Third World Women's Cinema Notes on Narrative, Reflections on Opacity Susie Tharu THE whole question of women's cinema poses several very intricately knotted problems that I believe may have vital implications both for theory and practice. Feminist activists, and that includes activists in the field of cinema, are often suspicious of what are perceived as abstractions that deflect our attention from the immediate, pressing problems of exploitation, domination and expropriation. The impatience is more than justified. Too many abstractions that claim universality have not only focused exclusively on upper class, male, perceptions and experiences, they have created such an orchestrated din it has been impossible for women to attend to their own experiences or formulate their own questions. However, time and again in the workshop sessions at the Festival of Women's Films in Hyderabad, we seemed to come back to questions that could usefully be probed more theoretically. The idea is not so much to untangle what are very complex social and aesthetic knots, but to loosen the threads and make their structure more accessible for considered intervention. I do not think it is possible, or even necessary to provide a directive to film makers or a normative paradigm for critics and viewers. But it should be possible to promote a subtler, more finely tuned understanding of what is at stake in third world women's cinema, II At almost every turn we are confronted with the problem of narrative. An understanding of the many-layered operation involved in narrative realism will take us a long way towards understanding why women's issues are invariably recuperated, not only by popular firms, but also by cinema that attempts a radical or progressive statement. Take realist film, for instance. All documentary and most feature films that are made in India today come within the scope of this genre. Such films operate by creating a "reality effect". They reinforce the feeling that what we are watching is (uncensored) reality itself. Yet it is not difficult to show that what we take for reality, or even nature, is actually a construct. This is so both in film and in our everyday worlds. Consider for instance the structure of realist film. Such works invariably open onto an enigma or a lack. The normal order is disrupted. A crime has been committed, a child/lost or found, a (king's) daughter has to find a husband, a landlord's authority has been questioned. Or, if we move closer to the specific subject under discussion: a woman has been raped, a daughter-in-law has died, a husband has a lover, Sulbah breaks away from the family, Kamala comes into one. Very often several such disruptions are woven into a single plot. The story then proceeds via a series of elaborations that establish and complicate the original disruption, towards a resolution, where the old order will be re-established, or modified slightly to accommodate new elements in some acceptable way. A major function of the process is to raise our anxieties in relation to the disorder in such a way that we look forward to, and welcome, almost with a sense of relief, the resolution or the closure. Thus, the murder will be ''solved", the lovers united, the threatened family unity re-affirmed and so on. It is clear that such plots are, in their very design domesticating devices.