Monday, March 06, 2006

Conference Notes: 2 papers

It is always difficult to navigate, enjoy, and learn at a large conference, especially when 15 or more panels are held in parallel. Size notwithstanding, I had a wonderful time at the SCMS conference and of course, exploring Vancouver.

SCMS is, as I mentioned in my previous post, the conference to attend for those involved in film and media studies. So it is as much a space for networking and meeting friends as it is for getting a glimpse into cutting edge scholarship in the field. Like with other discipline-specific conferences, this one too is dominated by a handful of established graduate programs.

The panel on “Indian Cinema,” as I explained earlier, was constituted in part because the Society for Cinema and Media Studies continues to labor under the “national cinemas” paradigm. I sympathize with those who have to read through hundreds of abstracts and organize them into panels. It is certainly difficult to put together panels such that individual papers (written without an organizing theme in mind) speak to each other. But I also wonder how much time the organizing committee spent thinking about papers that addressed different aspects of cinema in India. Not only does this relegate students and scholars who study “non-Western” media to the fringes of the conference, it makes the task of engaging with film/media theory difficult. More on this in a separate post.

On to the papers I really enjoyed…

There were two papers that I found particularly intriguing.
Bhaskar Sarkar presented a paper that sought to examine film music in Indian cinema as a defining narrative element. If one were to agree that melodrama is the genre that one identifies most easily with Indian cinema, Sarkar’s focus on the melos (musical) part of melodrama will be an important addition to film scholarship on Indian cinema. Songs, as anyone familiar with cinema in India knows, are composed well before shooting for the film is completed. In some cases, the dance sequences are choreographed and shot well before the rest of the film is shot. In spite of this fragmented mode of manufacture, the songs work wonderfully well in the film. This is the puzzle that Sarkar engages with in his paper ("The Mellifluous Illogics of Bollywood Musicals").

The other paper dealt with one of my favorite Maniratnam films – Kannathil Muthamittal. Priya Jaikumar’s paper, “A New Universalism: Terrorism and Film Language in Mani Ratnam’s Kannathil Muthamittal (Peck on the Cheek, Tamil, 2002),” took on some of the heavyweights of film and cultural studies in India who were worried about Maniratnam. Rustom Bharucha, M. S. S. Pandian, and Tejaswini Niranjana were among those who argued that Maniratnam’s Roja was “fascist” and “communal.”

Jaikumar went on to argue that these scholars get it wrong: maniratnam’s films are more centrally concerned with fears of a loss of regional identity (Tamil), and the need to shore up urban Chennai as a site for the production of a Tamil identity that is translocal in nature (think SUN TV and its circulation around the world).


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