Difference Screen in India: Bangalore-Jorhat-Dimapur-Guwahati-Santiniketan-Calcutta

Difference Screen presented 11 screenings in India in a fast moving programme beginning at Bangalore before moving to the North East – Assam, Nagaland, Santiniketan and Calcutta.

If Difference Screen is a celebration of difference, then India with its diversity of peoples, cultures, languages and religions represents difference unparalleled elsewhere.

Bangalore is the IT capital of India, considered by many to be its most happening city. Our invitation to screen in Bangalore came through artist Surekha, whose work internationally has included Spike Island, Bristol and the Asian Triennial, Manchester. Surekha has also been instrumental in assisting with artists’ workshops through Khoj India and the Triangle Trust and the development of Metro Arts Centre, Bangalore.

Chitrakala Parishath, Bangalore 5.11.15
The first screening took place at Chitrakala Parishath, the Arts University for Karnataka and was organized by art historian H.A. Anil Kumar. To my surprise and delight the screening was preceded by high tea for the audience. Many people, students, staff and an interested public attended including art critic K.V. Subramanyan.

High tea, a conversation with K.V. Subramanyan

R Dhanya a student of the art history faculty wrote a review for the University magazine:


I often admire the easy-going charm of curators that I meet coming from outside India. Bruce Allan the curator of ‘Difference Screen’ ate snacks and drank tea with the students before the screening began. As he jokes about how this could have been called ‘High tea’ I asked him what High tea really was. Bruce, an artist and curator travelling with dozens of hard hitting and poignant videos explained how his grandmother had sat down to tea and sandwiches to great ceremony and how it had been a very important daily event in their lives. I was truly taken by surprise at his answering my question with such humour. I am often reluctant to approach Indian artists and curators but very strangely the ones that travel to India are very open to answering questions without qualms of being on top of the hierarchy and handle the silliest-banal to the most intellectually stimulating questions with equal élan and patience.

Difference Screen is a collection of videos talking about changing landscapes, identity and culture in the contemporary world. There are films from all over the world and some were filmed earlier too, but the essence is one of a world in flux.

The films were screened first in the UK where Margaret Thatcher had closed and devastated coal mining during her tenure. An ancient iron mine was the first venue for the screening. Bruce Allan curated the films along with Ben Eastop and has been travelling with the collection for the past few years. After the UK the films were shown in Mongolia. That gives an idea of how the curators are envisioning their audience in a much broader sense than what we usually see.

We watched a dozen films or so and the variety was myriad. There were slickly produced performances to a quick almost life threatening protest filmed with the least ceremony. Alina Ozerova’s documentary essay double F for Final Fantasy consisted of archival footage of friends and relatives who had managed to travel in the Soviet Union during the time of the cold war. A sense of freedom and fascination came through the scratchy images and the white noise. Hollywood by Daniel Brefin was an aural revisitation of Georgia under Stalin’s rule with people talking over the photographic visuals of the past. A theatre has been converted into a church now and is talked about fondly and kisses given there remembered, while a trace of inhibition creeps in with the man questioning if the church should be there now; if it was a profane space for a sacred one. Bruce Allan recalled how prior to the coming of President Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgia was rampantly corrupt and how the places in the photographs are permanently transformed today.

One of the most memorable films happened to be Walk of the Three Chairs by Breda Beban from Serbia. The film documents a choir-like male band playing instruments and singing on the Danube, Belgrade where they teach the artist herself to sing the very same song. As she learns the song and loses inhibition, the artist performs a Balkan Pagan ritual where a person is honoured by letting their feet not touch the ground with assistants constantly placing chairs under their step.

Exhibitionist in Iran by Sophia Tabatadze was probably the most powerful video where a woman is approached by the camera and in a trifle of a moment she unfurls her scarf makes a face at the camera and she’s back with scarf in place as if nothing has transpired. In the last few decades Iran has continually become more fundamental in its take on religion and its ascending control on oppressing women’s freedom is well known. In Persepolis Marjane Satrapi worries for her life at one juncture, because she is wearing lipstick and the Muttawa or culture police are close by her. The video is truly an act of bravery and a most simple one at that.

