Archive for the ‘Experiments with vision’ Category

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Review of

Tejaswini Ganti, Producing Bollywood: Inside the Contemporary Hindi Film Industry. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012.

In Producing Bollywood, Tejaswini Ganti argues that Hindi cinema has gone through a process of ‘gentrification’ from 1996 to the present day. Gentrification in this media context is a “manifestation of the film industry’s quest to manage unpredictability in the arena of film consumption, the process of rationalization is its counterpart, addressing uncertainty in the production process” (11). Overall, her research shows that a certain kind of class war has been conducted through the codes, exhibition and distribution practices, and financial and organizational infrastructure of Hindi cinema. The corporatization of Bollywood has since around 2000 introduced economies of scale, allowing for the development of multiple revenue streams, and a restructuring and rationalizing of the work cultures throughout the industry (264). Through a corporate-style risk management buttressed by the infusion of “previously unheard of amounts of capital into the Hindi film industry, making available consistent finance, so that the risk of a film not being completed has decreased drastically” (11), an abject figure of exclusion has been produced, policed, and quarantined through the gentrification of Hindi cinema. This mass figure of abjection is that of the atavistic, sensation-driven, illiterate Bihari or North and East Indian peasant. His (and it is definitely a paan-chewing, ma-bahen [mother-sister] swearing, boisterous adult male that is the vehicle of this stereotype—think Arshad Warsi in Ishqiya [2010]) Other is the newly globalized consumer-citizen whose brand-frenzy expends itself every weekend in those mushrooming, securitized playgrounds for the rich and aspirational, the Indian malltiplex. As Ganti writes, “the gentrification of Hindi cinema is part of a broader socio-historical conjuncture where urban middle classes are celebrated in state and media discourses as the main agents, as well as markers of modernity and development in India” (17). In that sense, we should mark that the abjection of the multitude (as the young Marx might have said)* concerns not merely discourses and stereotypes of the illiterate peasant, but more crucially the very biopolitics of filmic populations in India today.

One of my interests in this book is the limits and possibilities of Ganti’s method. She claims to be interested in “practice, experience, meaning-making, and social life,” and through this multi-focused lens she examines filmmaking and filmmakers rather than specific films, per se. Departing from the clichéd notion of “films as texts” Ganti regards them “as social and discursive object that come to possess their meaning through practice and social life, which leads me to concentrate on how filmmakers interpret, discuss, and assign social as well as cultural significance to particular films” (21). In other words, she turns the filmwallas own words (and there are a lot of them given that her fieldwork extended from 1996-2010: “producers, directors, actors and actresses, writers, distributors, exhibitors—and those who shape the discourse about films, filmmaking, and filmmakers—journalists” [25]) into her interpretative text. What method is behind this sleight of hand? Basically, Ganti operates explicitly through a kind of post-deconstructionist discourse analysis of the social construction or mediation of meaning, which at times means little other than ideology critique (43).

Yet there is something else operating in her text, which, without deconstructing it per se, belies this explicit commitment to a banal social constructivism. We might call it a kind of media materialism, or media assemblage analysis, whose primary force is not critique but ontologies of becoming through organizational and aesthetic mutations in media form. Ganti writes, “Sippy’s reflexivity about this period [late 1980s and early 1990s], along with his own representation of his internalization of the constraints imposed by the changing technological and economic landscape for filmmaking, is an example of how the subjectivity of a commercial filmmaker is forged in concert with figures of the imagined audience, mediated through box office returns and new technologies of distribution such as video” (86-7). Mediations notwithstanding, this complex understanding of the interplay and imbrication between filmmakers’ subjectivities and the material world runs throughout her analyses and makes the book well-worth reading. For another example, during the course of her analysis of the “horrible” 1980s, Ganti notes that the peculiarly bad aesthetic of that decade had less to do with the influence of South Indian cinema and “more to do with the introduction of videocassette technology and its concomitant problems of video piracy and changes in the patterns of film consumption” (82). Ganti’s consistent attention to the materiality of the “altered media landscape” that Hindi filmmakers operate in today includes the presence of satellite television and new digital media (93). This media materialism draws Ganti on to analyzing the qualitative shifts from the late 1990’s onward, in the viewing experience for Indian film audiences (definitely one of the strongest aspects of this book): “middle and upper classes, who were seeing all of the films on video anyway. With the steep increase in ticket rates, the ‘front-benchers’—who according to the press were ‘extending to the dress-gallery’ by the early ‘90s—had been priced out of these areas and put firmly back in their place in the cinema hall; therefore, the celebrated ‘return’ of audiences to theatres in the mid-199s was really about reinforcing social hierarchies and re-inscribing social distance into spatial distance with the public space of the cinema hall” (97).

