Loud Mess

by Kitty Drake in November 2020
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Art & design Film

A magazine that celebrates Asian cinema, the latest issue is themed ‘Loud Mess’ and reflects on moments of onscreen madness and excess. One of its stars is the Pashto movie star Shehnaz Begum, a kind of female Dirty Harry who fist-fights baddies with such ice-cool, a half-smoked cigarette hardly ever leaves her mouth. Whenever she has to perform a particularly acrobatic kung-fu move, she simply flicks her cigarette into the air, only to catch it again between her lips. 

The issue was guest-edited by the filmmaker Shai Heredia and the director Oliver Husain, and inspired by a specific shared memory: watching a movie together in Bangalore, a city where the volume in the cinema is always cranked up to an ear-splitting level, in order to compete with the chatter of the audience. The contrast between the chaotic experience of watching a film in South Asia, and the relatively sedate viewing practises in the rest of the world became the focal point of this issue. Reading it in the deadening quiet of the pandemic — when cinemas stand empty and we’ve all retreated into our individual Netflix holes — feels at once painful and hopeful. Below, Shai and Oliver have given us a five-point guide to the new issue, via their favourite spreads.

“For his exhibition at the Goethe Institut in New Delhi in January 2020, photographer Srinivas Kuruganti invited visitors to go through hundreds of analogue prints and digital files of his photographs from the past three decades — to collectively help him re-examine his sprawling archives. We were drawn to his series ‘Left-footing to the Dhol’, of which we include a small selection in the magazine. Documenting early 1990s underground bhangra parties in Manhattan, the series shows the ideal parties we all dream of these pandemic days — ‘people would be up in the air, their bodies contorting and screaming as they recognized the beat of the dhol,’ Srinivas remembers. ‘It was a space for Wall Street executives to come and unwind and it was also a space for the queer community to feel safe.’

— Oliver Husain

“This soft, textured, surprising text with accompanying pastel coloured drawings by Luca Lum is one of the central pieces in the Issue for me. A seemingly gentle counterpoint to the louder sections of the magazine. Luca is a poet and visual artist based in Singapore, where she is part of a collective running the project space soft/WALL/studs. For her contribution to Nang, she took three famous and not so famous Japanese films as point of departure: Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets (Terayama Shuji, 1971); Female Prisoner Scorpion: #701’s Grudge Song (Hasebe Yasuhara, 1973) and Love Exposure (Sono Sion, 2008). The resulting writing is hard to pin down, a shape-shifting form that is at once fan fiction, its own new movie script, erotica and family drama. She runs away with these films not so much guiding her but trailing behind her like sparkling kites.”

— Oliver Husain

“This is an image of the gorgeous actress Sabita Devi who acts as Lata in the film Jivan Lata (1936). Her character is a dancer who also happens to have an Oxford law degree. She comes to the rescue of the barrister hero who is wrongly accused of murder, by making an impassioned speech on his behalf. Debashree Mukerjee’s fascinating essay ‘Noisy Women: Female Defendants and Impassioned Lady Barristers in the 1930s’ discusses how with the advent of sound in late colonial Indian cinema, female actresses in ‘lady barrister’ films became significant in propelling the moralising dramatic monologue as a cinematic tool. Ultimately, the leading ladies of the time used their ‘striking presence’ and ‘argumentative, noisy’ speeches in these courtroom dramas to present and discuss tropes of femininity and ideas of the ‘modern woman.'”

— Shai Heredia

“I encountered the fascinating world of LP cover artwork through Edo Bouman & Gerard Westerhof’s vast collection of rare and vintage LPs at their Vintage Voudou store in Amsterdam. The boldly designed, loud images you see here are of LP covers of soundtracks from 1980s Tamil and Telugu language films from South India. The associative, almost surreal editing style in these films created a colourful patchwork of often puzzling plots, which were matched with the sensory overload of vivid costumes, wild sets and scenery and always BIG sound that lifts the drama to epic heights. Stylistically ranging from the absurd to the sublime, the LP artwork is a perfect representation of the funky music on the records and in the films — including a remix of Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat it.'”

— Shai Heredia

“It was in the early 2000s at Bombay’s Chor Bazaar, or Thieves Market as it is called, that I stumbled upon (and immediately acquired) a goldmine of production stills of 1990s Hindi Horror films being sold as junk. Amidst these, 100 or so photographs are the raunchy extreme reaction shots of actress Neelam Mehra from the movie Shaitani Ilaaka (1990).”

— Shai Heredia

“I can’t stop looking at the variety of different moods and characters Neelam Mehra creates out of the simple, yet extreme situation of sitting on a mattress, her limbs entangled with living snakes. Looking back at the camera she gives us the full range of over-amplified emotions from lustful terror to terrible joy. In the most touching outtakes, she seems to be simply waiting for the photo shoot to commence. These wonderfully oversaturated images perfectly illustrate our interest in loudness as an aesthetic choice, as a representation of maximalism.”

 — Oliver Husain 


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