Seeds was an incredible, nerve racking performance by artist Shahar Marcus who is well known for his performances. In an act where men dressed in bomb proof clothing search a strip of desert land methodically for mines, the threshold between reality, performance and drama easily lose edge. Marcus is from Israel and as a counter film there was Al Hissan- The Jenin Horse by Thomas Kilpper shot in Palestine where he constructed a ceremonial horse out of debris from the war. With children and an activist he travelled with the horse through Palestine and the documentary footage gives a wonderful idea of how life is in Palestine and how passionate the people are for their country. The fact that they can get killed any moment keeps coming through in the video. If Exhibitionist in Iran is one kind of protest, this is another and one with everything and everyone involved in it putting their lives on stakes for it.

Mikhail Karikis and Uriel Orlow’s Sounds from Beneath was a choir of miners powerfully reproducing the sounds of a mine shaft. They begin with winds, to tools raking sand to the whooshing sound of falling material.

Watching Difference Screen and meeting Bruce Allan reminded me that Art transcends languages and cultures to give that sense of an over the continent hand-shake. During the films a sense of knowing and connecting with people from all over the world, took place. These films showed a world showing dissent and love for oneself and others and it was so unlike the reportage of news and its associated apathy that the audience simply had to embrace it for whatever it stood for. Difference Screen is brilliant curation and mission and is an example of what Art could be, today. Many of the films are available online for viewing.

R Dhanya

Anil Kumar introducing Difference Screen at Chitrakala Parishath

1 Shanthi Road, Bangalore 7.11.15
The second screening in Bangalore took place at 1 Shanthi Road, an art space founded by Suresh Jayaram that nurtures creativity and cutting edge art practice, situated in the centre of the city. The Studio/Gallery at 1Shanthi Road provides space for slide lectures, small conferences, installations, performances, screenings and informal gatherings. It is administered by a not- for- profit trust VAC –Visual Art Collective. Since its inception in 2003 1 Shanthi Road has grown to house artists from diverse countries in its residency programmes. http://www.1shanthiroad.com

The event attracted a capacity audience of 40 including independent film curator Carmen Billows and Sam Ayres from London. Carmen had just arrived to prepare for her own later programme Postcard Views http://carmenbillows.com/postcard-views-a-film-screening-1-shanthi-road-bangalore-in/

Bruce presenting at 1 Shanthi Road

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Surekha and Anil Kumar right and above

As Director Suresh Jayaram was away, the screening was supervised by Cop Shiva, photographer and real life policeman http://copshiva.com/about.html

Jorhat, Assam
Following two successful screenings in Bangalore I took an early flight to Jorhat, Assam via Calcutta. I was going home! My host, Suresh Gogoi met me at the airport for the short drive to Nandan’s guest house near the Jorhat Gymkhana Club. The Gymkhana Club was a haunt of my father Peter during his years as a tea planter in the district between 1926-1963. My formative years were spent at Dhoolie Tea Estate in the 1950s and this trip took me back there, to the warmth and hospitality of several families who had worked at Dhoolie.

Amal Khound and Ranjit Das point to their fathers in Peter Allan’s retirement photo 1963

Jorhat Science Centre, Assam 14/15.11.15
Artist Tridib Dutta organised two screenings in Jorhat at the Science Centre Auditorium. Tridib publicised the events with posters and articles in all local papers.

Above and below posters at the Jorhat Book Fair

Local newspapers carried the story

Jorhat Science Centre, Planetarium left, Auditorium ahead

Jorhat audiences 14 & 15 November

On 15 November we showed one film only. Alexander Rekviashvili’s lyrical documentary Last People showing life in a remote village in the Caucasus mountains of Georgia and the extraordinary affinity of people to place, each other and their animals. Abhijit Borah wrote “Difference Screen was true to the words. Life of octogenarians in Georgia… Marvelous documentation”.

Dr. Raj Kumar Mazinder, a professor at the Arts Faculty, Silchar University noted “I have attended Difference Screen video shows at Jorhat Science Auditorium on 14th & 15th November 2015. For me it is a scintillating experience of viewing some of the boldest presentation of contemporary film and video and also meeting our old friend Bruce Allan. Thanks to Bruce Allan and Ben Eastop for their tireless effort. Hopefully see you in Silchar, Assam, India in the near future.”

Rupjyoti Mahanta, director of Replica Arts Theatre, Jorhat also attended the screening and invited us to spend the evening with Replica at Prantapur, their village location near Jorhat. A memorable and dramatic evening followed with actors performing short pieces outdoors in barely illuminated darkness.

