This week the fd Zone screening starts with the Films Division Newsreel followed by the reading of excerpts from ‘Helen: The life and times of an H-Bomb’ by the author, Jerry Pinto. This will be followed by a screening of Mira Nair’s iconic documentary film ‘India Cabaret‘.

The phenomenon that is Helen enthralls the author, Jerry Pinto. He is unable to meet her in person as he writes his book, instead he encounters the persona in cinema. This is the vamp who is able to upset and challenge the moral and patriarchal construct in Hindi cinema. The failure of the vamp in every narrative ensures that morality is eventually restored but until that moment her presence holds the tantalizing promise of the forbidden, the immoral.

Mira Nair profiles the lives of women who work as dancers in a bar. Notions of morality enter the film only through the voices of the patrons of the bar, the women are not defined by the absence or presence of morality in their lives. Mira Nair creates the space where the women can speak of themselves with dignity and great pride in being independent.

By Jerry Pinto
An excerpt from the book:

“Looking back, it seems odd that Helen had such a hold on my generation. I grew up in the seventies — the decade when Helen’s career was already in decline — and like most middle-class boys, I was allowed one film a month at the theatres by parents suspicious of its moral and aesthetic values (in that order). Helen could not invade my space through television, either. Hindi films had exactly four hours a week on the air. There was the three-hour pre-censored film on Sundays, the half hour of uninterrupted film songs that was Chhaayageet and another half hour of a film interview, Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan, conducted by a bubbly, harmless child-star-turned-character-artiste, Tabassum. This was all the government would allow on Doordarshan by way of bread and circuses. The rest of the time, we were ‘educated’ on such improving topics as the use of copper sulphate on the farms of the hinterland or we watched kabaddi tournaments played in deserted stadia”

60 mins, 1985
Directed by Mira Nair

Synopsis: India Cabaret (1985) is a documentary by Mira Nair exploring the “respectable” and “immoral” stereotypes of women in Indian society told from the point of view of 2 strip-tease dancers in a cabaret house in Bombay. There are no voice-overs by either the cabaret dancers nor the men who were interviewed who frequented the cabaret club. The women themselves are not ashamed of what they do for a living; what they prize more is the fact that they do not have to be at the mercy of the men in their lives [husbands, brothers, fathers or lovers] as their female peers. They earn their own living, ‘decently’ ; they are free to come and go as they please and do not have to follow the rules imposed by men or worse society.The film explores “the double standards of an essentially patriarchal society.”

Saturday 17th August, 4 pm

RR Theatre
10th Floor
Films Division
Pedder Road