Films are a way of making the world smaller, intimate and a peaceful place to exist in. Film, as a medium, is a multi-faceted, multi-layered art form. It deals with richness of content and dialectics of social and political evolution, which very few cultures in the world can boast of. It deals with the inner and outer turmoil that has shaped human destiny and history.
UP and Awadh, with Lucknow as its epicentre, has had a way of life which was a synthesis of cultures and philosophical thought. This way of life was manifested in an enormous wealth of literature, poetry, music and dance. This has not only enriched itself but has added to the sheen and lustre of the so called Bollywood Hindi cinema.
Unfortunately, film as a medium with all its power and majesty, impact and sanctity has been left entirely to market forces. When a film is conceived, no one pays heed to the larger picture. No one thinks of culture or the bigger human cause. No one bothers about the image of India or projecting its secular polity to the world. No one cares to make it stand tall as a non-aligned nation. And lastly, and most importantly, no one is concerned about the dynamics of burgeoning of the world’s largest secular multi-ethnic democracy.
NEED TO SHAPE MINDS, MARKETS
In the face of such a national void, we can hardly speak of the state of films in UP. No significant realisation has taken place to change the course of development of cinema by any government in UP. Namesake institutions are created but without drive or vision. Lucknow, with its cultural positioning, needs to take the next step. We need to shape minds and markets; talent and technique. We first need to start writing cinema with a passion to share; with a burning desire to connect with modern thought and avant garde screenplay structures to stand in line with world trends. There is an electrifying and startling relationship between the story and how you tell it. Most young minds are conditioned with a loud and exaggerated sense of reality, which is unreal not only in history, but equally far from an authentic and aesthetic interpretation of the period or the mood of the theme. Their imagination runs amuck on every level, thus never finding a deep enough interpretation of pages from the past or matters of the soul.
DIVIDED AGAIN AND AGAIN
Awadh is that territory of India which had been hacked constantly by the British since the Battle of Buxar in 1764. It was done so to slowly take over this region and give it new names till the final annexation in 1856. It was once again brought together as United Provinces of Agra and Oudh. Since 1947, Awadh suffered an artificially seriated cultural divide which challenged its composite culture. This, however, withstood the test of time even till 50 years later during the Ram- Janmabhoomi Babri Masjid dispute and demolition. Once again, political considerations are motivating the division of UP into smaller regions with Awadh being one. Awadh is an exemplary culture for India and needs to be fully and carefully understood. And it is cinema that can make people understand this ethos. We need cinema to enlarge Awadh’s cultural influence and its struggle for freedom to transform our society into a casteless and communally free entity which it has been since the time of Tulsidas’s Ram Charitmanas and Malik Mohammad Jaisi’s Kanhavat.
MIGRATION OF TALENT
We have witnessed the migration of much writing and artistic talent from Awadh to Mumbai. Once they left the threshold, they were consumed by the Bollywood demands. They had to abandon the Awadh dream and were made to dream differently. In fact, Raahi Masoom Raza, (the great Urdu writer/poet from UP who migrated to Bollywood) in his review of my film first film Gaman, wrote that I too feel like Ghulam Hasan (the protagonist of the film), driving the taxi of my ‘pen’.
To retain this talent, we need to create a stimulating ambience for filmmaking in UP. We need to connect to lives of people, their culture and aspirations. We need to create roots for the films. We need to anchor them to the soil and culture. Most films are driven by the safety factor, resulting in the director losing grip and control of the finer aspects of human aspirations and the authorship of the possibility of a sublime sense of beauty cinema is capable of. A single focus approach and effort is needed to bear the desired fruit. To me, the continuity of a cultural sensibility on a large scale is the basis of the true renaissance of a nation. The poet in us has died a natural death. They had dreamt of worlds we all want to be part of and let people realise this dream. Iqbal had written in his diary, “Nations are born in the heart of poets and die in the hands of politicians.”
THE RURAL FACTOR
For a country with the size and diversity of India, it has to come from rural areas and rural cinema. The rural activist and the rural communicator has to come together. I still need to find this combination. One thing I know for sure, that it will not be from Bollywood. This means that the business connect with cinema has to find a new model with extremely evolved objectives and visionary dimensions. In the name of a lowest common denominator, we are losing out on grass root issues and their reflection in cinema and thereby not helping people to understand their predicament and grow out of it.
While the West found its avatar in moving images and evolved a strategy for its movie product, we got carried away with the aimless, mindless way of Bollywood.
While the Western studios had fully invaded the Indian market and even influenced the impressionable Bollywood, we could not arrive at a reciprocal relationship to enter their markets. And if so with what product? But no, we had to steer away from dialectics of history, escape from realism and authenticity that whatever heritage we had was lost to the colonial machinations and vagaries of time forever. In fact, we can’t even think in Urdu, the language of love and emotion for the last 800 years, we are ashamed of Hindi, and we are better than the British and Americans in English.
Yet we cannot establish a global product out of India. Our tourism is being promoted by the Westerners’ passion for our philosophy, heritage and culture presented to them through their own museum collections or by Western Indologists and art historians. We need to reinvent our past to design our own future. Awadh is a rich and virgin soil where films of quality can be born.
Films, not only for the vast Hindi/Urdu belt, but for the entire country. It is from Awadh and UP that we can hope to create films with truly global themes. It is here that creative excellence can combine with technical finesse.
(Muzaffar Ali is a painter and film-maker who has shot all his films in Awadh).