Dr. Raj Kumar Mazinder, Bruce Allan, Abhijit Borah, Rupjyoti Mahanta with student actors after their performances

Replica’s anti plastic campaign should be an example to people all over the world http://www.telegraphindia.com/1120606/jsp/northeast/story_15574447.jsp#.VowJNPG3Kpd

Pilgrim School, Dimapur, Nagaland 17.11.15
Examination constraints in the academic schedule curtailed the original intention to screen at Dimapur University. In the event Tridib’s colleague, artist Limasangwa Aonok helped facilitate a screening at the Pilgrim School. “The programme was organized by NU, SASRD artist and renowned painter Limasangwa Aonok in association with Act of Kindness (AOK), Dimapur, Nagaland. AOK member Adrian Mahong chaired the seminar.” http://www.nagalandpost.com/ChannelNews/Infotainment/Infotainmentnews.aspx?news=TkVXUzEwMDA4OTg0MQ%3D%3D

With colleagues at Pilgrim School

Pilgrim School auditorium, organiser Limasangwa Aonok, Bruce and Tridib front row

Artists’ short films had never been seen in Nagaland and provoked much interest. Bruce introduced the context of each film to help interpretation and understanding. The screening was well received with informed questions from an audience of around 100 students, staff and others. Headmaster Mr Kikon (you can remember my name, its like Nikon) hoped for collaboration and the chance to see more films in the future.

front row: Headmistress Mrs Kikon, Tridib, Bruce, Headmaster Mr Kikon, Limasangwa Aonok. Standing behind Mrs Kikon is Lenti Aier who presented Bruce with a Naga tie.

Nagaland, a state between Assam and Myanmar
The Naga tribes practiced headhunting and preserved the heads of enemies as trophies through the 19th century and as late as 1969. Michael Fredholm (1993). Burma: ethnicity and insurgency. Praeger. p. 182. ISBN 978-0-275-94370-7


As the tribespeople adopted Christianity, they began to develop more of a “Naga” identity, a radical departure from their distinctions based on warring tribal villages. Today, more than 95% of Naga people identify as Christians, mostly Baptist. Naga society has changed markedly from what Europeans observed 100 years ago. Christianity and the missionaries became a stronger force for change in social and cultural practices than the government.
Thong, Tezenlo (December 2010). “Thy Kingdom Come’: The Impact of Colonization and Proselytization on Religion among the Nagas”. Journal of Asian and African Studies 45 (6): 595–609. doi:10.1177/0021909610373915. Retrieved 1 May 2012.

“In conclusion, it would be altogether wrong to see the Nagas as passive victims of a process of deculturation. There never was a pristine or unchanging Naga society. Rather, we may discern the ways in which Naga ethnicity is being actively and consciously remoulded in the present era. What emerges is a vigorous sense of history and identity at the level of the individual, tribe and nation.”

The Nagas Julian Jacobs, Chapter 15 ‘Nagaland Today’ page 176, Thames and Hudson 1990.

Jorhat to Guwahati


Cotton College State University, Guwahati, Assam 20.11.15
Screening at Cotton State University was facilitated by Prof. Dhruba Saikia, Vice Chancellor following an introduction from artist film-maker Mriganka Madhukaillya of Desire Machine Collective

Cotton College State University

Screening in the Conference room

The 2pm screening took place in the Conference room followed by Q/A including discussion with Prof. Dhruba Saikia on the use of mobile phones for making short films. Dhruba Saikia proposed the possibility of a University creative mobile short film project.

Prof. Dhruba Saikia, Vice Chancellor Cotton College State University

Prescreening lunch with Associate Professors Draghima, Sociology Faculty, Dimpy Mahanta, Psychology Dept., Indrani, Sociology Dept.

Dear Bruce, Thanks very much for a wonderful afternoon. Please do keep in touch, and have a great time during the rest of your stay in India. With regards and best wishes, Dhruba Saikia

Hello Bruce, It was really nice meeting & interacting with you. We all thoroughly enjoyed the screening of Difference Screen. Thank you so much once again. Dimpy Mahanta

Situated beside the Brahmaputra river, Guwahati is the fast developing capital of Assam. Bruce was invited to stay with Raktim Phookan and his wife Mitali who share the house of Tarun Gogoi, the Chief Minister of Assam. Bruce writes “Staying with Raktim and Mitali was special, Raktim and I had grown up in the same house, the burra bungalow at Dhoolie TE. Our fathers were both managers of the Dhoolie Tea Co.”

