Time: 7–9 pm, December 27 2014
Venue: Minsheng Art Museum, 2nd Floor
Bldg F. No. 570 Huaihai (W) Rd, Shanghai
Hosted by Wu Jueren
Film Selector and Guest Speaker: Avijit Mukul Kishore
Organized by West Heavens and Minsheng Art Museum
The Documentary Films of SNS Sastry: of Experimentation, Self-reflexivity and Subversion
By Avijit Mukul Kishore
In 1975, Films Division India was said to be the second largest state-run documentary-producing organization in the world, the largest ones being its equivalents in the former Soviet Union. It was formed in 1948, with the mandate of recording the visual history of the newly formed nation, using the medium of documentary film. This was seen as a suitable medium for informing and instructing the people of the country with the zeal of creating an ideal nation with ideal citizens. The Films Division archive is a rich repository of the state’s rendition of visual history, with over 8000 films made in 14 languages in the celluloid format and several thousands on video.
SNS Sastry joined Films Division India as a newsreel cameraman in the early 1950s and went on to become a director. His films are marked by his distinct voice of self-reflexive experimentation with cinematic form, as also the sometimes subtle and at other times manifest subversion of the agenda of state propaganda. His critique of the act of the processes of national propaganda is expressed through formal innovation, a sense of irony and a nuanced sense of humour, often including the title of the film.
I AM TWENTY
English, Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Tamil, Malayalam with English subtitles, 1967, B/W, 20 min
Twenty years after India's independence, the film maker travels across the country and interviews its youth, those born in 1947. What does independence mean to them? What are their dreams? How do they see themselves and the young nation that they symbolise? The answers have a mix of idealism, irony, sarcasm, dismay, hope and optimism. This film is as relevant today as it was over forty years ago. This is SNS Sastry’s most well-known film.
THE BURNING SUN
English and Hindi with English subtitles, B/W, 1973, 21 min
The Burning Sun is a scathing critique of the slum clearance and rehabilitation projects in Mumbai in the early 1970s. The film pits the top-down approach of state housing and sanitation programmes in the city against the voice of the angry resident. The candid interviews of slum-dwellers reveal their reactions to the slogan of “garibi hatao” (eradicate poverty) and the pretentions of policy makers.
THIS BIT OF THAT INDIA
English, B/W, 1973, 20 min
“This Bit of That India” is a layered refection on several things – youth, diversity, progress, education and technology. With an enormous undercurrent of adolescence and sexuality, the film weaves in and out of seemingly disjointed documentary moments of that are a celebration of individual freedom. These are intercut with a college students’ performance of Federico Garcia Lorca’s “The House of Bernarda Alba”, as a metaphor for repression and conformity.
PORTRAIT OF A PRIME MINISTER
English, B/W, 1973, 9 min
Instructed to make a hagiographic profile of the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the film maker does exactly that, except by using subversive references from fiction films and the iconic Nazi propaganda documentary “Triumph of the Will”.
AND I MAKE SHORT FILMS
English and Hindi with English subtitles, B/W, 1968, 16 min
In this film Sastry upturns all conventions of documentary and fiction filmmaking to debunk the supposed "truth" of the cinema-verite image. It is an irreverent and caustic note on the purpose of documentary film making and the responsibility of a film maker. Is s/he merely a technician involved in a formal exercise or someone engaged in the sociological concerns that films are answerable to? Is one of these purposes of film making nobler or more respectable than the other? This film, often categorised as an experimental film, is a treat.