Saturday, July 25, 2009

Snakes, Sirens and Vamps

Snakes, Sirens and Vamps: A Short History of Early Indian Cinema
A talk illustrated with clips, by Anupama Kapse
Live musical accompaniment for select clips by Robin Sukhadia
Friday, July 24, 2009, 7:30pm
Mission Cultural Center

Reflecting the increasing interest in silent film these days, around 50 people showed up for this event, sponsored by 3rd I & the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Anupama Kapse, a scholar of early Indian film, introduced DVD clips of 6 Indian films from 1918 to 1939, giving us a survey of genres from mythological stories to the Bollywood musical. For 3 of the silents, Robin Sukhadia provided musical accompaniment by triggering sampled sounds in the manner of a DJ. He also played the tabla. The accompaniments were completely contemporary soundscapes, very far from the flute & tabla that would have originally accompanied these films.

Ms. Kapse is quite knowledgeable, & she is good at placing the films in a larger social, sexual & political context. If I understood her correctly, only about 13 films survive from India's early silent period, so we were viewing true rarities. Early films by D.G. Phalke are notable for the precocious performance of his 7 year old daughter & for a crazy special effect Ms. Kapse called a "castrated head." The "stunt film" genre was exemplified by Gallant Hearts (1931) & is an obvious Douglas Fairbanks knock-off, but in a wholly Indian setting. The historical drama Throw of Dice / Prapancha Pash / Shicksalswurfel (1929), a British production directed by a German, looks very much like an art film of the period. We also got a look at 2 early sound films which showed that the template for the Bollywood musical was already well-established by the late 1930s.

Much of the audience already seemed to have good familiarity with Indian film. We were a polite & indulgent audience.

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