Assam faces challenges and change. These include a soon to open trans-asia highway with the India section linking New Delhi through Guwahati, Dimapur and Myanmar to Bangkok in Thailand. The highway advances development prospects connecting India through its landlocked North East States with the prosperous economies of NE and SE Asia. http://www.claws.in/1052/implications-of-trans-asian-highway-in-north-east-india-jaikhlong-basumatry.html

Far more contentious are planned giant hydroelectric dams and reservoirs in Arunachal Pradesh. In an unstable mountain range and earthquake zone any collapse could result in massive flooding and destruction in the Assam Valley. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subansiri_Lower_Dam

Leaving Guwahati

Calcutta – Santiniketan – Calcutta
Arriving in Calcutta I spent three nights with Shohini Gupta and her mother Sritti. Sritti’s husband, artist and designer Abhijit Gupta passed away suddenly, unexpectedly, a year previously succumbing to a rare virus. Abhida was an inspirational human being and is sadly missed by those who knew him in Calcutta. I stayed in his former studio let out as an airbnb surrounded by the incisive humour of his work.

“…windows to my soul? I doubt it,” she said, staring back. Abhijit Gupta

The Studio on the Terrace https://www.airbnb.co.in/rooms/710282

Kala Bhavana, Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan
I had wanted to visit Santiniketan for years and now I was on my way. After a late and lively Calcutta party with Chhatrapati Dutta and friends I boarded the 10:10 Santiniketan Express at Howrah Station.

Portraits of Rabindranath Tagore on the Santiniketan Express

Arriving at Bolpur, the station for Santiniketan, I took a tuktuk auto to the Art campus, Kala Bhavana, Visva Bharati University. Many tuktuks are now LPG fuelled and some are electric, a strikingly silent means of transport.

The wonderful openness of the campus greeted me and I found art historian Anshuman Dasgupta beneath a tree outside the college canteen. I first met Anshuman at Khoj Kolkata international artists’ workshop in 2006, Ben Eastop, Anshuman and I worked together at a conference ‘Two Rivers’ organized by Mriganka Madhukaillya and Sonal Jain at Periferry, Guwahati in 2009. Anshuman recently completed his PhD at Goldsmiths and invited us to show Difference Screen at Santiniketan.

There are no tall buildings at Kala Bhavana, much space, many trees and outdoor seating with notable buildings painted by acclaimed artist K.G. Subramanyan.

Above Mastermoshai Studio Mural, below Black and White Mural. Artist: K.G. Subramanyan


See also http://art.gold.ac.uk/tagore/tag/k-g-subramanyan/

Kala Bhavana, Visva Bharati was preparing for the annual art fair Nandan Mela held at the beginning of December each year. Despite the demands of preparation for this Difference Screen attracted good audiences over two evenings 27/28 November.

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Difference Screen posters outside the canteen at Kala Bhavana

Anshuman Dasgupta introducing the programme 27.11.15

Students continued to arrive during Anshuman’s introduction and 50 stayed despite a surprising lack of chairs. I invited the audience to come and speak to me on the campus over the following days. Amongst those who did, was MFA student Aniket Supe keen to discuss short films taken on his mobile phone.

Aniket Supe with a drawing in his studio

Aleksandra Janik and Magdalena Hlawacz joined me on the 28th. Aleksandra (Ola) is Vice Dean of The Faculty of Graphics and Media Art at the Academy of Art and Design, Wroclaw, Poland; Magda is Professor of Fine Art at Opole University Institute of Art. The visit was their first trip to India and we had the pleasure of staying together in Paula Sengupta’s Santiniketan house.

‘Arupsri’ our residence in Santiniketan

We had an excellent informal meeting with the staff of the printmaking department at a party for Prof. Sham Sunder, formerly head of printmaking at the University of Hyderabad.

work by Sham Sunder

The following day Prof. Dr. Nirmalevolu Das and his team showed us around the printmaking department with the chance for presentations and discussion on further collaboration between universities.

