Many, many summers ago, when I joined The Statesman in what was then Calcutta and in what was my first ever job, my editors told me that I must read my own newspaper. But then, I should also read other newspapers. Otherwise, you would never grow, they said.
Those who make cinema in India appear to be oblivious of the fact that they must watch films made by others, especially those abroad, to grow.
Recently, as part of a 13-member jury selecting 26 movies for the prestigious Indian Panorama - a segment of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) to be held in Panaji from November 20 - I was appalled by the quality of cinema I had to watch. Of the 190-odd movies in the basket that we had to see - and pick 26 - I found that most of them did not even adhere to the grammar of cinema.
There were times when I felt that with the advantages of digitalisation, directors had just picked up a camera and shot a series of images without a thought! There might have been great stories, but there were not many screenplays worth the name. Many writers/helmers did not have a clue how to carry a story from one point to another, and rank bad performances added to this sorry mess.
Obviously, these writers and directors - I would not want to name them, for that would be unethical - were either not exposed to the rapidly evolving world cinema or just could not care.
It is in this context that I quite liked what director-producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra said on Friday at the ongoing Mumbai Film Festival. "Indian moviemakers need to watch world cinema to grow or else the industry will keep making stupid films. I come from a small village in Kashmir and I have seen only Hindi pictures. Unless we see world cinema, how will we grow? If we don't watch world cinema we will keep making stupid stuff."
He seemed to have taken the words out of my mouth, words that I have been mouthing for years. I have been even more brutal in my critique, when I wrote that Indian cinema helmers, writers and producers were happy being frogs in the well.
And yet, these were the same guys who grumbled and argued when their movies were not selected at Cannes or Venice or Berlin or at the Oscars. Today, we live in a globalised world, and to be part of the international arena, one has to be as good as, if not better than, those outside India.
Yet, there was a time, when Indian actors, directors and writers were seen in international movie festivals. I have seen Kamal Hassan at IFFI, and so have I seen actress Revathi. There was one year, I saw Prakash Raj at Cannes, and the actor never missed an important film. These were heartening.