Classical iconic representation makes no effort to grasp the first of a story. Indeed the stories are not starting places. They are pluralized presentations of the dvaita episteme at odds with the theological impulse  The mode of existence of the icon as meaningful, from the point of view not of the scholar but of the culturally competent observer (a vast and many-tiered sprawling space of agency always “after” culture but also its condition of possibility) is something like an unrealized genre painting. The culturally competent (in this sense) may provide some generic narrative dynamic to move the devi and her companions along the steam of “history”.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Moving Devi”

On the same note, Spivak discursively moves the Hindu goddess figure of Devi from the static positions offered in the canonic Sanskrit readings, highlighting that the “culturally competent” or lay observers can paint over or give their renditions to the herstory of devi. It is in these reinscriptions that I find complex interweavings between the putatively passive Sita and the fiery Draupadi resulting in a hybrid figure, an entity of Sati—Sita—Durga—Draupadi. This all-in-one form allows the more folkish renditions, especially as appropriated in the cinematic realm, to suture mythology into the real and reinscribe a feminine aesthetic. In film the nexus of Sita—Draupadi—Devi is integral to imagining the feminine aesthetic. The fluid transactions of narrative have allowed for multiple telllings of Sita on the South Asian subcontinent, sometimes emboldening its feminine aesthetic. Often times cinematic characters that have been carved out of the moral mettle of Sita bristle with righteous anger and articulate themselves like Druapadi or self-conflagrate literally and/or metaphorically like Sati, so that the feminine aesthetic cannot be neatly traced to one goddess only. It is the conglomeration of many aspects of the devi that all bear upon Draupadi’s litigious epic question: “Whom did you lose first?” Female characters, from the earliest days of Indian cinema, navigate through the nebulous brilliance of this question looming at us from antiquity, a question that hints at the multiple losses women bear as part and parcel of their cultural ontology. 

Shreerekha Subramanian, “Whom Did You Lose First, Yourself or Me?”: The Feminine and the Mythic in Indian Cinema (Myth and Violence in the Contemporary Female Text: New Cassandras)


Subarnarekha/The Golden Line (1965) - Ritwik Ghatak

"Ghatak took one rupture in the history he witnessed as central – the partition of Bengal. As he went on extending that event into a metaphor for everything that was alienating and destructive in the experience of his community, and talked about the pervasive degeneration of his country sometimes solely in terms of it, he faced puzzlement and even incomprehension from his contemporaries. Wasn’t he being obsessed with a single event? Wasn’t he living in the past, cutting himself off from the contemporary? The full irony of the situation is probably now coming to light: the Partition – a joint treachery committed by the colonial power and the nationalist leadership – cost millions of lives (mainly in Punjab and Bengal, but also in other provinces as the communal riots spread) and left millions homeless (11), but had hardly any thematic impact on film or literature. People forgot to talk about it. In the face of this silence the history model of narration itself had to be played with, it had to be crossed with elements borrowed from traditional community-centred forms – epic, chronicle play, allegory, musical theatre. But in the face of historical denial Ghatak would also resort to a drama where a few hapless characters would say just that – ‘we deny it’. These are people who howl against the rocks that they want to live, who place negation against negation by closing the circle before violent interdictions of change. A particular kinship relation takes on an acute dimension in this drama. It works to defeat the melodrama of couple formation even as it destroys the logic of the other, pre-bourgeois melodrama: the feudal family romance.

… The allegory of the law and the state is relevant to our discussion to the extent that it illuminates the content of a resistance to the imperative of growth, to the official narrative of development in Ghatak’s cinema. His contemporary Indian cinema was trying to negotiate the making of the modern Indian citizen. Ghatak’s response to this obsession was to speak of the mourning that must underlie the celebration. Like Antigone, the logic of love in his films designates a space outside both family and state by positing an excess in the economy, by predating the necessary social partition of the two-term bond. The project of historical remembrance thus takes recourse in his cinema to a ‘denial’ of the historical separation. For a historian this would be a dangerous thing to do, close as it is to reactionary attitudes all too familiar to us, but for the artist here was a chance to extend a popular mode to the limit of genuine articulation. The melodramatic tendency of displacing the social into the domain of kinship and family is pushed beyond the limit of its triangular allegories of subject formation. The brother and sister in their love withdraw from the Symbolic, from the domain where names are fixed and destinies are already narrated. This withdrawal is meant as protest against chronicles of becoming foretold, against the genocidal victories of history.”

-Moinak Biswas, "Her Mother’s Son: Kinship and History in Ritwik Ghatak"


À découvrir … ‪Subarnarekha‬ de Ritwik Ghatak

Inde, 1947, la partition du pays entraîne des mouvements de populations. Déplacé avec sa petite sœur dans un camp de réfugiés Ishwar Chakraborty fait face au quotidien en rêvant d’un futur brillant …

Le musée Guimet projette régulièrement des films dans son auditorium : n’hésitez pas à vous renseignez sur les prochaines séances !


"Have you read the Ramayana?"


"It’s the story of Sita. Janaka was king of Mithila. One day ploughing an empty field, he found a little girl on the ground—Sita. Sita was the daughter of the Earth. One day she went back to the Earth. The Earth opened up to receive her. But that was much later. In between…comes the whole story of the Ramayana."

"I’ll hear the whole story one day."


Subarnarekha, The Golden Thread (1965)

A girl and her brother enter a deserted military airstrip – an overgrown concrete and tarmac ruin of a recent but already forgotten war, where rusting fighter planes lie scattered and waiting as if for the return of their dead pilots. The girl traces a path that the cracks in the tarmac make with her steps, into the wind that suddenly blows in a terrifying vision of Kali, the goddess of destruction, who towers over the small child on the desolate airstrip. The girl stands frozen, struck dumb with fear. Her brother rushes in, discovers that the goddess is only a bahurupi, a thin itinerant impostor with a scowl, a set of wooden goddess arms, tinsel weapons and a garland of papier mâché skulls. He asks the impostor angrily who he is and why he must scare children so. The bahurupi-impostor-goddess replies, “I did nothing; she came in the way”.

This fragment of film, the ‘bahurupi in the airstrip’ sequence in Ritwik Ghatak’s Bengali film Subarnarekha (The Golden Thread, 1965), is laden with strange encounters. A terrifying yet banal masquerade interrupts a child’s exploration, a girl crosses the path of a goddess, a military airstrip built in World War II invades a remote corner of Bengal, rust, time and the obstinate fertility of vegetal undergrowth encroach upon and encircle the abandoned airstrip and its forgotten fighter aircraft. Everything comes in the way of everything else. Collisions bring collisions in their wake. The girl, her brother, the goddess, the impostor, the airfield, the aircraft, the undergrowth – all seem to be saying, at once, “I did nothing, she came in the way”.

(Sarai Reader 2005: Bare Acts)