The Reanimated Corpse: A multiplayer game follows a scout in 1970s Bombay, offering an oral model of film conservation

The origins of the game date back to 2017, when the creators studied the diverse methods employed globally in the restoration of film from around the world at Italy's Pordenone Silent Film Festival.

Anvisha Manral January 06, 2021 10:12:41 IST
The Reanimated Corpse: A multiplayer game follows a scout in 1970s Bombay, offering an oral model of film conservation

A scene from the chawl where The Reanimated Corpse is set. Image courtesy: lightcube

Somewhere in Bombay, circa 1970, we are introduced to Rafique Baghdadi. An immigrant-outsider in the city, he is clawing his way through an unsanctioned investigation sparked entirely out of curiosity. A film scout initially tasked with finding locations for titles produced by Films Division, Baghdadi's exploration of the city's contours brings him to an abandoned house. It is now that we learn of Rashida, a yesteryear Bollywood actress from the 1940s, whose disappearance becomes the subject of Baghdadi's intrigue. In unravelling the reasoning behind her disappearance, Baghdadi unearths a film that once existed, starring Rashida, and of which no records remain. And that is the staggering premise of The Reanimated Corpse, a 2D online puzzle platformer for PC, where users traverse alongside the outsider, the 'existential casualty of a metropolis' — Rafique Baghdadi in this case — to leave a mark on an alien cityscape.

The origins of The Reanimated Corpse date back to 2017, when the creators at Lightcube — the organisation behind the conceptualisation, writing, and curation of the game — studied the diverse methods employed in the restoration of film around the world, at Italy's Pordenone Silent Film Festival. During this engagement, the differences in the preservation practices observed by countries with the resources to operate vaults, and those that cannot, became clearer to the participants. "These vaults nurse and house a history of film that is predominantly material — in that, the history of film here is stored in the form of actual prints, reels, and their containers. This is not true of countries such as India, or Iran, or Sudan, where circumstances, a succession of volatile contexts or general neglect ensured that while various actual films were lost, their memory survived," explains Anuj Malhotra, Head Programmer at Lightcube, a Delhi-based film society initiated in 2012 to vet national and global cinematic traditions. It then became imperative for the collective, to "explore how countries without vaults — or in essence, without a tangible, material heritage of film — still organise a remembrance and then transmission of their national cinemas".

To bring their collective vision to fruition, Lightcube collaborated with Architecture for Dialogue (AfD), a duo of architects and spatial designers who helped create the universe of the game, under the framework of Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan's Five Million Incidents 2019-2020.

The Reanimated Corpse A multiplayer game follows a scout in 1970s Bombay offering an oral model of film conservation

Baghdadi's diary, around which the conceptual narrative is created. Image courtesy: lightcube

Our protagonist Baghdadi, who is something of an enigma in what we see of him in the trailer, lends a different perspective to the city and his search with his existential predicaments. By locating him in the Bombay of 1969 while he attempts to unspool the mystery of Rashida, the creators aim to open a new dialogue on the 'flaneurs' that populate our cities, surroundings, workplaces — never truly infiltrating the entrails. Even though their relationship with these spaces is one constant negotiation, these flaneurs make up our individual and collective universes nonetheless. "Gaurav Puri, who co-wrote the script of the game, including Baghdadi's diary entries, and I have been very interested in thinking of how such figures — ghosts, in essence — permeate different popular media-forms and often populate the backgrounds of the mainstream, middle-class narrative that occupies the foreground; think for instance of the various SAB TV shows and the army of junior artistes who walk relentlessly from the right of the frame to its left, from left to the right, in a grand simulation of 'life'," explains Malhotra.

In The Reanimated Corpse, a simulation of Baghdadi's world is created, with the cues present in his diary providing snatches of his life. The players find themselves amidst a serpentine chawl as notes from Baghdadi's diary turn into unplanned encounters and discoveries. "Representing the working-class of Bombay over elitist symbols, the chawl is also an environment that is characteristic to the city and as a place of a reference to Baghdadi. Since the spatial component to the narrative is rather imagined by the reader of the diary, the maze takes the liberty to bend reality and push boundaries of spatial configuration and meaning," designers Depanshu Gola and Abhimanyu Singhal of AfD tell Firstpost. In the trailer of the game, we are introduced to a cavernous, single occupancy room. Baghdadi is holed up here as the monsoon rages on outside. Much of his time is spent daydreaming, looking into the distance and simply resisting boredom.

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Though the creators place him in Bombay, Baghdadi's version of the city is ultimately an outsider's, moulded by stories, films, and an urgent desire to belong. This ambivalence reflects how he responds to the city's social, political, sexual, moral maneuverings, lending the game its tensions. "The challenge for us was to translate this spiritual confusion — an inbetweenness — in the appearance of the game," says Malhotra. Therefore, even though the game is set in the archetypal Bombay icon, the chawl, a looming unfamiliarity is still retained, perhaps to emphasise the protagonist's 'otherness' and the city's general indifference to him. "We consciously embraced the impression of the city at large, but turned away from a photorealistic depiction to suggest that Bombay is, ultimately, like any other megapolis in the world - itself, but also, like various others." And so what forms the insides of the chawl are outlines, scarce colour accents and a smattering of props. The game is being hosted on Gather, a proximity-driven video-calling platform which melds the charm of retro video games with the technological modernity of virtual conferencing. Each session of the game will invite five participants to embark on distinct journeys, followed by a verbal facilitated discussion. "The pieces of the puzzle that they find are discreet cues from time, left for the participants to interpret and draw connections between. Therefore, the nature of the game relies on interaction, cooperation and collective sensemaking," explain Gola and Singhal.

The language of The Reanimated Corpse floats between two deliberate fashions: the Hindi of the mainstream Bollywood film from the 1960s, and the English spoken by the ambassadors of the British while they were still here. Much of the game unfolds like a quintessential Bollywood film of the 1970s owing to the mystique surrounding Rashida, and Rafique's own written record of the silent film actors, tawaifs, cabaret dancers, sex workers of Kamathipura et al. The aim of this grand design is, ultimately, to allow cinema to finally attain its intended status as folklore not by proposing a new alternative of constructing a film history, but by acknowledging an approach that already exists. Therefore, to the community of film preservationists and restoration professionals around the world, the makers wish to present "an oral model of conservation, and one which functions through and celebrates absence, instead of the usual celebration — through discoveries, reclamations, restorations — of presence."

And in this enterprise, there is also the average filmgoer — "often neglected by both the large-scale cultural festivals or the preservation museums, but who is, much like Baghdadi, the keeper of this heritage."

The second round of trials for the game, slated for January, will follow a similar model of registrations as the first edition.

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