in a show or encounter a work of art, literature, theatre, music or academics in any medium. Audience participate in different ways in different kinds of art; some events invite overt audience participation and others allowing only modest clapping and criticism and reception. Media audiences are studied by academics in media audience studies. ‘Audience theory’ also offers scholarly insight into audiences in general. These insights shape our knowledge of just how audiences affect and are affected by different forms of art. A spectator is just an observer of an event or person who looks on or watches. Thus these terms differ in terms of involvement and participation.

Spectatorship and Audience

                Spectatorship within the film theory is a theoretical concept used to consider how film viewers are constituted and positioned by the textual and representational aspects of films. It is a fact that the theoretical construct of the spectator has always been different from the actual spectator in the social, empirical and historical understanding. Though films are able to dictate how spectator should view the film, it’s not the case always. Spectator is only a theoretical category idealized and homogenized as a logical subject produced by the film itself.[3] If such a reduction takes place, the question of emergence and engagement of audience becomes an impossible consideration.
In India, audience has always been outside this theoretical framework of spectator. From the time of silent cinema, spectator had been divided into strata. Elite crowd, the aspiring-to-be-elite crowd and the low class crowd always existed. Especially in South India, where politics and mass entertainment were always connected, there has been strong undercurrents which lead (or misled) cinema. Those who could afford to vocalize their admiration for cinema and the star were named rowdy. Those who dare not do that stayed elite or close to elite crowd, ‘untarnished’ by these uncouth spectators.

Citizen and audience

                Citizen is defined as member of the general public, possessing inalienable rights. Theoretically every citizen is entitled to be beneficiaries of these rights and privileges. But actually, only a minority enjoys these rights. That means there is a denial of rights to the majority. This majority is the so called ‘low class’ people of the periphery. These people who live on the fringes of the society are also human beings who long for fulfillment and power. One such kind of satisfaction is offered by films. The subaltern hero of the film who commands upper class men and challenges evil social systems and takes a beautiful upper class woman as his bride certainly lives up to the aspirations of the ‘low class.’ They long to destabilize the system that demoralizes and impoverishes them. And in these films, they find their wishes come true in the words and actions of a star. They admire this representative of theirs. Citizen figure (hero) in the film represents these people. The star thus is a means of addressing the anxiety and anger of being outside the domain of rights.
            An interesting point to be noted here is that the citizen in the film is not like the people who watch him. The hero begins like an ordinary subaltern ‘low class.’ Later, he rises to the capability of a citizen. But all through the transformation, the audience is kept reminded of the fact that hero is a star. This gives him the necessary power to stand up against power of the upper class.[4] This gives him the authority to fall in love with an upper class woman. This also keeps the audience reminded that they are ‘subaltern’ and the star is not and that such things happen only in films. The status of star automatically raises the hero above the handicap imposed by community and class identities and gains ‘citizen’ status for him.
            Thus though the star fulfills the desire of the audience to be citizens, the audience continues to be alien to their rights, affirmed by the filmic narration.

Who is a ‘fan’ then?

            How do we define a fan? The whole argument about fan and the way of looking at fan depends on how we define a fan. It is no wonder that we see a fan as a non-educated lower middle class male admirer of a film star. But we should not forget the fact that fan associations were creations of the film industry itself as logical extensions of star systems. It was motivated by profit. The idea was to make use of fans to provide free publicity to actors and their projects. Actually, fan played a major role in the financial success of films. Every ardent fan would be present at the opening show of a film and they would continue to watch the film repeatedly, so that their star’s film is a success. The fan participation also showed whether the film was good or bad.
            Though fans were created by the industry, they have come a long way from being unpaid servants of the industry.[5] Fans at times have gone away from the stars and declared their independence. Most of the fans associations do not stop with mere slogan shouting and poster publicity. Fans associations had major role in Tamil and Telugu Politics and Kannada Linguistic Nationalism. They also undertake charitable work and social work. They have networks sometimes countrywide and sometimes even international. Thus, the old definitions no more fit today’s fan.


