The Digital Turn? Technological transformations in the history of documentary cinema in India (2023)

1When we talk about the Indian subcontinent we can quite confidently state that today we can talk about the existence of a documentary ‘cinema’–that is, a self-sufficient cultural industry highly invested in production and circulation of local documentary films. As for many other cultural industries, documentary cinema in India guarantees the production and circulation of its cultural artefacts at a widespread level, independently from its colleague fiction cinema and alternating state circuits with NGO, commercial and independent circuits. Although the question of distribution through recognised media channels (such as television, cinema-halls, and online paid platforms) remains today central for many documentary filmmakers from the subcontinent, from the 1980s until the present day, circulations of films have taken place beyond the centrality of state and commercial distribution outlets (Basu and Banerjee 2018). If on the one hand we can argue that this was due to a technological transformation of the documentary scene–that is, the advent of video technology (see Battaglia 2014); on the other hand, it is important to highlight that the ‘mobility’ and ‘performativity’ of documentary film screenings has always been a feature of the documentary cinema in India which strongly contributed to ‘alternative’ circulations of film and new ‘geographies’ beyond state and commercial control.

2From the invention of the Lumieres’ Cinematograph, India has been one of the first places in the world that created its own film-events (see Hughes 2010; Chatterjee 2011, 2012) and produced its own documentary films. As I argue elsewhere, the early existence and circulation of images of art, politics and social relevance ‘made in India’ should in fact make us question our ingrained Eurocentric ‘geography’ of the ‘History of cinema’ (Battaglia 2018). Moreover, they should assist us in re-centralising the contemporary (digital?) technological development of the ‘global south’ within a much richer history of media, culture and technology and its contribution to the development and transformation of various cultural industries, including the documentary cinema. Because often marginalised in the study and analyses of its siblings cultural industries (cf. Dagnaud and Feigelson 2012), documentary cinema in India becomes quite central to understand the socio-historical transformation of technology and cultural industries of the global south.

  • 1 With ‘digital turn’ I refer to the moment in which digital technology has taken over video technolo (...)

3What has the digital turn brought to the documentary scene in India? This article will attempt to answer this question based on an already conducted research on the historical development of documentary film practices in India (see Battaglia 2018) combined with more recent fieldwork in state film institutions such as the Films Division and the Anthropological Survey of India and participatory open archives such as My intent will not be here to analyse new digital platforms of production and distribution of documentary films. Rather, it will be to focus on the moments of transformation between one technology into another, the potential and limitation that this transformation brings along, and how, with the digital turn, the question of the ‘archive’ and ‘archived-images’ have increasingly become more central in multiple, often oppositional, image-making practices allowing a ‘convergence’ of visual practices1. Thanks to this ‘convergence’, I would suggest that the documentary cinema in India has become an even more ‘tangible’ cultural industry, made not of a single practice but of a myriads of internal variations that concern questions about art, politics and society and hence a valuable field of study from an interdisciplinary perspectives.

4By and large, there is a tendency to think of the digital turn as a revolutionary moment of the contemporary history. Yet, according to Asa Briggs and Peter Burke (2002), when we talk about fast development of new media forms we should also start inquiring into the social history of media investigating the relationship between old and new technology. To them, history is central to understanding the development of technology and social change (see also Silverstone 1999; Poster 1999; Flichy 1999; Livingstone 1999; Briggs and Burke 2002; Shirky 2009; Morozov 2011).

5Similarly, there is a tendency to look at the documentary cinema in India as a contemporary phenomenon, which started to develop in the period of the 1980s through one single pioneer of the genre, Anand Patwardhan. Rather, as I have argued elsewhere through a combination of an historical and anthropological research, we can question such belief and discover that the genre of documentary film has developed towards a truthful ‘cinema’ and hence an ‘industry’ since the very beginning of the xx century and thanks to multiple visual practices and practitioners. Several ‘historical fragments’ of Indian colonial history prove this.

  • 2 Along with Robert Flaherty, also Dziga Vertov and John Grierson are considered ‘pioneers’ of the do (...)

6In a reconstruction of the life and work of Robert Flaherty,2 for example (one of the pioneers of the ‘global’ history of documentary film), the anthropologist Jay Ruby (1983) includes a letter from MrsFlaherty in India to her daughter. In this letter, MrsFlaherty compares the experience of shooting Elephant Boy (1937) in India (figure1), with that of shooting Man of Aran (1934) in Ireland, throughout the 1930s, and says:

I wish you could see us here; you who saw us in Aran! How you would open your eyes! It is so different that we hardly know what to do about it-so many people about, doing for us all the things we have usually had to do ourselves-a fleet of cars flying here and there, a lorry as full of people as a Sunday School picnic plying daily from town (two miles) to our ‘bungalow’; thousands of cameras; thousands of racks bristling with tripods; a stills department with two assistants and I don’t know how many still cameras; thousands of carpenters, electricians, tailors, bearers, coolies, sweepers, mahouts, animal-trainers, clerks, accountants, interpreters-you would think we were a b-y factory! (MrsFlaherty in Ruby 1983: 167-168, first emphasis added).

Figure1–Original Poster of Elephant Boy (1937)

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7While telling us a story about the today well-known Indian overpopulation and extravaganza, through this excerpt MrsFlaherty also shares elements of an already existent film industry of the 1930s with several individuals already working for such industry at various levels of involvement. This was a moment when the documentary was yet to be obscured by the fiction commercial cinema and when it was achieving great success and recognition at a discursive and practice level as well as at a national and international level. Worldwide, the first three-four decades of the twentieth century were indeed for the documentary cinema moments of both propaganda and creativity–that is a mix of film for war purposes as well as visual experimentations–following, for the latter, the Griersonian definition of the documentary as a ‘creative treatment of reality’.

  • 3 As I discuss elsewhere (Battaglia 2018), there was a pre-wars project in India to create a central (...)
  • 4 To read about classic debates on media and communication in India see Luthra (1986), Chatterji (198 (...)

