ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Volatile Bodies: Gender, technology and the female uncanny in early twentieth century South India


Menon Mannil Bindu - Azim Premji University, School of Arts& Sciences, Bangalore, India


13 – The Travelling Female Performer: Mobility and Agency in and beyond South Asia, c. 1760-1940


 In his autobiography written in 1958, C U  K Nambiar, the pioneer of song and dance drama in the British Malabar region, recorded the sexual advances against female impersonators of drama troupes of the 1890s. A few decades later, in 1930, the first actress of the silent film Dalit travelling performer of the folk theatre, P K Rosy was violently attacked and was forced to leave her hometown soon after the premiere of her film Vigatakumaran. In another autobiographical account, the playwright describes his childhood memory of a travelling show woman of the gramophone. This graceful monstrous feminine brutally molests a young girl, her maidservant. Manifested in these accounts is the intertwining of the technological uncanny with mobile bodies and disruptive sexuality. Closely reading these accounts, I explore broader questions concerning modernity between bodies, modernity, and technology. While intermingling the technological uncanny with a notion of “non-normative sexuality” is a discernible trope in all three accounts, they also gesture towards certain aspects of caste and their relationship to technological modernity and mobility. I propose to read these narratives within these intersecting vectors of power in the context of deepening our phantasmagorias that pervade gender and performance in the early twentieth century.