Professors Magdalena Hlawacz and Aleksandra Janik with Prof. Dr. Nirmalevolu Das

Nanda Mela 1, 2 December opens with a wide range of calendars for sale

Prints and more calendars outside the printmaking department

Original prints, painting and graphic work featured on calendars for sale during the Mela. Each calendar consisted of three pages, each page carrying an original image above four printed months, an excellent and affordable way of promoting the art school and selling art.

Dramatic Mela

Aniket Supe looking at shadow portraits of Sanchayan Ghosh’s students

Sanchayan Ghosh and Ranjani Ramachandaran

Sanchayan Ghosh, Associate Professor, Department of Painting, Kala Bhavana, Visva Bhararti came to both Difference Screen evenings. I first met Sanchayan at Khoj Kolkata 2006, our paths hadn’t crossed during his 2003/4 residency at Spike Island, Bristol. Sanchayan’s wife Ranjani Ramachandaran a singer and lecturer in the Faculty of Music came to the second screening, when singing and music infused a number of works. Ranjani is writing about the experience.

‘Welcome to the City of Joy’, crossing Howrah Bridge from Howrah station

Howrah Bridge commissioned 1943

Back in Calcutta we made our way to the Sunflower Guest House, a recommended place to stay in central Calcutta close to the shops and restaurants of Park Street and Sudder Street, the India Museum and Maidan. The Guest House has a 100 year old lift made in London that is well maintained, manned by a helpul operator and offers excellent service.


2nd Little Cinema International Festival for Experimental Film and Media Art, Kolkata
2nd Little Cinema is organised by Madhuja Mukerjee and supported by Avik Mukhopadhyay founders of TENT (Theatre for Experiments in New Technologies) in association with Studio 21, Goethe-Institute/Max Mueller Bhavan, Kolkata, India Foundation for the Arts, Unbound Studio and Difference Screen.

‘Difference Screen’ at TENT Little Cinema International Festival, Kolkata, India, December 2015.

This theory of an archaeology of the image helps show how intercultural cinema expresses the disjunction between orders of knowledge, such as official history and private memory, by juxtaposing different orders of image, or image and sound tracks, that do not correspond to each other. Intercultural cinema reveals new history as it is being formed, the new combination of words and things that can not be read in the existing languages but calls for new, as yet unformulated language.
(Laura Marks [2000])

There is a large heritage house (4, Bipin Pal) and a large hall, in Kolkata, India, which evokes a sense of early film viewing. Meanwhile, the word has spread that the Little Cinema International Festival is back. Viewers walk in one by one into the house (that has been temporarily converted into a viewing space); some are sceptical, some curious. What after all is a ‘festival for experimental features, shorts, videos, new-media art, and installations’? “I hope it’s not too intellectual!” whispers one, as they explore an eerie recreation/ installation about a forgotten factory (Factory Remains by Madhuja Mukherjee), and click pictures before a magical screen (created by TAXI/ Suman & Saurav). They have to wait for sometime before the screening begins. They sip tea, and light cigarettes. Gradually the screen lights up with astonishing images, and mesmerized young people sit on the floor, gaping at the screen. “A young Syrian man getting interviewed on camera is suddenly interrupted by the roar of fighter jets and bombs crashing down very close. It is not clear what is happening, just then the man asks the person behind the camera to wait for another minute as the planes will come back again for ‘another raid’. The film ends there,” recalls Bitan Basu. (1) “ It’s an eye-opener,” says another. (2)

(1) From: http://www.bongrong.com/buzz/2nd-little-cinema-film-festival-kolkata-bongrong/
(2) And, more formal notes were published later. See: http://www.thestatesman.com/mobi/news/111429-a-big-little-festival.html

