Showing posts with label Anamika Bandopadhyay. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Anamika Bandopadhyay. Show all posts

Monday, July 3, 2017

Notes on The Third Breast by Anamika Bandopadhyay, India/USA: 2017

If any thing is sacred, the human body is sacred.”
(Walt Whitman)

At the beginning, ocean waves on a beach in Goa, a popular region for Indians and tourists from abroad. The over voice commentary of Anamika Bandopadhyay tells about this place and the pleasure of drinking coconut water. She recalls the stories told by her grandmother. On the beach we see an old woman and a young girl with sun glasses. For a short moment it appears like an idyll evoked by a Marcel Proust- like memory and caused by coconut water, the pendant to the Madeleine, a French pastry occurring in Proust´s novel In Search of lost times.

The second part of the film´s introduction is a harsh contrast: News headlines report about the gang raping case in Delhi from December 16, 2012 which lead to the death of the victim, a young woman. Images of angry protesting Indian women follow. In the following months after this tragic event a series of gang raping all over the country followed. The public finally took attention on rape cases even though they happened as well long before December 2012. It was evident that the perpetrators felt very safe without the fear being indicted.

Anamika Bandopadhyay mentions that there is no sex education (maturation curriculum) in Indian schools. Her son absolved it already at the age of 11 in an American school. The Indian government rejects the idea of sex education in schools because they say it is “against the Indian tradition”. In Germany for example (which is far from being a pioneering country in this case) sex education in schools was from up around 1975 already obligatory and no biology teacher could refuse to teach sex education anymore.
What is the “Indian tradition” asks Anamika Bandopadhyay and her journey to different places in and periods of Indian history begins.

In the films by Anamika Bandopadhyay I have seen so far, it is impossible to separate the poet from the scholar or the human right activist. Like in her previous films Red (2008) and 1700 Kelvin (2012) she is completely involved.

The Third Breast is a film essay about the contradictions in the Indian culture history of sexuality. On one hand in modern India a total ban of sex in culture and education, on the other hand a brutal oppression of women. As rape is by politicians often underplayed as accidental events, it appears soon that it is caused by a misogyny deeply rooted in the history of colonial and post colonial India. With her questions, for example “What is the Indian tradition?, the filmmaker goes back to the distant past of India. Interviews with different people, scientists, activists or young students give hints to a deeper truth of “Indian tradition”. One of the essential elements of the filmmaker´s research is the comparison between a relatively liberal attitude towards sexuality in the medieval India and its absurd oppression in modern India. This ancient attitude or let me use knowledge of sexuality is documented in old texts, paintings, sculptures and poetry. At least the erotic sculptures in some temples in India are still accessible and proof this once total different attitude towards sexuality in this culture. Even without knowing KamaSutra, it is widely accepted that India has one of the oldest knowledge about the human body. As we experience in this that sex has quite a lot to do with “Indian tradition”. Bandopadhyay works with different elements, the interviews, collage, images as evidence but often as well with a certain playfulness. Beside the researches there is always as well the element of the experience she made during her journey, a reminder that she, the filmmaker is always a part of the complex history she reveals in her recorded images.

The texts by Geet Govinda, the erotic sculptures in several temples which depict sexual practice or even old texts which describe the sexual relationship between the “iconic” Indian (unmarried) lovers Radha and Krishna are in existence. The film is also a confrontation of images, the ones of a relatively liberal sexual moral in the past and the hypocritical images of the present moral of in post colonial India which are established today. And in this confrontation of dominating and suppressed images like established and suppressed ideas of humanity, Bandopadhyay uses one of the most important nature of film, the presentation of images.
She also integrates small episodes where she appears in front of the camera.
In one of them she explains a souvenir seller in Varanasi an object that he has in his collection symbolizes the penis of a Hindu-god. That disturbs not only the seller but as well a client is refusing to buy it.
Even among a group of open minded young people the image of a naked goddess displaying vagina and breasts causes for some of them feelings of discomfort. Paradoxically the tradition of India appears for some contemporaries as something very strange and exotic. Parents,tells Bandopadhyay, avoid to visit with their children these temples with erotic sculptures.

