Historical realism : modes of modernity in Indian cinema, 1940-60

This is an unpublished doctoral thesis. It is extremely valuable for researcher working in the field of Indian Cinema.

266 13 11MB

English Pages [265] Year 2002

Report DMCA / Copyright


Recommend Papers

Historical realism : modes of modernity in Indian cinema, 1940-60

  • 0 0 0
  • Like this paper and download? You can publish your own PDF file online for free in a few minutes! Sign Up
File loading please wait...
Citation preview





Sec. Research Graduate School Committee

Under the copyright Act 1968, this thesis must be used only under the normal conditions of scholarly fair dealing for the purposes of research, criticism or review. In particular no results or conclusions should be extracted from it, nor should it be copied or closely paraphrased in whole or in part without the written consent of the author. Proper written acknowledgement should be made for any assistance obtained from this thesis.

Errata p. iv, paragraph 2, line 6, 'take' should be 'takes'. p. 12, paragraph 1, line 7, 'negate' should be 'negates'. p. 14, paragraph 2, line 4, 'belong it' should be 'belong to it'. p. 14, paragraph 2, line 11, there should be a comma after 'novel'. p. 34, line 2, delete second 'of. p. 34, line 17, 'do' should be 'does'. p. 39, paragraph 1, line 10, delete first 'other'. p. 49, paragraph 1, line 5-6, semicolon after 'discussed', new sentence after 'example1. p. 49, second last line, there should be a semi colon after 'socialist message'. p. 51, paragraph 2, line 15, 'has' should be 'had'. p. 52, second last line, there should be a comma after 'discourse is'. p. 73, paragraph 2, line 1, delete 'on' after 'streets' p. 75, paragraph 1, line 1, delete comma after 'Mahato'. p. 83, footnote 42, line 1, 'take' should be 'takes'. p. 84, line 6, 'take' should be 'takes'.. p. 90, paragraph 1, line 12, comma after '(1958)'. p. 90, paragraph 1, line 12, there should be a comma after '(1958)'. p. 91, paragraph 3, line 9, there should be a comma after 'I960', the next sentence beginning with 'The' should be joined. p. 118, paragraph 2, line 11, 'Jainul' should be 'Zainul' p. 120, paragraph 3, line 7, delete the first 'a'. p. 146, paragraph 2, line 15, comma, not full stop, after 'behaviour'. The next sentence, beginning with 'The' should be joined. p. 147, paragraph 3, line 3, 'aesthetics' should be 'aesthetic'. p. 149, paragraph 1, line 10, delete 'to' after 'would1. P 150, paragraph 2, line 12, 'makes' should be 'makes', p. 152, paragraph 2, line 13, 'forms' should be 'form', p. 158, paragraph 4, line 5, 'imgage' should be 'image', p. 160, paragraph 2, line 6, 'replace' should be 'replaces'.

p. 160, paragraph 2, line 7, 'rise' should be 'rises'. p. 202, paragraph 2, line 1, the word 'career' should be inserted after 'Manik's'. p. 217, paragraph 3, line 5, 'that' should be replaced with 'when'. p. 225, paragraph 2, line 6, there should be a '4' after 'Chapter'. p. 232, paragraph 2, line 18, delete 'is' after 'way'. p. 234, paragraph 3, line 3, 'tend' should be 'tends'. p. 236, paragraph 1, line 3, 'experts' should be 'expert'. p. 236, paragraph 3, line 5, delete 'the' after 'about'.



p. 238, paragraph 3, line 3, delete 'to' after 'coming'. p. 248, 'Kojin, Karatani' should be 'Karatani, Kojin'. II,'

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Historical Realism: Modes of Modernity in Indian Cinema 1940-60 M

Moinak Biswas •A

Visual Culture School of Literary, Visual and Performance Studies Monash University


Presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy September 2002

Table of Contents

"4 if

I g



Statement Acknowledgment


Chapter 1

Introduction: The Question of Realism


Chapter 2

Approaching the Social


Chapter 3

The Social and Beyond: Historical Realism 1940-55


Belonging to the Modern: Narratives of Vernacular Citizenship in the 1950s Bengali Melodrama


The Early Films of Ray: The Novel and Other Horizons


Chapter 6

Ritwik Ghatak: The Subject of Realism


Chapter 7

Concluding Remarks: The Redistribution of Realism in the 1990s



1 fit

Chapter 4

Chapter 5





! i




This thesis attempts to return to the question of realism in Indian cinema historically. Displacement of the question from the critical domain has coincided, paradoxically, with a pervasive diffusion of realism. In the case of Indian cinema, the paradox has appeared in the 1990s in the way the 'hybrid' form of Indian cinema has tied up with the global traffic of hyperreality. The modern critical paradigm that had originally posed realism against the popular form appears to have lost its critical edge. This context provides the perspective of a return to the 1940s and 50s in the thesis. The popular film in India has resisted the economic domination of Hollywood with the aid of an alternative cultural mobilisation of form. The interrupted, hybrid address of this form appears to be motivated by almost an ethnographic imperative against realist imagination. The global critique of realism, the critique that has had a fundamental role in shaping film theory, connects up with the postcolonial investigation of modernity to underline the problematic status of realism in India. Realism will be seen from this perspective as part of the elite, modernizing project in India, essentially exogenous in relation to the local cinematic language. I argue that it would have been impossible to devise even the contemporary popular form without an encounter with the paradigmatic forms of modernity like perspectival representation and novelistic narration. I suggest that this encounter is set in motion before Satyajit Ray introduced the so-called realist rupture. The realist project cannot be seen as an elite minority project, an initiative of the film society discourse and the developmental state. A look at the critical writings of the 1930s and the history of cinematic practice itself in the period between 1940 and 55 would reveal how the fashioning of an Indian realism was under way much before the arrival of art cinema. I argue that the realist negotiation should be viewed at various levels of the cinematic institution, and this negotiation can be shown to be reaching a threshold in 1953-55. In 1955, realism as a fully formulated aesthetic cuts across the whole range of film practices in India, the practice as a whole enters a modern phase, the 'novelistic discourse' now part of its

in '.•!/}•

formal competence. Not only there emerges around 1955 a realist art cinema, but also s §

a new popular, a melodrama indelibly marked by a dialogue with realism. I confine myself to the period between 1940 and 60, historically crucial for the shaping of both modem popular forms and of the artistic avant-garde. The subsequent scattering of narrative integration, coinciding with the mass-cultural turn of the popular, created the scope for criticism to align the mainstream Indian film with nonor anti-modem modes. It is argued here that the negotiation between realist and non-


realist addresses take its place now in a field that should be emphatically identified as modem. The thesis proceeds by making distinctions between aspects of the modernity in question, its stages of advance and compromise.


I w

1 ii



I here by declare that this thesis does not contain any material that has been submitted for any other degree or diploma in any university or institution. To the best of my knowledge and belief, the thesis contains no material previously published or written by another person, except where due reference is made in the text of the thesis.

Moinak Biswas

i s

Acknowledgments I would like to thank David Hanan, my supervisor, for his overall guidance and help. With his long and rich experience of Asian cinema, he has also helped me think of the possible commonalities between my subject and practices from other Asian countries. I am grateful to the staff of Visual Culture, Monash University, and particularly to Terry Burke, for providing me with working space and other facilities. His passion for films has made Terry's friendship especially valuable. I should thank the staff at the Matheson Library, especially Rosa Dudek and the late Cecily Fagan, for their great help and friendship. The staff at the Research Services has also been extremely helpful. Rashmi Desai, Michael Stevenson and Salim Lakha offered me an early membership 1

of their lunch circle and have remained the source of all-round nourishment; Rashmi Desai, as the leader of the pack, has taken care to rid my writing and thinking of error. Adrian McNeil has provided unstinting support throughout the research in India and