If Difference Screen ‘explores how the dynamics of place, landscape, identity and culture find expression in artists’ film and video’, then Inger Lise Hansen’s (Norway) 
Travelling Fields (8:40 mins) is an impressive example. The encounter with a space that is turned upside down – sky and clouds under one’s feet, and the barren land above us – is a riveting one. The stop-motion cinematography, which makes the images move in quick successions, draws attention to a vanishing landscapes; while, the uncanny movement of a lonesome dry grass forces a new engagement with a world that is transforming violently following war and erosion of rapid industrialization. The columns, or the relics of development, seem to collapse over of the viewers as it were, and thereby, impose upon them a fresh understanding of contemporary political-economic-cultural crises. Likewise, the starkness and stillness of the black and white images in Heba Amin’s (Egypt)
 My love for you, Egypt, increases by the day (6:18 mins), which is juxtaposed with intense cries and whispers regarding Egypt, convey that a new mode of looking and retelling is emerging. Moreover, spaces/ places/ dilapidated buildings seem to bear the wounds and marks of war, political turmoil and bloodbath. A similar thing may also be suggested about Meng Yeh Chou’s (Taiwan)
 Tournant (00:39 mins) that, urges the viewer to look at the location through a screen that is slowly catching fire. Who is looking and at what one wonders, as the camera frantically moves 360 degrees. Indeed, the world of cinema is churning, and excavating personal/political imageries, which inform us that ‘difference’ is a new form of assertion and articulation, and that a new history of politics and culture is in the making.

Madhuja Mukherjee
Kolkata, India.
(January 2016)

Difference Screen programmes were shown at two venues Studio 21 17 L Dover Terrace, Kol 17, 4 December, and TENT 4 Bipin Pal Road, Kol 26, 5 December while The Day I Disappeared Atousa Bandeh Ghiasabadi screened at Goethe-Institute/Max Mueller Bhavan 7 December. For the whole programme please see https://www.facebook.com/tentkolkata and https://www.timeout.com/kolkata/events/little-cinema-international-festival

A taxi strike made for an interesting journey across the city for the opening of 2nd Little Cinema. Manas Acharya at Studio 21 suggested a metro from Park Street to Kalighat and on to Gariahat by tuktuk. Surviving the rush hour squeeze I surfaced at Kalighat and crossed the road to the tuktuk ‘auto’ stand. Many tuktuks were parked waiting for custom, I soon realized it wasn’t mine – I was directed across the street to traffic going the other way. Standing beside a junction in the rain it became apparent that all vehicles were full and it could take a long time. I saw a friendly face on a motorbike and asked the driver what to do, he invited me to hop on behind and, as luck would have it, he, Suresh was going to Gariahat too.

Somewhere in the bylanes of Gariahat we stopped to locate and Suresh bought me tea. Studio 21 turned out to be around the corner, I suggested walking but Suresh insisted on taking me to the door.

Studio 21 is an interdisciplinary project space supported by CIMA, Centre of International Modern Art. CIMA Chief Administrator Pratiti Basu Sarkar attended the opening. Norwegian filmmaker Tarje Eikanger Gulaksen and his partner Camilla also came. Tarje’s feature length documentary about the Clive House in Kolkata Objects in the mirror are as they appear was shown at the Goethe-Institute on 8 Dec. The Clive House is one of the earliest examples of European architecture in Kolkata, Tarje’s film is a portrait of the house and of some of the families who live in the ruins, descendants of refugees who moved to Kolkata after partition.

Studio 21_DS
Aditi Kulkami and Uma Ray of Unbound Studio contribute the following on Unbound, Difference Screen and 2nd Little Cinema

Unbound Studio is a multi-disciplinary platform located in Pune, India. It is founded with an interest to communicate through the various mediums of contemporary art and design. Unbound Studio aims to reach out to the wider community, bringing together practitioners from various disciplines and backgrounds, and foraging new methods of engagement within the community through discussions, presentations, workshops, screenings and other interactive approaches.

It was a pleasure for Unbound Studio to showcase at 2nd Little Cinema Experimental Film and Video Festival in Kolkata and to meet and have conversations with like-minds and platforms. We saw some stirring and powerful works presented by Difference Screen, It was an interesting compilation of films sourced by Bruce Allan and Ben Eastop co-curators of the Difference Screen project. Commendable amongst the shorts was The Woman in Pants by Abounaddara from Syria, and My Love for you Egypt Increases by the Day by Heba Amin. Some of the greatest works are made in the most testing of times. Thanks to Manas Acharya of Studio 21 for hosting these fabulous line-ups and to Madhuja Mukherjee from TENT for the initiative. Also to Difference Screen UK for the screening and we hope to continue this dialogue ahead.

