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Resonances of the Past – a review by Manohar Khushalani

Resonances of the Past (The Ruth Wieder Magan Show)
first Published in IIC Diary Feb-March 2021

Ruth Wieder Magan

To commemorate International Womens Day, Organised with the support of “The Foundation for Independent Artists”, Ministry of Culture and Sport, Israel) the India International Center Screened three films by Ruth Wieder Magan; Mirror Sky (50 min), Come Away Human Child (6.42 min) and Kadayil Shabbaso (10 min)

A Webinar was also conducted at IIC, The Ecstatic Voice. What is the Female Voice? Participants were: Ruth Wieder Magan, well-known contemporary voice/body theatre artist from Israel; Prof. Michal Govrin, Prominent Israeli writer, poet and theatre director; Gabriella Lev, theatre director, writer, performer, Artistic Director and Co-Founder, Theatre Company Jerusalem; Michael Shachrur, prominent body worker, dancer; Sara Siegel and Yuval Steinberg, filmmakers. The sentiments echoed what the films resonate with.

Ruth is best known for her pioneering work integrating sacred texts into contemporary voice/body theatre. Her pioneering approach to the transcendental aspect of voice is founded solidly in sacred cantorial Jewish traditions. In Mirror Sky in a backdrop of dimly lit scenes Ruth, swirling, moaning, producing gutrral sound explains the origin of her techniques:

“The process of my voicing goes something like this; a voice arises from the particular presence of present time. I will begin to track the life of the vibration. Where is it sounding in my body?

[As Music Swirls] Is it liver or kidneys or blood or eyelids?

And where in my perception of the cosmos?

is that reverberation, am i feeling angels

or am i sensing the moon or feeling stars shifting?

….and how is that kernel of sound moving out into space?

Does it want to travel forward or travel back into the sides?

and what cultural meaning arises in me

As i hear the sound emitting from my very own voice

…is it ancient America or China or is it atlantis?… or am i hearing an animal? Her investigation continues

Ruth’s source of inspiration, were her own parents, both were Holocaust survivors. Their memories and experiences triggered the melodies and intonations rooted in the barren world of the yore.

The movies are psychedelic Ruth’s voice and body performance is mesmerizing. Audience connected to so many insights and the things she said ”..a wound is a gateway, a gateway to the universe.

A wind blown image of her own hair swirling over her face like diaphonous clouds punctuated with screams of agony seems to haunt you

IIC Diary Masthead Feb-Mar 2021



“Phansi se pehle Corona ki antim ichha” by Sudhir Mangar

A writer and thinker, Sudhir Mangar, makes a very perceptive, video, on lessons to be learnt from the current Pandemic.

A thought on many things in our lifestyle which we are viewing due to corona impact and some aspects of change in society and our thinking perhaps require introspection.




Who’s afraid of the documentary film / Keval Arora

 

 

Remember the cynical manoeuvring by which the Film Federation of India had, some years ago, denied entry to video documentaries in their festival? And how this had brought home the threat that this medium can pose to vested interests? After initially denying space to video films in its international film festivals, ostensibly because these were ‘in a different format’, the Federation had inserted a censorship clause for all Indian entries to the festival. The row that ensued had been extensively reported in the media, so a bald re-iteration should do for now. Film-makers had come together to form an organisation named VIKALP with the aim pf safeguarding the rights of documentary film-makers. Launching a Campaign Against Censorship (CAC), they had run a widely attended ‘Films for Freedom’ programme of screenings and discussions at educational institutes.

This proactive initiative has had an interesting spin-off. It has placed the agenda of activism and its methods on the front-burner for a generation that is often written off as a self-absorbed ‘I’ rather than a ‘why’ generation. (By the way, what is this generation’s current alphabetic habitation? Is it still Generation Y, or is it now staging its last stand as Gen-Z?) The video documentary has, as a result, been so comfortably privileged as the conscience keeper of the nation that I’m tempted to play the devil’s advocate and ask if theatre isn’t a better mode of communication through which activist agendas can be carried out. However, before outlining crucial differences between the video documentary and theatre, let’s identify some strengths that both share.

