In the summer of 2017, Tongues on Fire in collaboration with Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), embarked on the ambitious year-long Heritage-Lottery-funded project – Memories Through Cinema.
The project set out to identity through the generations of London’s South Asian communities how cinema has served as a vital bridge between cultures and countries for South Asians in Britain. Harmonising with the UK-India Year of Culture 2017 and the 70th anniversary of Indian independence, the aim of the project was to collate oral histories of people’s memories of cinema and to produce a documentary film and exhibition to showcase the treasure trove of memories uncovered.
To achieve this, a team of volunteers was enlisted and given specialised training through bespoke workshops on filmmaking, interview techniques, video editing and exhibition curation. The research work carried out uncovered large amounts of content and material in relation to the project. This was then shortlisted to identify the most relatable artefacts, themes and interviews that would give the audience increased knowledge of South Asian cinematic and cultural heritage, through the exhibition and documentary.
The inauguration of the exhibition and documentary took place at the Nehru Centre on the evening of Monday 19 March, with speeches from Dr Ashvin Devasundaram from Queen Mary University of London and Dr Jonathan Oates, Borough Archivist from Ealing Borough Council.
The feedback for the exhibition and documentary was very positive and there was a lively and engaging discussion following screenings at the Nehru Centre (19 March) and Harrow Arts Centre (20 March). The documentary has raised many themes, particularly for the immigrant south Asian population and it has solicited emotive reactions. The premiere screening was a hugely successful element of the UK Asian Film Festival as highlighted in online reviews, and was in tune with TOF’s mission to provoke thought and discussion. The documentary and exhibition really provided a sense of shared heritage within a minority community, and showcased a journey of achievement, and fitting in.
Movie, Memories, Magic also had a special screening hosted by the British Council in Bangalore on 20 July 2018, followed by an audience Q&A with the film director.
Movies, Memories, Magic (Documentary)
Movie, Memories, Magic paints a vibrant picture of how iconic South Asian films screened in renowned cinema halls, from the winding alleyways of Brick Lane to the bustling streets of Southall, galvanised cultural conversations and shaped trends in music, food, fashion and politics. From cinema stalwarts such as Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar, film classics such as Mother India and Sholay and the razzmatazz of Bollywood, to the bold and bravura brand of new Indian Indie cinema, the film’s inter-generational contributors reminisce about how cinema spaces and viewing practices have transformed over time. This film is testament to how the magic of movies and the indelible memories they inscribe have catalysed a hyphenated cultural identity – rooted in local London and blended with global South Asian culture.
Memories Through Cinema (Exhibition)
The exhibition was a sensorial journey down memory lane, framing London through a South Asian cinema lens. Mapping the vicissitudes of South Asian cinema and its monumental impact on culture, food, fashion, music and politics across the decades, the exhibition brought historical relevance to London’s unique modern identity – one that proudly celebrates multiple modes of being. The audio-visual odyssey showcased the indispensable contribution of South Asian communities and individuals in the writing of the city’s contemporary narrative.