Audience, Star and Fan: Behind and Beyond the Silver Screen

            What then is the relationship between the audience and star? As history tells us, stars as well as fans were created by the industry. But audience is not the creation of anyone. Here I would like to create a distinction between audience and fan. Fan is also part of the audience. But those other than the fan do not want them to be with counted as audience. Fan thus is pushed a step down the rung. Audience thus creates another class called fans. Thus, more than fan, Audience needs attention in this discussion. Audience is the middle class crowd that names fans ‘fans.’ Audience looks down upon fan for their over-reaction: Excess. According to audience, fans are thugs, goons and an unruly group. This audience doesn’t want to get in touch with fans for fear of appropriation. They criticize them from a distance.
            Audience is not under compulsion. They are not bothered about whether the film succeeds in the box office or not. They don’t bother about the image of the star. All they look for is entertainment (generally). As long as they get it, they are satisfied. They criticize when the film fails to satisfy their taste and expectation. When the audience is mostly admirers or fans, they see the star more than the character. When there is an expectation about the actor, the actor is bound to act according to the expectations of the crowd. Unless the actor rises up to these aspirations, he will be put down. Therefore the star, within his constraints, portrays a character which neither thwarts the demands of the fan, nor irritates the ‘audience’. In short, it is the fan who decides what kind of role the actor plays on screen.
             Where does the audience- other than the fan- stand in relation with the star? Films have often diffused through the fabric of the society and created a social image of stars. Consumption of star is not limited to films. We are able to see stars all around us: in advertisements, news reports, politics, social gatherings, etc. Cinema magazines are read not only by fans, but also by the general public, providing space for an ‘off-screen’ life of the star. The image of star, even in the imagination of the general public is a constructed one. Star has a social image. Everyone wants to connect to this image. This image is against the divinized image of the star somewhere far away. Here star is the next door man or woman. In some cases, audience tries more than identification or escaping into the stars world, by bringing the star home. In this way, the audience keeps themselves away from fans and near to the star.
The difference between fan and audience is subtle. Fan expressions are always in the excess form (as observed by the audience) - unnecessarily extravagant and hyperbolic whereas audience’s expressions are in a muted and sober fashion. They show rationality with purpose. That which the middle class ‘audience’ doesn’t want to be identified as, is termed fan. Fan thus is a mental projection of the fears and anxieties of the ‘audience’ of being incorporated into the ‘low class’ crowd who yells and howls in the cinema hall. This low class audience is also termed as ‘rowdy’ and is kept at a distance. Since audience cannot follow the star as fans do the demarcation helps.


            Cinema exists as a sign of creative and innovative spirit of human beings. Within the space of this creative space, we find side roads where strands of human weaknesses. Here, some powerful people make use of the unprivileged, for their gains. This kind of manipulation occurs in cinema on and off the screen. In short, the drama goes on behind and beyond the screen. Audience is the component, perpetrator and victim of all these complex mechanisms. As times progress and human spirit thrives towards the ultimate spirit as Hegel puts it, we can expect pure engagements with society and its creative expressions like cinema. Audience has a major role in leading film industry into intellectual arenas unexplored and to bring entertainment and education into cinema halls.

[1] Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2003, Version 1.0
[3] Hughes, Stephen. P. Unsettling Cinema: a symposium on the place of cinema in India, Pride of Place, # 525, May 2003.
[4] Srinivas, S.V. Citizens and Subjects of Telugu Cinema, Deep Focus: A Film Quarterly, March 2002. P. 63-67.
[5] Srinivas, S. V. Devotion and Defiance in Fan Activity. Making Meaning In Indian Cinema. Oxford University Press,  USA, 2001.

Cidade de Deus - City of God: Film Review

A film by Fernando Heirlles

                Rio de Janeiro (meaning, River of January) in my mind was a city of god. It was a city of joy, excitement, modernity and plenty. Any search on internet will give one, a perfect picture of a city that is affluent, colourful, joyous and plentiful. But as is the case with any city, there is an underside to this developed face of Rio too. The blue seas and the cool breeze of the city are actually a facade that covers up a bunch of stark truths.
            Rocket’s life is the life of a city dweller. City for him is home. And his home is not in the colourful part of the city. Where Rocket lived, city was coloured grey and sometimes RED with blood. It is the city of god still, because a number of human beings could make a living in the grey part of the city. What makes a city that of god is love towards life. What made the city grey and red was in fact its affinity for life. In Rio’s grey colonies, its crowds and the hoodlums were all trying to make a living.
            Made in a very different style, City of God shows glimpses of real life from the city. The film made me look away from the screen many times. Though violence and sex are part of life as is politics and love, such stark depictions are rare in Indian films. The language used by the hoodlums’ language, constant fear of death, search for adventure and money, etc. come out well in the film. I don’t think I would be able to sit through the film even if I wish to. I will have to train myself to enjoy such film too.
            If I made this film, there would be more of suggestions of violence and death, than actual on screen scenes. The reasons are: either that Indian culture is mild or that Indian culture tries to look away from harsh realities- a kind of escapism!