8Despite the first attempts of developing a documentary cinema during the colonial period,3 however, it was with the attainment of the independence that the documentary genre started to play a central role in India4–playing, as for many other ex-colonies from the global south, a central role for the development of the new formed nation (cf. Reeves 1993). Shortly after its 1947 Independence, the first government of India set up a branch of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting specialising in the production and distribution of documentary and short films. In 1948, this branch was called the ‘Films Division’ (henceforth FD). The FD quickly became ‘the single largest producer of documentary films in the world’ and, in India, ‘could claim an average audience strength of eight million viewers every week’ (Roy 2007: 34) thanks to compulsory screenings in cinema halls before the main feature film (cf. also Thapa 1985). While the majority of the FD productions and screenings were instructional films produced by people employed by the government, in different historical periods the FD also collaborated with several state-independent filmmakers, producing different typologies of films and experimenting with all possible technological changes (photo 1).

9The first significant technological development worth to be mentioned for the development of the documentary cinema in India is the introduction of the 16mm camera with synchronised sound. This technological innovation radically transformed the documentary cinema at a worldwide level. Lighter and portable cameras could now be brought to the streets and follow movements and sounds in a much more dynamic way, cartographying the life of individuals in movement and in different places and spaces. The French ‘cinema vérité’ and the US ‘Direct Cinema’ of the beginning of the 1960s were the result of such technological change.

Photo1–The Films Division

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10The half-Parsi and half-French Jean Bhownagary is the person that received merit to have brought these new technologies and approaches to documentary cinema in India (Mohan 1990, Narwekar 1992). In 1955 he joined the FD for the first time for three years as a deputy chief producer on a loan from UNESCO; and in the mid 1960s he returned to the same film institution as a chief producer, strongly influenced by the French cinema vérité. It is at this point that he made significant changes to the ways of making documentary films in India, allowing filmmakers to experiment more with the cinematic form.

I plunged into the task of trying to improve the quality of our productions by encouraging existing and new talents to probe deeper into their subjects, to make structured films instead of enumerations of our treasures and achievements as so often required by non-filmmakers in the Ministry. I wanted each director to find and create his individual style and stamp the film with his own personality (Bhownagary in Narwekar 1992: 42).

11It is thanks to the vibrant atmosphere that Bhownagary brought to the FD in the mid-1960s that names such as K.S. Chari, S.N.S. Sastry, Pramod Pati, S. Sukhdev, started to acquire value in the Indian context for their new experimentation with the documentary film, bringing their camera to Indian people, recording their lives, emotions, opinions in an much more intimate level and hence contributing to the development of the documentary genre in its content and form. Yet, if 16mm synchronised sound cameras have revolutionised the way of making documentary film in India, it is thanks to video that circulations of documentary films radically increased and many other film-related side activities began to emerge in multiple places.

12For many the year 1982 signalled the beginning of video technology in India. This was true for both the government and independent individuals. Indira Gandhi’s government used the 1982 ASIAD Games in New Delhi as an opportunity to introduce colour and cable television. Because of this she needed to relax the import restrictions on video-cassettes, video recorders and television sets (Pendakur 1989; Raval 1986; Sengupta 1999; Singhal and Rogers 1989, 2001; Kohli 2005). Accordingly television enabled the expansion of video technology across the country. Yet, when video arrived it did not become a technology controlled by the state nor did it reproduce another state agenda and politics (following the already extant government owned and regulated channel Doordarshan). Rather, video technology opened up possibilities for independent individuals to create different media practices, and provided spaces for alternative production and distribution across India. From the beginning, indeed, the video industry was privately owned (Singhal and Rogers 1989).

13According to Rele (1985), at the start of the 1980s video technology flooded India with an average of 20,000 Video Cassette Recorders (VCRs) entering the market every month (Singhal and Rogers 1989). The price was a third of what anyone would have asked in India before. People who visited Hong Kong, Singapore or Dubai in the 1980s often returned to India with a VCR in their luggage (Rele 1985). In a few years, this new technology flourished in metropolitan India and, according to Pendakur (1989), brands associated with this technology soon became the new status symbol for the middle classes.

14Video libraries mushroomed across the country. Their owners rented a VCR for about Rs. 10 a day and, watching a video in public spaces, such as tea stalls or restaurants, or in private air-conditioned intercity buses, soon became a common practice (Singhal and Rogers 1989). Above all, a new kind of showplace emerged and grew rapidly in India. By the end of the 1980s people came to know it as a ‘video parlour’ or ‘video café’. In Pendakur’s words, ‘an entrepreneur would acquire a 20-inch colour television set and VCR, place it in a hall that could hold 50 to 100 chairs, and show feature films in various languages from 9:00 am until 2:00 the next morning’ (1989: 71). The films in these places were mostly pirated copies of domestic or imported feature films, and the audience was mainly men–for women avoided video parlours because they were not considered respectable places.

15Marriage-video filmmaking is one of the most prominent small, and even domestic, media that emerged with the advent of video technology. Sengupta describes both the marriage-video film and the marriage-video filmmaker as ‘familiar presences in intimate contexts and domestic spaces’ (1999: 284). Photography, as a technology to crystallize memorable events and as an element of the social life of Indians, had a long-established history there (Pinney 1997); and marriage-video practices built upon this tradition. In addition to photography, the mobile video image could not only allow access to a depository-memory of past events but also construct new narratives of the same events (Sengupta 1999). Accordingly marriage-video soon became part of the ritual of Indian marriage and watching this video with friends became a new practice amongst the middle classes (ibid.).

16Similarly, video technology entered the politics of the Hindu right wing, decentralizing their political rhetoric and practices. For the first time ordinary people could also contribute to packaging cultural nationalism. Brosius (1999, 2005) argues that from this moment the gaze of nationalism became the product of the performative space of participation around the audiovisual media.

17Other than creating new professions around and about video practices, video technology also broke down an already state-controlled tradition of documentary productions and distributions and gave more possibilities to independent filmmakers to use the medium and create their own industry. In other words, the cheaper production and re-production of videocassettes made it possible, for the documentary cinema, to start existing beyond state control and regulations and fostering an alternative distribution circuit made of venues beyond the classic, controlled, cinema-halls. Thanks to the multiplication of video and television sets all over the country, documentary films could be easily shown in long-distance buses, universities, political gatherings as well as travel with filmmakers with a projector and a screen in hand and reach rural areas. Elsewhere I have called this video phenomenon an ‘expansive realisation’, that is, following Daniel Miller and Dan Slater (2000), a technology that allows individuals to recognize or realize themselves in more concrete terms through a practice (see Battaglia 2014). Yet, to what extent this was true just for video technology? Can we today, in the digital era, re-historicise the relationship between the development of a cultural industry, such as the documentary cinema, and its relationship with technology at large? If yes, is it possible to identify continuity between the video turn of the 1980s with a more contemporary digital turn in the industry of documentary cinema in India?