The video documentary and theatre performance have, unfortunately, often been disparagingly prized as no more than a handmaiden to other activisms — as techniques by which grass-root actions extend or advertise their interventions. Such a view has treated video and theatre as little more than a courier service, as blandly variable vehicles of a relentless messaging. Put another way, the medium has been equated with its message; and has therefore been valued, from its aims to its achievements, for the literal directness of its effort. NGOs have been particularly susceptible to this lure of social advertising, perhaps in the belief that generating the same message through a variety of formats extends its effectiveness, even though all it really does is relieve the tedium. If Doordarshan was obsessed years ago with televised puppet theatre as its favoured mode of disseminating advice to farmers and pregnant women, it’s the NGOs’ turn now to patronise street theatre with a similarly deprecatory optimism.

Why puppet theatre and street theatre is anybody’s guess. I don’t think the social sector’s preference for these two forms is based on any insight into their potential. Rather, these forms are trivialised when used as a platter for pre-digested data and handed-down attitudes, as a dressing-up that goes hand in hand with a dumbing-down. Obviously, state television and the NGO sector rate the urban proscenium stage as the ‘true’ theatre, and puppet theatre or street theatre as cute country cousins suitable for rustic and other under-developed tastes. (Not that its performers have seemed to mind: in a shrinking market, even wrong attention is welcome as preferable to none.)

Yet, it must be pointed out that there is a faint glimmer of wisdom in the social sector’s choice of theatre and documentary film for carrying out its activist agendas. This wisdom is hinged on two features common to all performance: greater accessibility, and the affective power of story-telling. Performative cultural modes are accessible to audiences in a special way because they circumvent the barriers of literacy and the drudgery of reading. Such accessibility is then magnified through the affective power of stories that theatre and film usually place at their centre. To the extent that the theatre and the documentary film tell stories, they can never be reduced to mere data transcription codes. It is immaterial whether their stories are real or fictional, or whether these are particular instances or typical cases, because performative modes that tell stories irradiate even simple statements with a penumbra that deepens, authenticates and often problematises the business of a literal messaging. Clearly, the potential of theatre and film for activist causes remains unrealizable if these are used merely to sugar-coat mundane fare.

It is when we define accessibility in physical terms that differences crop up in the respective potential of film and theatre as activist space. Film is unrivalled in its ability to reach out to vast numbers of people. There is no gainsaying the seduction of spread: if maximising contact with people is vital to the activist impulse, the medium that reaches out more effortlessly will obviously be regarded as the more enabling one. In contrast, theatre performances exist in the singular and have to be re-constituted afresh for each act of viewing. Not only does this call for much more forward planning, it also implies that there can be no guarantee that later shows will work exactly like the earlier ones. Films, on the other hand, travel to venues more rapidly than do theatre troupes and offer an assurance of stable replication (every spectator gets to see exactly the same thing as created by its crew, give or take some transmission loss on account of projection equipment).

Of course, problems of technology and finance do cramp film-makers, sometimes so severely that I think ‘accessibility’ should be defined not just in terms of audience comprehension and taste, but also in terms of the artist’s access to the tools of her art. However, recent developments in video technology have ensured that these twin pressures are less burdensome to today’s film-maker — high-end digital cameras have become cheap enough for independent film makers to acquire their own hardware; sophisticated editing software, faster computer processors and capacious storage disks now enable footage to be processed at home. The result: a fresh impetus to the documentary film movement which is evident in the range and number of films being made today.

