The Abundant Ephemeral: The Protocols of Popular Film Historiography in India

The Abundant Ephemeral: The Protocols of Popular Film Historiography in India

Sudhir Mahadevan (Comparative Literature, University of Washington, Seattle)
Friday, November 1 / 10:00 AM
SSMS 2135

Popular histories of Indian cinema’s past expose fundamental aspects of India’s cinematic imaginaries. This presentation surveys some of these histories, juxtaposing the official and corporate narratives with non-official ones. While pedagogy (in the form of the documentary) and immersion (proposed film museums, glossy remakes of classics) seem the aims, respectively, of official and corporate/film-industry engagements with the past, a third option includes oddball found-footage films that reintegrate the past into new narratives, or intersperse documentary portions with reenactments of audience responses. What protocols and aims are at work in this middle ground?

If the mammoth size of India’s cinematic output poses an epistemological challenge to the archive, the examples this talk will consider acknowledge as much by reversing the valences of the ephemeral and the permanent. Rejecting the task of canonization, these popular film histories consider an excess of ephemera as a defining mode of Indian cinema.

The examples Mahadevan considers eschew a respect for origins or original contexts. They are organized around the miscellany, the compilation and the capricious collection, not the archive. As such they seem to work with social and cultural memory, distancing themselves from nostalgic, museological and preservationist impulses.

Sudhir Mahadevan teaches film studies in the Comparative Literature department at the University of Washington in Seattle. He has just completed a book manuscript titled A Very Old Machine: the Many Origins of the Cinema in India. His article on traveling showmen (originally published in Bioscope: South Asian Screen Studies in 2010) is forthcoming as a reprint in a multivolume reference collection from Routledge titled Early Cinema.

Sponsored by the IHC’s South Asian Religions and Cultures RFG and the  Film and Media Studies Colloquium.