Archive for the ‘social viscosity’ 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.

“Marketing is an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, capturing [added by the authors], communicating and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the organization and its stakeholders.” Dhruv Grewal and Michael Levy, Marketing (London: McGraw-Hill, 2008) i

Let us begin with a refrain developed in previous postings: value, sense, force. What follows will differentiate from the trite position that marketing pedagogy is a biopolitical project. That marketing seeks to goad life into mutation and habituation, and to raise the power of information to the nth degree seems almost obvious. This much is true of marketing: sensation-desire-information are its very lifeblood. By adding the participle “capturing” to the definition the authors show clearly that some mechanism (or abstract diagram) is necessary to assemble flows of communication with the production of consumer desire (cf. Virilio, Information Bomb 17). That is not a turgid sentence. It means simply this: that new media advertising builds on the machinery that came before it. Virilio in The Information Bomb tells us that advertising has shifted from the 20th century function of producing consumer desire to what he calls pure communication. Facebook and the spacetime of Web 2.0 (the informatization of everything). Desire needs to be captured and entrained (a neutralizing-potentializing circuit) through and in the flow of information—in the mode of communication—itself. We are all entrepreneurs of the self, even and perhaps in a special way when we disavow that capitalism as the extraction of surplus value from the processes of the world is the destiny of posthumanity. In what sense is marketing pedagogy a biopolitical process? How does marketing situate itself vis a vis the production of desire in the interest of domination? The aim then is to produce mutations in habit that allow an unmediated experience of virtuality. The transvaluation of all values must value becoming.

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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)

vashi station

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This lecture is based on research conducted in Delhi-NCR and Mumbai on mobile phone cultures over the past nine months. This research has focused on changing patterns of use emerging from shifts in relations of power between government, network providers, content producers, value added companies, and communities of active users across urban and rural space. The wager of my research is that a new ecology of sensation is emerging through an evolving, globally distributed security apparatus. This apparatus has become centered on controlling populations as searchable digital information, while mutating the biopolitical project of maximizing productive capacity and minimizing risk.

Flow:

1. What is a Media Assemblage?
2. Why is it particularly appropriate for diagramming Mobile phone networks?
3. Emergent properties, critical thresholds, and phase transitions of multiplicities
4. Types of connectivity: Security, interoperability, and standardization (ICON, TRAI regulations); pirated connections (ends up valorizing what you are stealing, non-standardized, on the margins of control); and the strategic refusal (Naxalite sabotage); pre-empting emergence: keep control but enable capitalist innovation and value creation
5. Intensive gradients of populations cannot be understood through linguistic categories, we need tools to be able to model intensive gradients of perception, meaning, rates of flow, density of connectivity…etc
6. This leads to a perspective where we take the body’s sensorimotor processes seriously as a mode of unmediated connectivity to media. UNMEDIATED. DIRECT. But with a history. Patterned but unpredictable, as virtual as it is actual, ecologies of sensation are evolving fields of sense, value, and force. So we can understand in this way the mobile phone as directly productive of sensation: in narrative: the mobile phone is a sensational technology (Dev.D), a dangerous device (A Wednesday), and passage into an intercalated timespace (the private bubble around the bodies of people in public places so common in Hindi cinema)…The mobile phone in cinema has become banal, a device assumed to be everyday for postcolonial modernity…VAS production: the creation of sensation through viral content and “necessary” services.
7. Art and Mobile Phones: The Creative deployment of the mobile: social viscosities project, GPS and mapping, the camera (Kainaz’s iPhone photography), the mobile dropping out of the pants video, use of the camera, text novels in Japan
a. Dialtones: A Telesymphony. There are a few different interactive mobile phone performance art pieces that I am aware of but this is by far the coolest of the bunch. Basically, when you come to see this show you (and your cell phone) actually become a part of the show. You register the phone number of your cell phone so that it gets linked with your seat. Then the show starts and it involves the ringing of your cell phone with new ringtones that have been added to it to make it more musical. Your phone and the phones around you are all ringing as part of this amazingly beautiful musical piece. It’s music but it’s made using mobile phones. It happened way back in 2001 but I still think it’s a magical piece to remember today. http://www.flong.com/projects/telesymphony/
b. Cell Phone Movies by Giselle Beigulman. This artist actually uses the mobile phone to create art by taking different models of cell phones and using the video recorder on them to record different scenes in movement whenever she is on buses or trains or in the car. These videos are then combined together to make cell phone movies of the subjects that she has taken video footage of. Learn more her
c. Phonetic Faces. This is another one of those interactive art pieces that utilizes mobile phones. In this case, the Phonetic Faces exhibit is set up (it’s been in various galleries around the world) and people at the exhibit can come add to the piece. They do so by calling a specific cell phone number which tells them how to choose images to collage together as part of the piece and then also allows them to upload their own picture for use in the collage. Essentially, this captures the visitors to the exhibit in images but also alters the piece through their contributions. That’s public art at its best and it has the cell phone at its core.
d. http://www.textually.org/textually/archives/2007/01/014567.htm
8. Social Viscosities: cuts both ways…. After a certain threshold of connectivity, the network (which includes but is not reducible to people’s use, no one part of the open, distributed system is decisive, what is decisive is the emergent properties that take hold with the nonlinear interaction of these components), the system takes on a kind of life, it becomes self-organizing after a gradient of probabilistic functionality, a gradient of connectivity…
a. Self-organizing networks doesn’t mean that this is utopic, without hierarchies of power, or resistant
b. Sensation gets us out of the dialectic of docility-agency.

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Epicenter, Gurgaon

Punjab Wadi Bus Stand, Deonar

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Mumbai

Posted: April 3, 2010 in Photography of Mumbai, social viscosity

Sky streaks

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