18I have mentioned before that previous to video a flourishing ‘field’ of documentary practices already existed in the subcontinent and benefitted of others, pre-video, technological changes. Video, indeed, did not develop in a vacuum but was an innovative revolution on an already set-up base of documentary films production and circulation existent in India. Each new technology, Charles Acland (2007) argues, rests on existing media forms and practices and therefore creates ‘residual media’, these being something familiar coming from previous technology but dragged into the newer media contexts. In this respect, I have elsewhere argued (see Battaglia 2014), video technology also functioned as a ‘residual media’ for all those filmmakers who were already making films in celluloid in India and found it convenient, only for distribution reasons, to move to video. Unlike individuals that found new professions thanks to the arrival of the video industry, pre-video documentary filmmakers did not leave behind their ‘celluloid practice’; rather they confined the old technology at a production level by welcoming the new technology at a distribution level (i.e. by converting their films shot in 16mm into video technology to make sure they could circulate widely).

19The passage from one technology into another is in fact never immediate and straightforward; it rests on already existent technology and also, I would add, it builds on other side technologies and practices which always accompany and support any sort of transformation. To understand the passage from video technology to digital technology in documentary film practices in India, indeed, I believe we should also give importance to the ‘telecomunication’ moment, which occurred in India throughout the 1990s and whose impact on the creation of a community of documentary filmmakers and of new ‘locations’ for the circulation of films, should not be underestimated.

  • 5 Conversation with Chandita Mukherjee 18/02/09.

20Landline telephone sets, mobile phones, emails and listservs have been important technologies for the development of the documentary cinema in India. ‘Before mobiles, you needed a house to have an address and a landline; otherwise, it would have been difficult to start working as an independent filmmaker’, said once Chandita Mukherjee to me5.

21According to Sirpa Tenhunen, the introduction of mobile technology in India dates back to 1995 and since then the rate of mobile phone sales has been record-breaking (2008: 515). However, mobile telephony did not develop in India until the very late 1990s and early 2000s (cf. Jeffrey and Doron 2011, 2013), and from this moment it functioned as an important technology in the coordination of filmmakers’ activities. As I argue elsewhere (Battaglia 2018), these years were crucial for the creation of a community of documentary filmmakers in India but also for the development of new venues where to screen documentary films and organise film festivals. The 2004 campaign-festival Vikalp - Films for Freedom (henceforth Vikalp) is without doubt the most exemplary case to look at. It emerged thanks to emails and listservs communications (cf. Bel 2005) which strengthened existing social ties while also facilitating the coordination of many activities (cf. Tenhunen 2008; Ling 2008; Jeffrey and Doron 2013), including alternative cultural-political actions coordinated, for the first time, at a national scale, enabling a ‘community’ of practitioners to come into place (figure2).


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22In February 2004 Vikalp mobilised filmmakers from all over the country. For the first time, 250 filmmakers came together to fight the arbitrary introduction of the censor certificate as a mandatory precondition for Indian documentary films entered into the Mumbai international film festival of documentary films (MIFF 2004). In July 2003, eight months prior to Vikalp, an online debate emerged made of emails-digests coordinated by a group of New Delhi film practitioners that by then were already a small ‘Delhi-community’. Indeed, if Vikalp as a film festival occurred in March 2004, as a protest, a campaign, or a movement it began in July 2003–that is, when Delhi filmmakers started to go beyond the perimeter of their own metropolis and thanks to emails and mobile phone communications started to contact filmmakers from all over the nation. It was in fact at this time that the new regulation for MIFF 2004 film entries came out. It asked filmmakers to have a censor certificate for their films if they wanted to submit a film to the festival. Approximately ninety filmmakers from across the country immediately responded to the early e-messages, or ‘digests’–as filmmakers at the time of my 2007-2009 fieldwork called the exchange of emails that occurred between July 2003 and March 2004. In a couple of months, this number tripled.

23As the result of decisions taken by filmmakers over email and mobile phones, Vikalp took place in February 2004. With VHS film copies and a minimum contribution of 500 Rupees per film (at that time equivalent to approximately 10 Pounds Sterling) to cover festival expenses, in less than a month independent filmmakers were able to organise a parallel, alternative and ‘small media’ film festival. Fifty-eight films were screened at Vikalp, covering a wide range of issues including communal politics, caste, gender discrimination and the politics of development–all topics frequently repressed by the censor board. The event ran for a week and, according to what filmmakers wrote in one of the festival booklets, it was ‘an unprecedented success’ (Films for Freedom Festival Booklet 2004: 4).

  • 6 Conversation with Reena Mohan 30/11/08.

24Despite the collective energy that emerged in the early 2000s, however, this movement did not last for long. With the exception of Bangalore, Calcutta and Shillong (which soon after Vikalp organised a festival maintaining the same name), Vikalp did not travel further than its initial festival-protest and today its name refers to this particular moment of mobilisation of filmmakers and not to a sustained movement of anti-censorship in India. After the Vikalp experience indeed, MIFF stopped asking for a censor certificate as a perquisite for submission, and over the time it became more opened to independent documentary practices increasingly including independent filmmakers as part of MIFF selection committee. At the same time, the use of digital technologies gradually widespread in the subcontinent allowing an easier organisation of film screenings and ‘small media’ festivals in private venues where the government could no longer intervene in disagreement with the subject screened and discussed. In other words, Vikalp functioned as the catalyst for the development of other forms of film screenings and practices across the country and in the history and memory of individuals has remained a stand-alone example of freedom of speech. ‘Vikalp should be considered as the first and the last movement of documentary filmmakers in India’, says the renowned filmmaker and editor Reena Mohan.6 Indeed, to date there has been no other wide-scale mobilisation of filmmakers (cf. also Waugh 2012).