One of Ganti’s most interesting methodological moves is her use of a fictionalized sketch of a routine day on a film set—common practice in cultural anthropology, of course. Yet through it she is able in an exemplary way to tease out the multiple layers of the “decentralized and fragmented nature of filmmaking in India,” showing the relative ease with which individuals with access to capital can become filmmakers (this was the case until the late-1990s, it is unclear if that is true any longer, given new global standards of financing, accounting, marketing, and management throughout the Indian film industry—162), even as she shows how kinship relationships and personalized social networks often have the effect of both granting an immediacy to interactions and serving as a form of gatekeeping throughout the industry (176). Crucial to this process of teasing out the multiple, even haphazard nature of Bollywood, and what makes her analysis at times quite compelling, is the renewed significance of the film distributor, especially with the rise of the Overseas Territory as the most lucrative distribution domains, as well as the continued centrality of male stars to the production process (208).

The gentrification of Bollywood has affected its erstwhile shady financial management. So-called black money from various organized crime schemes has been central to Hindi film production at least since the 1950s if not earlier, and gained in importance and notoriety throughout the 80s and early 90s; circuits of racketeering were one of the few ways that producers and ‘proposal makers’ could access enough cash to even begin thinking of making a film. Ganti notes that black money refers to “unreported, untaxed income that could be generated from legal enterprises, the intensely cash-based nature of the financial dealings of the film industry until the early 2000s made it possible for the world of organised crime to be involved with filmmaking. References to the underworld-film industry ‘nexus’…began in the late 1980s” (181). The gentrification of Bollywood has also meant that black money in Bollywood has diminished in quantity, and probably also changed its processes within the film industry (given the grave state of banking worldwide and the widespread prevalence of banking fraud, are all the finances now simply grey?).

Probably the best chapters of this rather long, at times repetitive book, is Ganti’s turn to a kind of political economy of film production. There she usefully delineates the three main types of distribution arrangements common in the Hindi film industry. The ‘MG’ or minimum guarantee system, the most common, enables the distributor to bid for and guarantee the producer a specific sum that is disbursed in instalments from the onset of production. In the commission system, distributors bear the least risk because the most they may invest in a film are in its publicity and print costs; distributors in this system deduct between 25 and 50 percent of box-office receipts as a commission and remit the rest to the producer. In an outright sale scenario, distributors pay producers for the right to distribute their films for a given time period, during which all expenses incurred and all income earned are solely the distributors’. The MG auction system for allocating films often produces a kind of “winner’s curse”: “the distributor who wins the rights has the highest chance of having overestimated what a film will gross and therefore has the highest chance for a flop. As the buyers of films, distributors occupy the structural position of consumers—albeit a specialized one—which the filmmaking process, but they are rarely implicated in the wide ranging discussions about the commercial outcome of a film carried out in the film industry, the media, and among viewers. Instead, box-office performance is discussed by filmmakers in terms of audience composition, tastes, and desires. Hits and flops are interpreted and represented as indices of audience subjectivities rather than of distributors’ commercial predictions” (190-91). There is then a kind of objective illusion, as Deleuze might say, operating within the film industry: the reified, actual, and/or proleptic tastes of segmented audiences are assumed to be the driving force of filmic value, when in its material processes the forms of value emergent from such modalities as distributors’ auctions or the emergent trade in distribution rights (277) and their relative importance remain covered over by the fetish of class/mass taste. This results in what Ganti usefully calls an erasure of the economic, which means basically “the absence of attention to exhibition conditions (decrepit cinemas, not enough cinemas), regional economic variation, state taxation, diverse rates of admission, and the role of distributors’ pricing decisions” (313).

