Death Becomes Her: Bombay Cinema, Nation and Kashmir (Kaushik Bhaumik in Conversation with Desire Machine Collective, Guwahati)

Kaushik Bhaumik


The conversation presented here, featuring filmmakers Sonal Jain and Mriganka Madhukaillya—who form the Desire Machine Collective (DMC), Guwahati—and film historian Kaushik Bhaumik, explores the ironic histories that inform a mythic love triangle of contemporary Indian history, connecting the Indian nation, Bombay cinema, and the region of Kashmir.[i] DMC did extensive research and documentation in Kashmir during the production of their video installation Nishan I.[ii] While working on Nishan I, they stumbled upon a number of cinema halls that have remained closed since 1989 when Islamic doctrinaires enforced a ban on the showing of Bombay and imported cinema in the Valley. Subsequently, these halls came to be used by the occupying Indian military forces as barracks, interrogation centers and ammunition dumps. The conversation presented below takes up DMC’s experience of Kashmir, Bombay cinema, and the workings of the nation-state through a discussion about the recent history of Firdous, one of the cinema halls in Srinagar (the capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir) that was closed down and was subsequently occupied by the Indian army. The Collective’s ruminations about the fate of cinema in Kashmir and the logics of work such as Nishan I elicit a perception about the manner in which the senses become disciplined, furtive and strained in the presence of military disciplinary regimes, and how such a phenomenon spells the death of cinema in the lives of the people in many senses beyond the literal closing down of cinema halls. Disciplinary regimes spell the end of the organic pleasures that went into the making of cinema as a celebration of the potentials of life as such.[iii]

[i] Desire Machine Collective (DMC) consists of filmmakers Mriganka Madhukaillya and Sonal Jain, who are based in Guwahati, the capital of Assam, a state in northeastern India. Formed in 2004, DMC employ film, video, photography, space and multimedia installation in their works. They assume their name and theoretical disposition ‘from Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, a seminal text from 1972 by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and psychoanalyst Félix Guattari, [and they seek] to disrupt the neurotic symptoms that arise from constricting capitalist structures with healthier, schizophrenic cultural flows of desire and information.’ In doing so, they seek to ‘confront the many forms of fascism that lead to violence and injustice through their practice, both regionally in Guwahati, Assam, and around the world’. DMC have shown their work extensively around the world. Their work Residue was part of the India Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale, 2012. Residue and Nishan I were shown at the Being Singular Plural show at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, curated by Sandhini Poddar in 2012. DMC also helm Periferry, ‘a nomadic space on ferry for hybrid practices’. Periferry is ‘a trans-local initiative which looks at critical uses of technology, collaborative experiments with local communities in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner. It works as a laboratory for people engaged in cross disciplinary practice.’


[ii] Nishan I is a 4 channel video installation with 4 channels of sound. Set in a derelict building in Srinagar, it is described by DMC as ‘cityscapes in conflict zones are dotted with abandoned, disused houses that bereft of their primary functions serve as bunkers for the army. Nishan I registers the interior space of these homes with traces of the absences that are repressed within them. While daily life goes on, in apparent normalcy in the streets and canals outside. The window determines the relation with the world and this relates to the split between the interior and exterior, the ego and the gaze, public and private.’


[iii] The state of Jammu and Kashmir that forms the northern crown of the Indian nation-state has been the powder-keg for a global conflict over territorial sovereignty since its formation in 1947 when India and Pakistan gained independence from British rule through a partition of the Indian subcontinent on the basis of religious majorities. The state was, during colonial rule, an independent Princely State ruled by a dynasty of Hindu Dogra kings. Disputes began between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, which was a Muslim majority region and which Pakistan claimed should be part of it since the creation of nations in 1947 had been carried out on the basis of regional religious majorities. Pakistan invaded Kashmir in 1947 and things came to a head in 1948 through a UN Security Council engineered Cease Fire that resulted in an informal redrawing of national boundaries, leaving huge areas in Kashmir in control of Pakistan. Decades of border warfare followed that included two wars fought in 1965 and 1971 in addition to simmering political and cultural tensions among the people of the valley along the Indo-Pakistan/Hindu-Muslim axes of confrontations. Things came to a head when the Mujahideen movement was launched by Islamic radicals in 1989 in emulation of the Intifada in Palestine and in the aftermath of the events in Afghanistan and Punjab in the 1980s. The armed revolution was spearheaded by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) which has since faded out, ceding place to a spate of militant organizations deemed ‘terrorist’ by the Indian state and international liberal governments elsewhere. Links for activities in Kashmir with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are routinely quoted when discussing the issue. However, things remain, at best, nebulous, given the placement of the region under virtual Martial Law since the 1990s making it into an inaccessible fortress, an opaque zone for any sober consideration of historical or political matters. The Indian army’s presence in the region has escalated steadily, as have accusations of gross violations of human rights by the army that include acts such as ‘encounter killings without trial’, ‘disappearances’, torture and rape and random interrogation and harassment of civilians, amongst others.

Full Text: KBhaumik


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