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Volume 70 Number 1, September-December 2018

Volume 70 Number 1

Documentary Now
Edited by: Ravi Vasudevan

Ravi Vasudevan


A Way of Being in the World
Shohini Ghosh in conversation with Ravi Vasudevan

RECORD, REPLAY: Imaging Technology and the Post-Digital Representation of the Real
Avijit Mukul Kishore


Hospitality in the Time of Regulation: 1970s Films Division Tourism Shorts
Priya Jaikumar

Death by Water: Environmental Documentaries, a Brief Overview
Veena Hariharan

Metabolisms of the Feminist Archive and the Nowness of Yugantar (1980–83)
Nicole Wolf

The Hiss and Scratch of Time
Ruchir Joshi


Embracing Doubt
Amar Kanwar

Seeing, Being and Belonging
Rahul Roy

Reflections on "the Political" in Indian Documentary Films
Surabhi Sharma

Documentary as Pedagogic Practice
Sameera Jain


Video News Magazine as Documentary Evidence: The Case of Kalchakra
Ishita Tiwary

Sting Videos: Everydayness as Truth-Aesthetic
Shaunak Sen


Experimenta India: Curating and Exhibiting Experimental Film, Video and Moving Image in India
Anuja Jain

The Work of Freedom in a World of Images
Pallavi Paul


Notebook of Geographies 2018
Desire Machine Collective

Inside front cover and pages 1–9:
Thematic ad-portfolio on the Urban Lens Film Festival

Subasri Krishnan

Thematic Ad-Portfolio: The Urban Lens Film Festival
Krishnan, Subasri
Vol. 70 No. 1, September–December 2018, pp. 1–9

This article and the images that follow deal with the Urban Lens Film Festival, an annual event organized by the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Bengaluru, that looks at cinema’s ties with the city. With a particular focus on films from South Asia, Africa and Latin America, the screenings address various aspects of urbanization, including loneliness, environment and entertainment. The programme also wishes to encourage serious conversations about film outside strictly academic circles and gets practitioners and artists to talk about their medium.

Editorial Note
Gupta, Latika
Vol. 70 No. 1, September–December 2018, p. 12

In this note, the associate editor looks at Marg's 1960 issue on Documentary Films of India and discusses the current volume as a follow up to that. While in the 1960 magazine, Mohan Bhavnani of the Films Division had lamented the death of the "pure documentary", the current magazine unpacks that term to discard all notions of "pureness" and excavate the complicated layers of the form as it has developed over the last many years.

Vasudevan, Ravi
Vol. 70 No. 1, September–December 2018, pp. 14–19

In his introduction, guest editor Ravi Vasudevan outlines the changes undergone by the documentary form in India over the last few decades and the rationale for having a dedicated issue to map these. The focus is both on revisiting the documentary archive and exploring the contemporary history of this medium. Referring to certain key practitioners who have contributed to this volume, he highlights the themes, technologies, ideologies and pedagogical practices that each will address in their essays.

A Way of Being in the World: Shohini Ghosh in Conversation with Ravi Vasudevan
Vasudevan, Ravi
Vol. 70 No. 1, September–December 2018, pp. 20–25

In this interview, well-known documentary practitioner and teacher Shohini Ghosh discusses her early years of training at the Mass Communication Research Centre at Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, the people and films that inspired her practice, her experience of working with the Mediastorm collective and the factors that influence her current practice and the filmmaking lessons she imparts to others.

RECORD, REPLAY: Imaging Technology and the Post-Digital Representation of the Real
Kishore, Avijit Mukul
Vol. 70 No. 1, September–December 2018, pp. 26–31

Digital technology has influenced documentary practice in unprecedented ways in the last two decades, as it has other forms of filmmaking. This article focuses on the influence of the imaging industry in defining the look of the “real” and the embedded conventions that need to be addressed every time new technology is introduced. It looks at the disruptive influence of cheap DV cameras in the mid-1990s and the current prevalence of compact DSLR cameras, while referring to the overarching memory of 35mm film as a reference standard for recording both still and moving images.

