A significant new trend in contemporary Indian Documentary, since the mid-nineties has been the emergence of the first-person documentary by women and gay filmmakers and filmmakers from religious minority groups. Does a certain kind of documentary exist because certain kinds of subjects/ subjectivities exist? What features of Indian life – institutional, political, social and cultural – influenced the emergence of certain kinds of subjectivities and their self-representation in the documentary form? The dissertation attempts to answer these questions while delineating the material history of the conditions of its emergence and the new forms of political selfhood that the first-person documentary enables and represents. Tracing a genealogy of the first-person documentary, the first part of the dissertation focuses on the colonial home movie archive (1895-1947) positing it as a site of negotiations, meaning making and memory-work in the complex processes of decolonization of the imperial eye/I. The second part of the dissertation looks at the postcolonial archive and the self-representation by the postcolonial subject in the first-person documentary form. Signifying a shift from statist top-down models of the documentary tradition in India that sought to create disciplined subjects to serve the new nation’s modernist project, and distinctive from the political subjectivity invoked in civil society discourses of rights and justice in activist and advocacy media, I argue that the first-person documentary mobilizes a new citizen-spectator subject and a new form of documentary consciousness, an “embodied and ethical spectatorship” that is created at the interstices of the public and the private, critical and contemplative, moral and ethical.
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