25In short, we can say that in a way Vikalp today functions as an historical legacy for contemporary documentary festivals scattered across the country (cf. also Waugh 2012). After Vikalp experience, documentary filmmakers have created new festival sites across the country in which to engage with politics (cf. also Deprez 2015). Because no longer in opposition to the mainstream distribution outlets, these new sites have more explicitly become ‘small media’ sites (Spitulnik 2002) or ‘activist’ festivals (Iordanova and Torchin 2012) disconnected from state media power and therefore existing and proliferating outside the restrictions of official film festival circuits and state institutions in a complete autonomous way. This proliferation of independent festivals and screening activities has in the most recent years even pushed to a restructuring of the Films Division institution, which has decided to open its doors to such initiatives by transforming its activities, and MIFF itself has been compelled to become a much more open space of exchange between independent and state documentary practices. Moreover, this proliferation of festivals and documentary initiatives has also pushed filmmakers to continue playing with their visual medium and to think of further strategies of art and communication in line with the contemporary trend of ‘digital’ platforms for visual experimentation.

26In order to talk about the digital turn for the documentary film industry in India, it is impossible to disconnect it from the previous technological ‘revolutions’, which have contributed to the development of a practice. If contemporary India is an explosion of small-scale documentary film festivals surely we should thank the digital turn, which with more portable and cheaper technologies has facilitated the proliferation of a practice. Yet, as I have tried to argue so far, the history of the documentary cinema in India is far more complex and articulated than the contemporary digital turn. Thus, to think of such turn as the ‘revolutionary’ moments of the history of this cultural industry would be a misconception. Accordingly, what has the digital turn brought to the documentary scene in India?

27By taking in consideration the aforementioned history of ‘multiple technological turns’ that have affected the development of the documentary cinema in India, I find it more useful to reflect about the role that the digital turn in such industry has played in relation to the concept of ‘archive’ and ‘archived-images’ in both independent/visual art contexts and Indian state institutions to which I should now turn my attention.

Digital Archives in State Institutions

28The Films Division (FD) is without doubt the film institution that more that any other state institutions has received multiple critiques since the moment of its set up in 1948, just after the attainment of independence. Many have argued how the postcolonial state made use of the FD for its own political propaganda (Roy 2007; Sarkar 2009; Dutta 2002, 2007; Vohra 2011; Jain 2013). Yet, as I argue elsewhere (Battaglia 2018) postcolonial documentary filmmakers were certainly not the ‘objects’ of nationalist discourse (Vidal 2003a, 2003b), and indeed contributed to (rather than became victims of) national discourse on development in India. Moreover, as the technologies have changed for the documentary panorama, a change of the perception of such film institution has also occurred. Let me be more explicit.

29While at the time of my 2007-2009 fieldwork in India, filmmakers’ perception of the FD was without doubt quite negative–because associated to a replication of colonial institutions/practices into a postcolonial state (cf. Vohra 2011)–by the end of my fieldwork and the writing up of a monograph about documentary films in India (see Battaglia 2018), this perception radically changed. As I have explained in my latest work, this was due to the change of management of the FD, which made the FD more accessible to a larger public and which facilitated the collaboration with individuals working in the field of documentary film but outside the state-institution. Nevertheless, this was also possible thanks to the digital turn and more specifically to what the digital has brought to the FD’s films collection.

30Digital technology has allowed the re-activation of the FD’s film archive. An example of this re-activation occurred through the creation of the ‘The FD Zone’–that is, packages of archival films of the FD which started to be screened regularly at the main FD venue in Mumbai but also to travel to different places in India and abroad delineating new geographies for the FD’s film archive. The other innovation was the creation of the ‘Archival Research Centre’–that is a space set up for observation and research, based in the main old building of the FD in Mumbai, which at the end of my 2014 archival research, contained 3288 films divided into 4 main categories: 53 animation films, 312 biographies, 2203 documentaries, 720 news coverage/reels. In other words, thanks to the digitisation of historical films (some of them even dating the moment of transition between the colonial government and the first independent government) the FD has begun a new life with a new public perception. This re-activation of its film archive has opened-up possibilities for individuals not yet aware of the FD heritage (and for others aware but limited by the previously closed un-digitised archive), to have direct access to the FD’s historical images without any mediation. When this has occurred, new discourses about the institution have also emerged. And indeed, unlike the period of my 2007-2009 fieldwork in India, today independent filmmakers’ perception of the FD has radically changed.

31Without doubt the activation of a digital archive brings a new life to institutions, new lives to films never been screened before, new possibilities for researchers and filmmakers and yet it creates new problems. For the FD Zone, for example, the questions would be, who curates the packages of films? Whose choice is it? And thus, which part of the FD’s archive becomes really accessible and what remains in the shadow? For the digital Archival Research Centre, instead, the questions that I faced while conducting research were: how are archival films categorised and thus presented to a public in a digital database? Who creates the categories? Are the chosen categories, useful categories for enhancing research and knowledge about a film institution? To be more specific, at the time of my research at the FD, in December 2014, each digitised film was compulsorily associated to only one of the four main groups (photos 2 and 3).

Photo2–Archival Research Centre Database

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Photo3–Archival Research Centre Category: ‘Documentary’

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32Yet, those labelled as ‘documentary’ could also be categorised in relation to 76 possible subcategories. Subcategories were exclusive for the ‘documentary’ category. Hence, if I wanted to search for a length-film, dealing with the subject of, for instance, ‘community’, yet told from the story of an important man–e.g. Gandhi–and made through the form of animation, the database would have not allowed me to access to all these categorisations. The film, in such fictional case, would have probably been categorised either as ‘documentary–community’, or as ‘animation film’, or even ‘biography’ but not as all of them–as if all these categories could have not coexisted together.