It is interesting to note that if this celebration of accessible technology and reduced expenditure were to be taken to a logical conclusion, it is theatre rather than the video film that would shine in an advantageous light. It’s cheaper to make plays than films, and it’s possible to make them without recourse to equipment of any kind other than the human body. Most theatre performances can be designed without technological fuss in a way that even the barest film cannot. Such a theatre gains a quality of outreach that far outstrips the reach of film. For, what technology can ever hope to compete with the affordability and the portability of the body and the voice? Sure, this isn’t true of all theatre productions. But I would argue that productions which depend on technological assists for their effects (take, for instance, the romance with projected images that most plays glory in nowadays) end up shackling themselves in ways that erase their fundamental nature. I say this fully aware that some of us believe that the facility which technology brings in some ways is well worth the price that has to be paid in others.

Take another difference between film and theatre. Films possess a huge advantage in terms of authenticity in reportage. They have no peer if the business of activism is to disseminate images and narratives of actuality, to show things as they actually are. But, if the primary purpose of activism is to persuade and engage with people, then the advantage that film enjoys over theatre is considerably neutralised. The very attractions of the film medium – stability, replication, transportability – become limitations from this point of view.

It is a truism worth repeating that the uniqueness of theatre performance is that it is a live event. People come together at a particular time, to a particular place, for a transaction where some people show things to others who watch. In film, there is no equivalent scope for interaction and therefore no lively relation between actor and spectator. The idea of a collective spectatorship – where the audience becomes a prototypical community – is of course common to both film and theatre. But, in the latter, this ‘community’ includes the actor as well. It is not just the audience that watches the actor, but the actor too who ‘reads’ his audience and subtly alters his performance accordingly., Interaction, engagement and persuasion between the performers and audience is so central to theatre that it is often the richest source of dialogue in the performance event.

Where, pray, is any of this possible during a film screening? The film spectator remains more or less a passive recipient of a fixed structure. The film may well ‘play’ with the spectator’s responses, but even such playing is welded to a grid that is frozen unalterably on videotape or celluloid. Interactions in the theatre between performer and spectator are, in contrast, dynamically dependent on the particulars of that performance. In other words, the fragile instability of theatrical performance becomes a powerful opportunity for an activist intervention, as is evident in the way Augusto Boal has actors interrupt the performance and address audiences directly in his Theatre of the Oppressed. Techniques used in Theatre-in-Education methodologies (‘Hot-seating’, for instance, where spectators talk back to ‘characters’ in the play and offer their comments) is another case in point.

As I said, where, pray, is any of this possible with film?

An earlier version of this article was first published in FIRST CITY (November 2004)




Introduction to a Film on Female Genital Circumcision by it’s lead Meenal Kapoor

[ratings]

The film is based on an important issue which has been overlooked because of ignorance about the subject. This film fills that void. It creates awareness about the urgency for banning the horrid medieval practice. Meenal’s performance holds the film together. The intensity with which she has delineated her character reflects on a conviction in the actor about the theme of the film. One must also congratulate the Director for communicating about the practice in such a short film. – Editor

Female Genital Circumcision or FGC as it is commonly known is India’s best kept secret. This tradition is practiced in 21st century India within a small and conservative community of Dawoodi Bohras. This is a curse to any women and must be banished. We have made this film to bring awareness to our fellow citizens to abolish this draconian era act which has no place in our society.

This short film ‘Female Khatna’, directed by Shashank Upadhyay, is on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or also known as Female Genital Circumcision (FGC). Similar to circumcision of boy’s FGM, it’s a reality that is still practiced in our country albeit by a small minority community. Our team received threats from several people demanding to drop the film, they infact have vowed to cut the young director’s throat. However, he is determined to release this movie which focuses on the draconian era practice of circumcision of little girls often between the age of 6 to 12 years. This is a bitter truth which almost 90% of Indians are unaware about. Our mission is to bring awareness on this cruel, secretly performed practice and ensure that FGM is not allowed in our civilized society. Most developed nations like the USA, Australia, France & many more have banned FGM/FGC. There are however no such laws yet in India to stop this social evil practice. Ironically this is the nation where girls are revered as Sita Maata or devi, yet there is such blatant human rights violation on a girl child. We have also petitioned with the government to enact laws to make FGM illegal and bring a complete ban on this practice although yet to receive any concrete reply.
So we seek the public support to make the movement against FGM in India a success. Remember everyday more than 10,000 girls between the age of 6-12 years are subjected to this cruelty. We urge you to create awareness against FGM and share about this to as many people as you can. Perhaps one day the government may listen to us. You may join our group and on our Facebook page. With your support we are certain that India too will ban the practice of FGM/FGC sooner or later.