Hospitality in the Time of Regulation: 1970s Films Division Tourism Shorts
Jaikumar, Priya
Vol. 70 No. 1, September–December 2018, pp. 32–35

This essay deals with a series of shorts made by the Films Division of India between 1975 and 1977 to promote India as a tourist destination. These films also instructed Indians on how to behave around foreign tourists. Created during the National Emergency when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi curbed civil liberties, the shorts condemn petty illicit transactions pervading the country, while publicizing Indian artefacts and the commodities of India’s trade partners. They reveal a complex discourse of a state that incentivized India’s tourism and service industries while emphasizing middle class self-abnegation, and tacitly evading charges of high-level corruption.

Death by Water: Environmental Documentaries, a Brief Overview
Hariharan, Veena
Vol. 70 No. 1, September–December 2018, pp. 36–41

This article is a brief overview of the representation of water ecologies and an attempt to map it on a timeline of non-fictional cinema in India. Outlined here are documentaries that track human interventions that aim to harness, control, or divert water while setting off long-term planetary destruction of water bodies. What are the ethical, political and aesthetic implications of these representations? And how does art and activism come together to initiate transformations in our planetary consciousness and ways of being on the planet? While these larger questions form the backdrop, the article etches a synoptic view of these waterscapes.

Metabolisms of the Feminist Archive and the Nowness of Yugantar (1980–83)
Wolf, Nicole
Vol. 70 No. 1, September–December 2018, pp. 42–49

Between 1980 and ’83, Yugantar, India’s first feminist film collective, developed three films with existing or ensuing women’s groups: with female factory workers in Nipani, domestic workers in Pune and with members of Sri Shakti Sanghatana in Hyderabad. The films’ significance lies in their pioneering collaborative approach before “participatory video work” or community media became buzzwords and in their negotiated positioning as aligned to but also independent of institutions or political party contexts. This essay looks at this important endeavour that continues to serve as a catalyst for political and social struggles today.

The Hiss and Scratch of Time
Joshi, Ruchir
Vol. 70 No. 1, September–December 2018, pp. 50–55

In this essay, filmmaker and writer Ruchir Joshi uses his personal experiences and memories to describe the challenges of being a documentarist in the 1970s and ’80s in India. These include his struggles to procure equipment for shooting, then overseeing processing and post-production work and finally finding the correct venue for screenings. Since his works were shot on 16mm and built on the first-person diary format, they were seemingly out-of-fashion in the Indian context and depended on UK Channel 4 to be shown to a wider audience. In 2016, Arsenal—Institute of Film and Video Art, Berlin, started restoration work on these films and this initiative got Joshi to revisit them and see them in a whole new light. It made him reflect on modern technology and how it can be used effectively to clean up old films without eroding some of the grainy hand-made touches that lend the material archival value.

Embracing Doubt
Kanwar, Amar
Vol. 70 No. 1, September–December 2018, pp. 56–65

In this essay, documentary filmmaker and installation artist Amar Kanwar takes the readers through his works, highlighting the various questions and challenges that have often cropped up in the midst of researching, scripting and shooting. Thereby he wishes to challenge the traditional views of documentary as associated with truth claims, evidence and accuracy. Instead, what Kanwar wishes to emphasize is the quality of constant doubt and debate that informs and defines his method and his use of poetry and non-conventional non-human subjects to bear witness to events and stories.

Seeing, Being and Belonging
Roy, Rahul
Vol. 70 No. 1, September–December 2018, pp. 66–71

Both the making of images and their reception involve much more than a rational arrangement of reasoned thought. Reason provides the possibility of aligning images to ideologies and political thinking; but it is the irrational flight of imagination, a range of sensory responses and impulses, and the subjective world of emotions, that create the necessary dialectics for the documentary to become an art form. The article looks at the tension between empiricism and documentary practice. It argues for a practice shift towards a realism that is not based on truth claims but on hyper reality.

