It’s confusing enough when you are trying to gather a mind-numbing variety of artworks under a dodgy, neither-here-nor-there term. But it’s even worse when that term is defined by what it’s not, rather than what it is.
So when UTV beamed down a new channel dedicated to ‘world movies’ not so long ago, an old itch became a new irritation. Just what does the term encircle? Is it just about non-Hollywood and non-Bollywood movies? Those of us at ease with the oddities of a Takashi Miike or a Peter Greenway asked further: what about mainstream movies from the large movie factories of, say, Japan or the UK?
This is the loopy knot that Indranil Chakravarty, professor at the Whistling Woods Film Institute in Mumbai, was trying to untangle this past week. In his audience were 15 executives from different departments of UTV World Movies. Chakravarty, who himself trained at the south-of-Hollywood International Film School in Havana, was trying to impress upon these marketing and programming heads what the term might comprise.
He says, “The term was coined in the US, and there the qualifier is pretty simple: anything that’s not American.” But the confusion deepens when you shift geographies. What happens to, say, a Malayali film that tries to tell a story in a non-Hollywoodish, non-Bollywoodish manner? Surely, that wouldn’t be world cinema in India. But then again, the film may have to suffer the tag when it goes to an American festival.
Sudhir Mishra, whose films such as Hazaron Khwaishein Aisi have attracted such classification in North America, says, “If I have to replace the confusing term, I’d be fine with ‘independent cinema’. But then, I’d mind two things: they have to be independent of mind, and they have to be cinema and not movies.”
Shantanu Aditya, executive director at UTV Global, pounces on this point: “Cinema is a term from our grandfather’s time and that viewership is too niche. We broadcast movies, with the youth in clear focus.”
If that wasn’t clear enough, try what Chakravarty has to add: “World cinema also has to have a different storytelling style, rhythm and should express a different cultural ethos.” Different from the hegemonic simplicism of Hollywood, that is.
He also reminds us that only about 40 to 50 films out of the 700-odd produced in the US each year qualify as ‘Made in Hollywood’; the rest do not get into the mainstream distribution channels. And as if just to puncture that bubble of clarity, Chakravarty adds: “Mind you, a Jim Jarmusch or a Robert Altman from the US would land big distributors, though their films are deeply non-Hollywoodish.”
In the world of films as outside it, time is the ultimate Tiger Balm for the confused soul. Says Mishra, “You may be too conscious of the place of origin and try to market a film as, say, a Pakistani or an Indian film. But when it passes down generations as a work of art, it becomes universal.”
Now that’s a tag any filmmaker would be proud of.