Running in a dream

Amit sengupta | Updated on May 22, 2014

Unmediated: Essays on Media, Culture, Cinema. Author: Sashi Kumar

Stop and stare. In a time of information overkill, this book provides a pause - N Rajesh

A montage of essays on culture and cinema that provide an unwritten history of our political subconscious

Unmediated is a Sisyphean pause “in the time of the nightly boisterous brawl goaded on by the anchor that passes for studio news debate… …Comment pips fact every inch of the way. The information that is conveyed lacks credibility, is speculative or half-baked…” The book arrives like Gaston Bachelard’s ‘poetics of reverie’ in the time of ‘paid news’, fake opinion polls and Narendra Modi ‘live’, the feed of the demagogue panned eternally on TV screens, zooming in like Leni Riefenstahl’s many cameras. Words move to and fro across familiar corridors like dream sequences. You have never been to this place and yet you know the zigzag like the eyes of a lens. It is like running in a dream, unable to scream.

Unmediated moves like a primordial bioscope, and if you have eyes of wonder and amazement, you can actually see the still film as a moving film, the static as a kaleidoscope, stasis as magic realism. In this spiral, writing becomes anti-catharsis. If the ‘ways of seeing’ as John Berger would tell us, becomes ‘manufactured consent’, as Noam Chomsky would prove, then we must learn to enter the unfamiliar ‘poetics of space’, perhaps the next by-lane where Herbert Marcuse’s ‘essay on liberation’ becomes a graffiti of resistance on the wall.

Indeed, as Andrei Tarkovsky’s cinematic The Sacrifice with a bucket of water and a solitary tree, in the beginning was the word. Surely, this is also a moment of exile and condemnation. In that sense, if the universally embedded media has made all of us ‘Outsiders’ then even the smile of a stranger woman on the street can become a commodity. Buy one smile, get two free.

Surely, Unmediated tells us that we have been turned into comic strips of insatiable desire; the more we have, the less we are. And yet, in these ‘Modern Times’, like that incredible critique of capitalism by Charlie Chaplin, the night is full of magical possibilities.

It’s like Smita Patil, a shooting star in the nocturnal sky, with her dark darkness making the screen luminescent; then, suddenly, she vanishes into the blue like a gypsy caravan. Nishant, Manthan, Bhumika: did the “anti-heroine” break the cliché?

Writes Sashi Kumar, “While a subdued and quiet but strong style has become her forte, the real test of her creativity and innovativeness as an actress is her ability to give this basic characteristic a range: to impart those subtle nuances, add those extra inputs that keep her from going stale or becoming typecast even as a breakaway character.”

You turn a corner, there is no miracle. It’s bitter realism. This is how an essay ‘The Cut and Thrust of Eisenstein’s Montage’ begins: “In much the same manner as Che Guevera, uprooted from the cause of his struggle and the context of his death, has been suborned by market capitalism, to become fetishized commodity and iconized brand as an aspirational romantic rebel hero of our times, montage — a product of the first flush of the October Revolution — has been appropriated and vulgarized by commercial advertisement and publicity films and videos, over the decades, to serve precisely the opposite artistic and ideological purpose.”

For someone who started dabbling in multimedia much before the ‘imagined community’ of ‘convergence’ could even hallucinate about it, and for a journalist who travelled across West Asia as an eclectic great leap forward, and then through the sleepless nights, meticulous rigour and metaphysics of television, radio, print, cinema, internet, these radical, existential and non-conformist essays on media, culture and cinema travel like a rediscovery and an unwritten history of our political subconscious. The one-dimensional tyranny of the herd mentality, the shallow and the stuffed, is turned transparent.

The book, by its range, takes the reader by surprise. From Aravindan, Coppola, Godard to Guru Dutt, the ‘montage’ is breathless. A must for media practitioners and academics, especially students.

Amit sengupta is a journalistassociate professorat The Indian Institute of Mass CommunicationDelhi

Published on May 16, 2014

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