Reflections on “the Political” in Indian Documentary Films
Sharma, Surabhi
Vol. 70 No. 1, September–December 2018, pp. 72–77

This essay focuses on Mukul Haloi’s Loralir Sadhukotha/Tales from Childhood (2017) which deals with a politically-charged Assam of the 1990s, the hotbed of the ULFA separatist movement. Through poems, letters, conversations with friends and family and his own recollections, Haloi patches together a picture of the period and its continuing repercussions. The writer Surabhi Sharma sees this work as defining an unusual mode of political filmmaking and documentary: it goes against the grain of the essay film that presents an overarching view of historical and contemporary conflict through analysis rather than through individual introspective stories rooted in pathos. Haloi’s film doesn’t offer transparent testimony but uses muddled memories to present a complicated understanding of the political. Sharma also looks at funding and circulation networks available for such political documentaries and feels that perceptions need to change so that 'universal' stories can give way to more local, emotional, debate-driven films.

Documentary as Pedagogic Practice
Jain, Sameera
Vol. 70 No. 1, September–December 2018, pp. 78–85

Written by a practising filmmaker and teacher, this article is structured in the form of a dialogue between mentor and student who try and resolve some of the key questions that typically come up in the course of training in documentary filmmaking. The two discussants exchange roles continuously as various ideas are borrowed and un-borrowed, the formal distinctions between non-fiction/fiction and the personal/political are questioned, and a playful search for relationship between form and content is initiated. What emerges is that in the light of the truth claims documentary wishes to assert, one must lessen the weight of habit and conditioning, and attempt to find ways to move closer to intention and impetus.

Video News Magazine as Documentary Evidence: The Case of Kalchakra
Tiwary, Ishita
Vol. 70 No. 1, September–December 2018, pp. 86–89

The video news magazine was a unique format that emerged in India in the late 1980s. It redefined "news", traditionally controlled by the state, and covered controversial events that Doordarshan (DD), the state broadcaster, did not cover. This essay tracks the journey of India's first Hindi video news magazine, Kalchakra (Wheel of Time). It was a pioneer in investigative stories and it can be argued a precursor to the sting operation model in the Indian media context. Using forensic aesthetics, the writer tries to explain how the videos demonstrate a forensic imagination, especially in the way they deploy the camera.

Sting Videos: Everydayness as Truth-Aesthetic
Sen, Shaunak
Vol. 70 No. 1, September–December 2018, pp. 90–95

Tehelka's Operation Westend (2001) installed a formidable template for “truth-videos” within the Indian media ecosystem for years to come. This essay looks at the early stings that were significant for the way they transformed the everyday into an aesthetic programme: a visual sensorium of grainy but revealing images. The writer highlights the distinct fora the form issued—a roster of experts, specific forums, evidentiary norms, legal precedents as well as the broader scopophilic drives it enrolled itself into culturally and socially.

Experimenta India: Curating and Exhibiting Experimental Film, Video and Moving Image in India
Jain, Anuja
Vol. 70 No. 1, September–December 2018, pp. 96–99

Founded in 2003 by experimental filmmaker Shai Heredia, Experimenta India has been nurturing an alternative community that recuperates and assembles different traces of film and video, both historical and contemporary. The article analyses Experimenta’s curatorial role from the 1960s to the present, looking closely at the resurgence of an interest in often marginalized, dismissed or elusive artistic practices, the challenges of retrieving and showcasing forgotten works, and the politics, both material and aesthetic of the curatorial decisions taken.

The Work of Freedom in a World of Images
Paul, Pallavi
Vol. 70 No. 1, September–December 2018, pp. 100–103

This article discusses the medium of documentary photography, looking closely at the work of Ravi Agarwal and his engagement with the changing nature of labour and environment under the impact of global capitalism. Agarwal’s photos are marked by their visceral quality, such that images cease to be static documents but give one a larger sense of the sound, smell and taste that define a person, scene or condition. Agarwal’s ability to shuffle between photography, video and installation and his research rooted in activism enables him to keep pushing the boundaries of the art world and of documentary.

Notebook of Geographies 2018
Desire Machine Collective
Vol. 70 No. 1, September–December 2018, pp. 104–113

This allusive and reflective photo essay is set in a derelict house in Srinagar, Kashmir. It focuses on ruined spaces fraught by sustained violence and trauma. The shock and hurt remain only as traces of memory at the very edge of our perception, while erasure, repression and absences dominate. The relation of trauma with perception and temporality is explored and the window is used as a device that both provides access to but separates one from the world. This piece is part of a larger multi-channel video installation project called Nishan.