Australia. Luba and Asher Bilu have been invaluable friends whose house I could use and whose company I could seek whenever I wanted to. Monima Chadha has taken an active interest in my work and has made me indebted to her in more than one way. I found a great friend in Naya Kim who I would also like to thank for her support. Thanks are due to Gouranga Gopal Das, Sucheta Chakrabarty, Peter and Effie Maddock, Mandira and Subir Dey, Sanjay Srivastava and Zakir Raju. I would like to thank my colleagues in the Department of Film Studies at Jadavpur University, Mihir Bhattacharya, Sanjoy Mukhopadhyay and Abhijit Roy. Kishalay Basu, Archana Ghosh, Subrata De and Mrinal K. Mandal, the secretarial staff, have all indebted me by taking care of my work in my absence. My students have been a great source of encouragement, and I would like to mention Subhajit, Manas, Paramita, Anindya, Subhadeep and Basab among them. Sibaji Bandyopadhyay, Swapan Chakravorty, Kavita Panjabi and Saswata Bhattacharya, colleagues at Jadavpur, have been involved in almost everything I do; it would have been impossible to carry out the research without having them around. Invaluable help came from Bhaswati Chakravorty in the form of ideas, corrections and encouragement. I would like to thank Madhava Prasad and Ashish Rajadhyaksha for VI

their intellectual support and friendship. My cousin Kaushik kept me constant company on the chat line through a dreary pedod. Thanks also go to Purnendu, Amp, Nandinee, Piklu, Tuklu, Amrita, Sumanta, Ayan, Malu, Koli, Meheli, Ratul, Manisha and Rahul for their support. I would like to thank Ananya for being the friend that she is. I am grateful to Sasidharan, Kiran Diwan and Veena Kshirsagar at the National Film Archive of India for their help during my research and stay in Pune. Gautam Chattopadhyay and his colleagues at Ritwik Memorial Library, Nandan, Calcutta, and the fellows and staff of the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore, have made available books, films and periodicals, offering unconditional help. The Department of Development Communication at the Independent University, Dhaka, and the researchers at Sarai (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies), Delhi, have given me the important opportunity to rehearse some arguments of the thesis in public. The Departments of English and Philosophy at Jadavpur hosted seminars and courses where I could present some of my ideas. I have to thank my family, Ranu Biswas, Rongili Biswas and Karuna Mandal, in the end for everything. Credits are duly given in the text and bibliography. Unless mentioned otherwise, all translations from Bengali are mine.


Chapter 1 Introduction: The Question of Realism To talk about realism is to be somewhat out of touch with current academic concerns. Once the constructed-ness of narrative and representation has been established, and the focus has shifted to the careers of the simulacra, the problem of realism should be taken as somewhat resolved, or rendered irrelevant. Once the realist form has been relativized as historically contingent, it seems shorn of significance as a form. The argument in the following pages is motivated by some initial observations about the state of realism. For one thing, the practice of realism is as pervasive as ever, not only


in Hollywood, but in various national variants in the cinemas that have become the focus of international critical attention, in China, Iran or Hong Kong; secondly, though realism as such is not as much a point of debate any longer, it is a constant, if implicit, reference in criticism. This is specially true in the case of writings on Indian


cinema where almost no discussion of form is conducted without using a putative realist narrative as a reference point1. On the other hand, in content analysis - a frequent exercise among critics dealing with the current popular cinema - the representational substance of the plot and characters is almost always taken as given2. I will adopt three basic approaches to the realism question in the following engagement. Firstly, as I try to trace a history of realism in the period 1940-1960 in Indian cinema I will also try to historicize realism itself in relation to that context, so that its historical shapes and their (often contradictory) affiliations can be brought to light. On the other hand, I will also try to address the status of realism as a kind of synchronic mediator in various cinematic projects; although it cannot be treated as a goal that retroactively shapes Indian film history, realism can be seen as a recurring

