Film societies in India have come a long way since the Calcutta Film Society, founded by, among others, Satyajit Ray, screened Battleship Potemkin (1925) in the city in 1947. Over the next five decades, the film society movement flourished in India bringing great international cinema to the masses and offering film buffs venues to meet and discuss the 20th century's most dynamic art form.
Today, technology seems to have made film clubs and societies redundant and the movement has all but petered out. "There was an appetite in people to access cinema which was not mainstream," says Vidyun Singh, who initiated the Habitat Film Club in 2000. "Screens ran what was commercially viable. So, at that point of time, when these [societies] were the only access, there was a healthier sprinkling of film clubs and societies."
But are film societies really dying in an era when every movie is just a click away? Many recently-established cineclubs and societies disagree. In the past few years, the city has gained clubs like Lightcube and Cinedarbaar, which aim to bring alternative cinema not just to a metropolitan audience but are intent on taking it beyond city limits.
They screen films for an audience that has been left untouched by the film society movement. Other clubs like Shamiana have incorporated new media technology and give space to short films that rarely find an audience. Then, there are the foreign centres like Instituto Cervantes, the Japan Foundation and the Alliance Française that screen world cinema and educate film buffs about the moviemaking cultures of different societies.
"We believe that there is an audience out there. Even though people have more options now, we felt that it was not just about watching films. People want to discuss , critique or listen to different opinions about the work," says Singh. Aanchal Kapur, founder, Kriti Film Club, voices a similar opinion: "Despite the resource constraints, we have never stopped a screening. The show goes on even if two people turn up. We also believe that, through the screenings and the discussions, we have been able to influence a lot of people in the last few years."