Fourth Asian Women’s Film Festival 2008

Fourth Asian Women’s Film Festival 2008
showcased “Insights and Aspirations of Women”
Info by
Jai Chandiram
Managing Trustee (IAWRT)

     IAWRT posterAkkaeveryday
           1.IAWRT Poster           2.Madhushree Dutta’s “Scribbles on Akka”           3. Anupama Sriniwasan’s ‘Everyday’

Inaugurating the two-day Fourth IAWRT Asian Women’s Film Festival in New Delhi, Dr Vatsyayan , Chairperson of the India International Centre Asia Project said that the observance of the International Women’s Day had both ‘deep positive and negative messages’ since it drew attention to the inequities among the genders even as it had the avowed objective of empowerment. She added that the documentary had the ripeness to highlight various important issues as it had the capacity to cheer and to disturb.

 Eminent film critic and historian Aruna Vasudev, who is also founder President of the Network for Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC), wondered whether the pronouncements made by political leaders on International Women’s Day were mere lip service. She stressed the power of cinema to inspire people to make a change in society.

 In her message read out on the occasion, Jocelyne Josiah of UNESCO said women still remained highly under-represented in all fields and this was of great concern to UNESCO. She called upon the media to let women handle the editorial content of the media on the International Women’s Day tomorrow, a project that UNESCO has been supporting for the last eight years.

 The International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) has been organizing this Festival for the past four years. The aim was to celebrate the vision of women through film. The festival reflects how women film makers  explore  reflect, negotiate, resist and  document  self , family  religion ,political, social, cultural, environment.  The IAWRT is presently concentrating on two projects, under the broad theme  ‘Violence and Women’. One project was on “Enforced Disappearances” and the struggle of Kashmiri women for human rights   and the second on ‘Trafficking of  Women in Nepal , India and  Bangladesh’.

Around 25 films from five countries were screened in the festival being held in collaboration with the IIC Asia Project and UNESCO on the theme ‘Insights and Aspirations’. They included  features documentaries  and animation films from UK, Japan, Pakistan, and the United States besides India.

 The festival featured, “Mortality TV and the Loving Jehad by Paromita Vohra. The film looks outside the Breaking News and covers the complex dynamics of fear of love, scrutiny and control of women’s mobility and sexuality and the feudal mindsets. “Lakshmi and Me” by Nishtha Jain explores her changing relationship with Lakshmi her part-time maid, “Word Within The Word” by Rajula Shah in her film shows how Kabir, the mystic poet resonates with ordinary lives today. Madhushree Dutta in her film “Scribbles on Akka” looks at the bhakti and rebellion of the 12th century poet Mahadevi Aka. Chandra Siddan enquires into her first marriage when she was a child and many more films that inspire.

Haruyo Kato captures her mother  who is dying of cancer in her film . A film that that inspires as it challenges the ravages of the disease 

 Each screening  was well attended by students from local media institutes and colleges .

 The distinguished filmmaker Paromita Vohra revealed her approach to filmmaking , she said she  opened up many windows so people can go in and out without being judgmental. Academics/ professionals spoke about their concerns in popular music culture and struggles in human rights . Truly an inspiring fare .  Other filmmakers  shared their experiences and discussed  the emerging trends in  documentaries.