1 3


horizon against which various formal constellations take their positions. Thirdly, 1 would like to treat the realist practice in terms of a disaggregated paradigm whose 1

See for example, M. Madhava Prasad, Ideology of the Hindi Film, A Historical Construction, and Ravi. S. Vasudevan, 'The politics of cultural address in a 'transitional cinema': a case study of Indian popular cinema', in Reinventing Film Studies, ed. Christine Geldhill and Linda Williams. " For example Patricia Uberoi, 'The diaspora comes home: Disciplining desire in DDLJ', Contributions to Indian Sociology (new series) 32:2,1998; and Tejaswini Niranjana, 'Nationalism Refigured: Contemporary South Indian Cinema and the Subject of Feminism', Subaltern Studies, Vol. XI, Community, Gender and Violence, ed. Partha Chatterjee and Pradeep Jeganathan.

various elements - say naturalism, lyricism or psychological modelling - could be seen to be functioning with a degree of autonomy at the moment of inauguration of the paradigm in Indian cinema.


I. Defining the paradigm Realism is not looked upon as just another style or genre, it appears to carry a meaning more philosophic and more ethical than what those categories offer. One is usually not making a mere distinction of style when one calls a certain film realistic rather than expressionistic; in everyday discourse almost inevitably a value judgement enters the picture, the distinction between reality and realism becomes frequently mystified. And it is not simply an everyday error. Realism, it can be argued, has a


relation to the object - the reality in question - which is not strictly comparable with the relations that obtain in other styles. So far as realism is taken as a simple advance upon other forms, it can be argued that it is after all a mode of representation and depends upon artifice and construction as much as any other artistic form does. But so far as the historical role of realism is concerned it is not enough to argue the faith in


realism away as a faith in the illusion it creates. Fredric Jameson, commenting on the


Brecht-Lukacs debate (a significant point of reference in the discussion of the


ideology of realism) reminded us that realism is just not another artifice, it has a cognitive aspect that sets it apart from other art practices. It cannot be overlooked in criticism that realism can serve as a mode of knowledge, a means to form a working


conception of reality.3

Classical realist theories of cinema take photographic verisimilitude as a point of departure. If the 'basis' is realistic rendering then style and form should take their cue 3

" The originality of the concept of realism... lies in its claim to cognitive as well as aesthetic status. A new value, contemporaneous with the secularisation of the world under capitalism, the ideal of realism presupposes a form of aesthetic experience which yet lays claim to a binding relationship to the real itself, mat is to say, to those realms of knowledge and praxis which had traditionally been differentiated from the realm of the aesthetic, with its disinterested judgements and its constitution as sheer appearance... .(A)n over-emphasis on cognitive function often leads to a naive denial of the necessarily fictive character of artistic discourse At the other pole ,the emphasis of theorists like Gombrich or Barthes on the 'techniques' whereby an 'illusion of reality* or 'effet de reel' is achieved, tends surreptitiously to transform the 'reality' of realism into appearance, and to undermine that affirmation of its own truth - or referential - value, by which it differentiates itself from other types of literature." 'Reflections in Conclusion', Ernst Bloch, Georg Lukacs et al, Aesthetics and