Sajit M. Mathews

Politics in South Indian Cinema: A study of the use of films for political communication

Sajit M. Mathews
            As we are exposed to the realities regarding the South Indian Cinema and related political equations through the readings and class discussions, I think it would be a fruitful exercise to dwell upon the question, ‘why politics in South Indian Cinema?’ This question is important as long as we try to understand the phenomenon of South Indian film industry and South Indian Politics under the same head.
Political background
            India is a democratic republic nation where people decide who will rule when and whom. Under such democratic circumstances, almost all those who are interested in handling power will try to influence the masses using all the available means. This is a fundamental right of every Indian citizen. This influence can be obvious when someone uses a speech to persuade people and not so obvious when someone already in power uses government machinery to please people and subtle when someone cleverly uses innovative means like the media to manipulate the masses. India gained independence from colonial rule in 1947. Much before that, political polarization started gaining momentum. The Congress Party had a well established network of activists all over the country, set up to struggle for freedom. And there were many other smaller factions of organized and unorganized set-ups which came to the lime light after the independence.
Filmy background
            Films came to India within a year of its invention- in July 1896. The new entertainment was received with mixed feelings at all quarters of the nation. Within a short time, Madras developed its own films. “The silent cinema, though it did not have any pretentions to ideological or political content, certainly had clear overtones of political consciousness.”[1] During freedom struggle, Gandhi gave emphasis to eradication of social evils, making social uplift part of political activism. Thus, films that contained social themes were clearly political in orientation. Madras films started ‘talking’ in 1931 when Kalidas was released. That marked the beginning of the production of an anthology of Tamil movies. In the beginning, all the movies were head-on shootings of the existing company drama performances. In that way, we can’t see much creativity entering studios. The first Tamil talkie with a contemporary theme was Menaka (1935). Slowly, social themes which had a special significance in the pre-independence Indian scenario gained in number, even under strict censorship of the British.[2] Cinema was seen as a danger to their power by the British and as a new opportunity to speak to the masses, by the freedom fighters.
Tamil cinema and the DMK
            DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam) was formed in 1949. The conscious use of films for political purpose began with C. N. Annadurai’s film ‘Velaikkari’ (1948). With this, the socio-political demands of the region began to be expressed through the medium of cinema. The films made by DMK had explicit atheistic and anarchic dialogues, criticizing existing religion, beliefs, political system and social evils. ‘Velaikkari’ and ‘Parasakthi’ are two of the best examples, scripted by Annadurai and M. Karunanidhi respectively.
            The DMK involvement with the film as a medium had two distinguishable phases, the first phase (1948-1957) dominated by the film scripts of Annadurai and Karunanidhi (note that it was in 1957 that DMK entered electoral politics) and a second one dominated by M.G. Ramachandran. [3] In the first phase, the oppressive character of both the society and the government was always highlighted. This was the time when villages were electrified. This paved the way for the spread of DMK ideology to every nook and corner of the state, through cinema.
            Madhava Prasad has an interesting argument regarding representation. Representation can be political and aesthetic. Political representation is a leader ‘represent’ing people in the parliament. Aesthetic or cultural representation is in the realm of discourse, texts and images, in which we ‘re-present’ our world. Such representations are within the frame of a variety of constraints and thus they neither provide direct access to reality nor are neutral. They always carry their own ideological biases and emphases.[4] Films fall under this kind of representation.
            There always existed a symbolic relationship between films and political parties in Tamil Nadu. Films were used in three ways by political parties: direct political propaganda, reference to party symbols, leaders etc and mixing of documentary footage with shots of actual film. Therefore, no wonder why actors were crowd pullers especially to party conferences.[5]      
