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New Perspectives on the Indian New Wave: Fifty Year On II

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Organizer: Swarnavel Eswaran Pillai

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This is a split seminar with two parts, both revisiting an extraordinary but neglected moment in Indian film history and the history of global art cinema, extending from 1969 to the 1980s, when a constellation of alternative film practices emerged at the intersection of state interventions, oppositional politics, and a range of regional, national, and transnational influences and exchanges. This upsurge in filmmaking outside mainstream cinemas across India was facilitated by a government initiative to fund low-budget, offbeat films by newcomers, and dubbed the “Indian New Wave.”   The films associated with this label were diverse in terms of language, politics, stylistic range, and thematic concerns, and ranged from realist depictions of everyday life to modernist experiments with film form. However, the New Wave filmmakers shared a distrust of commercial cinema's values, themes, and styles, as well as a vision of cinema as art and social/political critique, a vision colored by the internationalist impulses of the Indian film society movement and the volatile political context of the 1960s-70s. While the withdrawal of government funding and problems of distribution and exhibition led to the waning of the New Wave by the mid-1980s, its aesthetic and political impact extends beyond its lifetime and calls for a re-assessment, as well as a re-consideration of the categories of art and political cinema from Indian vantage points.   Moving beyond purely auteurist approaches and ideological critiques of statist agendas, this split seminar opens up other lines of inquiry to trace the New Wave’s cultural, political, and aesthetic genealogies, impulses, and legacies. Our goals are twofold: 1) to explore the film culture of the New Wave, comprising not only films but also the cultural matrix (shaped by institutions, discourses, political debates, and intermedial traffic) within which the films were made, circulated, and remembered/forgotten; 2) to reanimate discussions of Indian art cinema, consider its relationship to Third Cinema and European art cinema, and to disrupt and expand Eurocentric understandings of art and political cinema.   Since this is the first in-depth seminar on the Indian New Wave, committed to a sustained engagement with its cinematic legacy, we received a number of excellent abstracts from scholars, graduate students, and scholar-filmmakers. We have split the seminar so that Part I will address institutions and framing discourses around the New Wave, and Part II will engage more closely with particular films, filmmakers, and industrial histories and shifts.

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