… so he starts singing

The video essay as it is commonly defined now (short audiovisual productions reflecting in a critical, educational or artistic way about audiovisual culture) is a recent phenomenon. But it has an impressive ancestry, with precursors in essay filmmaking and even in video art. This brilliant short piece by Pakistani video artist Bani Abidi is a great case in point.

 

In 2000, Abidi asked her then flatmate Manisha Sharma to describe the plots of over two dozen different Bollywood movies. Sharma, from India herself, launched into spirited retellings of the often outlandish narratives. Abidi filmed her flatmate and then cut down her summaries of 26 films into a single narrative. The result is an enchanting and exhilarating video that is meant to be played in loop. In fusing the storylines of different movies into a single trailer-like montage, Abidi reveals the cyclical, often clich├ęd and interchangeable characteristics of these Bollywood blockbusters. But at the same time, this video is testament to the imaginative power of both filmmakers and movie lovers: Sharma’s enthusiasm is infectious and shows how these Bollywood movies reverberate with meanings that transcend their overly melodramatic storylines.

 

Finally, this video is a truly original variation on the now ubiquitous supercut. The only difference with that specific video essay form (as it is practised online now by fans and scholars alike) is that this video does not cobble together actual footage from different movies, but instead uses an oral history of those movies as its material.