Category Archives: Genders

‘Kalbela’, Naxalbari and Radical Political Cinema

Gautam Ghose’s Kalbela is a film set against the background of the Naxalite movement. Based on a 1980s novel by Samaresh Majumdar, the film sets itself up, quite self-consciously, within a certain tradition of films, namely radical political Bengali cinema of the 1970s and 1980s. It thus establishes an intertextuality and a certain connection with them.

The casting sequences take us through a rapid tour of some of the more emblematic moments of that cinema and that time:

  • The shot from Mrinal Sen’s Calcutta 71 of the young man on the run jumping off a wall, running through the lanes, pursued by the police and finally shot in an open field. You can almost hear Akashvani’s signature tune as it begins its news bulletin to announce the discovery of yet another anonymous dead body in those troubled times.

You are barely through with it and in quick succession you see two, now somewhat iconic, scenes representing the 1970s angry young Bengal:

  • Ranjit Mallik in the final sequence of Interview, flinging a stone to break open the showcase of a shop. He would denude the mannequin and remove the suit it is wearing, and take it for his interview the next day. It is a stylized ‘trial’ of this character for the offence of disrobing the mannequin that becomes the opening sequence of Sen’s ‘Chorus’.
  • The other sequence is also equally iconic: Dhritiman Chatterjee ‘turning the tables’, literally, as it were, on his interviewers. This is a sequence from Ray’s Pratidwandi. Satyajit Ray, who has all too often been accused of ‘evading politics’, however captures, in this sequence, an important mood of rebellion that marked the 1970s.

Continue reading ‘Kalbela’, Naxalbari and Radical Political Cinema

Does the ‘girl-child’ exist?

Does the ‘girl-child’ exist? What is it other than empty officialese, a smoke-screen that obscures, almost erases, little girls and the dismal little lives most of them lead? The ‘skewed sex-ratio’ has become a fetishized object for policymakers and governments in India, and improving those numbers a goal in itself. In the pursuit of good-looking sex-ratios, the minister for women and child development has come up with one alarming scheme after the other.

Earlier this year, Renuka Chowdhury announced a government scheme to open centres where people can abandon unwanted daughters rather than aborting them. Can you imagine the girl-children growing up in these doomed institutions? What fates can they expect, unwanted by their parents and kept on by the State only to boost sex-ratios? Chowdhury said at the time that the government was treating the drop in sex-ratio as an issue of national emergency. She also said that through this scheme, the government would “at least ensure that the gene pool is maintained”! In effect, these institutions would be collections of little girls unwanted by all but the census-takers, dropping by periodically to correct the skewed sex-ratio with a quick look at the office records.

Continue reading Does the ‘girl-child’ exist?

This Is Not A Story About Binayak Sen

This is not a story of the fifty plus Children’s doctor Binayak Sen from Raipur, Chattisgarh who is at present languishing in jail under draconian provisions of a law which has declared him a ‘terrorist’ because he had the courage to speak truth to power.

This is not meant to be a story of two young daughters of this man who are eagerly waiting for their father who is one of their closest friends and with whom they have shared all secrets of the world. Continue reading This Is Not A Story About Binayak Sen

Queer Images

Sunil Gupta is a renowned photographer whose work over the last three decades has spanned images of the body, migration, exile, HIV and sexuality. He also has a lot to say about the need for an art history centred on sexuality. See his work on Also, see his jointly curated exhibit, autoportraits, as part of The Nigah QueerFest ’07. Details at

Sunil’s work will come out in a book by Yoda Press in 2008. I had a chance to speak to Sunil recently for an interview that was published in Time Out Delhi. Excerpts:

G: Today, Sunil, you are known as a photographer who has a significant body of work on sexuality, and especially on gay and lesbian lives. How did sexuality first enter your work?

S: I moved to Canada from Delhi when I was 15. I arrived in September, 1969, literally a month after the Stonewall uprising in New York, so you could feel the effects of gay liberation everywhere. I went to a very liberal junior college. Everyone came out then. So being gay was very cool, unlike being Indian which was not cool at all. There were no Indians around me at the time. I started shooting gay news items for a fledgling campus newsletter. Those were my first photographs on sexuality. We were trying to find positive images in those early days. It was about taking happy picture of people happily being gay to counter all the negative imagery around us. Continue reading Queer Images