Celluloid Obscenity and Popular Cinema in Bangladesh
Imagine watching an action film in a small-town cinema hall in Bangladesh, and in between the gun battles and fistfights a short pornographic clip appears. This is known as a cut-piece, a strip of locally made celluloid pornography surreptitiously spliced into the reels of action films in Bangladesh. Exploring the shadowy world of these clips and their place in South Asian film culture, Lotte Hoek builds a rare, detailed portrait of the production, consumption, and cinematic pleasures of stray celluloid.
Hoek's innovative ethnography plots the making and reception of Mintu the Murderer (2005, pseud.), a popular, Bangladeshi B-quality action movie and fascinating embodiment of the cut-piece phenomenon. She begins with the early scriptwriting phase and concludes with multiple screenings in remote Bangladeshi cinema halls, following the cut-pieces as they appear and disappear from the film, destabilizing its form, generating controversy, and titillating audiences. Hoek's work shines an unusual light on Bangladesh's state-owned film industry and popular practices of the obscene. She also reframes conceptual approaches to South Asian cinema and film culture, drawing on media anthropology to decode the cultural contradictions of Bangladesh since the 1990s.
Hoek's journeys to towns with considerable distance from Dhaka are a thrill to read; viewings of Mintu the Murderer are vivid in no small terms, and the local color of hanging out at tea stalls and backrooms were page-turners. This is an inspired book, showing the life of a film from its conception to exhibition, or in this case to its ban.
Lalitha Gopalan, University of Texas at Austin
The theoretical and literary sophistication of this study of the oscillating visibility of obscenity in Bangladesh is remarkable. Taking one film as her 'field site' and using effervescent prose, Hoek presents a superb study of the production-consumption continuum of 'unstable celluloid' and richly conjures Dhaka's film studios, location shooting, and the country's small town movie theaters. The artisanal inventiveness of Bangladeshi purveyors of 'hot spice' provides a welcome counterweight to 'gentrified' Bollywood. Hoek's exceptional ethnography of the abject, the dilapidated, the mofussil, demonstrates magnificently how cinema, like almost everything else, fails to live up to its own ideals.
Christopher Pinney, University College London