A Birthday Note From A FTII student: "Pet Lovers, Cosmetic Liberals, Vulgar Evolutionists And Countrymen"
By Shini J K
05 June, 2016
It was my birthday, yesterday. A very common note which is quite expected after each birthday; I chose not to do it, till last night and left with no option when the night passed. Being the last day of my official final project shoot in FTII is the significance of the day. A cake was brought by my team (A complete male crew who asked me to join the team despite them knowing that any new incident in this turbulent time can give me trauma any time and still had the trust that I would do my best work. Ours was the team which formed first in our batch for the final project) earlier in the evening after the shoot and I cut it with all the hesitation and shyness which I always feel while facing the public. I was trying to survive over the many times rescheduled half shift(due to the administrative fu... ups) with pain killers during my painful periods and the party was supposed to be a heavy idea for me at that point. But what made my day was; a small, but thick chocolate cake brought by our light boys, Appa and Manoj Dada along with our Production Manager Vijay dada at 1'O clock in the midnight after surviving an accident.
There is something in it; the joy which I'll proudly celebrate. Not being a camera student from their department or not spending much time with them other than in the shoot, never made us feel alienated from each other and there are ethnic and class factors in it which I can never negate though I wish to do so. I could feel alienated in a group of English speaking pet lovers where discussion can lead to their pets and the love for them; my class, language and ethnicity matter there even after being privileged at multiple levels.For them, those animals are beyond pets, may be more like human beings and they will talk so passionately about their pets but it is difficult to see them talking about human beings with this much compassion. This was the difference that they have with the oriental groups who treat their pets as pets, not like humans but they will definitely love everyone equally. For me, Bholi is Bholi and Miya is Miya and Laxman is Laxman, but they all are equally important. (Bholi is our dog, Miya is our Cat and Laxman is our darling in FTII)
Coming back to the light boys, I see them being comfortably speaking with a girl for the first time without being conscious about our gender, sexualities and bodies. They invited me to their places to meet their families and to eat pure homemade non-vegetarian food, though I don’t fall into the category of a stereotyped female with certain moral values. There we identify with each other in terms of class and ethnicity. Certainly I’m not talking about a single ethnic group or a very specific class or caste. But, in a way alienated, marginalized or oppressed in lesser or higher degrees (That’s where I see myself as more privileged than them) .I always wanted to get liberated from the identity of a Mallu (Malayali rather than Keralite) for the reason that I’ve always generalized the “Mallus” in the name of Masculinity, Brotherhood to hide the vulnerability and defend each other even at the most problematic stands and Hypocrisy. But, now I realize, how much ever I try and practice it, I cannot negate my ethnic identity of a Mallu/Keralite with Caucasian features. This is where I empathize with Rohith vemula and his letter in which he wrote “We all are reduced to our immediate identities.” It’s a luxury which we cannot afford if we are negating any of these identities.
Falling into the category of an upper middle class OBC is a very problematic thing, but I’ve always made a very conscious effort to reduce my bourgeois tendencies and it actually is a task. That’s where I see problems with the arm chair revolutionaries, post modernists, elite intellectuals and gallery film makers. They won’t smell of sweat, country liquor or cheap cigarettes or beedis for its good and bad.But the suffocating smell of post modernism which has a mixture of all, but the identity of none is more problematic. They are worse than social democrats. They can co-opt multiple ideas, but they will never have a single idea of their own. You can problematize things, can be cynical, but never to an extend where you see futility in everything and stop acting at all. Or sitting comfortably inside your room,with your own business of art or your understanding of politics.
Pasolini writes about the relevance of throwing yourself into the ‘act’;
“. . . there is no poetry other than real action
(you tremble only when you find it
in verse, or in pages of prose,
when the evocation is perfect). “
“. . . nothing is worth as much as life.
That’s why I want only to live
even while being a poet
because life can express itself alone, too, with itself.
I would like to express myself through examples.”
To throw my body into the struggle.
-From ‘Poet of Ashes’
Any convenient stand taken is almost like a neutral stand. If there comes a day to choose between a Gun and a Camera, you still have an option between the two. But, imagine there coming a day where you have single option, which is certainly not the camera, but the Gun or die a fast or slow but a worst death.
