Today’s post was written by library student assistant, Kaylee Tokumi.
On September 15, 2020, the new season of Faculty Pub Night rolled into action. Faculty Pub Night is an event hosted by the William H. Hannon library that features published work by LMU professors. The event is open to every member of the LMU community, not just faculty. Typically, Pub Night is held in the library, but it has moved online for the Fall 2020 semester. We may be thousands of miles apart, but Pub Night and the library offers everyone an invaluable opportunity to come together and learn more about our thrilling world.
The first online Faculty Pub Night speaker was Anupama Kapse, highlighting her upcoming publication, Film as Body Politic: Indian Cinema, the Early Years. Kapse is an associate professor off film, television, and media studies,whose research focuses on Indian cinema, melodrama, silent cinema, and star studies. Her newest work will explore the origins and growth of Indian cinema, as well as other early cinema and melodrama. As put by Carla Marcantonio, an associate professor from LMU’s School of Film and Television, “Professor’s Kapse’s work, which builds on her exquisitely nuanced readings of texts, aims to dissect the intertwining of narrative and its cinematic aesthetics with the historical, the technological and the political.”
Kapse framed her talk around the question, “How did cinema originate in India?” Cinema was first brought to India by the British, who’s films turned India into an “imperial spectacle.” The British used their films to assert power over Indian land and its “native” people. The people of India often functioned merely as “staffage,” or background figures, to establish a scene’s setting.
Dadasaheb Phalke is the first person credited for making the first feature film that presented the people of India as the primary focus. Kapse showed us valuable black-and-white, soundless footage from D.B. Phalke, including one of bricklaying from 1922. Unlike the British films, the people of India were the focus of each scene. Kapse showed another video, a swadeshi or “home-made” film, where D.B. Phalke himself appeared before the camera. D.B. Phalke also used “frontality,” a method of positioning in film where characters break the fourth wall by looking directly into the camera. She later explained that “frontality is reserved for the most intimate moments, the big spectacular moments.” D.B. Phalke employed frontality within a film to emphasize that his work was fiction, to establish that it was his daughter playing a character on film. Frontality, Kapse explained, would later become an important “visual code” or defining feature of Indian cinema.
Kapse then showed the audience another Indian film from 1922, “Sukanya Savitri” by Kanjibhai Rathod. The story of Savitri is derived from Hindu mythology and features a woman who saves from her husband from the god of death, Yama. She then played a remake of the same story directed by Baburao Painter, five years later. The changes in filmography were quite noticeable. There were more effects, editing and methods of framing, but no frontality. Although early Indian films are scarce since many were melted for silver, Kapse pointed to “Films on Demand” from the William H. Hannon’s media database as a great place to watch such films.
To end her presentation, Kapse discussed the term “body politic.” She quoted Michael Foucault, a French philosopher, to define body politic, saying that body politic is a technique that subjugates human bodies in order make them “objects of knowledge.” The British films used bodies to exert their control over India, whereas Indian filmmakers like D.B. Phalke use the body as a center for politics and emotion. Though the visual and narrative codes from the West will continue to influence Indian cinema, early Indian cinema techniques like frontality will forever have an impact on the film world.
Next came the question and answer segment. Despite being behind screens and strewn across the globe, the audience was still eager to connect with Dr. Kapse. To adapt to the new online format, Faculty Pub Night has extended the Q&A period, allowing the audiences more time to interact with the speaker. One person asked about how Indian films were funded. Kapse answered that it was difficult to fund early films. Since the films were made on British consumption, they also required British approval and relied on royal patronage. Another person asked if there was a national Indian film archive? While the answer is yes, Kapse explained that there is a lack of funding for the archive, so the contents were not preserved well. This lack of preservation just makes the current, available films that much more important.
If you are interested in watching Kapse’s presentation, visit the library’s YouTube channel to watch a recording of the event. To RVSP for our next online Faculty Pub Night, please RVSP at LMU Library Events.