INTERVIEW WITH RASHMI DORAISWAMY ABOUT CENTRAL ASIA AND CHINGIZ AITMATOV

 

THE HINDU-14.01.2006


The century of Asia



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Hindi cinema is still viewed in Central Asia. Raj Kapoor is still popular Rashmi Doraiswamy -HUMRA QURAISHI

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The Kyrgyz Embassy in New Delhi released the book "The Post-Soviet Condition: Chingiz Aitmatov in the '90s" by Rashmi Doraiswamy in New Delhi. Rashmi Doraiswamy studied Russian language and culture at Jawaharlal Nehru University and has done her doctoral dissertation on Mikhail Bachtin, the Russian philosopher of culture. She was awarded by the Tadjik Filmmakers' Union for her writings on Tadjik cinema. In 1995 she also won the national award for `Best Writing' on cinema. And in 2002 she co-authored the book "Being and Becoming : The Cinemas of Asia (Macmillan). She is Associate Professor at Jamia Millia Islamia, working on Central Asia.

Excerpts from an interview with Rashmi Doraiswamy:

Your earlier writings revolve around cinema. What kind of cinema in that region, any changes in the post-Soviet era, etc. And do they still get nostalgic about Raj Kapoor and Nargis? Hindi cinema is still viewed in the region. Of course, Raj Kapoor is still popular. I was pleasantly surprised in 1991 while researching Tadjik cinema to find that Davlat Khudonazarov, an important Tadjik filmmaker, who later dabbled in politics, considered Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali to be one of the important influences on his work. During the Soviet period, each of the five Central Asian Republics had their own studios that produced films. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan contributed significantly to Soviet cinema. In the `80s, a group of young filmmakers started the `Kazakh New Wave'. The change to market economy affected film production quite drastically, although films are still being produced.

Why is it that in the post-Soviet era the new Republics have been low-key? Even today we know more about Europe (even Eastern Europe) than about Central Asia. The 21st Century is being called the century of Asia. The Central Asian region is very rich in natural resources. If not for any other reason, then at least for geopolitical and energy security reasons, it is emerging as one of the important players in Asia. If there is talk of the `Great

Game' being replayed, there is also talk of the revival of the Silk Route. In the interests of a multipolar world, I think, we in Asia are going to have to know our neighbours better.

Your latest book focuses on the post-Soviet condition, through the writings of Chingiz Aitmatov. Any apparent changes in his outlook in recent years?

Chingiz Aitmatov is a writer, essayist, translator and playwright who writes in Kyrgyz and Russian. Even though he was showcased by the Soviet State as a symbol of the success of socialism in the Central Asian Republics, he too faced the rigours of censorship. Aitmatov, like many other writers of the time, was a `critical insider', not an oppositional writer or a dissident. During the Cold War the West found it expedient to valourise dissident writers. What I call `critical insiders', however, were as important, if not more, in creating spaces for debate and redefining aesthetic tenets within the Soviet Union. After the fall of the Soviet Union, many writers fell silent. Aitmatov, however, continued to write. He wrote a novel, co-authored a play and published two books of dialogues - one with the Buddhist thinker, Daisaku Ikeda and the other with Kazakh writer and diplomat, Mukhtar Shakhanov. Although he does not speak negatively

about the Soviet experience, he now critiques totalitarianism very forcefully. What are Aitmatov's views on America ? Does he realise the tragedy - of the world left with one so-called super power and the imbalance it has created?

Aitmatov's novel, The Mark of Cassandra, written in 1995, is a work with a dystopic vision. It is Aitmatov's one work that does not deal with Kyrgyzstan or the Asian region of the Soviet Union or the CIS. The narrative is global, dealing with two political systems - Russia and the United States of America, one post-socialist, and the other late capitalist. Both systems seem to be not too unalike, in the grip of mass violence and mass spectacles, and the protagonist, in a sense, rejects both.

HUMRA QURAISHI

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