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Performing the pathologized body as a spectacle of excess: Reading the medical documentaries of the Films Division, India

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This article studies select documentary films on health and illness produced and distributed by the Films Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, in the late twentieth century. I argue that these medical documentaries narrativize the experience and treatment of illness and simultaneously encode particular notions of ‘health’, ‘illness’ and ‘restitution/recovery’. The documentary visualizes the presence of disease in individualized, local instances by moving between scientific/indexical and affective modes of narration. This enables the representation of ‘embeddedness’, which the documentary constructs as an inevitable characteristic of all bodies and thereby makes vulnerability to disease relevant in a general context. The article will demonstrate the processes through which the individual, ailing body is imagined for the viewer through the representation of pathological excess as a spectacle and ‘instructive example’, and the inculcation of a particular sensibility towards the identification and treatment of illness/disease.

Keywords: Films Division (India); body; health; illness; medical documentary; narrative

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Azim Premji University

Publication date: October 1, 2016

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  • Studies in South Asian Film and Media (SAFM) is the most promising new journal in the field. This peer-reviewed publication is committed to looking at the media and cinemas of the Indian subcontinent in their social, political, economic, historical, and increasingly globalized and diasporic contexts. The journal will evaluate these topics in relation to class, caste, gender, race, sexuality, and ideology.
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