One of the aspects I value most, is that Anamika Bandopadhyay despite her involvement in the subject appears never predetermined and it seems we even witness with her a lot of discoveries she made during this journey. Her questions are punctuating the film and bring us closer to a truth than hasty answers.
There is, for example a moment where it is mentioned that the menstruation was in ancient times regarded as a sign of purity of a woman. Temples with statues of naked goddesses were closed for four days a month when the goddess “menstruates” Later , the menstruation as a symbol of purity and even divineness was distorted into a sign of impurity and these temples denied access for menstruating women. What changed this attitude? One hint mentioned in an interview is the fatal combination of the prudery of the British colonial rulers and the prudery of the Brahmin cast. For a long time the tribal culture was relatively uninfluenced by sexual moral of India. Tribal women had more freedom to choose and separate again from their partner. But even these last traces of a different India seem to have disappeared. Another offered explanation is the rise of a Right wing movement which originated in the 1930s and which took its inspiration from a distorted Hindu-ideology and which includes the vilification of women and the discrimination of lower cast people.

The Third Breast offers different accesses to a certain aspect in Indian culture history and it gives an idea about the complexity of this country. Despite its analytical aspect there is also the “caméra stylo” - element. It is an insight and the film does not leave one moment of doubt that it is made by a woman from its culture. Like the incredible trilogy on the partition of Bengal by one of her spiritual mentors Ritwik Ghatak there is a relationship between the global history and how it is affecting the person who tells us about.
The filmmaker´s questions open the space for new perceptions. Even if she blames religious fanaticism, The Third Breast includes not a statement against religion in general but points out against misuse and distortion Her films are never made with this smart predetermined “I know it all” attitude. That let her appears literally “Unarmed” and vulnerable. The moment when she tries to comfort one of the abused women in Red , illustrates what I mean quite accurate.

Once we see her in an alternative temple called Devipuram, founded by an atom physicist. It is a temple where women are worshipped and we see her washed by temple servants. It is again one of the protected zones for women in this film. At the end we see again the old woman and the girl with the sun glasses on the beach a poetic image for a memory and another of these “protected zones” in this film, where oppression and abuses of women is suspended for a short while. This moments reminds me in a moment from one of her previous films Rough Cut, actually the only moment from this film ( which is probably lost) available for me. Only about 5 wonderful minutes are available on Bandopadhyay´s YouTube channel. A man and a young girl are in a temple. The man is painting or busy with a maintenance of one of the sculptures. The girl stands in front of a naked goddess. On her toe tips she stretches her body to touch the statue. She is measuring the size of the artificial body, touching its proportions and compares them with the proportions of her own. Her actions are like unspoken questions. Whenever I have to articulate my appreciation for Anamika Bandopadhyay´s films this fragment comes to my mind.

At the end of The Third Breast, the filmmaker reveals the story of the goddess Meenakshi as told by her grandmother. Meenakshi is born with a third breast. The parents were worried about this “deformation” and raised her like a boy. Some consider it not as a deformation but an extra of erotic appeal or strength. The film ends with the image of the old woman and the girl with sun glasses on the beach in front of the ocean waves. They are at the same time exposed to a natural force but the image is one of these “protected zones”. A fleeting moment in a film which told us so much about a disturbed world where women have to struggle to assert their space.

The Third Breast is another example for a “committed “ cinema which is full of compassion, anger but also tenderness without giving in for a second to any kind of sensationalism. I feel confidence in these images which appear to me as documented of true encounters, true experiences and true reflections.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Monday, July 14, 2014

Some reasons why I support Anamika Bandopadhyay´s film project" The Third Breast".

On December 16, India became the headline on all the recognized International newspapers and bulletins, for her daughter Jyoti Singh. Jyoti (age 23) was brutally beaten and gang-raped and finally died. The media attention and the public discourse reached a crescendo around this horrific event. Well, it was not a one-off case of sexual violence, but it did circulate the term ‘rape-culture’ in the public discourse.Everyone was talking about Rape and sexual misbehaviors, even my 11 years old son. Only few days back he attended the maturation curriculum here in the US, the curriculum which is almost nonexistent in India. The teachers asked me whether we have such awareness programs in Indian schools too. I said  “No" and fumbled.” (Anamika Bandopadhyay on her project The Third Breast)

There is no need to repeat what can be read on her excellent Indiegogo Crowd funding page. For a better understanding of this film project, the whole page should be read.

