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Moaning Raaga: Fiction as fact

Some "experts" of films know little about cinema, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Jan 07, 2006 20:28 IST

Half knowledge is worse than total ignorance. Two recent incidents have proved beyond doubt what many of us have known for years – the Mumbai film industry and the television and print journalists who track its ‘progress’ know nothing about the ‘world’ of cinema.

In the first instance, playwright and filmmaker Mahesh Dattani jumped the gun and, aided by a bunch of ignorant pen pushers, gloated over the fact that his second film, Morning Raaga, had been entered for the mainstream categories of the Academy Awards.

Another award jamboree, another place, but the same malaise – ignorance. In the year’s first major privately sponsored awards ceremony, internationally known Assamese veteran Jahnu Barua will, believe it or not, be vying with the likes of Shoojit Sircar and Mohit Suri in the best debut film category.

People in the know are laughing at Dattani (he certainly doesn’t deserve this the fine playwright that he is) and Barua is livid. Dattani is too intelligent not to have already seen the folly of his hasty claims, and Barua is too decent a man to raise a stink.

When a handful of Bollywood hacks infer that a mainstream entry into the Oscars – as opposed to being nominated as the nation’s official contender for the best foreign-language film Oscar – makes Morning Raaga a special film, one isn’t surprised a whit. These are the very people who are used every year by canny filmmakers to plant reports about one Mumbai film or another being in the Cannes Film festival line-up.

A still from Mahesh Dattani-directed  Morning Raaga. Journalists had earlier  quoted that the film has been nominated for the mainstream categories of the Academy Awards. However, this is not the case.

Tell these hacks what you will, they will swallow the bait hook, line and sinker. They don’t know better. Bollywood is their oyster and they have no clue how the world that exists outside Mumbai showbiz really functions.

There is no way that these semi-literate ‘industry experts’ can be expected to be aware of the fact that any film can be entered for the Oscars by its US distributor if it runs for a minimum of a week in New York and Los Angeles, which, presumably, Morning Raaga did.

That’s neither a first, nor is it a special feat. But yes, the fact that its US distributor has entered Dattani’s reasonably watchable film for all the main Oscar categories might represent a different way of doing things. What it shows is that instead of relying on the Film Federation of India (FFI), which knows even less about world cinema trends than the aforementioned journalists, to nominate his film for a single Oscar category, an Indian filmmaker can take the mainstream route and jump into the Oscar fray on his own. In that respect, Dattani and the US distributors of Morning Raaga, Bollywood Hollywood Productions Inc, might have made a bit of a breakthrough.

The Jahnu Barua faux pas is quite another matter. When one of India’s oldest film weeklies and a leading television news channel get together to make the monumental mistake of reducing Jahnu Barua to a debutant, one can only be alarmed. How dare they? We do know for a fact that for entities like the perpetrators of this gaffe the world begins and ends with Bollywood.

It is symptomatic of a larger problem: Bollywood’s domination of the domestic showbiz scene is simply not commensurate with its actual annual output, which is never more than 20 per cent, at best, of the total national Indian cinema output. The remaining 80 per cent of Indian cinema, from where a large percentage of the country’s better films emerge, is subjected by the mainstream media to the kind of treatment that has been meted out to Barua.

Anupam Kher, the producer and star of Barua’s Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Maara, has put the nail on the head. Had Satyajit Ray made Shantranj Ke Khiladi in 2005, he too might have been clubbed together with the debutants, he has said.

In any case, Maine Gandhi… isn’t Barua’s first Hindi film. He had made the Assamese-Hindi bilingual Aparoopa/Apeksha (with Suhasini Mulay, Biju Phukan and Girish Karnad) nearly a quarter century ago. How long will movie-crazy India have to live with such cavalier disregard for fact? Fact might at times be more exciting than fiction, but when a figment of somebody’s imagination is sought to be passed of as fact, we cannot but call the bluff.