Documentary channel

Architecture, Films Division lore and nation-building find a home in ‘Nostalgia for the Future’

Avijit Mukul Kishore and Rohan Shivkumar simultaneously analyse modernist architectural traditions and the state-sponsored documentary.

The tantalisingly named Nostalgia for the Future is a documentary about two kinds of architecture. One is better known – the modernist traditions that resulted in the imaginative and pioneering private and public structures explored by the film, including Laxmi Vilas Palace in Vadodara and Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh and his Shodhan Villa in Ahmedabad.

The other is the architecture of the classic Films Division documentary, which is invoked in the opening credits – an amalgamation of different FD typefaces – and continues throughout the film.

The FD production has been directed by Avijit Mukul Kishore, the cinematographer and filmmaker of such documentaries as Vertical Zero, To Let The World In and Electric Shadows, and Rohan Shivkumar, Deputy Director of Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture and Environment Studies. The narrative is a conscious throwback to the FD style (which has since been parodied): there is a “Voice of God” commentary in Hindi (by Kishore), which elaborates on the confluence of modernity and nation-building in the pre-independence and post-1947 periods and the neglect of this tradition in later years, manifest in public housing projects in Delhi. The gorgeously shot footage, by Kishore, meshes clips from FD titles with grainy and shaky 16mm footage of contemporary scenes. Finally, there is the ruminative and often gnomic script, written by the filmmakers.

In an email interview, Kishore and Shivkumar address questions on the film’s form, the doubled-edged meaning of nostalgia, and the use of commentary in a film about images, perceptions and the emotions bound to built forms.

‘Nostalgia for the Future’ makes conscious use of FD tropes – the Voice of God, the anthropological thrust of the imagery, a script with a focus on ideas and philosophy and the emphasis on Nehruvian modernity. Why did you choose this particular narrative style?
The film emerged out of an anxiety about the certainties that underpin the discourses around both documentary film and architecture/urban planning. Each of these is burdened with a utilitarian role and each therefore has to base itself on a ‘truth’. This is even more significant when both disciplines are part of making a nation.

So the film is not so much about architecture per se, as it is about the body of the citizen and the way it is constructed in the idea of the home – whether that is the nation, or the house.

Laxmi Vilas Palace in Vadodara. Courtesy Films Division.
Laxmi Vilas Palace in Vadodara. Courtesy Films Division.

Did the film emerge from your engagement with architecture as well as your fascination with the history of Films Division over the past few years?
Both. The film emerged out of the anxieties of each of our respective professions – filmmaking and architecture and the role they played in making modern India. The premise of the film is an exploration of some of the conceptual underpinnings of the Indian nation.

The modern urge to transform the world, to make it better for the future by radically breaking with the past, is contrasted with the concept of nostalgia as a longing for home (etymologically). What happens when this home is the body of the citizen and a mirror of the nation? What kind of radical transformations does each undergo in the thrust towards modernity?

There is nostalgia for the future, but is there also nostalgia for a certain kind of information-led and high-minded documentary that is now a curio?
Is the information-led documentary a curio? Not really. It takes other forms. And more than nostalgia, the film uses it as a reference, a frame to contextualise both nation-building and communication. Documentary and architecture continue to be embedded with messages and are an integral part of image-making and history-writing for a culture.

Why did you choose the places we see in the film: Baroda, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad and Delhi?
The film explores five ways in which the new nation, the body and the home were conceived of by the modern Indian state.

The first place where this performance of modernity takes place is the Laxmi Vilas Palace in Baroda. The story of the progressive Maharajah’s costume of modernity is important in the way it led to a particular mix of Indian and Western in his home. His patronage of Raja Ravi Varma as India’s first modern painter is significant, as is his support of Ambedkar’s education at Columbia.

The second body is that in Nehruvian modernity – the “naked body” in communion with nature. Chandigarh epitomises this, as does the Shodhan Villa in Ahmedabad, which was built by Le Corbusier.

The third body is where the sensuality of the body is seen as unreliable – a vehicle for pleasure and sin. This is Gandhian imagination of Spartan living in his Sabarmati Ashram.

The fourth body removes even this spirit and is left as plain material to be sculpted into being a part of the machine that is the nation. This machine body is housed in the mass-produced systems of the refugee colonies in New Delhi and the Delhi Development Authority.

The fifth body is the body that is the object to be modernised, the subaltern body. This body is mapped and projected into this modernity through the instruments of the state – architecture and filmmaking (FD included). It cannot ever live up to the expectations from it. Instead, it finds other means of claiming its freedom. This body exists throughout the film and emerges in full in the last sequences in Gurgaon and Mumbai.

Shodhan Villa in Ahmedabad. Courtesy Films Division.
Shodhan Villa in Ahmedabad. Courtesy Films Division.

Some of the present-day footage has been shot on 16mm and celluloid.
The film looked at how certain textures and modes of image-making make meaning. The beauty of the celluloid image denotes and evokes a particular sense of nostalgia in us, which we sought to both celebrate and disturb. We shot sequences in both colour and black and white (and processed these in Berlin), used the deep red filter on black and white to create extreme tonalities to play with the drama of remembering. We meant to create what could possibly have been home movies of the time.

Our 16mm footage mixed with archival footage from FD was an attempt to both evoke and disrupt this sense of nostalgia – to ask whose nostalgia we were actually evoking?

Some of the statements in the film are academic and even gnomic – “This architecture strips the act of living into the most primal. The boundary between man and nature becomes erotic. A place for pleasure and confrontation.” Why did you opt for this narration?
There was a lot of debate about the mode and the nature of the voiceover. Did it have to clarify or question? Was it meant to explain or evoke? We decided on the latter. The language was meant to emerge from the Voice of God but rather than explicate, which VOGs generally do, it was to provide another layer on the images, an aural aspect.

The Hindi was chosen for its texture and for the meanings it has within. So was the nature of the language itself, which slips between the descriptive to the poetic to the academic. It meant to evoke ideas that may or may not make complete sense in the first viewing. The speed and tonality of the voice – trying to keep it as flat as possible was also intentional – to let the words themselves evoke images.

There is also a slippage between the Hindi in the voiceover with the sudden and unexpected use of Urdu and English words. This slippage allows for something else to emerge and the subtitles add another layer of meaning that doesn’t always mirror the spoken text – it can’t.

Nostalgia for the Future. Courtesy Films Division.
Nostalgia for the Future. Courtesy Films Division.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

Watch Billions Now

2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

Watch Westworld Now

3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

Watch Big Little Lies Now

4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

Watch The Night Of Now

5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

Watch American Horror Story Now

6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

Watch Empire Now

7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

Watch Modern Family Now

8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

Watch The Deuce Now

9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

Available starting October

10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

Watch Rome Now

For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.