from it. The basis becomes the essence in such arguments, and realism takes on an ethical attribute. Andre Bazin {What is Cinema? 1967) and Siegfried Kracauer {Theory of Film, Vie Redemption of Physical Reality, I960), for example, argued for a realist vocation of cinema. They did not claim, contrary to what their critics often said later on, that cinema has no mediation, that it could grasp the truth of things by recording their appearances truthfully. Both of them can be seen stressing the necessity of artistic intervention, but one that conforms to the ethical promise of knowledge and truth inhering in the medium An enhancement of the reality is involved in the kind of cinema they advocate, the representation would be more substantial than the fleeting chimera that everyday perception of reality often is cinema could provide reality a support by fixing it. Both of them saw a redemptive potential in this cinematic activity; reality can be redeemed of its fallen state, they thought, through its close recall in the film. Bazin, for example, uses the term 'fallen space' for the image culture that developed in the West since the arrival of perspective painting, and argues that cinema has the power to redeem that space by taking a further step towards the mimetic process, it can help us reclaim the concrete4. What tended to get obscured in this theory was not so much the fact that they are dealing with notions of reality rather than those of art, but the historicity of that reality. Consequently, what could be proposed as historical value of a form was rather hoisted as a general prescription for cinema.

I In fiction film realism has developed mainly along two trends. The Hollywood system of narrative, developed and practiced in its classic form between 1917 and I9605, became, for economic, political and cultural reasons, the normative grammar of filmmaking in most of the world. The textual paradigm extrapolated from this practice has been called the 'classic realist text' by Colin MacCabe6. The mainstream cinema in many parts of the world has developed upon the Hollywood model. The Neo-realist school emerging out of post-War Italy, on the other hand, was influential

Politics, p 198; see also Jameson, 'Beyond the Cave, Demystifying the Ideology of Modernism', The Ideologies of Theory, Essays 1971-1986, Vol. 2: The Syntax of History. 4 The influence of the existential thinkers, particularly of Gabriel Marcel, was to be found in both the critics. 5 In their major si;;dy of the subject Classical Hollywood Cinema, Mode of Production & Style to 1960, David Bordwell, Janet Staiger and Kristin Thompson indicate this time span. Others would decide on a shorter period. 6 'Realism and Cinema: A Note on Two Brechtian Theses', Screen, 15: 2, 1974.

in the development of many national cinemas in post-colonial countries. The new cinema in India, inaugurated formally by Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali in 1955, is an example of a national realist cinema developing from the inspiration of Neorealism. The picture gets complicated when Indian cinema is considered because unlike some of the other third world, post-colonial countries (say the countries in Latin America) or some of the Asian countries (like Japan), the mainstream cinema in India has never been dominated by a realist idiom. Indian practitioners and critics are self-conscious about this fact. While the 'new wave' cinemas in many parts of the world have traditionally reacted against the normative realism that characterize institutional cinema, the 'new cinema1 in India has predominantly worked with a realist agenda7. Realism was loaded with social value from the very beginning in the Indian context, as the chosen vehicle of the reality of a developing society it was ascribed a developmental mission. The critique of realism has a different theoretical status in the Indian context.

It is always hard to characterize realism. It is more of an epochal term in the history of art and literature than a specific definition of a periodic style. Any discussion of the term in critical work would testify to this difficulty. A standard book on nineteenth century realism in painting, for example, argues how it is not definable in the same way as, say, mannerism or baroque, because of the special insistence that always comes to be expressed on its relationship to reality8. Raymond Williams, in his gloss on the term tried to trace the complicated history of the usage of the word realism in


philosophy and art and refused to propose a finished definition for it9. In an important early statement on the problem the formalist critic Roman Jakobson showed that most of the common claims on behalf of realism arise out of basic confusion about the



ii 11


Thereby complicating the schema of the three phases or positions that an important theorist of third/third world cinema, Teshome Gabriel proposed. In Gabriel's classification the first school of filmmaking is closer in 'style' and 'idiom' to Hollywood, the second school shares those stylistic premises, but brings in new thematic concerns, the third is the position of rupture with the global form dictated by Western realism; see Teshome H. Gabriel, 'Towards a critical Theory of Third World Films' and 'Third Cinema as Guardian of Popular Memory: Towards a Third Aesthetics', Questions of Third Cinema, ed. Jim Pines and Paul Willemen. 8 Linda Nochlin, Realism, p 13-14. 9 Keywords, A vocabulary of culture and society.




