Pallavi Paul

Arts Practice
2018-2019

Grant Period: One year

Pallavi Paul is a film practitioner, video artist and researcher from Delhi. She is a PhD student at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University (SAA, JNU), and has a Masters in Mass Communication from Jamia Milia Islamia and MPhil from SAA, JNU. She had received a grant from IFA earlier for her film The Common Task, in collaboration with Sahej Rahal, which has been widely screened in India and abroad and is now part of the Library of Congress, USA Collection. Her works have been exhibited at Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Film’s Division and MIFF in Mumbai; Khoj International Artists Association, Sarai ’09, and JNU in Delhi; Experimenta Film Festival and Visvesvaraya Industrial & Technological Museum, in Bangalore; and in Little Cinema International Festival in Kolkata and the Ooty Film Festival. Her work has also been screened at Fitzwilliam Museum, Newcastle AV Festival, Close Up Film Centre, Whitechapel Gallery, Tate Modern and other spaces in UK; Ashkal Alwan and Beirut Art Centre in Lebanon, Contour Biennale and Cinema Zuid in Belgium, Garage, Netherlands and Vancouver Biennale, Canada. She has been recipients of the Kirloskar Visiting Scholar Fellowship, Charles Wallace-INLAKS Shivdasani Foundation fellowship, PSBT Fellowship and SARAI fellowships among others. Her writings have been published in Art India, Marg, The Wire, The Indian Express, Wide Screen, Studies in South Asian Film and Media and sarai.net.

For her next project titled ’76, Pallavi desires to explore and document the experiences of women police officers of Delhi. Women in police are a twentieth century phenomenon and only sparsely documented in popular culture, contemporary arts or film. Both labour and women’s movements that fought against structural power enabled women to walk out of their homes and get into the work force. This includes areas like the police, defence and other related fields that are bested with the same structural power both socially and politically, that the movements struggled against. This makes the narrative of women police officer more complex and compelling. The very figure of the policewoman becomes an internal critique of repressive mechanisms; a marker of the limits of her male counterparts. “A vibrant network of women from all parts of the world doing completely different things under the exact same job description, at the same time- lies at the heart of this enquiry,” says Pallavi in her proposal.

Pallavi’s special attention is towards the batch inducted in 1976, right in the middle of the National Emergency in India. This is of interest to her for the historical location of these women and the duties they performed. There is no record of the instructions given to them, the decisions they made or their experiences on the job as the exercise of state power during the emergency left no trail. Her mother is from this batch of police women, which gives her a unique perspective, deeper insights, accessibility to the women and the archives, and a personal connection to the project.

According to her the job of art today is ‘to look close enough from far enough’. To achieve this she has chosen the ‘intimate portrait’ as a documentary film form for this project. “The intimate portrait courts the constant tension between detail and context. A cell wall under a microscope, a close up of an upturned corner of a mouth, a honeycomb structure of bonds, to hear a woman talk about her colour of choice- take us close enough to make the observed alien”, she writes. The film will be structured like a travelogue. Extensive interviews of these retired women from the police force will be intermeshed with archival material from the police archives. As the women are now scattered across different parts of the country, the travelogue structure will allow Pallavi to move beyond the demands of illustrating memory or experience and play with distraction by the joining in of other stories. The film will include landscapes, archival photographs and videos. When trying to render mind spaces and imagined scenarios she might also use animation, text and drawing. The film will also be a combination of various kinds of soundscapes, image textures and documentary techniques working within the metaphor of travel.

IFA’s experience of the previous grant to Pallavi confirms that she is capable of working with complicated issues and complex structures. By choosing a subject like this she is already asking critical questions about state power, gender, body, empathy and empowerment. The form she has chosen allows her to push the boundary of documentary cinema and explore multiplicity of materials. Despite her personal connection to the project, it is evident that she can look at the subject objectively without missing the nuances offered by the personal stories. At best the film will be a work of art, and in the least it will tell stories of people who have not been considered important for art. Looking at the scope, range and possibility of the project her budget is justified. The tentatively 30 min long film would be the outcome of the project. The Grantee's deliverables to IFA with the final report will be the film, production stills, audio interviews and their transcripts.