In 1939, at the height of her stardom, the actress Shanta Apte went on a spectacular hunger strike in protest against her employers at Prabhat Studios in Poona, India. The following year, Apte wrote a harsh polemic against the extractive nature of the film industry. In Jaau Mi Cinemaat? (Should I Join the Movies?, 1940), she highlighted the durational depletion of the human body that is specific to acting work. This article interrogates these two unprecedented cultural events—a strike and a book—opening them up toward a history of embodiment as production experience. It embeds Apte's emphasis on exhaustion within contemporaneous debates on female stardom, industrial fatigue, and the status of cinema as work. Reading Apte's remarkable activism as theory from the South helps us rethink the meanings of embodiment, labor, materiality, inequality, resistance, and human-object relations in cinema.
Somewhere between Human, Nonhuman, and Woman: Shanta Apte's Theory of Exhaustion
Debashree Mukherjee is an assistant professor of film and media in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS) at Columbia University. Her forthcoming book, Bombay Hustle: Making Movies in a Colonial City (Columbia University Press, 2020), narrates the early history of Indian cinema as a history of material practice. She is a core editor with the peer-reviewed journal BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies, and regularly curates film exhibitions. In a previous life Mukherjee worked in Mumbai's film and TV industries as an assistant director, writer, and cameraperson.
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Debashree Mukherjee; Somewhere between Human, Nonhuman, and Woman: Shanta Apte's Theory of Exhaustion. Feminist Media Histories 1 July 2020; 6 (3): 21–51. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fmh.2020.6.3.21
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