ASA12: Arts and aesthetics in a globalising world

Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India, 3rd-6th April 2012

(P14)

Social sense and embodied sensibility at the cinema: towards an aesthetics of film-going

Location Arts and Aesthetics Auditorium
Date and Start Time 05 April, 2012 at 15:00

Convenor

Stephen Hughes (SOAS) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel invites participants to consider the shared material spaces and embodied practices of film viewing. Based on ethnographic research at sites of film exhibition invited panellists will cover institutions, practices and material spaces that articulate sensual and social experience of film.

Long Abstract

This panel invites participants to consider how the shared material spaces and embodied practices of film viewing contribute to understanding the social dimension of cinema. In order to do this the panel proposes to go beyond the now common Kantian association of aesthetics with art, to interrogate an older and broader Aristotelian notion of aesthetics as the embodied sensual perception of the world as a way rethinking the relationships between popular film and its audiences. While film studies approaches have used the notion of spectatorship to theorize how film viewers are constituted and positioned by the textual aspects of films, this panel will instead consider how the institutions, practices and material spaces of film exhibition help to articulate sensual and social experience of film as a shared performative encounter. From an anthropological perspective the study of how films address their spectators must also coincide with how audiences are constituted through the social space and embodied sensibility of film viewing. Based on ethnographic research at sites of film exhibition invited panellists will cover such topics as cinema architecture, the emergence of the multiplex cinema, the gendered and class organization of space and seating arrangements, and décor amongst other related issues. Though the panellists already contacted will focus on South Asia, we are open to contributors with other regional interests.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Watching Bhojpuri Cinema with the 'Indecent Crowds' in Decrepit Single-Screen Theatres: Ethics of Space, Image and Spectatorship versus Aesthetics of Homosocial Masculinity

Author: Akshaya Kumar  email

Short Abstract

This presentation tries to comprehend the aesthetics of film-going in watching Bhojpuri cinema at the intersection of vulgarily and masculinity, in an abandoned space that is rejected as much as it rejects through its performative embodiment of a sensibility in tension with popular notions of cinema spectatorship.

Long Abstract

With the multiplex boom cutting across most big cities of India, we've also seen the rise of various regional cinemas, among them most rapidly that of Bhojpuri cinema. On one hand, the multiplex cinema has been celebrated by as a great opportunity for a new type of films at significant distance from the usual bollywood fare, allowing the young and diverse crop of filmmakers to experiment. On the other hand, it has been critiqued for its segregation-prone "cultural economy of urban leisure" attracting only "decent crowds". My proposed thesis is an attempt to theoretically locate the experiential expanse, in all its complexity, of the counterpart to 'multiplex experience'. The idea is to comprehend through its specificities, the nature of spectatorship that emerges in conjunction with the nature of space of exhibition.

Through an ethnographic study of the spectatorship performed in the decrepit single-screen theatres right in the middle of the city, this presentation recalibrates Bhojpuri cinema, often seen as a cinema of subaltern revenge, born out of the excesses of the multiplex. I shall make an attempt to grip this rebellion in terms of 'class as performance', and will highlight the complex relationships across cinematic image, sites of exhibition, architectonics of space, and spectatorial behaviour, thereby reassessing casually transacted notions of 'decency' and 'masculinity'. Most importantly though, I shall analyse how this homosocial masculinity comes to terms with the absence of the woman, by distorting her image on the screen. Watching Bhojpuri cinema, thus, reveals to us a rebellious aesthetic which can only be performed.

at a tent theatre near you: exploring shared ritualistic viewing practices during the annual visits of traveling cinemas in Maharashtra

Author: Shirley Abraham  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the material, institutional and social dynamics in the annual settlement of cinema created in rural Maharashtra,and the tensions that shape these encounters. It will also examine how shared audience practices have constructed a distinct way of viewing and visualising films here.

Long Abstract

For about six decades now, exhibition of films through organised companies of tent cinemas provides the necessary material, sensual, spatial and institutional conditions for audiences in villages in Maharashtra to engage with large screen cinema. This paper reflects upon the inception of touring cinemas as an import from the mainstream production and distribution industry in then Bombay, to their continued sustenance as a distinct site for provincialising and reprocessing its fare, through its patrons whose desires and devotion has sustained these nomadic cinemas. Examining the inventive lineup of films, it will focus upon these mobile cinemas as unique system of projection and reception, where the social existence of mainstream Hindi and regional language films is constantly shifting, reacticulated through multiple occasions of public exhibition across the jatras (religious fairs). Further, it will locate the development of this collective ritual of viewing films in a tent, its contours shaped through historical engagement of its audiences with this site of hectic social activity. Thus, live entertainments, pilgrimage, societal exchange, marketplace and the playground of a fair become crucial elements to construct the physical, spatial and collective social sense of film viewing here.

