Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Hesitant Blink of an Actor

Whose Subjectivity?

The picture above is not a painted one, it is photographed. Yet there is a middle person between who is there in the photograph and us (who are looking at 'now').What in this visual is a portrait of a person, possibly a woman, lit up with artificial light to put a viewer’s attention upon the face or facial expression. Now a lot of falsifications are there:

1. the person personified here (the person of narration) and the real person (the narrator) might not the same, as it is clearly intelligible that it is not a photograph picked up from day-to day ordinary life event. The yellowish light from above is not natural sunlight, or though the camera is not far away from the face, yet the face seems to be (or pretends to be) not aware of it.
Let us forget the person in real. The personified person, too, not gazing at camera and so we are bereft of a reciprocal gaze back communication.

Wwhat is she gazing at? Though we don’t know if she is gazing at any particular object or not, we are confirmed that it is not a steady or constant or long lasting gaze. Her facial orientation and retinal alignment are not the same and so it appears very much skeptic or tentative or hesitant. We can also assume that, she is not gazing at any particular object at all, but thinking something with an inward self sufficient vision. The observation of the difference between her facial orientation and the retinal alignment is a formal reading, and the assumption of being skeptic, tentative or the feeling of its temporality may be the content that this particular visual contains, which wants to address something else.

2. Second falsification is, the personified person’s body/face is of a woman but the ‘real’ person, the actor, the person behind the mask is a man. From the Persi theatre tradition to the middle of the 20th century the female-roles were played by male actors in Indian theatre traditions, due to social restrictions upon woman. The most of the traditional theatrical practices even today female roles are made only by men. But the event captured in this photograph is neither half of a century old one, nor taken from traditional Indian theatre. It took place in April, 2005, in Kalabhavana, when we a couple of students were experimenting with digital video making.

So, now it is clear that, the actor here is consciously adopting or implying or embodying some other’s body upon his own, which is at the same time of the opposite gender. Here the falsification out of mimicry is clear and now as spectators we cannot innocently believe the personified person any more. As conscious spectators, now onward we would treat the actor only as an actor, not somebody else, and, in this particular case perhaps the actor also wants to be treated just like that (as an "actor", not some body else).

Now look at these pictures of the most popular Bollywood icons: Sanjay Dutt, Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan.

How are they look like? Though they are actors, here in these pictures they are not looking like any characters they ever played. They are no Vijay, Veeru, Rahul, Rhit, Raju or Munna. Neither can they be a father, brother, friend or a beloved. Neither rebels nor reactionaries. They are only Sanjay Dutt, Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan.
All of these kinds of photographic images (posters) through their gaze embody some kind of disinterestedness. On the other hand they are superior to us and they are directly gazing at us (rather at me) from which one cannot escape. Even if that directness is there, a kind of alienation also consciously developed, so that we can identify them with their suggested identity only. This kind of disinterestedness (even if in a direct gaze) is very much common in the model’s eyes of the suiting and shirting, costume adds. A poster maker of mass communicative media not only goes to the essential basic demand of the particular product (a film, music video or a drama) but also brings this kind of disinterested, alienated, “larger than life” aspects to the foreground. A sculptural monumentality is consciously produced where the gaze of the faces traps the viewer but denies to communicate. This en-trap-ment, we falsify as communication most of the times. As if the spectator should be seized, but that body of the image should not.

One simple psychological treatment is there. A film poster wants to make an image of the hero (actor), not the character he is playing/portraying in the film. The commodification of the image is the basic obvious factor, hope there is no doubt. But what I wanted to talk is something different. Why image of an actor pulls audience to the theatre, or, why the public wants to see the mostly known actor’s movie is a different psychological aspect. The same thing happens in a rural traditional performance also. We don’t agree to accept something new each time. A village folk watches, enjoys, laughs at, weeps in the same stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata already well-known to him. Even after knowing what is (how is/ by whom is) going to happen the village audience enjoys the same thing for years, for ages. In case of Hindi movie also we already know what is going to happen. At least we know Sanjay Dutt, Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan how they play a role and the same thing we want to enjoy again and again. In reverse, the well known, already familiar methods only can satisfy us. The policy behind making sequel movies is the same. The village audience has a constant community by their living. Often an audience of a particular village does not enjoy its neighbor village’s performance. The posters, the photographic explorations of image making only try to construct a viewer’s community (or fan club). Sanjay Dutt, Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan each of them have his own community.

Before releasing Rakesh Roshan’s Krish, a sequal where Hritik Roshan appears as a super hero, some toys and dolls were already available in the market made after the new born super hero. Lots of interviews were published here and there about how the mask was made; how the costume designed to launch a new super hero in India these projects were needed. The public is well-known to Superman, Spiderman, Cat-woman and along with some others, ironically, Hanuman. But launching a new superhero with a new name Krish it was necessary to make the audience already well-known to the forthcoming image. In case of such cultural products, there is a complicated network of pre-product production and post product production. The pre-product production tried to produce a common acceptability (common understanding of taste) among the theatre-goers public through the printed T-shirts, toys and dolls, carry-bags, launching quizzical programmers, music videos, audio-cassettes and cd-s, posters, hording, cell-phone ring tones, hello tunes and video games. The post product production we know well, it is discussed most often, the impact of the movie upon society and so on.

Again coming back to the first visual, a photograph from an experimental video made by some students in Kalabhavana, which was never screened anywhere. It’s a time to confess that, the actor in that photograph is of mine, the position and angle of the camera was determined by me, it was my concept upon which the performance was based upon and now from a spectator’s position I am analyzing it.

Now, to whom I should do justice, or whom should I make more privileged: the actor "I", the character "I", the camera onlooker "I" or this poor "I" who is writing as a spectator? By saying “subjectivity” whose subjectivity actually do we address?

( to be continued)……………

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