*» . «

. « . •



nature of the aesthetic object10. Other formalists chose to define realism as a mode that arises in art at the instance of 'defamiliarisation', as part of an ongoing process of making strange what is 'automatized', thus bringing the new to attention11. Jakobson writes about three common ways of thinking about realism and shows the logical confusion in all of them. But for our purposes, the third type he mentions should be an adequate description. A specific nineteenth-century development he thinks is taken as a standard of realism and has been applied by critics to measure the entire history of art12. We would talk about realism with this meaning, but as precisely


a historical development, not as any timeless measure of artistic quality. Somewhat against his caution, however, we would also assume that this historical realism has


also given rise to certain universals across cultures in modernity, it returns as a horizon of reference even in those practices where it is not to be found in the ideal

j-ij fj |ij *^

form. As we think of this paradigmatic form of realism (which shall be distinguished from

the possible and available range of realist practices) we shall keep two constellations as our point of reference: the perspective painting developed during the European Renaissance and the nineteenth-century development of the novel. It can be argued that the nineteenth century is the period when, through the novel itself as well as through the visual and performing arts and social tecliniques, the perspectival mode of representation also takes on its full dimensions. It is possible to demarcate the


modern from pre-modern forms in relation to the emergence of these modes in most


societies. When we think of the common features of a realist text we recognise the modular role that these two forms have played, so that even when they are not present in their


typical shape, they function as crucial principles of signification in the modern


practices. Realism assumes a rationality of depiction where actions are causally


connected; they have a temporal order that corresponds to our normal sense of time

14 14

and duration and they have a 'historical' order too. The causal progression imitates

[••1 [•

the logic of 'history' as a. meaningful collection of events. Rational also because the

\A bj [j' | |j \Ji



'On Realism in Art', first published in Czech in 1921, translation compiled in Readings in Russian Poetics,, ed Ladislav Matejka j and Kristina Pomorska. n Victor Shklovsky and Boris Eikhenbaum's arguments in this context are cited in Kristin Thompson, Breaking the Glass Armor: Neoformalist Film Analysis, p 199-200.

behaviour of the agents in the process, of the individuals, is explicable to a large extent by reference to his/her past, to his/her psychology and to a set of norms that we recognise from our social experience. The text as a whole should present a world where recognition becomes a source of pleasure. Likeness, recognition, order, direction - considered carefully they reveal a system. Firstly, there is a system of space. Space is rationalized, mostly contiguous and secular. It is traversed in duration and is homogenous in its effect. The space in a Ravi Varma (1848-1906) painting is often divided into a hierarchy: the gods and the human characters would occupy two levels of spaces. In a film Like Raja Harishchandra (1913) by D.G. Phalke, one comes across spaces which have similar denominations - the space of the king, of the subject, of man, of woman and so on. A perspective painting is likely to have no such distinctions within space, it cannot be fragmented or infused with transcendental meaning in that way. A typical Indian popular film would have sequences that do not follow a rational ordering of space, the song and dance sequence for example, where locations and even dimensions of space would undergo changes to suit the rhythm, the tune, or the expressive content - something that would be considered a violation of the basic rationality of a realist film. In monocular perspective space is homogeneously distributed and it is presented to an eye that is placed in the ideal position of seeing/knowing, a position that often duplicates the furthest point in the horizon within the frame, the 'vanishing point'. Leon Battista Alberti °iready theorizes this in the fifteenth century13. When placed against a typical icon painting from the middleages, a traditional Chinese landscape, or a miniature painting from medieval India it becomes apparent that the image in the perspective system is related to a desacralized world, and is in some sense a desacralizing image. A similar secularisation and rationalisation happens with time. A novel can no longer work with the time of the epic for instance. Time is closed off in the epic, its events do not belong to the same continuum where our day belongs, but the novel is essentially about a time that we have or could have inhabited. The myth has cycles of time, where there is no indefinite progression, but a rise and fall, creation and destruction, eternal return. Novel time is progressive, directional, and is qualitatively the same everywhere: no special time for the gods and spirits. Walter Benjamin used 12

