Nishtha Jain

Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: Over nine months

Nishtha Jain’s proposed film on family photo-albums is in many ways an extension of her earlier IFA-funded film on studio photography. That film explored how personal fantasies are realised through photographs and it portrayed the photo studio’s role in local communities. This film goes further along the same road by looking, through the medium of the family album, at the personal significance of photographs. Nishtha has identified four narratives or strands on which she would like to base her film. Sevati Mitra who lives in Kolkata belongs to an enlightened Brahmo family. Mitra has a vast collection of family photographs dating from the time of her grandparents. Premalaya Singh, and her younger sister Priyo Batra, live in Delhi and their brother, Pritampal, lives in Pune, but the siblings grew up in Abbotabad in Pakistan. Their father was a staunch Congress supporter and people like Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Mahatma Gandhi visited their home. The photographs of their life in Abbotabad are now the only vestige they have left of that time. Geraldine Forbes is a historian who has worked on family photographs and has been collecting them and interviewing the people whose lives are reflected in such photographs. Finally, we have the genre of the family photograph – the kind of portfolios specially commissioned by families who wish to create documents of their lives according to their own ideas of how they would like to be portrayed.

While Nishtha is anxious to point out that these four strands do not exhaust the possibilities that she would like to explore in the film, it is also the case that they cover  the main themes pertaining to the family album that interest her. In the case of Sevati Mitra, we have the example of someone who sees her own life as congruent and continuous with the life represented in the family album. The three elderly siblings from Delhi and Pune hold on to their photographs as artefacts of a vanished time, so that the family album here comes to represent a strong awareness of loss. The questions that are raised in relation to the work of Geraldine Forbes are: How does a historian analyse photographs that have purely personal significance? How can the family album be removed from its domestic frame and yet retain the personal context that will make it meaningful in a more general sense? Finally, in the case of the self-consciously constructed family album, there is the question of the contrasts between the real and the imagined family. What idealised notions of family do these constructions draw upon?

Nistha proposes to construct her film mainly from family albums and conversations, and hopes to avoid using a commentary. One stylistic device she may use is to get actors to depict images from old photographs. Given the subtlety and playfulness of Nishtha’s previous film, it is reasonable to expect that this film too will both move and enlighten. At the same time, it will be interesting to see how the filmmaker’s presence functions in this one. While in the last project it was possible for Nishtha to remain considerably detached from her subjects, in this film, the more enclosed personal space associated with the family album may compel her to address individual characters more directly.