Another important contribution Ganti’s research makes to the burgeoning field of South Asian film and media is the at times stark, not to say binaristic contrast that filmwallas make between the Indian and Hollywood systems of film production. Although she doesn’t dwell at any length on this fact, yet one of the major differences in the organizational form of the two industries is the relatively higher degree of effective unionization of Hollywood workers, and the involvement of unions in most labor struggles around work time, benefits, and working conditions. This last, as Ganti shows, is a site of constant contestation in the Hindi film industry, and given the relative low-level of unionization in this industry, trying to get the film industry management, government, and power brokers to attend to the everyday working hazards (no toilets, interminable and ever changing working hours, physical violence, sexual harassment and sexual assault) for day laborers in the industry has been an uphill task to say the least (221). Other important differences between the two industries are in terms of the oral agreements of contracts and the lack of bound scripts (222-23). In short, for most Bollywood filmmakers Hollywood is “…more organized, more disciplined, more efficient, and more professional than the Hindi film industry” (223); more positively, Bollywood until around 2000 was best characterized by its “flexibility—by which I mean the ability to make impromptu decisions, the capacity to adapt to uncertainty, and a willingness to change the course of action—that is characteristic of Hindi filmmaking” (156). Layered onto these distinctions within the B/Hollywood opposition is the fact that, “rather than increasing, the total number of screens in India appears to be declining, as it has been for a number of years. According to statistics compiled by the Government of India’s Ministry of Statistics, the number of permanent cinema halls in India decreased approximately 27 percent between 1999 and 2009, from 9, 095 to 6,607. Of these, about 300 are multiplexes with a total of 900 screens, which leads to an estimated total of 7,207 screens for all of India in 2009—a 20 percent decrease in the number of screens from the previous decade” (71).

Then there is the submerged question of the Nation in Producing Bollywood. Ganti writes that Jawaharlal Nehru’s statements about film as basically operator of debauched sensation machines “have been a consistent feature of the discourse surrounding cinema in postcolonial India…Since Nehru, what has been operating in state discourses toward cinema, especially with respect to the relationship between entertainment and quality, is the ‘logic of deferrence’, where entertainment has been viewed as something that a postcolonial, ‘developing,’ nation-state like India cannot afford” (48, 51). In some sense the postcolonial pedagogical vocation for film has haunted Indian filmmaking until very recently. ‘In their very objectified and elaborated representations of Indianans,” as Ganti has it (63), Bollywood has explicated its codes, narratives, clichés, and sensory-motor circuits (images) in complex imbrication with the desires of national belonging. But what has happened to this secular socialist and paternalistic commitment to the ‘masses’?

One of the most consistent explanatory figures in Ganti’s analysis is what she terms the binary between masses and classes inhabiting the ambivalence at the heart of nationalist filmmaking. This binary opposition of the ‘masses/classes’ is the primary mode for filmmakers to make sense of the vastly diverse audiences for Hindi cinema, although for the past ten years it has become in a sense de-sedimented from its supposed fixity. For Ganti, the underlying hierarchy naturalized through this binary is that “the masses and classes are fundamentally different, and their tastes and world-views are completely incommensurable. Despite this incommensurability, Hindi filmmakers, for much of the industry’s history, strove to make films that would appeal across these divides” (35; see also 298). This binary is tied closely to the fate of nationalism within the Hindi film industry. Nehru’s statements about the pernicious effects of commercial cinema on the (supposedly ignorant) masses, went hand in hand with a pedagogical model for beneficial, socially relevant cinema. But is this the binary that social constructionism hunts for in the ambivalences of textuality? The Italian philosopher Lucio Colletti’s adaptation of Kant’s distinction between a dialectical contradiction and real opposition (Realrepugnanz; “a relation of mutual repulsion” [6])** is useful here. If in India “most state governments also stipulated that movie theaters could not be constructed near schools, colleges, places of worship, residential areas, and government offices,” (54) what was ontologized through this social and spatial differentiation was not a binary opposition but rather a material and multifarious process of producing a real opposition and biopolitical strategy between lower caste, working class film cultures and postcolonial national and now today globalized “middle class” values.

