A Complex Gaze Into The Past: Our Review of ‘Around India with a Movie Camera’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - January 17, 2019
A Complex Gaze Into The Past: Our Review of ‘Around India with a Movie Camera’

Sandhya Suri’s first feature length documentary is I for India. It followed her father’s journey as he emigrated from India to the UK. His is a familiar story of men and families doing the same thing during the 1960s. Her follow up is Around India with a Movie Camera. The title alone might make audiences assume what they’ll see in these in 70 minutes. That it’s Indians in the region from the turn of the century to the Partition. But she has more expansive goals, aiming to redefine nationhood during the peak of colonization. It’s as if to her, it concerns the different kinds of people who walked the land. It also addresses the multiple outside forces that affected it.

Suri compiles and shapes footage that, for the most part, come from British cameras. The footage occasionally shows British people roaming Indian streets. They show themselves alongside people of both Hindu and Tibetan descent. The latter group, by the way, have rare moments of representation both in India and the West. It’s nice to see them represented here. And for the most part, Suri does them justice by under directing this film. Save for a little music and fewer inter titles, there isn’t a lot of contextualization here. This makes the audience lead to their own conclusions especially to the British presence within the frames they’ve created.

The British presence here is unlike the ones in docs like Concerning Violence, which portrays them as absolute villains. Instead, these people, who have high positions within British society, dress in traditional Indian garb. There’s even children here, playing as if they were in their motherland. There’s also an equalizing effect to the black and white cinematography. But through this footage, Suri shows how the British legitimized themselves as colonizers of India. And through her minimalist hand, she shows an ambivalence towards an inevitability. That they must leave the land they’ve stolen from those who have lived there for millennia.

The doc at its best while addressing the frustrating nature of colonization. Although understandably, a narrow focus on that subject might make the experience of learning about late colonial India feel reductive. Nonetheless, its expansive mission sometimes makes it unwieldy. In one scene, we see lions taking a bite at the camera. In another, we see a group of Hindus praying. The connective tissue between some of its subjects need to be stronger. More direction would also help here, since that would mean a commentary towards how the British capture these images. A correction of clarification to subvert these images’ original intentions might help too.

Its juxtapositions also feel occasionally random, although the little details make them more interesting. One scene is basically a short film showing footage of India’s high society. Again, there are racial and class divides – most of the Hindus serve most of the British. But there are a few Hindus who sit in the same table as the whites. These Hindus also wear traditional garb. And that’s either because they don’t have to assimilate or the British are telling them not to. Some of the inter titles include three writing systems. It’s the rare curious display of the separate but equal status of the Hindus.

Suri then follows that with clips from a film that she aims to contextualize Gandhi’s nonviolent noncooperation against the British. But all it shows is a livestock scene. We could read this in many ways. The gaze is British but the voice, in the strange way that it manifests here, is hers and is Indian. This reinforces the complex relationship between the colonizer and the colonized. This reminds us of the Frankenstein-like effects of the dissonance between sight and sound. Here is Suri’s perspective of colonialism and control, and the resistance against such forces.

  • Release Date: 1/18/2019
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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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