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This talk examines the interplay of governmental control and creative agency available to independent filmmakers working on commission from Films Division of India (FD), India’s primary state institution of documentary film. FD made films for educational, informational,
and publicity purposes and, in addition to their own in-house productions, regularly
commissioned films from independent filmmakers. I draw attention to the lesser-known sponsored films made by Mani Kaul, who is otherwise known internationally for his experimental work and formed a key part of the Indian new wave. Like Kaul, other new wave filmmakers like Kumar Shahani, G Aravindan, Goutam Ghose, would often work for FD. By focusing on two Kaul’s films made for FD: The Nomad Puppeteers (1974) and the Indian Woman: A Historical Assessment (1975), I trace the films’ political and aesthetic interventions and will show how artistic filmmakers, while bringing their own aesthetic commitments, navigated the complex bureaucratic systems of film production within FD and approval for exhibition by the Film Advisory Board (FAB).
Specially commissioned as a film on Rajasthani puppeteers, The Nomad Puppeteers is an analytical film report that meditates on their struggles and efforts to keep themselves relevant and employed in an increasingly mediatized world. The Indian Woman was commissioned for “international women’s year" and is a cinematic treatise on making visible women’s labor that is generally characterized as “unproductive.” While The Nomad Puppeteer was passed with only minor changes after a reedit demanded by the FAB, in the case of The Indian Woman, the changes suggested by the FAB were unacceptable to Kaul and led to the disavowal of his directorial credit for a forcefully reedited film. Foregrounding the bureaucratic processes of control filmmaking alongside a close analysis of these two films and their original scripts, I inquire into the stakes of reconfiguring documentary film authorship as a contested site—a contentious co-production between the filmmakers and the complex institutional frameworks and forces at play—as it emerges in the layering of the audio-visual and paper records.
Strand Campus, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS