Monday 00:10

Kalpana Subramanian | 
2021 | 
United States | 
8:23 mins | 
A serendipitous encounter on distant shores Colliding archives of body and place Ominous scenes of a homeland's militaristic pride An incantation to freedom and belonging.

Incantation, by Kalpana Subramanian, is one of our more experimental films at the Small Axe Radical Short Film Awards this year. The notion of experimental film sometimes sits at odds with radical politics, historically favouring varying forms of social realism. However, we recognise the importance of experimental aesthetics in articulating differing experiences and challenging normative forms of film-making. Indeed, form needs to be challenged in some way in order to move us to new conclusions and ideas.

Subramanian’s films delivers on this understanding in an engaging and deeply affecting way. The film showcases to us ideas of belonging, identity and landscape for a post-colonial subject all bound up in a highly poetic and experimental aesthetic. Intriguingly, it treads the line of a subjective and collective experience or identity, lacking a determining factor either way.

The opening images seem to signal a type of individual understanding of a post-colonial identity. Through these images, a feather against the backdrop of a beach, birds flying, water trapped under ice and barren landscapes, an overall ambience of entrapment, degeneration and loss pervades the film. Indeed, the images of hands, hair and feet underwater suggest some type of liminal experience, a space between spaces and ill-defined.

The film then switches to the use of archival footage in a refreshing and intriguing way. We see images of 1950s and 60s New Delhi, seemingly ordinary everyday life, superimposed with the aforementioned water images. A regular downwards moving shadow equally obscures the image. Thus, a link is made between the sense of identity expressed in the liminality of water and the distant, maybe half-forgotten, images of India. This is a scene that cannot be come back to.

The presence of the English language roots us in a post-colonial setting. Indeed, the link through images of military procession and parade sets up the chief motivating factor of this loss of identity; colonial violence and war. The military parade showcases Indian soldiers having fought for British forces. The war remains uncertain yet we understand it to be either the First or Second World War. The sense of liminal identity is paralleled here in the soldier; of Indian heritage, defined by a colonial power and existing somewhere between the two.

Incantation thus shows us through intriguing, experimental means – a necessity of expressing such an experience that sits outside of defined norms – the affect of colonial power on the post-colonial identity.