Debashree Mukherjee (Columbia University)
Bombay Hustle: Film History as an Ecology of Energy Relations
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Cinema is a powerful assemblage that activates people and things and sets them into motion. The viewer’s body is impacted by the screen: she may be moved to tears, to laughter or into reverie. At the same time, as an employer, cinema has the power to put bodies to work. Running a camera motor, transporting imported raw stock, waiting for the next lighting set-up, and writing continuity, all depend on energy-intensive encounters between humans, electricity, celluloid, climate, paper, oil, and buildings. Energy transfers, therefore, undergird the existence of movies in the world and are central to the historical status and significance of cinema.
Focusing on Bombay cinema in the 1930s, this talk presents a roadmap for thinking a history of cinema as a history of energy transfers; not restricted to conventional energy sources but moving relationally between the bodies of film workers, equipment, and environments. Inspired by the work of environmental humanities on one hand, and process philosophy on the other, I approach the landscape of film production in the 1930s as a cine-ecology, a continual flux of multiactant relations of becoming. By tracking energy relations across the cine-ecology, I argue that we not only see connections between the image and the labor that produces it, but we can also reconceive cinema’s relation to modernity with attention to the specificities of other places in other times, other bodies in other assemblages of power and practice.
Debashree Mukherjee is Assistant Professor of film and media in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS) at Columbia University. Her forthcoming book, Bombay Hustle: Making Movies in a Colonial City (Columbia University Press, August 2020) narrates the history of Bombay cinema as a history of material practice, and is inspired by her own experience as a film practitioner in Mumbai in the mid 2000s. She is co-editor of the peer-reviewed journal, BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies, and currently a fellow at the Institute of Ideas & Imagination, Paris.