Sayandeb Chowdhury (Ambedkar University Delhi)


Sayandeb Chowdhury teaches courses in cultures of the modern in the School of Letters, Ambedkar University Delhi, and holds a doctorate from the Department of Film Studies, Jadavpur University, Calcutta. He has published in Film International, Journal of South Asian History and Culture (2015, 2017), South Asia Review, European Journal of English Studies, Economic and Political Weekly (2016, 2019) and thematic anthologies from Routledge (2016, 2017, 2019, 2023), Palgrave Macmillan (2016, 2018), and university presses of Brussels (2017), Amsterdam (2019) and Manchester (2024). He was a UKNA Fellow at IIAS, Leiden (2015), a Charles Wallace Fellow (2016), and is the author of Uttam Kumar: A Life in Cinema (Bloomsbury Academic, 2021). His other major project, which he co-developed, is a public history archive of caricature and graphic storytelling in Bengal

“To Hell with the Modern Nation: Restless Satire and Insurgent Humour in Early Postcolonial India”

The critical revisionism that has accompanied modernist studies in the last two decades has not only helped expand its etymological footprint, but also its intermedial nature. To that end, modernist culture is no longer a study of so-called high cultural elitism but also popular and mass cultural energies, which were (or are) attentive to the temperament of doubt that is fundamental to modernism(s). But here too, there has been limited exposure to postcolonial practices. Over the years modern cinemas of the global south have received attention, but there is a whole body of visual culture which has escaped scholarly study. This paper would bring to light trenchant, political and insurgent humour in the caricature of three leading practitioners of the form in early postcolonial India: Pramatha Chaudhuri, PC Lahiri and Chittaprasad Bhattacharya. The paper would want to offer a critique of their work in context of modernist caricature practice at a precise moment of India’s entry into the geo-historical category of the post-colonial. Looking at their political caricature closely, it is now revealed that increasingly nothing was to be considered sacred anymore, specifically the category of the nation. We take
sweeping satire as intrinsic to caricature, but we must take note that with political freedom came the cultural liberty to take the new nation and its institutions, pitfalls, falsities and criminalities to task. This was as thoroughly modernist a position as one can get to, ensuring that the idea of a suffering occupied nation, comparatively spared in the late colonial years, was now found expunged from the annals of caricature (at least in these practitioners). Through a comparative analysis of mass aesthetics and political consciousness, the paper would not only want to map the category of humour as central to one kind of intermedial, inter-visual, international modernist practice, but also ask if the moment of the postcolonial modern was also the moment of the post-national global.