33At the time of my research in 2014, the problem of categorisation of digitised archival films was also pertinent for another state institution, the Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI). This is a Kolkata-based state institution with a significant visual archive which, nevertheless is often underestimated, most likely because is yet to be opened to the public (photo 4). From December 1945 the AnSI has acted as a government institution in charge of documenting the multiple cultural practices existing in a vast country like India with many ethnic compositions, linguistic families, religions and cultural practices (Singh 1987, 1992; Bose 1967; Singh and DasGupta 1987). From its inception, the AnSI particularly specialised in representing tribal communities in the subcontinent–that is, studying what the institution calls ‘their biological composition’ as well as documenting and disseminating their oral and material practices (Singh 1987, 1992). Interestingly, from the beginning, ‘photography was considered an intrinsic part of documentation’ (Singh 1987: 28). Indeed, already in 1946 the AnSI set up a ‘Photographic Unit’ (Das 1967) followed in 1949 by a ‘Cine Unit’. The latter was originally run by ‘photo-artists’ and from 1953 by specialised ‘cine-technicians’ (Chattopadhyay 1967; Singh 1987). In other words, the activities of the AnSI developed in relation to the concept of image-making–regarded as a central practice to contributing to anthropological research and representation. An artist, a filmmaker and/or a photographer, indeed, always accompanied anthropological ‘expeditions’ set up by the AnSI. Ironically though, at a practical level, imaging practices undertaken by the AnSI never received their due importance. The government never invested in the AnSI technological equipment because has always perceived it as only a research institution. For a long period the AnSI was not provided with sound cameras and was only able to produce silent films. In addition, the government never employed a team of people for the Cine Unit. Since 1953, a single man, the cine-technician, had to run the whole unit. This person was in charge of filming, editing, writing commentary, subtitling and screening the film (Chattopadhyay 1967, 1987; Sahay 1993). Until very recently, the appointed cine-technician was Susanta Chattopadhyay, a man coming from the feature film industry until he was asked to ‘tour (…) all over India to make documentary films of the various tribal communities … (and) film those unique cultural aspects which are relevant to social anthropology’ (Chattopadhyay 1987: 97). The advent of digital technology, however, and more specifically the environment and discourses that have been created around the ‘digital possibilities’ for archived images, has partially pushed this state institution to revalorise its visual archive and digitise part of the films shot in celluloid.

34When I visited the institution, the anthropologist at that time in charge of the visual anthropology section at the AnSI made me discover this digitised patrimony. Yet, when I went through the films and compared what I watched with what I read in the documents that I discovered through archival research (cf. Battaglia 2019), I immediately found a discrepancy. That is, I found out that in the process of digitisation, some of the original films were modified with footage took in a more recent period. And yet, the name of the film, the author and the date of the film remained the same. In other words, I found myself in front of a ‘false’ visual document. Rather than been presented as a new visual document, made of old and new footage, the film was not re-categorised as presented as its original–creating a good deal of misunderstanding about the original archival piece.

Photo4–Susanta Chattopadhyay

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35In short, we can say that the digital turn in state institutions has on the one hand created possibilities to open their archives, which in the pre-digital moments have remained closed due to technological limitations and institutional constraints. On the other hand, the digitisation process has also opened up another series of often underestimated and yet to be analysed complexities, including that of ‘categorisation’, ‘organisation’ and thus ‘presentation’ of archival data. What has instead the digital brought to independent visual archival practices in the subcontinent?

Photo5–The AnSI

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Participatory Visual Archives

36So far we can say that the digital turn has contributed in India with the development of a mushroomed phenomenon of small-scale independent documentary festivals and the opening, and hence re-activation, of state visual archives. By doing this, the digital turn has changed the geographical scenario of documentary film practices no longer circumscribed to specific, often state-controlled, places. As it occurred with the advent of video technology, we can then say that the digital turn has become another form of the ‘expansive realisation’ (Miller and Slater 2000) of a widespread practice. In this respect, we should emphasise again that the digital turn should not be analysed in isolation from other technological moment of the documentary film industry. Indeed, the changing documentary scene of the contemporary digital era developed thanks to an organic historical evolution of documentary practices, which by and large has always modified themselves in relation to different technological turns in different historical moments.

37In this respect, if I had to identify a specificity of the digital turn for independent film practices, I would surely say that it has created new possibilities of experimentation and collaboration between different visual practices starting to change the landscape of cultural and creative industries in contemporary India. The Raqs Media Collective, an artist group associated with the Sarai research centre in New Delhi, is probably the most well known name at a national and international level in the field of digital imaging practices that has moved toward this direction. The people involved in the collective started as documentary filmmakers in the mid-1990s and have gradually moved away from it, experimenting more with digital technology and art spaces. Nevertheless, they have continued to maintain close contact with documentary filmmakers in India, often providing them with new platforms for art and film exhibitions (cf. Battaglia and Favero 2014).

38Raqs Media Collective is not alone in this activity. As I pointed out elsewhere (Battaglia 2014, 2018, 2019), other independent individuals, including Nilanjan Bhattacharya (a Kolkata-based filmmaker), Venkatnarayanan Soudhamini (a Chennai-based filmmaker), Rajula Shah (a Pune-based filmmaker), Anjali Monteiro and K.P. Jayasankar (a Mumbai-based filmmakers and academic couple) and groups of artists such as CAMP (a Mumbai-based group), have also been following this direction. Stand-alone filmmaker and visual artist, Amar Kanwar, has arguably been the first single individual in India who has acquired tremendous popularity at a national and international level with the advent of digital technology and transforming his documentary work into art installations. Since the late 1990s, he has been screening his films to an international audience varying from art installations to classic documentary films yet visualised with multi-linear narratives.

39The work of Kanwar along with Bhattacharya, Shah, Soudhamini, Monteiro and Jayasankar and the Raqs media collective (to mention a few), are examples of the way in which imaging practices in India have travelled from traditional documentary film forms to more experimental, digital, multi-linear practices within and outside film genres and thus combining different approaches. Within this scenario, what in the past ten years has perhaps been the most cutting-edge imaging experimentation in the Indian context is the combination of new digital visual experimentations with internet technology towards the creation of ‘participatory digital imaging archives’, as new ‘dispositives’ (cf. Agamben 2007; Jeanneret 2005; Fourmentraux 2010) of communication for multi-linear digital images of political, social and cultural value (Fourmentraux 2016; Bellour 2012; Caillet 2014). These new online platforms have enabled visual images not only to play with multiple new forms but also to travel far and wide and hence beyond more classic geographical boundaries dictated by physical places (i.e. cities and villages), or events (such as film festivals), or preconceived spaces (such as exhibitions).