The paper will be accompanied by a photoshow of the travelling cinemas image series and a short narrative from the documentary on the cinemas.

Automobility: Architecture and Cosmopolitanism in Chanakya

Author: Ipsita Sahu  email

Short Abstract

The paper examines the auratic presence of the Chanakya theatre in the city of New Delhi.The paper will particularly focus on the architectural aspect of the experience of film- going and look at how it provided a cosmopolitan identity to the audience of Chanakya.

Long Abstract

The recently broken down Chanakya theatre in New Delhi, was the cultural hub of the city for almost three decades, during the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. Along a seven years protracted court battle, its slow demise to be replaced by a multiplex for the Commonwealth Games, was accompanied by much public dissent in the manner of media spectacle. As a result, an enormous archive of memoirs is now accessible online, from youtube television news reports, blog writings, and online newspaper interviews. From this end moment of public hysteria over the disappearance of the theatre, and taking cue from this affective landscape of audience reaction, for this panel I wish to move backwards and mimetically imagine the magical film going experience of Chanakya by a topographic mapping of the theater space as it stands today. The paper will examine film-spectatorship as an embodied practice to see what film-viewing entails on an experiential and everyday basis seen from an architectural viewpoint. I use the term 'automobility' as a holistic term to describe the distinct movie-going experience of Chanakya for its elite driving audience, garnering a cosmopolitanist identity for themselves as film-goers.

What might we learn from a historical phenomenology of film going in colonial south India?

Author: Stephen Hughes (SOAS)  email

Short Abstract

This paper considers a possible outline for a historical phenomenology of film going in the cinema halls of Madras during the early decades of the 20th century. The paper re-evaluate historical materials about the early institutions, practices and material spaces of film exhibition as a way of contemplating the embodied sensual and social experience of film going.

Long Abstract

This paper considers a possible outline for a historical phenomenology of film going in the cinema halls of Madras during the early decades of the 20th century. The point here is not to try to recreate some long gone film going experience, but to re-evaluate historical materials about the early institutions, practices and material spaces of film exhibition as a way of contemplating the embodied sensual and social experience of film going. I propose a kind of historical ethnography in order to tap into the wealth of scattered historical sources about what it was like to go the cinema in Madras that has yet to be considered as part of film history in India. By examining the physical arrangement of exhibition space, the staged performance of film screenings, vending and consumption, ventilation, noises, talking, disruptions and pranks we can begin to contemplate how a shared social and embodied sense of film going both preceded and exceeded the films themselves. I argue that in order to consider the longstanding and complicated question about the relationship between film and its larger social and cultural settings in India, we must necessarily study how people engaged with film through the social space and embodied sensuality of film going.

Film as infrastructure: information, circulation and exhibition practices in colonial and independent India: 1920s-1950s

Author: Ravi Vasudevan  email

Short Abstract

This paper is part of a project to explore the truly remarkable elaboration of film as an infrastructure of information, communication and exhibition in India in the first half of the twentieth century. The aim is to research the policies, technologies, patterns of consumption, and the geographies of circulation and exhibition through which film acquired this presence.

Long Abstract

This paper is part of a project to explore the truly remarkable elaboration of film as an infrastructure of information, communication and exhibition in India in the first half of the twentieth century. The aim is to research the policies, technologies, patterns of consumption, and the geographies of circulation and exhibition through which film acquired this presence.

Film scholarship on India has focused largely on mainstream cinema, examining the development of a mass audience for industrialized entertainment. The other components of the cinematic package offered in a variety of exhibition spaces, namely, the newsreel, documentary, or the `topical' which covered some spectacular current event, have not elicited much interest. Nor have non-theatrical forms, such as educational, instructional, industrial, training, and promotional films really entered the research agenda of South Asian film studies. To this cluster of un-explored forms we can add the home movie, now being offered as a substantial archival resource by a number of institutions. Films of different sorts were lugged around by itinerant 'bioscopewalahs', or on bullock carts, lorries and trains, and exhibited in personal, educational, makeshift or permanent theatrical circuits. The challenge is to research these forms as an ensemble, and in their distinct niches, circulating in overlapping tracks, and generating an archive of mediatized life.

This paper will present a preliminary map of film's dispersion into a differentiated universe of practices, taking salient institutional nodes and patterns of circulation, exhibition and usage to capture the distribution of film experience.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.