House of Women (2017) single-channel video, 16mm transferred to digital at the 34th Kassel Documentary Film and Video Festival

Williams Gamaker, Michelle. 2017. House of Women (2017) single-channel video, 16mm transferred to digital at the 34th Kassel Documentary Film and Video Festival. In: "34th Kassel Documentary Film and Video Festival", Kassel, Germany, 14-19 November 2017. [Show/Exhibition]

Item Type:

Creators: Williams Gamaker, Michelle
Abstract or Description:

House of Women (2017)
14:00 | sound | colour
Dir. Michelle Williams Gamaker
Somebody Nobody Productions

In 1946, auditions were held for the character of the silent dancing girl Kanchi in Black Narcissus (1947), the upcoming film by venerated British directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. In a nationwide search close to 1000 hopefuls applied, with over 200 girls tested and interviewed. The coveted role finally went to seventeen-year-old Jean Simmons, who had recently won worldwide acclaim for her performance as Estella in David Lean’s Great Expectations. To fulfil the role, the white English actor had to wear dark Panstick make-up and a jewel in her nose to become the “exotic temptress” of Rumer Godden’s novel of the same name.

House of Women recasts the role, auditioning only Indian ex-pat or first-generation British Asian women and non-binary individuals living in London. Unlike in the original role, for House of Women the re-cast Kanchi of the 21st Century speaks. Shot on 16mm film, the four candidates, Jasdeep Kandola, Arunima Rajkumar, Tina Mander and Krishna Istha, introduce themselves to an anonymous reader (voiced by Kelly Hunter) and recite a personalised alphabet including references to the history of photography and gender politics.

Candidates are asked to read lines from a script while both seated and standing in order to experience the somewhat unnatural and staged conditions of the audition. And just as those auditioning for House of Women feel the glare of the studio lights, the space of the audition and the violence of the camera’s gaze are brought into question, while the film plays with the inherent voyeurism of the director – and by inference the viewer – in watching young hopefuls competing for a role.

Drawing on tension between construction and illusion, House of Women explores the gaps in representation and the spaces opened up by the “fiction machine” of the 1940s British studio system, which presented a very controlled colonial vision of the British Raj and its people, often replacing Indian actors with British actors.

A short preview can be viewed here:

Departments, Centres and Research Units: Art
Date range: 14-19 November 2017
Related URL:,,
Event Location: Kassel, Germany
Item ID: 21855
Date Deposited: 10 Oct 2017 15:25
Last Modified: 03 Jul 2020 14:18


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