Between Human, Non-Human, and Woman: An Actress Theorizes Exhaustion

When and Where

Wednesday, February 12, 2020 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm
North House, Room 208N
Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy
1 Devonshire Place, Toronto, ON M5S 3K7


Debashree Mukherjee, Assistant Professor, Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies, Columbia University
Kajri Jain, Associate Professor, Department of Visual Studies, University of Toronto


In 1940, at the height of her stardom, the star-actress Shanta Apte wrote a harsh polemic against the Bombay film industry. I interrogate this curious text - Should I Join the Movies? - by placing it at the intersection of female stardom, the corporeality of cinematic labor, and techno-scientific interest in industrial fatigue. The weariness of the actress, her capacity for “being spent,” is an experiential category that pushes us to think embodiment as production experience. This essay positions Apte’s text as theory from the South that helps us rethink the meanings of gender, embodiment, affective labor, inequality, and human-machine relations at a critical phase in the career of cinema in India. In dialogue with Apte, I think through the materiality of the off-screen world of film work and parse her insistence on embodiment as the grounds for refusal and resistance.

Debashree Mukherjee is Assistant Professor of film and media in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS) at Columbia University. Her first book, Bombay Hustle: Making Movies in a Colonial City (forthcoming from Columbia University Press) brings together insights from film and media studies, feminist cultural studies, new materialisms, and technology studies to narrate the history of Bombay cinema as a history of material practice.

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Asian Institute, Centre for South Asian Studies, Department of Visual Studies, Jackman Humanities Institute