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New Perspectives on the Indian New Wave: Fifty Years On

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Organizer: Manishita Dass

Co-Organizer: Usha Iyer

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Our seminar revisits 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 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.

Possible areas of exploration include but are not limited to:
  • Genealogies of the Indian New Wave (henceforth INW)

  • Intermedial contexts (theatre, literature, painting, music, TV etc.)

  • Framing discourses (e.g., cinephilia/left politics/regional identities/discourses about “good cinema”)

  • New approaches to the state-cinema relationship

  • Internationalist impulses/networks/connections

  • The pleasures of the INW (performance/music/mise-en-scène, etc.)

  • The gender, class, and caste politics of the INW

  • Neglected filmmakers and regional film cultures

  • Afterlives of the INW: contemporary lines of influence; erasure of legacies; archival and historiographic challenges/imperatives

  • Teaching the INW: pedagogical practices, challenges, and gains

  • The role of educational and cultural institutions (FTII, NSD etc.)

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