Herbert, at MOMA, Discovers Godard 40 Years Too Late


Suman Mukhopadhyay’s Herbert is what happens when Godard’s influence comes to India 40 years too late. Mukhopadhyay’s feature debut—ostensibly concerned with the life and death of one Herbert (Subhashis Mukherjee), autistic-seeming charlatan and communicator with the dead—is nothing if not endlessly, studiously self-reflexive. For the first 45 minutes, the ghosts of Herbert’s dead father and lover show up regularly to follow the action by filming it. Every five minutes, they point their camera toward the audience and wonder whether or not the film will be a flop. Duly, we the audience, implicated as voyeurs, question the role of narrative and every other postmodern gesture that no longer has the force of its intended provocation. More than anything, Herbert is the sum of its references, from clips of Battleship Potemkin to an ending invocation of Foucault. And for what, exactly? Most of the time, Herbert’s trajectory has him buffeted equally by corrupt social institutions and his faltering, learned-by-rote Marxism. In other words, this is a film from deep inside Indian Marxist politics that’s hard to follow without sufficient background knowledge; from the outside, it’s just 142 minutes of garish hysteria that attempts to curry favor by citing the right names.

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