Body politic: Women in the cinema of Partition

Feryal Ali Gauhar in Herald:

CinemaThe cinematic experience is a gratifying hoax, predicated on a suspension of disbelief. We are convinced that all the disparate elements contributing to the production of a filmic experience – such as the transition of time and space, sometimes expanded, oftentimes contracted, the sequencing of scenes, the staging of action, the movement or stillness of camera, the scripted, memorised, rehearsed, measured, timed and delivered dialogue, the birth and nurturing of characters, the orchestration of light, the composition of music – are not crafted but, combined with each other, represent a well-spliced, invisibly strung-together reality. Cinema’s power lies in the illusion it creates, in making us believe that the constructed image, carefully (or carelessly) crafted and structured, is a reality that we are privileged to watch from a safe distance. The act of watching a film, of being in a darkened space, alone yet surrounded by others who are also alone, is like allowing oneself to enter spaces not visible in the stark light of the day. These are constructed spaces, made to seem alive, throbbing with possibility, enabling the human heart to feel things we would otherwise be guarded about.

Film theorists in the 1970s held that cinema provides its viewers a separation from their own egos or perceptions of reality while at the same time reinforcing those egos and perceptions. Perhaps the power of cinema lies in inducing us to subject our ‘self’ to a momentary and perceived loss of control, sort of like a free-fall experience from a twin-engine plane. We know that soon enough, perhaps too soon, we shall hit terra firma and all will be well again; that we will no longer have to engage with difficult situations or deal with suppressed emotions; that we will be unfettered by the suffering of the tragic hero who makes us cry and the buffoonery of the comedian who makes a fool of himself or herself for our pleasure. So why is it then, that, as makers and watchers of films, we return constantly to subjects of human misery and turmoil, to representations of what we consider historical truths, to the scenes of terrible violence, to the destruction of nations, cities, memories, lives? More importantly, why is it that cinema based on ‘historical fact’ is usually about turbulence and injustice and not about peace and prosperity? Why do we feel the need to revisit the past, along with its unresolved angst and the agony of things that went terribly wrong? Is the purpose of investing large amounts of money in film production to celebrate human suffering?

More here.