A. Kulkami, U. Ray

Madhuja Mukerjee introducing Difference Screen at TENT

Calcutta artist filmmaker Anirban Sarkar attended Difference Screen at Studio 21 and TENT. Anirban writes

The Difference Screen experience
Anirban Sarkar

In my city, Kolkata (Calcutta), the general consciousness of what’s happening around the world (from politics to arts) was always there for the last hundred years or more. So, when Difference Screen came to my city, I was expecting another familiar experience of film viewing that I have been through from my time of entering into the art world. As a filmmaker, my general tendency was to look more at the technical aspects of the videos that would be screened.

But to my utter surprise, the whole myth of ‘knowing’ the planet was doomed, just with the screening of the first video from the Abounaddara series. A lady from the Middle East was talking about her experiences for wearing jeans. I knew that in extremist countries wardrobe banning is a common thing. But the lady and her words took me to the blood, smell and dust of the country she is from. It’s more like a real time experience than reading an article, or seeing some photographs on the virtual medium, even a well developed commercial documentary does not offer this experience.

As the screening continued I was travelling through the world, a confused nation, a war wrecked nation, a revolution on its way, a beautiful dream of a man and his father and so on. It was straining at my head, not due to the fact of watching videos for a long time, but the reality around me was making me weak, making me question my beliefs, my ideas and significantly the work I am doing. I do consider myself a socially and politically conscious artist, but with the Difference Screen experience, a few fundamental questions were raised again within me. Does my medium of art, my work, have any reaction on the present state of humanity? I believe there are two ways, either you depict what’s happening or else you must provide the imagination of change.

If we are working seriously enough on these two aspects, there can be thousands of videos like these from my own country. But alas! We hardly try to do it, to do something which is as good as truth, not a fake marketable piece of art for money or international recognition.

At the end of this experience, when I said goodbye to Difference Screen, I was left with a new vision for my city, a new dream of change and a resurrected dream to change, to have a beautiful and peaceful world.

An English translation of a Bengali poem
Let them burn the maps,
Let the visions be burnt by the fire,
For me, that is my country
where a human stands by the other one

Manas Acharya Studio 21 and Anirban Sarkar at Mirch Masala

Calcutta is a challenging place with no half measures. For many people home is the street.


The Calcutta administration tried to ban the use of hand pulled rickshaws years ago, to no effect. Today they are still a common sight walking and weaving alongside Suzuki cars and Tata trucks.

Rickshaw wallah resting

Bicycles – a means of transporting heavy loads

Some use their heads


How others live


Squatting in a mausoleum in South Park Street Cemetery https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Park_Street_Cemetery

Signs urge a Greener City, No Spitting, No Honking

Contemporary Bengali writers Amitav Ghosh Calcutta Chromosome, Kunal Basu Kalkatta and Amit Chaudhury Calcutta evoke the spirit of the city. In the foreword to the first edition of his earlier history of the city, Calcutta, Geoffrey Moorhouse wrote: ‘In a sense, the story of Calcutta is the story of India …It is the story of how and why Empire was created and what happened when Empire finished …The imperial residue of Calcutta, a generation after Empire ended, is both a monstrous and a marvellous city. Journalism and television have given us a rough idea of the monstrosities but none at all of the marvels. I can only hope to define the first more clearly and to persuade anyone interested that the second is to be found there too’. Geoffrey Moorhouse succeeds triumphantly in his aims. First published in 1971, this title has stood the test of time. Remarkably it was the first full-length study of Calcutta, seat of the British Raj, since 1918. ‘The book is organized out of a profound understanding of the true issues and is brilliantly executed’ – Paul Scott, “Guardian”.

Difference Screen was well received at all venues in India. Our thanks to everyone who supported us and to Madhuja Mukerjee, Anirban Sarkar, Aditi Kulkami, Uma Ray and R Dhanya for their texts. Difference Screen has only evolved through the generosity of all the artists and filmmakers whose work we have shown. The Faculty of Fine Art at Santiniketan is about to make an artists film and video archive. Artists’ experimental film is still little seen in India and we will approach artists to see if work from Difference Screen can be included in the archive.

The resumé 23 January at Cube Cinema, Bristol is the final event in the Difference Screen project funded by Arts Council England. Spinoffs – awaiting confirmation – will continue with interest for similar programmes from Mark Williams in NZ, Oksana Gryshchenko in Kiev, Monica de Miranda in Lisbon and a project focussing on migrations at the Centre for Cultural Decontamination CZKD Belgrade.

Bruce Allan
January 2016

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