Ibid, p 39.

the description 'homogenous empty time' for this kind of temporality. It is a temporal order on which modern history writing is also based, and is distinct from what Benjamin calls the 'messianic time'14. This kind of time makes possible some of the fundamental moves of a film narrative. One of the techniques that signalled the emergence of a narrative cinema is parallel cutting or parallel action. This 'at the same time' or 'in the mean time' construction is possible in a narrative when 'homogenous empty time' serves as its basis, when various agents can occupy the same historical time, which has an existence independent of them. We can have a number of characters doing disparate things in successive chapters, they may not even know of each other, but there are objective space and time that bind them together. This is a condition that obtains with secularisation of the social existence, with what is known as the 'disenchantment of the world'. The third category through which realist narration can be identified is character. The character is more reflective of the extra-textual reality in the sense that it is individuated to a degree that is only possible in a bourgeois society. Along with atomisation of this individual come individual history and construction of interiority. Thus, in the character in a classical novel or film, there is a duplication of the background-foreground model of the perspective, background being a combination of past events, experience and memory. Psychology re-inscribes the depth of the space into the character. Non-secular or magical agencies are not supposed to play any major role in the determination of character in a realist narrative, when they do Indian popular film is again an instance - the impact is felt in the very textual organisation. Character-centred narration extends as a centring principle into the whole text, the absence of the notion of a secularised self affects the rational causality of the narrative. At the level of reception, it can work towards a rupture of the narrative in the form of spectacle or frontality15. It has been said that in Indian cinema the character tends to be iconic, it is like a vessel of meanings and values, a medium 13

On Painting, (1435-36), see esp. 'Book One'. Theses on the Philosophy of History', Illuminations, p 264-265. 15 The valuable work on Early Cinema in film studies has worked out a distinction between primitive and classical cinema in terms of frontality/spectacle and narrative; see Noel Burch, Life to those Shadows; and essays by Tom Gunning and others in Early Cinema, Space, Frame, Narrative, ed. Thomas Elsaesser with Adam Barker. In the case of Indian early cinema Ashish Rajadhyaksha arrived at similar conceptions independently in his 'Phalke Era, Conflict of Traditional Form and Modern Technology', Journal of Arts and Ideas, No. 14-15,1987. For the concept of iconic character also see Geeta Kapur, 'Mythic Material in Indian Cinema', Journal of Arts and Ideas, No 14-15, 1987. 14l

of transcendental content. The spectatorial relation with the character or space in this situation tends to work partly against the voyeuristic structure identified in realist film narration. The realist fictional contract can be seen to approximate the fiction of the 'social contract', the spectator-text-character relation emulates the civil society relation between autonomous individuals; the character determined by community, myth or divine decree would not allow such relations to take hold or dominate. Narrative can serve the purpose of producing the semblance of a community as capitalism creates conditions of social dispersal and atomisation. The individual, torn out of what is known in social theory as gemeinschaft, is the protagonist of the realist fiction. Texts that employ such construction depend on what Christian Metz called the 'secondary identification', identification with the character and the plot for the '"i

spectator. Realism, however, often works on another kind of identification, the 'primary identification', where the spectator identifies with the very eye of the




The historical character of realism, when understood in this framework, is


fundamentally connected to the force-field of modernity. The emergence of capitalism, the radical reforms in religion, the Renaissance as transformation of the


arts and education, the Enlightenment and the output of scientific knowledge - in a sense all these classical aspects of modernity would be relevant to the emergence of the realist paradigm. This ideological connection often leads the critic to question the authenticity of realist representation or narrative in a non-Western context. If,


however, one acknowledges the fact that forms can develop and travel beyond their original social inscriptions one can shift critical attention to another plane - the conditions under which the realist form took roots in India, how it became an Indian