Abstracts

Brown | India is ‘All the Raj’: Fashion and Folk Art at the U.S. Festival of India
During the Festival of India in the US, over a dozen so-called ‘folk art’ shows produced an image of India’s handicrafts as participating in the global marketplace, operating at the intersection of international diplomacy and soft power during the Cold War, engaging economic and trade relations between US designers and India’s manufacturing interests, and encouraging a burgeoning interest in and nostalgia for an imagined vision of exotic India. This paper examines the negotiations and fissures that emerge within what appears to be a straightforward illustration of India’s strength in craft, drawing out the voices and innovations in visual culture that slip out of the grasp of cultural diplomacy and international trade.

Jhingan | Sonic Ruptures: National boundaries, Female Voice and Hindi film songs in the 1980s
In the wake of the ‘cassette revolution’, the ‘long eighties’ is considered to be a dark and shadowy phase for Hindi film music. Bappi Lahiri, plagiarism, noise, cover versions, disco boom and indifferent singing are often quoted as hall marks of this phase. Perhaps, there is another story that needs to be told. In this paper, I focus on the interstices between cinema, music industry and public culture to unravel sonic events that broke the hegemony of leading playback stars and music companies like HMV. I read this contestation as part of a continuum that began with the dissipation of the state in post-emergency India. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that from the mid-‘70s, singers from Pakistan and Bangladesh make their aural presence in the public domain. Runa Laila, Reshma, Nazia Hasan and Salma Agha not only challenged the hegemony of aural stars like Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle but also made geographical aural boundaries porous.

Krishnan | The Road not Taken: Shankar Guha Niyogi and the rise and demise of Gandhian-Marxism in India
The 1980s was a period of considerable political ferment in India. The decade was witness to protracted workers’ struggles, the emergence of kulak movements and intensification of several ‘identity’ movements. At heart, lay the ‘problem of development’, which as a term that shaped a range of governmentalities was repeatedly unpacked by dissenting voices and new vocabularies of protest. Equally challenged was the notion of ‘modern technology’, the acquisition and adoption of which for all developing economies was for long treated as being an unquestionably desirable project.
The unsettling of the accepted consensus over development and modern technology through the course of the eighties, however, I argue, began to fork into two distinct and separate pathways. One with the emergence of ‘environmental managerialism’, which ultimately triumphed as the grammar of state and NGO apolitical environmentalism. And the second, as the road not taken; the radical route of ‘Gandhian-Marxism’. This paper will trace the biography of this unfulfilled promise by discussing the life and work of Shankar Guha Niyogi and the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha.

Mazumdar | Bombay’s Vigilante Films
Vigilante films have historically enacted a quest for personal justice through the use of extra legal means. This global genre draws our attention to themes of revenge, violence, high octave emotional intensity, and the limits of the legal system. The inability of the ‘system’ to deliver justice forms the backdrop within which cinematic vigilantism operates as a visceral response. The experience of humiliation and disempowerment provides the moral justification for such extreme action. This paper will focus on the circumstances that created the 1980s vigilante films of Bombay. In these films the legal system emerges as a major target with ordinary young men and sometimes women taking extreme steps. The genre emerges across India in the post Emergency period and becomes sharply visible in the decade of the 1980s.  Topical issues such as political corruption, legal impotence, violence against women, and the bankruptcy of the media remain the major themes in the films. Through discussion of films like T. Rama Rao’s Andha Kanoon (1983), Rahul Rawail’s Arjun (1985), N. Chandra’s Ankush (1986), Tezaab (1988) and Pratighat (1987)Yash Chopra’s Mashaal (1984), Bhagyaraja’s Aakhri Raasta (1986) and Aditya Bhattacharya’s Rakh (1989) the paper will explore the expressive features of vigilante violence and its relationship to political culture in the 1980s.

Nigam | Populist Capital and Middle Class Desire
The paper will be looking at the vital transformation that ‘Indian capitalism’ undergoes during the 1980s – starting with the change in the nature of savings (from bank to stocks), availability of easy credit, and the rise of a new kind of populist capitalist like Dhirubhai Ambani. This is a period of significant changes not just in the nature of capitalism but also in the texture of everyday life – as a new consumerist middle class begins to make its appearance.

Rajadhyaksha | Realism in Political Times
Through the 1970s and 1980s, both in the Indian cinema and in its visual arts, major debates around realism often escalated into factional fights that threatened to split artists who were otherwise often on the same side of the political fence. There is a conventional political argument about what the Emergency stood for, and what the immediate post-Emergency situation meant in India, which simply does not translate into aesthetic experience. An ‘anti-realist’ avant-garde in India often threatened to literally secede from the state, in the name of a radical politics that foundationally critiqued the very basis of Indian liberalism, while a neo-traditional emphasis on the return to ‘epic’ pre-colonial practices, in music, in theatre, in the visual arts and in the cinema, tended to provide a contentious alternative to modernism itself. Arguments around figuration versus abstraction, or on realism versus significant form – not easily written into the dominant political issues of the time – nevertheless foundationally define the radical art practices of the 1980s. This presentation resurrects several key documents of the time, such as Sakti Basu and Suvendu Dasgupta’s anthology Film Polemics, reconstructing the arguments in Mainstream, Frontier and other journals, Kumar Shahani’s ‘Myths for Sale’ and other essays from the 1980s, writings by K.G. Subramanian, Gulammohammed Sheikh and Geeta Kapur, essays such as ‘Militant Traditions of Indian Dance’ by Chandralekka (Social Scientist), to open up the disjunction between political debate and that in the arts in the 1980s.

