Gitanjali Dang and Khanabadosh curate this series — Invisible Light — under which various themes will be introduced. Jagte Raho is the opening theme. Read an overview of the curatorial concept, here.
Also view 'Jagte Raho' — Chapter I: Gagan Singh Slows Down The News | Chapter II: Kush Badhwar and Pallavi Paul speak to the virus | Chapter III: Amshu Chukki looks at a protest that never happened
Chapter III: Mo’Halla and the film Jagte Raho on everything that doesn’t disappear
If British rule in India, much like colonial rule everywhere, was staged as an encounter with infrastructure — including roads, architecture, education, polity, and institutions — then it could be said that post-Independence, the State’s presence has been staged and managed through similar encounters with infrastructure.
Or as Henri Lefebvre — the Marxist philosopher and sociologist who introduced us to concepts such as ‘right to the city’ and ‘production of space’ — put it more eloquently, “Nothing disappears completely... In space, what came earlier continues to underpin what follows... Pre-existing space underpins not only durable spatial arrangements, but also representational spaces and their attendant imagery and mythic narratives.”
In the two positions presented in this chapter, humans are caught in the big infrastructure of the big city.
With the second anniversary of demonetisation (8 November) just behind us, the fictional cityscape of Mo’Halla’s Nightfall in Democracy Heights, 2018, is bubbling with thought and speech bubbles, which make jibes at and speculate on demonetisation. The accompanying text-based work versifies Mo’Halla’s thoughts on an event whose unravelling continues unabated, and the overall political atmosphere in the country.
In this work — which appears like a panel from a comic book, or a comic as reportage in a daily newspaper — the titular Democracy Heights is announced on a hoarding, and alongside it in addendum: Since 1947.
Is the hoarding literally an advertisement for a high-rise to come?
Or is the hoarding an advertisement for the State masquerading as an advertisement for a high-rise?
Is the State a high-rise?
If so, would the high-rise, rise above every other high-rise in either hemisphere? How many floors, to be precise?
Who will the architect be?
Can Democracy Heights be occupied? If so, how and by who?
Is the hoarding a pre-enactment of an event in the form of democracy, which might never happen?
Nightfall in Democracy Heights, 2018, Mo'Halla
Since 1947, in line with the postcolonial mimicking of democracy, massive infrastructural developments were deployed in architecture and planning, with the intention of presenting a progressive image for the newly independent nation. It was in the shadow of such developments, which included Le Corbusier being commissioned by Nehru in 1951, to design a new capital, ie Chandigarh, for the state of Punjab, that Jagte Raho (Stay Awake) was released in 1956. The influential socio-political satire was produced by Raj Kapoor and directed by Sombhu Mitra and Amit Maitra.
The film is based on Aykdin Ratrey (One Night), a Bengali play written and directed by Mitra for the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), and is in keeping with IPTA’s agenda of bringing about an awakening among the people through culture. Formed in 1943, IPTA is the oldest association of theatre-artists in India. It is the cultural wing of the Communist Party of India.
The film takes place over the course of a single night and tells the story of a poor farmer (Raj Kapoor), who having just arrived in The Big City, is thirsty and on the lookout for some water. Heckled by the police for ‘loitering’, the farmer enters an affluent apartment block in search of water. From this moment on he is labelled a thief and the rest of the film involves him running down corridors and hiding in apartments, as the residents of the society hunt for the thief who has disrupted their calm.
Incidentally, the year 1956 also saw the release of the Second Five-Year Plan, which identified “rise in land values, speculative buying of lands in the proximity of growing towns, high rentals and the development of slum areas” as features common to the largest towns and cities.
Jagte Raho (Stay Awake), 1956
Artist in focus:
Mo’Halla is an art+politics+culture pop-up platform, with a focus on South Asia. Initiated by a theatre historian, a ludologist, and an artist, Mo'Halla stands for progressive culture and dissident politics. As of now, Mo'Halla is active in Berlin, Germany.
Gitanjali Dang is a curator, writer and shape-shifter. In 2012, she founded Khanabadosh, an itinerant arts lab. More here.