Some of the underlying questions during the festival  examined whether women are creating a new language of filmmaking, which reflects, and explores new politics of filmmaking, and how women are widening the frame for issues concerning women.

 Overall, recognizing the critical need for a forum that can sustain the form of documentary as well as women’s contribution to this unique form, the festival  showcased documentary films created by women, covering a range of genres and expressive styles.




Keval Arora’s Kolumn – who’s afraid of the documentary film

Keval Arora’s Kolumn

image016

who’s afraid of the documentary film

Remember the cynical manoeuvring by which the Film Federation of India had, some years ago, denied entry to video documentaries in their festival? And how this had brought home the threat that this medium can pose to vested interests? After initially denying space to video films in its international film festivals, ostensibly because these were ‘in a different format’, the Federation had inserted a censorship clause for all Indian entries to the festival. The row that ensued had been extensively reported in the media, so a bald re-iteration should do for now. Film-makers had come together to form an organisation named VIKALP with the aim pf safeguarding the rights of documentary film-makers. Launching a Campaign Against Censorship (CAC), they had run a widely attended ‘Films for Freedom’ programme of screenings and discussions at educational institutes.

This proactive initiative has had an interesting spin-off. It has placed the agenda of activism and its methods on the front-burner for a generation that is often written off as a self-absorbed ‘I’ rather than a ‘why’ generation. (By the way, what is this generation’s current alphabetic habitation? Is it still Generation Y, or is it now staging its last stand as Gen-Z?) The video documentary has, as a result, been so comfortably privileged as the conscience keeper of the nation that I’m tempted to play the devil’s advocate and ask if theatre isn’t a better mode of communication through which activist agendas can be carried out. However, before outlining crucial differences between the video documentary and theatre, let’s identify some strengths that both share.

The video documentary and theatre performance have, unfortunately, often been disparagingly prized as no more than a handmaiden to other activisms — as techniques by which grass-root actions extend or advertise their interventions. Such a view has treated video and theatre as little more than a courier service, as blandly variable vehicles of a relentless messaging. Put another way, the medium has been equated with its message; and has therefore been valued, from its aims to its achievements, for the literal directness of its effort. NGOs have been particularly susceptible to this lure of social advertising, perhaps in the belief that generating the same message through a variety of formats extends its effectiveness, even though all it really does is relieve the tedium. If Doordarshan was obsessed years ago with televised puppet theatre as its favoured mode of disseminating advice to farmers and pregnant women, it’s the NGOs’ turn now to patronise street theatre with a similarly deprecatory optimism.

Why puppet theatre and street theatre is anybody’s guess. I don’t think the social sector’s preference for these two forms is based on any insight into their potential. Rather, these forms are trivialised when used as a platter for pre-digested data and handed-down attitudes, as a dressing-up that goes hand in hand with a dumbing-down. Obviously, state television and the NGO sector rate the urban proscenium stage as the ‘true’ theatre, and puppet theatre or street theatre as cute country cousins suitable for rustic and other under-developed tastes. (Not that its performers have seemed to mind: in a shrinking market, even wrong attention is welcome as preferable to none.)

Yet, it must be pointed out that there is a faint glimmer of wisdom in the social sector’s choice of theatre and documentary film for carrying out its activist agendas. This wisdom is hinged on two features common to all performance: greater accessibility, and the affective power of story-telling. Performative cultural modes are accessible to audiences in a special way because they circumvent the barriers of literacy and the drudgery of reading. Such accessibility is then magnified through the affective power of stories that theatre and film usually place at their centre. To the extent that the theatre and the documentary film tell stories, they can never be reduced to mere data transcription codes. It is immaterial whether their stories are real or fictional, or whether these are particular instances or typical cases, because performative modes that tell stories irradiate even simple statements with a penumbra that deepens, authenticates and often problematises the business of a literal messaging. Clearly, the potential of theatre and film for activist causes remains unrealizable if these are used merely to sugar-coat mundane fare.

