Courtroom/Cinema: Celluloid and the Law in India

When 7 May 2014
Where NYU Tisch School of the Arts
Department of Cinema Studies, Michelson Theater, 721 Broadway, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10003
United States

Featuring Cinema Studies doctoral candidates Kartik Nair and Debashree Mukherjee

“Who is, in a true sense, responsible for the murder?” – Indira M.A. (Nandlal Jaswantlal, 1934)

“They probably thought that since ladies were being killed in my film a lady judge wouldn’t pass it.” – Raj Kumar Kohli, Director, Jaani Dushman, 1978

Law and cinema have been historical sparring partners in South Asia, one appealing to reason, the other to passion. In this presentation, Cinema Studies doctoral candidates Kartik Nair and Debashree Mukherjee discuss Bombay cinema’s varied entanglements with the law by showcasing little-seen films from the 1940s and the 1970s.

Low Genre/High Court: A Horror Film Goes on Trial
Kartik Nair
Advertised as India’s “First Horror Film”, Jaani Dushman (1978) features a hairy monster who kills young brides, abducting them from their wedding processions into his subterranean lair. Before it was released, however, the film itself was unexpectedly waylaid by the Indian censor board, which refused to clear it for public exhibition, thus beginning a lengthy legal battle between the film’s producers and the state. This presentation will showcase extended sequences from Jaani Dushman and track its journey to the Bombay High Court, where a ‘lady judge’ presided over repeated screenings of this brutal horror film. Following the court case, I demonstrate how a new cinematic genre – the horror film – was in fact defined in the moment of its arrival by bureaucratic petitions, orders, and certificates.

Making a ‘Sound’ Case for the Cinematic Courtroom
Debashree Mukherjee
This presentation looks at the talkie films of late colonial Bombay (1930s-1940s) to make a connection between sound technology and new imaginations of social justice. England-educated barrister heroines, tyrannical judges, and wronged mothers recur with an insistent regularity in films of this period. I argue that the cinematic courtroom created a literal, formal and ideological space of agonistics, a vernacular space of discursive contestation, where people could ‘be heard’ outside the confines of colonial-liberal institutions. More crucially, it presented an alternative public platform for India’s modern working woman, making her the advocate of an argumentative civic modernity, far from the nationalist public sphere which had supposedly resolved the ‘women’s question’.

Photo courtesy of the organiser/s

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