21 March 2012

Re-examining Amartya Sen

It has been reported that after Amartya Sen won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998, parents in West Bengal began to name their baby boys after him. Among contemporary Indian intellectuals, he has a wider readership in the Anglophone world than any of his peers; and though at least one other Indian economist, Jagdish Bhagwati, has often been mentioned as a possible Nobel Laureate in economics, among Indian economists Sen has a reach that is without comparison. One cannot think of many contemporary eminent economists who write on politics, literature, and cinema with apparent ease, and one of his former students, Harvard history professor Sugata Bose, assures the viewers of Suman Ghosh’s documentary film, 'Amartya Sen: A Life Re-examined,' that Sen has also made invaluable contributions to the study of Indian history. Those economists, such as the late John Kenneth Galbraith, who were viewed as departing from the extraordinarily rigid protocols of the discipline, which has been singular both in its insistence that it is an exact and complete 'science' and in its contemptuous repudiation of theoretical trajectories -- among them, poststructuralism, postcolonial theory, postmodernism, and feminism -- that have in some measure informed other social science disciplines, soon found themselves ostracized by their fellow economists. In this respect, at least, Amartya Sen may have the unique distinction of having retained a following in his own discipline while continuing to gain adherents among other intellectual and educated circles.

09 March 2012

Some Recent Indian Political Documentaries

Though "Bollywood" has become synonymous with Indian cinema to the uninitiated, there are an ample number of other traditions of filmmaking in India, not least of which is a tradition of political documentaries. The Indian independence movement, led in the 1920s and 1930s by Mohandas Gandhi, was the subject of the first concentrated phase of documentary filmmaking. The bulk of these films, however, never received any public screening. The Cinematograph Act of 1918 introduced censorship in India, and the Indian Cinematograph Committee of 1928, while urging the censors to curb their enthusiasm for bringing films before the cutting board, unequivocally reaffirmed the moral necessity of censorship, especially in a country among whose natives, as many Britishers believed, passions reigned supreme. The various regional censor boards did not only certify Indian films for exhibition, but also regulated the entry of foreign films into India and their public screenings. Indeed, "cheap American films," which were viewed (in the words of one English clergyman) as engaging in outright sensationalism, proliferating in "daring murders, crimes and divorces," and, more pointedly, as degrading white women in the eyes of Indians, were especially targeted for censorship. By the mid-1930s, Gandhi had become a figure of worldwide veneration; moreover, the Government of India Act of 1935, which allowed some measure of autonomy to Indians, implicitly recognized that the Indian objective of full independence was no longer a mere utopian dream. Consequently, numerous documentaries that had been banned were now made available for public screenings, among them Mahatma Gandhi's March for Freedom (Sharda Film Co.), Mahatma Gandhi's March, March 12 (Krishna Film Co.), and Mahatma Gandhi Returns from the Pilgrimage of Peace (Saraswati).