How I came in touch with the films by Anamika Bandopadhyay?
It was on Facebook when I posted a link to my English translation of my text on Ritwik Ghatak´s trilogy on the partition of Bengal. I think it was around 2011, where she gave some very interesting and insightful comments on Ritwik Ghatak. Some times later I realized that we share as well our admiration for Bengali film maker Aparna Sen.  Two years ago, I finally had the luck to watch two of her films, 1700 Kelvin from 2012 and Red from 2008, a film which deals with this Nandigram -protest ( a Human Right issue which remained nearly unknown out of India) in which she was involved. “
Involved “ is probably a good key word for the work of Anamika Bandopadhyay. As she often introduces herself as a lecturer, filmmaker and social activist – all these aspects are inseparable in her work. Both of these films include excerpts from filmy by Ritwik Ghatak. Like Ghatak she actually does not just make films “about someone or something” from a safe distance. The disturbing images we see don´t seem to be filtered through the neutrality of the image making apparatus. She is not an observer anymore but participating.
In her film Red, the cinematic chronicle of her experience with the Nandigram issue, there are some scenes, interviews with two women, abused by the police of the former left government of the CPM of West Bengal. While these women, one is a Muslim, the other a Hindu are telling from a nightmare of violence and humiliation, we see the filmmaker beside them. She always touches them to console them and when one of the woman begins to cry she even hugs her. That is a quite beautiful and compassionate gesture in the middle of a nearly apocalyptic environment. These moments are hunting me from the moment I saw this film. So I never really regretted to have compared these moment with magical and moving moment in a film by Terrence Malick which means a compassion which is sensible in every atom of this film.

Another film I saw only in an excerpt because it is not available in its full length but there is on YouTube a 5 minutes excerpt from her film Rough Cut.  I don´t even know what the whole film is about but I was mesmerized by these 5 minutes. An adolescent girl in a Hindu temple in front of the statue of a naked goddess. It seems the girl is measuring the body of this statue of a goddess and compares it with her own. As this moment tells about nothing else but of two bodies, a living one who is just in its puberty and an artificial one, it seems to me like a prayer to the results of the creation.
Even though it is a very quiet scene, we always get an idea that in this moment we discover our body the violence of ideologies and oppressions of some thousand years of human civilisation will invade our mind. It seems to me like a meditation on the beauty of our physical existence so often denied in nearly all religions and most of any ideologies.

These 5 minutes alone are reason enough to be excited about Anamika Bandopadhya´s new project The Third Breast. After all what I heard and read about this project, it looks like her most ambitioned project to date – and after all what I have read and heard about The Third Breast, it will be much more than a documentary but also a poetic film essay about how the beauty of our physical experience and how it became contaminated through a complex of powers and its ideologies.

Among so much young filmmakers I came across, there is one more thing I love in  the work of Anamika Bandopadhyay. We will never find any kind of “manifestos” in her talking about cinema and always more than "filmed ideas" Her work is a kind of quest for something which is essential for cinema, like Godard said "films on the visible things of the world".
Another of so many exciting aspects of this film project is the involvement of one of India´s finest cinematographers Sunny Joseph.

The film might be obvious about one of the most important subject of contemporary India. That will offer a lot of stuff for discussions. But the feeling I have after all what I read and heard about this project, I expect also a unique cinematic treatment of this subject, a treatment which does not work with an ideological predetermination but with a sensual and poetic search for the truth. 
Crowd funding campaigns and the growing number of platforms for this kind of film funding might be caused by difficulties to find a producer or funder but they offer as well a possibility to support and promote projects which are outside the mainstream and often outside of the specific trends and fashions of the so-called Independent Cinema. 
I supported some crowd funded projects in the past but concerning The Third Breast it is one of the most important projects I ever supported and I don´t regret any cent and any minute of time I dedicated for supporting this project. The reason is just that I believe in this film and if I have to mention some names of filmmakers which deserve a broader recognition than Anamika Bandopadhyay is one of the first names which come to my mind.

So please take a proper look at her project The Third Breast which deserves all the support it needs. You will find extended informations under following links:

And for all who haven´t read them yet, my two texts on films by Anamika Bandopadhyay.

The crowd funding Campaign goes until August, 10, 2014.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Notes on Red, by Anamika Bandopadhyay, India: 2008

for Thérèse Gonzalez

It is hard for me to understand why the whole Nandigram-issue remained relative unknown outside of India. This bloody conflict between Farmers in this region of West Bengal and the former communistic government of this Indian state which wanted to acquire land for an Indonesian chemical company.
I remember the film L´Encerclement (The Encirclement) by Richard Brouillette, this profound analysis of the neoliberal ideology. One reason this ideology became as dominant as it is now, was the fact that most of so-called leftish governments, including this so-called communistic government of West Bengal began to accept this central ideology of capitalism with nearly no resistance.

Anamika Bandopadhyay, like a lot of Bengali Intellectuals and artists was involved in this huge protest movement against the violence caused by the politic of the former West Bengal government, a violence against farmers, their women and children.
For me this issue would have remained unknown to me if I were n´t in Kolkata just at the time, in fall 2007 where big manifestations were held and where it caused a rupture between the intellectuals in West Bengal.
Red, like 1700 Kelvin, Bandopadhyay´s most recent film does n´t deal with the ideological debate but with the concrete danger for the physical life of the victims, women and children threatened and hurt, many of them raped, some of them killed.