Within films, there are subtle developments. The actors, who develop into stars govern another realm- fan following. Stars always exceed the narrative framework of the film as a story. The star exists apart from the film and depends only partially on the story. There are roles played and characters portrayed in a film. Star plays a role and portrays a character. In the end, star becomes a representation, above the role and the roles themselves begin to exceed the requirements of the characterization.[6]
            Considering what constituted the growth of MGR as an icon and idol in Tamil Nadu, we could very well say that films are much more than mere representations of social realities. MGR who believed that every man had to have an image, consciously and shrewdly drew up his own image based on the popular ballads, which appealed to the people. In his own words, “You put forward an image of yourself if you want to get anywhere.”[7] Therefore, using the popular images of heroes to reconstitute image that served elite interests, MGR reached every part of Tamil Nadu through films as a wish fulfilling hero of the masses. Adding to these, widespread popularization of him as an icon through biographies, newspapers, pamphlets and posters served in identifying the person of MGR to the images he put up on the screen.
Politicisation of films
            The article on Parasakthi tells us clearly that the film succeeded in its pro-DMK campaign. “Its anti-Congress and anti-religious postures went down well with the enthusiastic audience.”[8] People went to theatres to listen to the dialogues of M. Karunanidhi, rather than to watch the movie. Cinema hall almost fell apart with loud applause, whenever there were references to the politics of Annadurai. Particularly this film used many symbols to criticise the existing social system and government. There are references to idolatry, corrupt politicians, merchant, insincere religious, immoral society and the general degradation of once prosperous and highly moral Tamil Society (Nadu).
            Thus, a trend started with Velaikkari (1948) and Parasakthi (1952). The transition from a social movement to a political party, from DK to DMK is what Parasakthi helped in bringing about. We could see a lot of sharp criticism as well as ideological compromises, depicted cleverly in the film. These compromises were forerunners of the new political appearance of the Kazhakam. The film stood as a signboard in the historical course of the Dravidian Movement, pointing to the consensual politics DMK was destined to play in Tamil Nadu.[9]
            The political communication rendered by the DMK was political communication as persuasion, when they did not enjoy political power. This persuasion was to urge the hitherto stable masses to take a political stand in voting for the party- a kind of suggestive communication. by definition, feature films have two levels of meaning: one within the film and another in relation to the political reality of the day. DMK used the second level meaning in dramatic narrative films, without openly portraying oppresionist situations. These films had powerful psychological influence on the audience. They left cinemas with clear ideological realisations.
            These films revolutionised the structure and content of Tamil films by portraying the dynamism of the downtrodden through the fists of MGR and words of Karunanidhi. In other words, Karunanidhi gave arguments and MGR gave the ‘how’ of uplift of the downtrodden. These films, while criticising the social oppression and exploitation, also underscored the necessity to bring back those ancient virtues enshrined in Tamil culture. [10]
            In short, Tamil films stand as a historical image which used a popular medium for political communication. Political and literary genius acting together to influence the psyche of the masses! And the continued reign of DMK, ADMK and AIADMK tells us that this innovative method works and is very powerful. A long time film star reigned the state for over ten years. Still the memories of those subaltern heroes linger in the emotional and physical terrain of Tamil Nadu. Thus Tamil ideological front used film as an effective medium to communicate with masses.

1 Sivathamby, Karthigesu. The Tamil Film as a Medium of Political Communication. p: 6. New Century Book House Pvt. Ltd.; Madras, 1981.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid, p:10.
[4] Prasad, Madhava. M. Cine-Politics: On the Political Significance of Cinema in South India, Journal of Moving Images, P: 51.
[5] Pandian, M.S.S. Culture and Subaltern Consciousness: An Aspect of MGR Phenomenon, Economic and Political Weekly. Vol. 24, No. 30, July 29, 1989. P: 63.
[6] Prasad, Madhava. P: 51.
[7] Pandian, M.S.S. P: 64.
[8] Pandian, M.S.S. Parasakthi: Life and Times of  DMK Film, Making Meaning in Indian Cinema, P. 74.
[9] Ibid. P:93.
[10] Sivathamby, P: 10.