40The Public Access Digital Media Archive, better known as ‘’ (see PAD.MA), is in my opinion the most exemplary platforms for participatory visual practices, which follows these new directions. Created in 2007 by five organisations (CAMP from Mumbai, Oil21 from Berlin, Majlis Culture from Mumbai, the Alternative Law Forum from Bangalore and Point of View from Mumbai), is a creative archive that through technological innovation combines research with visual art experimentation (photo6).


Agrandir Original (jpeg, 792k)

Photo7–Ayisha Abraham’s Padma project

Agrandir Original (jpeg, 750k)

41The core idea developed by the initiators of is that the conventional use of video-making in India needs to be challenged through an open online digital, interactive and annotated platform which works as an archive of hard-to-access footage (such as unfinished films, found films, digitised films, out-dated films and so forth). As such, aims to work as a sort of ‘atlas’ in Any Warburg’s sense of unfinished map creation (cf. Forster 1976) or precisely what Agamben (2007) calls ‘dispositive’, understood as an articulation of possibilities that makes different practices, in this case, different visual practices, and approaches to dialogue with one another stimulating interactivity and exchange. offers a platform for documentary visual artists to go beyond conventional understanding of filmmaking practices and fellowships to younger generations of artists, researchers and activists interested in making engaged audio-visual work through multi-modal forms of representations and innovative technological experimentation. In other words, welcomes the (inter)active participation of researchers, filmmakers, artists and activists based in India towards the creation of novel ways to shape public debates on art, society, culture and politics.

42As recently explained by Fourmentraux (2016), thanks to interactive digital images, we can today start understanding images as ‘mixed formations’ made of humans and techniques where the latter creates a structure of immediate feed-back with the publicand hence becomes directly «en puissance»–that is, something that dialogues with the public in an immediate way. Interactive digital imaging archives, such as, hence ‘act’, ‘do’ things and by so doing they made others to ‘do things’–stimulating new processes of communication, exchange, politics and interconnections.

43The digital archive of should be considered for the Indian context as an example of a combination of digital technology with the telecommunication technology, such as the internet, to transform existing visual documentary practices into an image-making industry that can cross boundaries between local and global, and can be shared, modified and discussed without falling into the problematic of fixed ‘categorisations’ as it occurs for state institutions. As for any other innovations though, digital archives, such as, also push us towards a new set of questions which I would like to address here in closing and which I believe ought to be explored in further research.

(Video) How Earth Will Look In 250 million Years

44If these new forms of participatory visual archives are crossing the boundaries between visual practices and between the global and the local, to what extent are they challenging classic Euro/American-centric paradigms of technological development and practices? Are these new platforms becoming models for the global south to re-center academic debates and open up more possibility of exchange? If these platforms function as creative spaces of encounters for both artists and academics, do digital archives also generate novel ways of temporal and spatial encounters between art and research? And finally, with the re-activation of state visual archives, to what extent we can imagine participatory digital archive to begin new forms of ‘interactions’ with state archives in the global south? More research is without doubt needed to answer these questions.

45With this article I wanted to reflect on the potential and limitation of innovative technologies, such as digital technology, on existing cultural industries, such as the documentary cinema, in a global south context, such as India. As I have tried to show, on the one hand the digital turn should not be considered a revolutionary moment for the development film industry because part of a much longer historical development of a practice–which in order to become a veritable industry has benefitted of many other technological turns. On the other hand, we can still find some ‘specificities’ of the digital turn and surely the one concerning the ‘archive’ and the digital impact on exiting archives, and the creative possibilities that the digital has brought to independent visual practices. Understood as a ‘dispositif’ of presentation but also collaboration, sharing and participation of visual representations of a nation and its cultural heritage, the ‘archive’ and even more the ‘participatory digital archive’ is becoming the new space for creation and academic thinking as well as the novel way for seriously integrating the global south into more international debates concerning, art, technology, communication and innovation.

46Participatory digital archives offer modes of mediated (inter)actions of the contemporary time that foster novel forms of representation and communication between cultures and societies at a national and transnational level. For the Indian subcontinent, they offer new possibilities for media intellectuals, activists and visual artists to travel across disciplinary boundaries and to open up their practice to all the possibilities that modern technologies offer. In doing this, they offer new possibilities for collaborations and cross-fertilisation between disciplines and practices. They should start, in my opinion, becoming models for re-innovation of interdisciplinary research that, in turn, may also challenge Euro/American-centric disciplinary modes of analyses–no longer solely adequate for the analyses of cultural-technological transformations of places, spaces, cultural industries and art and media practices.


How did digital technology change film production? ›

Change in Screening Methods

With digital technology, the storage method has changed and today it is much easier to handle and transport movies to theatres than in the past. Servers, hard disks and video tapes are being used to store movies and digital projectors are being used to screen them.

How has the digital revolution influenced the film and cinema industry? ›

Footage filmed with a digital camera is also easier to edit. Unlike analog film, it does not lose any signals during the editing process. Digitally recorded sound also has a higher quality than analog-recorded audio. The resolution is higher, and the sound quality does not deteriorate.

How does technology affect cinema? ›

The use of technology has improved the qualitative aspects of moviemaking, as advanced technologies ensure engaging and crisp visuals, enhanced sound effects, easier editing tools, and digital film distribution, which helps offer an enriched movie experience to the viewers.

What is important about technology in film making? ›

The digitally equipped cameras also help to complete the production of the movie in lesser time than the film cameras. The digital format further brings down the cost by easier storage, preservation, and distribution.

How will technology be used to improve films in the future? ›

Voice synthesis with AI

AI bots can learn associations between actions, sounds and contextual features, helping to synthesise voices and sounds in movies. This technology will be highly beneficial for low-budget filmmakers, allowing them to get well-tailored and realistic sound effects easily, without much expertise.

Has technology made a difference to the quality of modern films? ›

Just like it has for a lot of other industries, technology has completely changed the film industry – from the ways movies get made, to how they are edited, to the ways audiences watch them. Technology has simplified life for everyone involved in making a movie.

