Nicola Lane / 2006 / Arts Council England
Run time: 30 mins. Digital Video / Colour and B & W
In 1968, when I was at St. Martin’s School of Art, I lost my left foot in a traffic accident. The Battle of Britain flying ace and double amputee Douglas Bader visited me in hospital, his stiff-upper-lip war hero masculinity the only disabled role model available to my generation. This experience informs SPLITSCREEN, the juxtaposition of two biopics from two cultures: ‘Nache Mayuri’ (1984, colour), the ‘Bollywood” bio-pic of Indian classical dancer Sudha Chandran, who like me lost her foot aged 18 in a traffic accident, and who plays herself in the story of her struggle to continue her dancing career; and ‘Reach for the Sky’ (1956, B&W), British bio-pic of Douglas Bader (Kenneth More), who struggles to fly again after losing both legs in a flying accident. Both are patriotic films, demonstrating that Britain/India are able to restore normality to a ‘tragically disabled’ hero/heroine. ‘Nache Mayuri' was released on India’s Independence Day and celebrates the indigenous Jaipur Foot prosthesis, just as ‘Reach for the Sky’ celebrates the skills of Roehampton’s limb fitting centre. Sudha Chandran plays herself as both able-bodied and disabled, a unique performance within the dominant ethos of able-bodied actors playing disabled roles. She continued her performing career to become a major Bombay TV soap star, and has achieved celebrity throughout India as an evil mother-in-law with a limp. In SPLITSCREEN, sound and image are edited to create a half-hour, mirror-image narrative revealing layers and contrasts in the representation of disability through time, culture and gender, reflecting my own experience of prosthetics, and how disability can define creativity and identity. In the final act, Sudha performs on a Bombay stage and Bader becomes a hero of the dogfights in World War II’s Battle of Britain. Acclaimed author Aamer Hussein observed that for Bader the battle is a performance; and for Sudha her performance is a battle.