At the beginning and at the end of the film we see Bandopadhyay and some other people (a journalist from Delhi among them) on a table discussing and exchanging their experiences they made during their interviews with victims. They try to find words for the terror they witnessed. A lot of them still look very disturbed. You can see it in their faces. Like in 1700 Kelvin this disturbance is visible and tangible in each moment of the film.

Between the documentary elements there is a recitation from the famous Indian national epic drama Mahabharata. In the background we see images of destroyed houses. Instead of an explaining over voice commentary (The facts of the Nandigram-affair are explained in the opening titles) there are two recitations of poems, one by the Bengali poet Joy Goswami and one by Anamika Bandopadhyay herself.
One excerpt from Ritwik Ghatak´s masterpiece Subarnarekha (part 3 of his refugee-trilogy), one of the greatest achievements of Indian Cinema shows a girl walking happily singing on a deserted airfiled. Suddenly she is scared by a strange dressed man. This excerpt from Ghatak´s film is a good key to the spirit of this film. I mean this certain disturbance, these concrete emotions authentic to the bones and shining through the technical and aesthetic apparatus of image making, through body and soul of the filmmaker until it reaches the spectator like a blizzard. We are not prepared, it hits us. We are getting an idea of the lack of any protection. Like the films by Yang Yonghi, Terrence Malick, Ritwik Ghatak or like in the film and text Les Mains negative (The negative hands) by Marguerite Duras, Anamika Bandopadhyays cinematic essays are manifestations of an unprotected and very vulnerable Cinema. It either moves us, goes under our skin or we remain blind and dumb.

Anamika Bandopadhyay is involved, It is evident in three interviews she made with victims of the violence caused by armed forces in service of the former West Bengal government. The first is a small boy who experienced horrible threatenings. While she is listening him, she tries to console him, caresses his head, a gesture of helpless tenderness. As a filmmaker she leaves the safe position of a voyeur and is now as exposed like the people she talks with.
The second victim is an old Muslim woman, full of despair. Bandopadhyay knows that it is beyond her power to help her  - but again her hands try to console her. She touches the old woman. That is all she can do for the moment. This bodily tenderness seems to me a sign of respect for a suffering human being who faced the danger of physical violence.

Another strong emotional moment is the interview with a woman who was beaten and threatened several times by the so-called cadres of the Communistic Party. Her husband is deaf and dumb and was unable to help her. This moment is what seems to me the summit of what I call the interaction between what or whom we are seeing, the person who is recording it for us – and finally ourselves who watch this film. Bandopadyay´s caressing hands are present again. She wipes the tears from the woman´s face, touches her shoulders and finally even hugs her.
These moments move me exactly in the same kind like the moment the big black woman who holds the hands of the mourning mother in Malick´s The Tree of Life. I am talking about certain directness without any mask, an involvement with what is shown to us, a kind of authentic drama relatively non influenced by the magic options of the apparatus of image making.
Where it comes from I do not know but it stays with me like an unforgettable heavy and sad dream I had. 
A film has touched me is here meant literally. These hands are beautiful like a last gentle gesture in the light of a destroyed civilization.

At the end, the journalist from Delhi recited a remarkable sentence:
“Being thrashed by the police is not the worst thing. Neither it is the worst thing being murdered in broad daylight. The worst is the death of dreams in your eyes and silence in your voice.”
In some of these women we have seen “the death of dreams in their eyes.”

Maybe the films by Anamika Bandopadhyay are tries to resist the “death of dreams in the eyes” of the people she shows in her films.

Rüdiger Tomczak

on Anamika Bandopadhyay´s most recent film 1700 Kelvin please read here.

Monday, August 27, 2012

1700 Kelvin by Anamika Bandopadhyay


India: 2011

to the Memory of my friend Claude Forget, an activist and distributor for Independent Cinema (1949 - 2008)

Was it Ritwik Ghatak (“Before art shall be beautiful it must be true”) or my late friend Claude Forget who taught me about the importance of authenticity of cinema? I am not sure anymore.
This film by Bengali Anamika Bandopadhyay deals with one of the most delicate issues in contemporary India, this disturbed relationship between the modern urbane society and the rural one which is still the majority. Bandopadhyay focuses on the dramatic situation in the West Bengali village Jangalmahal which is symptomatic for another uproars in other places like Amlashol, Singur or Netai, villages terrorized by police forces sent by the former communistic government of West Bengal. Some people , familiar with the tragic incidents around Nandigram will still remember a this bloodshed against villagers which caused a rupture through the mostly leftish Intellectuals of this Indian state.