What are the advantages of the digital revolution in film making? ›

Effects of High Tech on the Shooting

Numerous cameras can run on a similar shot, so you generally get the edge you need without sitting around on retakes. Most filmmakers like shooting digitally in light of the fact that it makes it simple to shoot numerous takes, and to get various points all the more monetarily.

What is the impact of digital media? ›

It has not only provided a new dimension to our lifestyle, but has also lead to the development of communication skills, and worldwide accessibility. Digital media has also provided a thousand more ways of entertainment and recreation.

What is digital technology in film? ›

Digital cinematography is the process of capturing (recording) a motion picture using digital image sensors rather than through film stock. As digital technology has improved in recent years, this practice has become dominant.

What technology is used in cinemas? ›

DCI stands for Digital Cinema Initiatives. As digital-cinema technology improved in the early 2010s, most theaters across the world converted to digital video projection. Digital cinema technology has continued to develop over the years with 3D, RPX, 4DX and ScreenX, allowing moviegoers with more immersive experiences.

What is the impact of technology on performance? ›

It was figured out that technology greatly escalates the productivity of employees along with time saving. It greatly affects the workload on employees and ensures control over mistakes and frauds. Quick access to information and ease of use enables the bank employees to deliver quality service.

What is the impact of Indian cinema? ›

They spoil our culture, and society. Cinema and TV badly affect the health of the youngsters. They neglect studies and physical games to spend more time on this entertainment. School-going children and society children fail to make use of good impacts and are influenced by the bad part of the programmes on the air.

What are the benefits of technology in production? ›

Advantages of investing in manufacturing technologies

increase the efficiency of your business systems. streamline your relationships with suppliers and customers. increase the speed, flexibility and efficiency of the production process. expand the range of what can be produced.

Is a technological transformation of a theater? ›

The development of amplifiers, speaker enclosures and loudspeakers made a significant impact on the theater. Actors could use microphones to project their voices through the speakers, which also allowed theatrical productions to play music and sound effects alongside whatever was happening on stage.

What are the benefits of using technology in arts production? ›

Basically, technology helps broaden the horizons of an artist's creativity while also limit the problems that they might encounter. It makes the production of art a lot less demanding, and as a result, artists now have more time to contemplate and expand their creativity.

How can technology be used to improve performance? ›

Turning over recurring and monotonous tasks to powerful computers increases productivity. It also reduces the chance of human error. What's more, letting technology do the heavy lifting allows you and your employees to focus on core business tasks and revenue-generating activities.

How technology plays an important role in a theatre performance? ›

They must use technology to support their scene – projections, sound effects, lighting effects. They can't use traditional theatre techniques (like using fabric to show waves). The actors can say their lines, but they can't use action to create their visuals – it has to be shown through technology.

What is one way that digital technology can change an actor's role in a movie? ›

In short, de-aging is a 3D effect technology used to make an actor look younger. To do so, post-production studios typically edit a digital image or apply computer-generated imagery (CGI) overlays or touch-ups to the necessary scenes.

Which is the best cinema technology? ›

In summary, Dolby Cinema and IMAX are today's most standard formats for enhanced cinema technologies. While both offer great value, IMAX is better for sound and visuals, and Dolby Cinema has better audio with its advanced audio tech.

What are the product of technology that were used to create special effects on movies? ›

Pyrotechnics, prosthetic makeup, animatronics, and live-action weather elements are just a few examples of special effects, all of which are overseen by the special effects supervisor. Despite advancements in modern digital effects, computer-generated imagery (CGI) may not look as real as the best practical effects.

What are the 3 benefits of digital transformation? ›

The Benefits of Digital Transformation
  • Increases Customer Satisfaction. ...
  • Drives Data-Based Insights. ...
  • Enables Software Monetization. ...
  • Enables High-Quality User Experience. ...
  • Encourages Collaboration & Improves Communication. ...
  • Increases Agility. ...
  • Limits Human Error. ...
  • Encourages an Environment of Employee Excellence.

What is digital transformation and its benefits? ›

Digital transformation creates a system for gathering the right data and incorporating it fully for business intelligence at a higher level. It creates a way that different functional units within an organization can translate raw data into insights across various touchpoints.

What are three advantages of digital transformation and why is it important? ›

Digital transformation is the process by which companies embed technologies across their businesses to drive fundamental change. The benefits? Increased efficiency, greater business agility and, ultimately, the unlocking of new value for employees, customers and shareholders.

Why is digital media important today? ›

Digital Media Facilitates Social Interaction

The digital age connects people in ways that were never possible before. Because 7 out of 10 Americans are on social media, individuals may maintain friendships across different time zones, regardless of the distance between.

How digital media contribute to the positive impact to the society nowadays? ›

People are better able to explore their civic responsibilities through digital media. People have constant and greater access to information such as facts, figures, and statistics allowing them to make well-informed decisions.

How is digital media affecting business communication? ›

Social media has provided a platform where businesses, of any size, are able to network and communicate with customers on a more personal level. Instead of simply trying to sell their products or services, the business is able to create relationships and get customers more accustomed to the brand.

What is digital technology in simple words? ›

Digital technologies are electronic tools, systems, devices and resources that generate, store or process data. Well known examples include social media, online games, multimedia and mobile phones. Digital learning is any type of learning that uses technology. It can happen across all curriculum learning areas.

What are the 4 types of digital media? ›

Digital photographs. Digital books (ebooks) Websites and Blogs. Social Media (Facebook, Twitter)

How will technology change the future of entertainment? ›

Tech will give us entertainment apps that empower

From buying a ticket to riding a ride to getting a snack, the normal process in most venues involves waiting in a line. Apps have the power to change that. While apps have been used in the entertainment sector for some time, the tools they provided were limited.

What are some of the main uses of technology for entertainment? ›

These entertainment technologies include video games, virtual worlds and online role-playing games, recreational social networking technologies, and, to a lesser degree, traditional mass communication outlets.

What are the 5 elements of cinema? ›

There are five elements of film which is narrative, cinematography, sound, mise-en-scene, and editing. These five elements help determine the film and a way to judge a film.

How employees benefit from adapting to new technological changes in the workplace? ›

Thanks to smartphones, chat apps, and industry-specific social networking sites, communication in the workplace has become fast, collaborative, more deliberate, and unified. Technology allows employees to engage in important work even when outside the office, and keep in touch with coworkers, even face-to-face.