“Our present generation is living out of the spiritually vacuous philosophies of modernism and post-modernism, the cancerous ideologies of free-market economics and unrestrained economic growth, and the corporate and political tyrannies that have nurtured an energised ethos of transience. The triumphalism of modernity has effectively wiped from our collective memories a coherent view of just what has gone down in the flourish and flash of the late twentieth century. The immensity of human misery and the degree of cultural waste wrought over the past century have been largely forgotten.”
-The Devil’s Century, Vincent Di Stefano.
Coming back to the ethnic identities, for a South Indian (for example), politics is more of an emotion than demonstration where we don’t know much about its practicality and thus it may not seem directly result oriented. That anyways is not our intention. Instead it can be very traumatic, it can put you in a very dangerous position and further it can be very much self-destructive. It is a very south Indian thing; a double underlined statement.
The categories which are mentioned in the title are those who are caught up in the post modernist idea of contradiction; which only make you elite intellectuals with too much of cynicism and they can only confuse people around. The neoliberal propaganda to divide people with the idea of “There is no alternative” and “There are many alternatives” is also a reflection of the same for me. Here, I would like to differentiate me and my fellow comrades from this, stating that; our contradictions are coming from somewhere else.
Pasolini writes to Gramsci;
"The scandal of self-contradiction—of being
with you and against you; with you in my heart,
in the light, against you in the dark of my gut.
Though a traitor to my father’s station
—in my mind, in a semblance of action—
I know I’m bound to it in the heat
of my instincts and aesthetic passion;
drawn to a proletarian life
from before your time, I take for religion
its joyousness, not its millennial
struggle—its nature, not its
I know the language looks very arrogant. But this arrogance is a gained one and it gives me full power to be naked in front of the readers.
We are weird, arrogant and ugly since we don’t have ideals, masters or Godfathers. There is nothing to hide in our ugliness. I hate the smell of purity in the act and behavior, which again can never be a south Indian characteristic. But I would like to have purity and idealism in the ideology. It is a romantic idea. But there is a thought behind it. Then the purpose is justified.
FTII is going through its worst ever times. But there is scope and possibilities still left for us. We certainly don’t need to be afraid of being politically correct always. We were not politically correct many times in the past also and that’s how the evolution of a political discourse happens in an art school. Too much of political correctness also won’t do any good, if it is completely negating the possibility to have an open dialogue. FTII is always in a better position to put forward a new idea in front of the world since we don’t have any interest in electoral politics or we are not associated with any mother parties. We don’t need to worry about party lines while talking in public and it gives us more freedom. I acknowledge film making as a bourgeois-elite art materialistically, in terms of the capital and the market involved. But, the way it has evolved as a form of resistance or a medium of expression justifies its relevance. Above all, any form of art has its own relevance beyond its purpose and beyond the timelines. The best thing with us is that we have the possibilities to address multiple identities including class as film makers and film students. We also have the scope to materialize our ideas through films even after talking about it in public.
I feel, we all are well positioned in a historical timeline where we should see ourselves as catalysts for a chemical reaction or part of an uncontrolled chain reaction. This view will only be possible from a slightly top angle, not from within. It can be the end of a historic and cultural bloc and the establishment of a new one. We are placed in between to decide what it has to be. I would want to play my role anyways. Time and responsibility are not middle class, mediocre ideas for me. It is again a very cynical thought which certainly can come from a post-modernist, but a luxury in my perspective. You can forget about the historical time or manipulate it in a film for some time. But, you cannot negate the ‘anthropological time’ which will obviously be visible in your gestures, mannerisms, body contours and so on. While watching an eastern bloc films back in the 50s or 60s, you will see the evolution of each community in thoughts and as human beings according to their time, which is a fact that cannot be manipulated with the space or time you portray. So, time is certainly not a mediocre idea, at least for film makers.
So, I’m going to take my edit shift soon, before I receive a notice from the admin which is very much expected in the name of some random disciplinary action. It is time for me to step out of the very place which I loved and hated the most. I take a break from continuing writing by ending this write up which started as a birthday note. This is what I would like to tell those friends and comrades who asked me to keep myself safe and healthy and to celebrate any moment which can bring joy in our lives in these turbulent times.
Shini J K is a student of Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune