Department of Anthropology

Kamran Ali: Cinema and the City

Mon, November 11, 2013 | SAC 5.118

12:00 PM

"Cinema and the City"

In Pakistan in the 1960s an urban oriented and modern narrative started being portrayed, especially in the new Karachi-based cinema.

My presentation will not provide a complete history of cinema during this period, but concentrate on a particular film, Behen Bhai (tr. Sister and Brother, 1968), to show how Muslim nationalism (the ideological basis for the creation of Pakistan) becomes linked to modern urban life in this era of developmentalist politics. The movie although not financed by the state, could be understood as an attempt to address the question of national cohesion at a particular juncture of the nation’s history. It is a story of loss and redemption within the framework of the nation and its various fragments. Yet what interests me is the coming together of all characters in the large city (Karachi), the most cosmopolitan space in post-Partition Pakistan. Not unlike the modern city as it emerges in the West in the late 19th century (Vienna, Paris, Berlin), which is characterized as a space of opportunity and emancipation, in Pakistan too by the 1960s this modern space, the city, is considered the milieu of freedom, individuality, civic rights and democracy (albeit of the controlled type). It is contrasted with the rural, which remains the space of tradition, feudal oppression and superstition. The urban, in a teleological cultural ethos of progress, becomes the dream of becoming modern in the Pakistan during this era with its promise of ‘emancipated’ lifestyles and bourgeois pleasures (cars, night life, marriage by choice) while overcoming ethnic difference. Behen Bhai, I argue, remains one of the aesthetic repositories of such memories from the period.

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