The Modest Proposal

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Wide Screen Journal Kuhu Tanvir

In 2007, when I joined the collective that eventually became the core team of what is now Wide Screen, critical engagement with cinema was slowly establishing itself as an actual discipline of film studies in India. There was essentially one university that offered an MA specifically in cinema studies while a few others offered degrees in Cultural Studies. It would follow—and it did—that there were also no well-known Indian journals dedicated to an engagement with cinematic language or art except for Journal of the Moving Image (founded in 1999, and then available only to university libraries in print format). It was while looking for some more accessible forum where people discussed popular films that I came across what was then Subaltern Cinema, a collectively-written blog owned by Kishore Budha. It was for this blog that I wrote my earliest pieces on popular Indian films and what drew me was the immense readership that there was for posts that were usually more than film reviews and often delved into auteur debates, textual analysis, and heated debates on the politics of every film in question.

The following year, in 2008, we decided to solidify the efforts of the blog and launch a journal of screen-studies, and it was initially christened Subaltern Cinema, after the blog. The driving force behind the idea of the journal was to follow the stringent policy of blind peer-review, but also to make this content freely available. While this was Kishore's idea, it appealed to me as a person since I was in India which then had scarce access to subscription-only journals—it was primarily JSTOR—and that too was only accessible if you were affiliated to a university and were physically in their library on one of the computer terminals that had access to the internet and to the JSTOR database.

Our next task was to create an editorial and an advisory team. Of the people I spoke to was Christine Gledhill who was then teaching a class at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in India, and it was she who asked me why we wanted to call the journal Subaltern Cinema. I realized that I had been so dedicated to a notion of continuation from the blog to the journal that I had not given any thought to the definition, politics and scope of calling something "Subaltern." While it seemed an interesting taxonomic move to think of film as the Subaltern, Christine's question got me thinking about the limitations of adopting what is essentially an ideological force-field. So we shortlisted a few other names and zeroed in on Wide Screen, and in the process also renamed our blog (which still exists but has been less active lately) Edit Room.

Since then, we have had at least one issue per year, and we have slowly moved from general issues to special issues where we invite guest editors to curate a volume. So far, we have done three general issues and two special issues, one on Production Studies edited by Graham Roberts (Leeds Trinity) and Dorota Ostrowska (Birkbeck) and one on Documentary, Art and Performance edited by Veena Hariharan (Jawaharlal Nehru University). We also had Latika Padkaongar (formerly Cinefan) edit a dossier on Arab cinema which was included in the general issue of 2011.

Currently, we're working on a special issue on Indian cinema, which is being edited collectively by Kartik Nair and I. This issue marks 100 years of Indian cinema, (celebrated this past year, 2013). Several magazines have dedicated issues to celebrate the centenary of Indian cinema, and we wanted ours to contribute to the growing body of work without duplicating the effort of other publications. We decided therefore to frame this issue as an anti-centenary, focusing on the unpopular, the niche, and the trashy not just in terms of the kinds of films, but also in the kind of methodological work that is happening in the field. So we have papers on Indian horror, which continues to occupy the peripheries of the popular or at least the "tasteful" popular despite several changes in the patterns of both production and consumption. While one paper looks at contemporary Bombay ├▒Hindi films, the other looks categorically at two non-Hindi films (one Tamil and one Telugu) not just mapping the field, but also broadening the conversation on Indian horror. The issue also houses the other end of the spectrum of 'respectability' that is occupied by the ideological realm of Indian documentary and its most visible presence, Anand Patwardhan. Finally, we have a paper that looks at film advertisements from magazines like Filmfare and Blitz in the 1960s, examining it as a form of publicity that occupied an entirely different realm of production, circulation and affect from other print formats like billboards and posters.

One of the hardest challenges that we continue to face is to remain afloat while providing open-access to students, scholars, researchers and cinephiles. But even though our scope and our self-definition undergoes many changes big and small, we want to stand-by the principle of free access because we believe the flow of knowledge is moving in that direction in the foreseeable future.

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