media, information, the contemporary

The Wager on Cinema: Screening 4 – ‘Emergency Cinema’

As part of The Wager on Cinema film series, ‘Emergency Cinema’ – A Presentation on works from the Films Division by Ritika Kaushik, was organised at The Sarai Programme on 22 July, 2016.

emergency cinema

Founded in 1948, India’s primary state institution of documentaries and short films, Films Division of India had the mandate of making films to inform, educate and publicize the government’s efforts to develop India’s economy and society and secure its integrity. Deriving its lineage from its colonial predecessor, Information Films of India (1943-1946) the institution has often been criticized for producing ‘crude propaganda’ in its communication of development goals. During crisis situations of the sort this presentation is concerned with, it took recourse to so-called ‘quickies’, very short films to create an impact on public opinion, and a range of films made to mobilize and evoke a sense of allegiance to the government in times of trouble. However, the films do not always manifest official mandates and ideology in an unambiguous way. Cinematic objects are charged with elusive valencies, and films made with apparently clear objectives offer a greater diversity of meanings than were ever intended.

This presentation facilitated an informed discussion on official deployment of films during emergency situations, and explored the infrastructural context of their production as reflected in the archival information available about commissioning processes, bureaucratic interventions, and film-making practice.

While the ‘Emergency’ in India primarily refers to the 21 month long period from 1975-1977 when a state of internal emergency was declared in addition to the continuing external emergency, emergencies have punctuated post-independence history. A state of external emergency was declared at the time of the Indo-Sino war of 1962, continued until 1968, and was declared again for the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971. In each instance the official film infrastructure produced films thought appropriate to the context. While the films called for unity and peace in 1962 and struck an affective chord of pride and hurt amongst the people, the 1970s FD films sought to evoke fear, the breakdown of public order and everyday life, and economic jeopardy in response to the mounting civic unrest in many parts of the country. The threats that were conceived as external in earlier years were replaced by “internal disturbances” in 1975. Amongst other film propaganda strategies, films were made to promote the Prime Minister’s 20 Point Programme as the panacea for all developmental ills and public disorder. This presentation attempted to unpack these ‘propaganda’ forms, looking at films from different periods of Emergency in India.

The event began with an introductory note by Ritika Kaushik. She presented an overview of her research on bureaucratic film infrastructure carried out at Sarai accompanied by an audio-visual compilation of archival material.

Clips from Films Division’s films used in the Presentation:

The Nation Stirs | 2:19 min. 1962

The Unavoidable Internment | 11:55 min. 1963

Keep Going  | 3:41 min. 1971

Line of Resistance  | 5 min.1971

Our Indira  | 13:50 min. 1973

Violence: What price? Who Pays? No. 2  | 1:50 Min. 1974

We Have Promises to Keep | 9 min. 1975

Thunder of Freedom | 21 min. 1976

Ritika Kaushik worked as a Research Associate at Sarai-CSDS and as an Editorial Assistant for BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies. She explores state sponsored short film and documentary practice in India.