Film: Nostalgia for the Future: A Film by Avijit Mukul Kishore and Rohan Shivkumar

Exploring temporal movements of a banal urbanity through a cinematic experience- composed of vivid historical footage interwoven into the everyday hustle in the life of a modern Indian citizen; the film attempts to reflect on modernity in space and time in a manner that is true to a lived experience.

Buildings and Films  contribute significantly to our individual and collective identity.  A work of collaboration between an Architect and a Documentary Filmmaker, the film opens with glimpses of faces, spaces, and places fluctuating between a familiar past and present. Featuring four distinct imaginations of an ideal modern Indian home, the plot unfolds in the inevitable co-dependence of city and cinema to represent a manifestation of modernity.

An abstract body of the citizen features as the protagonist of a pensive script written by Rohan Shivkumar.

To elucidate the idea of the ‘body’ and the modernity it inhabits in the context of a nation, a city and a home; the film travels to pertinent modern Indian states of Baroda, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, and New Delhi.

Unveiling a 19th century ‘Indo-Western’ modern costume, the narrative opens with the home of the Gaekwads of Baroda– The Lukshmi Vilas Palace. In a utopian incarnation “where Rajasthan meets Venice and London meets Benaras, an unrestrained ‘East meets West’ identity is born. Based on historical accounts, the footage focuses on the pursuit of a liberal culture as an external experience. Revealing elaborate interiors of the Palace through a lens of ambitiousness in the kind of patronage for arts and education, in a renewed perception of the society, and in the prospect of nation-building; the portrayal is one with a dual sense of intimacy and anonymity.

“The nation is a home. Community is a home. The body is a home. Modernity wanted to skip the gap between these homes.”

The film cuts to successive moments in Indian history that led to the construct of a “naked modernism” founded on the plains of the Punjab in the shade of the Himalayas. Indeed the representation of a city on film cannot be achieved without addressing a dependency on spacio-temporal conceptions of modernity.

“I have welcomed very greatly one great experiment in India which you know very well- Chandigarh……. It is the biggest job of its kind in India….. It is the biggest because it hits you on the head, because it makes you think…..And the one thing that India requires in so many fields is to be hit on the head so that you may think. ” – Jawaharlal Nehru

Featuring a prospect of modernity that strays from convention- the  narrative here is concerned with a tangible manifestation of freedom that welcomes openness by stripping “the act of living into the most primal”. Through an audacious reworking of historic material and present-day footage of huge open spaces, and bare buildings under vast skies- the portrayal of Chandigarh exposes a displaced relationship between the visual and the verbal conjuring an almost disruptive nostalgia.

“The body is the nation. The nation is a home. The body is a home. The body is pleasure. The body is sin.”

When Gandhi consciously denounced the embodiment of pleasure, a modernity rooted in frugal and minimal living inspired a nation amidst a survival crisis. In realising the eventuality of Gandhi’s ideals along with that of many others who contributed to a moral code for liberation of the body, there is a question that still remains unanswered- “where are we and how far did we walk the path that he showed us?”- Jawahralal Nehru

The Indian cinematic landscape (with nuances) and the state propaganda of post independent India instilled a sense of aspiration in a ‘white-collared’ modernity, and a belief in a modern science that is “trained to see order in disorder”. There was a general acceptance of the impression of reel-life on real-life, and its extended influence on concepts of modern socio-cultural, and environmental experiences.

“The body is the nation. The city is the nation. The city is a machine. We are its gears.”

A city that was to become home to mixed social classes was born out of a rationale “that presumes knowledge beyond the boundaries of history, class, caste, and gender where bodies become biological machines which can be measured, and understood.” A city was to be reimagined amidst a climate of mechanisation of attributes for the mass production of ‘bodies’.

In the wake of a New India, Delhi was faced with a massive task of accommodating displaced families post-partition and a bureaucratic workforce. The city was presented with an opportunity where the State could lead as a provider of a distinct, but palpable modern identity for the independent citizen. In the hope of providing  cultural continuity in a largely malleable construct that knows no boundaries and favours no one, every individual must aspire to reclaim what is rightfully theirs from a plethora of identities-  reinventing itself each time a new wave hits the shore.

Avijit Mukul Kishore orchestrates a spectacular collage of 16mm, digital and archival footage shot in colour and black & white, appropriated with deep red filters in parts rendering a seemingly distorted reality. The language flows from being descriptive to poetic to academic, with specific use of Urdu and English words reminiscent of a cultural ethos.

‘Nostalgia for the Future’ is a visual and aural portraiture of an incessant yearning of the ‘body’ for a habitable identity. The film achieves a dynamic coherence in the manner of layering spatial and temporal fragmentation leading to the creation of a new kind of space in time. In the cinematic articulation of the inherent relationship between the body, space and time; the collective experience reinstates a perpetual longing by dissolving urban modernity in a recurring ‘tempo’ that is admittedly its nature. ♦

Script & Images Credit: Avijit Mukul Kishore and Rohan Shivkumar Avijit Mukul Kishore and
Film Copyrights: Films Division India.
Reviewed by: Hrushita Davey

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Avijit Mukul Kishore is a filmmaker and cinematographer based in Mumbai, working in documentary and inter-disciplinary moving-image practices. He is involved in cinema pedagogy as a lecturer, and curates film programmes for prominent national cultural institutions.

Rohan Shivkumar is an architect and an urban designer practicing in Mumbai, and Deputy Director at the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture and Environmental Studies. He is invested in exploring the many ways of reading and representing the city, and is co-editor of the publication on a research and art collaboration – Project Cinema City.

Title: Nostalgia for the Future
Description: Documentary film, Hindi and English with English subtitles, 16mm film and Digital Video, Colour and B/W, 54 minutes, 2017
Direction: Avijit Mukul Kishore and Rohan Shivkumar
Produced by: Films Division India
Script: Rohan Shivkumar
Camera, Editing and Narration: Avijit Mukul Kishore
Sound Recording: Asheesh Pandya
Additional Sound Recording: Suresh Rajamani
Sound Post-production: Gissy Michael
Assistant Director: Sabari Pandian

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