TAPSA: “Situation Normal…”: Bureaucratic Documentary Film during the Indian Emergency (1975-77)

February 17, 2022 - 5pm

Ritika Kaushik, PhD Candidate in Cinema and Media Studies, The University of Chicago

This talk is an inquiry into the interplay and negotiations between authoritarian control and formal innovation in state sponsored documentary filmmaking during the Indian emergency (1975-77)—a period of 21 months that restricted constitutional rights and civil liberties and saw the arrest of leaders of the opposition. During this period, India’s primary state institution of documentary and short films, Films Division of India (FD) was mobilized to make films to mold public opinion in favor of the authoritarian regime. One of the key films that declared the gains of the emergency to the people was We Have Promises to Keep (1975). Initially approved for release in urban sectors with English narration, the film was reedited into a special Hindi version Naya Daur (1975) at the behest of the Minister of Information and Broadcasting, who found the film’s fast-paced cinematic montage much too ambiguous and thus “unsuitable” for rural audiences. We Have Promises to Keep, I will show, carried the potential to mean the opposite of its given mandate. In the garb of being a film about the positive effects of the emergency that showed the government in a good light, the film depicts the emergency as a crude attempt by the government to normalize its exceptional measures. Focusing on a comparative reading of the two versions of the film and situating the film’s paper trail within debates on government paperwork and infrastructures, I track the operation of state power and how it governed the relations between state, film, filmmakers, and the citizen-audiences.

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