These processes of gentrification have an aesthetic correlate in film form. Indeed, since 2000 we can speak of something like a thoroughgoing morphogenesis of Bollywood film—in terms of codes, address, apparatus, exhibition, and organizational and financial structures, Hindi filmmaking has departed both from its own clichés and its own postcolonial socialist commitments (however paternalistic and narrowly nationalistic these were). Throughout its history right up to around 2000, filmmakers would “try to encode into their films what they [saw] as some shared cultural norms, common to everyone in India” (314).
Consider the stereotypical song-dance sequence, for instance: non-lip-synched songs continue to have a presence in most films today, however, now they frequently express the “psychological state of a character or the emotional tenor of a particular situation. As music’s narrative significance has diminished with the decrease of lip-synch songs in many contemporary Hindi films, it has arguably taken on an even greater commercial significance within the industry, for it is primarily created for marketing, promotion, and ancillary revenue purposes” (258). The gentrification of Bollywood has translated into a baleful (but nationally consistent) shift from mass inclusion to radical exclusion. Thus, in 1996 well-known director Aditya Chopra could celebrate a filmic vision of class inclusion: “You just realize that you’re making a film for people who are going to be different, and you have to try and thread them in some way, link all of them together. That is actually what Dilwale was—this belief that, even if they come from different classes, this guy might ride an auto-rickshaw and we might go in a Mercedes-Benz—but he’s also going to cry if his mother dies, he’s also going to react when his sister gets married. Okay, so what you need to do is get to the essence of being Indian and strike that chord that will somehow or the other have a place in everybody’s heart” (303). This has been entirely eroded in the subsequent decade of dot com booms and busts, service economies, call centres, and business operations outsourcing. As Ganti puts it, “While filmmakers earlier had located themselves along the class-axis of the masses/classes binary, they were clear that the bulk of their audience was on the mass side of the binary. Bhatt’s statements not only indicate a change in target audiences, but also reveal how changes in the Indian media landscape—his reference to satellite television and corporate production companies—have had an impact on filmmakers’ understandings of their audiences” (324-25). This then is finally the lasting contribution of Ganti’s fairly comprehensive study of Producing Bollywood in the form of a familiar filmi lament and political warning: the abjection of the masses will return to haunt the global ambitions of Bollywood.

NOTES
* Marx, “Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature – Doctoral Dissertation,” 118. Thanks Bue.

** Colletti writes: “So in real opposition too there is negation, annulment, but of a kind that is quite different from contradiction. Real opposites are not, as in contradiction, negatives in themselves and hence only the Negative of the other; on the contrary, they are both positive and real. In this instance, says Kant, ‘both the predicates A and B are affirmative.’ The negation which each exerts on the other consists only in the fact that they mutually annul their effects. Briefly, in a real opposition or relation of contrariety (Gegenverhältnis), the extremes are both positive, even when one of them is indicates as the negative contrary of the other” (L. Colletti, “Marxism and the Dialectic,” New Left Review I/93, September-October 1975, 7). I am wary of taking this logical discussion too far in social analysis, as I am aware of Colletti’s problematic political shifts, but I find here a useful ontological resource to move beyond the dead-ends of social constructivism.

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comrades

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MyImage

We have seen that the world was an infinity of converging series, capable of being extended into each other, around unique points. Thus every individual, every individual monad expresses the same world in its totality although it only clearly expresses a part of this world, a series or even a finite sequence. The result is that another world appears when the obtained series diverge in the neighborhood of singularities. (Deleuze, The Fold 60)


Made using artmatic, imovie, and garageband.

We have seen that the world was an infinity of converging series, capable of being extended into each other, around unique points. Thus every individual, every individual monad expresses the same world in its totality although it only clearly expresses a part of this world, a series or even a finite sequence. The result is that another world appears when the obtained series diverge in the neighborhood of singularities. (Deleuze, The Fold 60)

reticulation 9.6 copy

Abstract: This essay aims to diagram the set of connectivities (or “system of relations”) developing in business outsourcing affective, communicative labor and the value-adding digital image in contemporary Hindi-Urdu cinema. What emerges is a resonant set of nested temporalities constituting a new media assemblage. Throughout, I draw on a set of analyses that has developed the notion of affective labor as a decisive break in the organization of value under capital. In this work by feminist political economists, postcolonial critics, and Marxist phenomenologists, affect becomes the substance of interaction and communication: distinct from “emotion,” affect is defined by its relational, bodily character, and cannot be reduced to an internalized feeling. In that regard, affect is considered pre-individual, operating in that moving strata of being and becoming where the subject and populations meet. Affect is both virtual and actual at once, it is an emergent, incipient space of mutation and potential as well as the site of modulation, control, and capitalist valorization. Theoretical frameworks that have brought together Marx, Freud, Foucault, and Deleuze have conceived of affective labor using terms such as desiring production, and more significantly, numerous feminist investigations, analyzing the potentials within what has been designated traditionally as women’s work, have grasped affective labor with terms such as kin work and caring labor [or “labor in the bodily mode”]. Through an analysis of No smoking (Kashyap, 2008) and Office Tigers (Mermin, 2006), I explore the singular emergence of affective labor in the South Asian context, in pervasive processes that are informatizing (rendering as/through data) various forms of life and work. I correlate the function of affective labor in both business outsourcing and digital media through analyses of two key modalities: the evolving functionality of information in the nonlinear, open system of computer technology; and the modulation of subjectivity in the capacities of attention and sensation of value creation.

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