ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Nitrate Cities: Theorizing Spectatorial Exertions in Urban South Asia


Siddique Salma - Gender and Media Studies for the South Asian Region, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany


49 – Public Knowledge: Audiences in South Asian Media and Screen Studies


 Nitrate Cities investigates urban transformations in South Asia through spectatorial practices and identity politics around cinema. The paper draws on my ongoing project that examines the way spectators alter their lived urban environment through peaceful as well as agitational activities. I invoke the nitrate materiality of celluloid, which once made film stock highly unstable and combustible, as a metaphor for local sensitivities that have existed for as long as filmmaking in the South Asian region. Liable to hurt and offense, these sensitivities are predominantly connected to religious beliefs, caste-class identities and historically constituted inter-community dynamics. Since the colonial period, the film spectator in South Asia has mostly been understood as an embodiment of one or the other ‘communal sentiments’ transposed by modernisation. Constituting a politicised identity, “attached to its own exclusion” located in past injuries, these sentiments are what Wendy Brown identifies as “wounded attachments” (Brown, 1993: 406). The cinema in this scheme plays a critical role – it is both a purveyor and an appropriator of these injuries, integrating structures of feeling on the level of the narrative as well as publicity. Foregrounding recent film boycotts and protests, I examine the ways in which stakeholders articulate a community through urban violence, and judicial and extra-judicial activism.