The images tell about a village under curfew occupied by armed police forces and about the anger of the Villagers who try to struggle against the invaders. The official motivation was to hunt armed Maoists, the nonofficial and since Nandigram well known reason is the expanding of the modern industry of India which is in demand of land. What an irony that especially the only communistic government among Indian states was fulfilling obvious neoliberal needs of the industry without any mercy for the village tribes. The images evoke in me documentaries of violence against native tribes in Latin America but also in images of the Vietnamese-American war.
Some of the villagers are telling that their houses were confiscated, their women harassed and raped. Some members of the armed forces urinated into their wells the only source for drinking water. Just a few hundreds kilometres from the mega city Kolkata, the forces of the government (which lasted until the elections of 2011) are nothing else as invaders in another culture.

What is so special in this film which appears obviously as a film made under extremely bad conditions hardly with any budget or other supplies is a dynamic between recorded facts (interviews with human rights activist, politicians and most of all - victims and witnesses of massacres against the villagers and on the other hand a few created, performed moments. Some of them are collages, excepts of a film by Ritwik Ghatak, others are for example the “leitmotiv” of a woman writing in her notebook. Even though we see only her hands we understand there is someone who tries to reflect, to handle the disturbing images she witnessed.
Anamika Bandopadhyay emphasizes her visible presence always as that of an outsider from the city, a powerless but a compassionate witness. At the beginning we see her also looking through an objective of a camera. The link between the recording camera and the writing hand of a reflecting person suggests an approach of “caméra stylo”, this old dream of filming like writing.
At the same time there is a connection between us and the filmmaker in realizing, recording and the moments of reflecting in this try to handle all these images of violence and anger.
In these images of violence we see people killed (in a photo montage) or people captured like wild animals. The tension between the filmmakers empathy and sympathy for the villagers and her own helplessness leads to the most disturbing moment. We hear the romantic song “Sunshine on my shoulder (makes me happy) and see the images I just described above in a kind of slide show. Killing, violence and heavily injured people caused by the armed police force. This moments burn into my memory. I didn´t read it as a kind of sarcasm or irony like used for example by Kubrick with music in Dr. Strangelove or A Clockwork Orange. There is rather the colliding of this two elements, the images and the song. Her using of of a sound and image montage as an artistic device seems to me rather as naked despair and anger, a feeling she hardly could express properly while filming the interviews. In the background of some shots we see often armed policemen which seems to me as an embodiment of the arrogance of their power which is mocking and threatening the villagers as well like the filmmaker.
Sometimes Bandopadhyay´s questions to the villagers, witnesses or even victims becomes hectic like she has to fear in any moment a policeman will interrupt her filming. The tension between the villagers and the ruthless police forces is always present. Sometimes it seems it can blast at any moment. The point of view for the filmmaker as for the spectators is a totally fragile and unprotected one.

One of the key moments of the film is for me another hectic sentence by Bandopadhyay spoken to the villager: “We are helpless. We can only convey your suffering to the people.” This is one of the most moving moments. She does not just make a film about something, she is there with all the sympathy among these people and at the same time the whole film is in all its roughness, in his fragmentary character like a seismograph.

Near the end we see her sitting, the face covered by their arms which are pillowed on her knees. For this one moment she seems to be homeless like Caplin´s famous tramp, homeless as the return to her city are not any more possible. As she is not one of the victims, the killed, injured and raped villagers, her body position is like an echo from all the nightmarish impressions burnt in our and her mind with the help of the recording camera. We and her are for a moment alone with these terrible images. As we can learn from the most emphatic filmmakers like Ritwik Ghatak and Terrence Malick to understand what we see or what we film from the world we have to understand ourselves always as a part of it.
As the film is full of anger, empathy and sympa1700 Kelvin by Anamika Bandopadhyay thy for the victims and the villagers against the violence caused by the political and economical interests of the former government of West Bengal, it is also a poetic essay which asks your attention and empathy in an age of audiovisual mass media where all the news channels make us more dull instead of sensibilizing our attention and empathy.

In this composition of documented facts, interviews, collages and performances 1700 Kelvin, a film really made out of nothing, no budget, no properly technical or organizational conditions except the passion and commitment of the filmmaker and her team is quite an exciting essay about “history from below”.
Last but not least 1700 Kelvin is in its anger an authentic film until its bones. And all these bad conditions under the film was made, the fragmentary character, the lack of a budget etc make this impression of authenticity even stronger. It is a f film (and that is why I call it a variation of “Caméra Stylo”) which has the truth of a cinematic diary.

Rüdiger Tomczak

on her previous film RED, please read here

another interesting article on 17oo Kelvin by Abhijit K. Kolkata can be found here