Notes From Another India:
Mark Lapore & Ruchir Joshi

Kolkata Mark Lapore (production still) credit Canyon Cinema

‘A Third World in every First World, a Third World in every Third World, and vice versa’
Trinh T. Minh-Ha [1]

Paraphrasing philosopher and activist Frantz Fanon, the voiceover to the opening of Ruchir Joshi’s film ‘Tales From Planet Kolkata’ (1993) dreamily whispered that if Calcutta didn’t exist, the North would have to invent it. This set the tone, and critical framework, for a fascinating and challenging evening of screenings; the first of three organised by Pavilion and Hyde Park Picture House, entitled Notes From Another India. Coinciding with the seventieth anniversary of the hastily incompetent partitioning of British India in 1947, all of the films screened engaged with postcolonial Indian identity, via a reading of modern day Kolkata. Importantly, they all explicitly challenged colonial stereotypes of India head on. As Edward Said’s famous book Orientalism (1978) argued, the ‘East’ has always been a construction of the ‘West’; a necessary discourse designed to titillate the colonial gaze and justifying imperialist oppression by representing its subjects as infantile, savage, uncivilised, and so forth. Joshi’s film addressed both the Calcutta of Western fantasy and the lived Kolkata of contemporary, independent India simultaneously (the renaming in 2001 was never just a matter of semantics). The former was indexed by reference to Western cinema, such as Roland Joffé’s City of Joy (1992) ­­­­— a film which depicts Calcutta as a city of depravity, criminality and poverty, where any joy is to be found stoically, against the prevailing social conditions. Joshi writes back to these representations directly, playfully reworking classics of the western cinematic canon, like Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), so that they speak to the subcontinent. In juxtaposition, footage of contemporary city life unfolded, framed by a Chitrakar’s song—a traditional picture-storytelling medium from West Bengal. As the images of organic culture and hegemonic culture rolled across the screen, it was impossible to hear the Chitrakar’s refrain, ‘The English build a strange factory’, and not think of the violence enacted on this country by Empire and its sudden removal.

The rest of the evening was devoted to the enigmatic and lyrical films of Mark Lapore, which really need to be seen and experienced, rather than read about. The three films screened represented a fitting tribute to the untimely passing of an important avant-garde film maker and film teacher. Needless to say, his film Kolkata (2005) wrote back to Empire as much as Roshi’s, albeit in a much more subtle and implicitly politicised way. For those unfamiliar with Lapore’s ethnographic works, his camera floats through the city-space, capturing its energies, flows, and contradictions, in long sequences where the camera’s gaze is frequently returned by passers by; in this case contemporary Kolkattans, whose manner was not always deferential and subservient. Ultimately, it was refreshing to see avant-garde cinema take the so-called ‘Third World’ as its subject matter and treat it sensitively, in manner that didn’t feel remotely like cultural appropriation.

Tales From Planet Kolkata, (1993) Dir. Ruchir Joshi, video, 38 mins.
The Glass System (2000) Dir. Mark Lapore, 16mm, 20 mins.
Kolkata (2005) Dir. Mark Lapore, 16mm, 35 mins.
Dreams And Apparitions of Mark Lapore (2006/7) video, 8 mins (excerpt)

Notes From Another India, Pavilion & Hyde Park Picture House, Leeds. 16 August 2017.

The next screening from Pavilion’s Notes From Another India programme will be Sutapa Biswas and Pratibha Parmar, Hyde Park Picture House, 26 September 2017, 6.30–8.30pm.

Richard Hudson-Miles is an artist and writer based in West Yorkshire.

[1] Trinh T. Minh-Ha, ‘Difference: “A Special Third World Women Issue”’ Feminist Review (1987).

Published 25.09.2017 by Elspeth Mitchell in Reviews

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