It is when we define accessibility in physical terms that differences crop up in the respective potential of film and theatre as activist space. Film is unrivalled in its ability to reach out to vast numbers of people. There is no gainsaying the seduction of spread: if maximising contact with people is vital to the activist impulse, the medium that reaches out more effortlessly will obviously be regarded as the more enabling one. In contrast, theatre performances exist in the singular and have to be re-constituted afresh for each act of viewing. Not only does this call for much more forward planning, it also implies that there can be no guarantee that later shows will work exactly like the earlier ones. Films, on the other hand, travel to venues more rapidly than do theatre troupes and offer an assurance of stable replication (every spectator gets to see exactly the same thing as created by its crew, give or take some transmission loss on account of projection equipment).

Of course, problems of technology and finance do cramp film-makers, sometimes so severely that I think ‘accessibility’ should be defined not just in terms of audience comprehension and taste, but also in terms of the artist’s access to the tools of her art. However, recent developments in video technology have ensured that these twin pressures are less burdensome to today’s film-maker — high-end digital cameras have become cheap enough for independent film makers to acquire their own hardware; sophisticated editing software, faster computer processors and capacious storage disks now enable footage to be processed at home. The result: a fresh impetus to the documentary film movement which is evident in the range and number of films being made today.

It is interesting to note that if this celebration of accessible technology and reduced expenditure were to be taken to a logical conclusion, it is theatre rather than the video film that would shine in an advantageous light. It’s cheaper to make plays than films, and it’s possible to make them without recourse to equipment of any kind other than the human body. Most theatre performances can be designed without technological fuss in a way that even the barest film cannot. Such a theatre gains a quality of outreach that far outstrips the reach of film. For, what technology can ever hope to compete with the affordability and the portability of the body and the voice? Sure, this isn’t true of all theatre productions. But I would argue that productions which depend on technological assists for their effects (take, for instance, the romance with projected images that most plays glory in nowadays) end up shackling themselves in ways that erase their fundamental nature. I say this fully aware that some of us believe that the facility which technology brings in some ways is well worth the price that has to be paid in others.

Take another difference between film and theatre. Films possess a huge advantage in terms of authenticity in reportage. They have no peer if the business of activism is to disseminate images and narratives of actuality, to show things as they actually are. But, if the primary purpose of activism is to persuade and engage with people, then the advantage that film enjoys over theatre is considerably neutralised. The very attractions of the film medium – stability, replication, transportability – become limitations from this point of view.

It is a truism worth repeating that the uniqueness of theatre performance is that it is a live event. People come together at a particular time, to a particular place, for a transaction where some people show things to others who watch. In film, there is no equivalent scope for interaction and therefore no lively relation between actor and spectator. The idea of a collective spectatorship – where the audience becomes a prototypical community – is of course common to both film and theatre. But, in the latter, this ‘community’ includes the actor as well. It is not just the audience that watches the actor, but the actor too who ‘reads’ his audience and subtly alters his performance accordingly., Interaction, engagement and persuasion between the performers and audience is so central to theatre that it is often the richest source of dialogue in the performance event.

Where, pray, is any of this possible during a film screening? The film spectator remains more or less a passive recipient of a fixed structure. The film may well ‘play’ with the spectator’s responses, but even such playing is welded to a grid that is frozen unalterably on videotape or celluloid. Interactions in the theatre between performer and spectator are, in contrast, dynamically dependent on the particulars of that performance. In other words, the fragile instability of theatrical performance becomes a powerful opportunity for an activist intervention, as is evident in the way Augusto Boal has actors interrupt the performance and address audiences directly in his Theatre of the Oppressed. Techniques used in Theatre-in-Education methodologies (‘Hot-seating’, for instance, where spectators talk back to ‘characters’ in the play and offer their comments) is another case in point.

As I said, where, pray, is any of this possible with film?

An earlier version of this article was first published in FIRST CITY (November 2004)

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