The Block receives NEA grant to support series of rare Indian cinema

On January 15, 2020 the National Endowment for the Arts announced its support of 1,187 national grants. The Block Museum was proud to be included among this list of national arts recipients receiving federal funding. The NEA will be a major supporter of the groundbreaking cinema program Morning Will Come: Modernity in Indian Cinema. This is the first NEA grant awarded specifically to a project of the Block Cinema program. In addition to the National Endowment for the Arts, the program is supported by the Consulate General of India, Chicago.

This curated series of five screenings, presented during the Winter 2020 season, exemplifies the Block Museum’s global approach to the arts by shining a light on a national cinema largely underrepresented in American film programming. Working with the Shabistan Film Archive, an organization dedicated to the preservation of Indian film, The Block has overseen the restoration of Indian films rarely seen in the United States, including a number of films such as 1971’s Badnam Basti that were presumed lost.

From restored masterpieces to​ rediscovered landmarks, every screening in Morning Will Come: Modernity in Indian Cinema is a special occasion.” notes curator Michael Metzger, The Block Museum Pick-Laudati Curator of Media Art. “As a whole, these five programs present engrossing and complex pictures of a transforming India, glimpsed from across a spectrum of languages, genres, and perspectives. The series also offers insight into the urgent work of film preservationists and historians fighting to keep this cinematic history visible. As such, Morning Will Come​ epitomizes the mission of Block Cinema: staging unique encounters with the moving image that foster a broader awareness of the world beyond the screen.”

“From restored masterpieces to​ rediscovered landmarks, every screening in “Morning Will Come: Modernity in Indian Cinema” is a special occasion.”

Michael Metzger, Pick-Laudati Curator of Media Arts

India is home to the world’s most prolific and diverse film industries, and Bollywood movies in particular have found rapturous audiences from Russia to the Middle East. This series, presented as a complement to Modernisms: Iranian, Turkish, and Indian Highlights from NYU’s Abby Weed Grey Collection, features seminal classics of Indian cinema that have rarely been projected in the United States in addition to landmark films by Guru Dutt, Ritwik Ghatak, and Mrinal Sen. Key themes include the encounter between rural and urban spaces, changing gender roles, economic mobility, and the status of tradition in a transforming society: all of which represent postcolonial conflicts between tradition and modernity.

Morning Will Come: Modernity in Indian Cinema, occurs during a year of exhibitions and programs at the Block Museum of Art dedicated to Global Modernisms. The series is named after the lines of progressive Hindi-Urdu poet and film lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi, and examines a distinctly Indian modernity as expressed through the nation’s linguistically and stylistically diverse post-Independence cinema. Extending the Global Modernisms theme of the museum’s 2019-2020 calendar, Morning Will Come challenges the notion of modernity as a “universal” Western concept.

The series is curated by Simran Bhalla, Ph.D. candidate in screen cultures at Northwestern University and The Block 2019-2020 Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellow. Speaking of her work on the program, Bhalla notes her hope that it will encourage other museums and cinemas in North America to program, and thus help preserve, Indian cinema, beyond the small selection that audiences are familiar with. 

Morning Will Come: Modernity in Indian Cinema encourages us to look beyond conventional understandings of Indian cinema, and of the social conditions of the nation in the postcolonial period,” she notes. “It shows us how both popular and alternative cinema were sites for complex negotiations of rapidly changing gender, class, regional, and religious identities. The series also sheds light on the state of Indian film preservation, and why even some of India’s most iconic films are under threat.”

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