How does technology impact economic growth? ›

Industrial Expansion

Thanks to the increased efficiency of labor with the ever-improving state of technology, businesses are able to increase total output, which in turn leads to higher profits and greater economic development.

How does technology affect the employee training and development? ›

Technology allows you to understand how effective your training and development is by tracking employee knowledge before and after the process. It also lets you see how well-crafted your training is.

What is the most important need of today Indian cinema? ›

Solution : Today the Indian cinema has become the most petent are form. It should be looked upon as a form of creative expression. It commands the respect given to my other form of creative experession. It combines the functions of poetry, Music, Painting, drama and architecture.

What is the most important impact of cinema on society? ›

Movies can create awareness on multiple aspects of life

Besides that, film brings us to understand the negative effects of drugs, alcohol, and substance abuse. Crime and action TV shows also warn us about the dangers of criminal activities, terrorism, and war.

What is the main purpose of cinema? ›

Cinema, which is used to educate people, as well as to entertain, influence and direct them, is accepted and used as the most important cultural conveyor of the 21st century. Cinema has the feature of reflecting the social, political and cultural changes and of contributing to reconstruction of reality.

What are the benefits of integrating modern technology in manufacturing industry? ›

Integrating modern technologies into manufacturing processes leads to increased productivity and thus, increased profit. Adopting these technologies also help in attaining better accuracy of a product due to standardized procedures.

How will you utilize ICT as a resource in teaching learning process of mathematics? ›

Students are taught to work in collaborative groups or apply the problem-solving process when using a computer to solve a problem, and then ICT is involved in developing the solution. Higher-order thinking of math students consists of the transformation of information and concepts.

How does digital manufacturing increase health and safety? ›

This enables employees to see, not only what they're doing, but what is happening above, behind and around them. With this extra sensory information, workers are less likely to fall victim to surprise incidents, like falling items, mobile machinery and other moving items. In addition, the 3D imaging can be recorded.

What are the 3 processes of technological change? ›

Technological change has three important stages; Invention, innovation, and diffusion. They will be discussed as follows; Invention: Invention is the process of creating new technology or developing a product or a technological process by applying knowledge that was already in use, but in new ways.

Why is technology important in the film industry? ›

The use of digital cameras and other technologies helps produce a movie in lesser time than conventional film cameras. The digital format also enables filmmakers to complete their schedules in less time with almost negligible waste, thus keeping the project cost under control.

What are the benefits of digital arts being a student? ›

The report finds that arts included in the curriculum can help students develop self-management and self-discipline, interpersonal and relationship skills, and self-expression. Blending art with soft-skills enhanced via technology can also provide compounded benefits.

What are the benefits and disadvantages of using digital device in making artworks? ›

Quickly go to:-
  • Advantages Of Digital Art.
  • Ability To Make Mistakes, And Undo Them.
  • More Flexible.
  • Provide You With More Tools For The Job.
  • Easier To Duplicate & Distribute.
  • Opens A Career Path For You.
  • Disadvantages Of Digital Art.
  • Can Hinder Your Growth.
26 Oct 2019

How does digital technology make the filmmaking process easier? ›

Effects of High Tech on the Shooting

Numerous cameras can run on a similar shot, so you generally get the edge you need without sitting around on retakes. Most filmmakers like shooting digitally in light of the fact that it makes it simple to shoot numerous takes, and to get various points all the more monetarily.

What are 5 ways digital technology has changed the forefront of the film industry? ›

Digital technology has progressed to a very advanced point. Compare the powerful digital cameras of today with the analog ones from the past.
Here are just 5 technologies that are at the forefront of this change:
  • Autonomous Drone Cameras.
  • 3D Printing.
  • 4K 3D Cameras.
  • Algorithmic Video Editing.
  • Cloud-based Technologies.
24 Apr 2019

How did technology change production methods? ›

Evolutions in additive manufacturing, automation and industrial robotics are changing every step in the manufacturing process. Manufacturers are adopting robotics and technologies to collaborate with human engineers and operators, freeing them up for higher-level tasks and thereby increasing overall efficiency.

How technology has changed production methods? ›

The impact of technology on production
  1. Costs - Technology costs money to purchase, but reduces the cost of producing products. ...
  2. Productivity - Using machinery to mechanise or automate parts of the production process leads to an increase in productivity.

What are the impacts of the latest technology in field of video production? ›

Tech changes have drastically lowered costs of production over the years. Back in the analogue days, videos were shot on film, which was impossible to reuse and cost money to purchase, develop and edit.

Do you agree that the Internet and digital media have contributed to the slow demise of the movie industry? ›

The internet and digital media have been accused of contributing to the slow demise of the movie industry, however it's also a fact that digital has enabled filmmakers on a budget to attract a wider audience than was possible in the analogue age.

What are the top 3 trends of digital transformation? ›

The new trends in digital transformation include hybrid work, intelligent search, AIOps and machine learning, customer data platforms (CDPs), and integrated Agile, DevOps, and ITSM platforms.

How can technology be used to improve productivity and efficiency? ›

6 Ways To Use Technology To Increase Productivity!
  1. 1 – Use Virtual Private Networks. ...
  2. 2 – Use Video Conferencing Software. ...
  3. 3 – Use a Networked Voice and Data Solution. ...
  4. 4 – Use an Outsourced IT Service Provider. ...
  5. 5 – Use the Cloud. ...
  6. 6 – Use a Scheduling System.
17 Oct 2022

What is the impact of technology in the society? ›

It affects the life of people and changes the way of their learning, thinking, and communication. It plays a major role in society, and now it is very tough to imagine the life without technology. Both technology and society are co-related, co-dependent, co-influence with each other.

What is the importance of technology in operations management? ›

Technology and operations management can decrease the time employees spend on administrative tasks so that businesses can focus on expanding their operations and increasing their customer service capabilities.

How technology affects cost of production? ›

Improved productivity and efficiency due to technological change, have a positive effect on the cost of production. More productivity means more output per input and more efficiency means that the output is achieved with less cost of production. Hence, the overall cost of production decreases.


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