Simran Bhalla on the incendiary films of India’s “Ministry of Light”

Can cinema make you a good citizen? For a half century, the Indian government hoped so: until 1994, they required commercial cinemas to screen twenty minutes of state-sponsored content before the feature presentation, forcing its movie-mad people to absorb information about the country’s progress and development. In the 1960s, the organization that produced these shorts—Films Division—grew tired of dry documentaries and began to experiment. Its filmmakers played with form and used diverse modes such as animation, mixed-media, and even claymation, to present a more diverse and ambivalent vision of India to its people.

Block Museum Associate Film Programmer Justin Lintelman recently sat down with Simran Bhalla, curator of  “Ministry of Light Experimental State-Sponsored Films from India, 1968-1975” to discuss the Fall 2017 Block Cinema series.  In the conversation Bhalla, a PhD student in the Northwestern University Screen Cultures program, previews some of the incendiary and rare films that will be screening during the free cinema program running at the museum September 21st and 22nd at 7PM. Bhalla notes that Indian cinema is far more global than media histories often suggest. “I would argue that the “Film Division” films are in conversation with experimental documentaries that are being made around that world at that time,” she notes.

Conversation: Ministry of Light: Experimental State-Sponsored Films from India, 1968-1975 from Block Museum on Vimeo.

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