Tonight, the college hosted filmmaker Paromita Vohra, and held a screening of her film Q2P. She is an Indian filmmaker who works primarily in the documentary form (although she does have one fictional short film, A Short Film About Timei), and often explores issues of space and urbanity in relationship to questions of gender and nationalism. As Q2P's playful title suggests, this new film is a continuation of those interests, in this case focusing on public toilets in India as a way of discussing gendered space and urban planning (or lack thereof). In her Q&A after the screening, the very personable Vohra talked about how she's interested in thinking about social issues, but has no desire to make boring polemics or to knock people over the head with a message. She also wanted to avoid making a film that was all toilet jokes or nudge-nudge humor (although parts of the film are intentionally very funny). In discussing the film's DJ-designed, electronica-like soundtrack, she spoke of "finding the note" as a means of organization-- what is your structural or musical throughline, and how can you make a space for your subjects and your audience to move through? I liked the film, which juggles interviews, essay-film style voiceover, and animation. There are many striking shots of buildings, public rest areas, often focusing on the texts-- official, graffiti, posters-- that surround and defines such spaces.
There are a number of good interviews-- I especially liked the curator of the toilet museum, and the two women bathing an infant in toilet water at the end (Vohra described the scene as droll, but I found it more blackly comic, and appropriately bleak)--and her use of animation puts a nice spin on how cartoons are used in PSAs and industrial films, but I think the most effective element of the film is the soundtrack. She used a DJ, she said, because she didn't want the music to be upbeat or mournful, but somewhat less predictable in relation to the image. She said she gave the DJ a scratch track of a song from Miles Davis' Bitches Brew, and asked for a similar sound, and the music really does work well in conjunction with the visuals-- it complicates our relationship to them, doesn't determine our emotional response, and also acts as another layer of critical possibility. DJs, after all, are already doing with music what Vohra is searching for in the film's exploration of stratified gender roles, what she hopes to see happen in Indian social life: taking the already familiar, the already categorized, and literally going against the grain , rearranging a known song into something startlingly different.