Rajagopal | Scandal and Irresolution: The Success and Failure of the Shah Commission of Inquiry
The Justice S.C. Shah Commission of Inquiry that took place between 1977–8, to examine the misdeeds of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, offers a revealing and little-examined exercise in the annals of diagnoses of the Indian state. Launched as a settling of accounts with the till-then ruling Congress Party and with Indira Gandhi’s dictatorial actions, the Shah Commission staged a set of conundra about the representation of political authority with far-reaching implications for the decade to come, I will argue. Although the Emergency itself was viewed at the time as a dark episode of tyranny, ended by forces of Indian democracy, by contrast, recent revisionist literature has treated the emergency as merely an interruption, without lasting implications and for that matter, devoid of insights into the character of political change in subsequent years. I will argue that the Emergency was indeed a watershed event, because it signaled for the first time since independence, the repudiation of national state authority. In interrogating the episode, the Shah Commission wrestled with a conundrum, namely how to achieve a critique of a given political regime while sparing the institution of the state. The Inquiry Commission’s main solution was to distinguish “excesses” from normal procedure. The solution was a stopgap one, however. Normal bureaucratic procedure was found to be highly personal, dependent on oral orders without observance of protocol, and rife with interference from non-state personnel. This posed a further conundrum, I will argue, for the news media that been united in its condemnation of the Emergency (at least after the Congress Party was defeated in March 1977), and that welcomed the Shah Commission’s investigation. Even the semblance of symbolic closure was eroded, over the course of the inquiry, by the rapidly diminishing authority of the ruling Janata Party, and the mounting popularity, against all predictions, of the former Prime Minister herself. Between the Shah Commission’s inquiry and the news media’s coverage thereof, I suggest, we can detect a characteristic topos of the political landscape of the 1980s and indeed thereafter: politics as scandal, but without resolution. The experimentation and political ferment of the 1980s, I suggest, took shape against such a background, where the media became energetic and partisan advocates of one or other position, and where the presiding values of the Nehruvian era were in question, but what would replace them remained uncertain.

Ramaswamy | Hating the Raj Properly: M. F. Husain’s Reflections on Empire and Nation
In the mid-1980s, India’s most prolific modernist produced a series of paintings under the rubric, “Images of Raj,” in which he offered a post-colonial visual commentary on the erstwhile colonial world in which he had been born and raised. In characteristic Husain style, these paintings offer as well a ludic take on the British Empire in India, whose political charge I examine as a response, at least partly, to the various critical events of the early 1980s. The title of my presentation is adapted from Sunil Agnani’s recent reformulation of Adorno’s enigmatic aphorism, “One must have tradition in oneself, to hate it properly.” For Agnani, hating empire properly is a peculiar combination of antagonistic relationship to empire, alongside a potentially tragic immersion in it, “a subtle form of inhabitation.” In Husain’s ludic return to his Raj days, we are witness, I argue, to a playful, but nevertheless, edgy postcolonial lesson in how one might disavow empire in the right way, even while learning to live with it and laugh at it properly.

Subramaniam | Theme Concerts and Jaya T.V Classical Music in an Age of Global Consumption
This paper intends to identify and reflect on some of the recent changes that have emerged in the showcasing of classical music performances through the 1980s. Just as national compulsions in the preceding decades configured music performances and its archiving in a very particular mode, the ‘80s saw a very substantive investment by the diaspora and private television channels in the business of performance both actual and recorded. The implications of this investment for consumers and performers and for revisiting the idea of a new ‘consuming publics’ as well as that of authenticity will form some of the concerns of this presentation.

Zitzewitz | The Iconographic Turn in Indian Modern Art:  Anachronism and the “Late Style” of Tyeb Mehta and K. G. Subramanyan
At nearly the same moment, two of the most important artists of India’s twentieth century, Tyeb Mehta (1925-2009) and K. G. Subramanyan (b. 1924), made what I will call an “iconographic turn,” and began to paint Hindu mythological images.  Almost exactly the same age, they developed their approach to painting in the 1950s, came of age in the 1960s, and propagated influential—and opposed—approaches to art in the 1970s.  Subramanyan’s paintings, murals, and sculptures were animated by the analogy of art to language, while Mehta, who painted in oils and acrylic, was preoccupied with the aesthetic effect of images and the properties of color.  Just after a period during which both artists lived in the rural art center of Santiniketan in West Bengal, Mehta began to paint Kali and Subramanyan the form of Durga called mahishasuramardini.  This paper places this shift first in the context of art debates in the 1980s, focusing particularly on the emergence of a discourse of generation and the notion that modernism had become anachronistic, before arguing that these paintings might be best understood through Edward Said’s ideas about “late style.”

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