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Only pragmatism can save good cinema

Some Indian filmmakers and industry observers still blame Bollywood, theatre owners and cablewallahs for good cinema failing to make inroads into India of the masses, says Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Oct 13, 2003 09:41 IST

Do the print and electronic media have a role to play in promoting the cause of good cinema? That was the question that an Open Forum panel addressed on Saturday afternoon at the 34th International Film Festival of India. From the debate that ensued, one fact emerged in bold relief: a section of Indian filmmakers and industry observers are still caught in a time warp.

They still entertain the romantic notion that our audiences, even those in rural areas, are an enlightened lot and if good cinema hasn't made inroads in India the fault lies with the commercial film industry, the cinema hall owners, the private satellite channels, government agencies and, of course, the profit-driven mainstream print media.

No mention, if you notice, of the filmmakers themselves - of the people who have alienated a large section of moviegoers with their bad, ponderous, boring films. It is really strange that there still are people in the 21st century who believe that the Mumbai film industry will one fine morning decide to loosen its stranglehold on the film production-distribution-exhibition network, that the private TV channels, as one member of the Open Forum audience so quaintly suggested, will allocate three hours a week to public service broadcasting, that the mainstream print media will suddenly drop its antipathy to "serious" cinema, that the government will one day bring in legislation to force intransigent media houses to fall in line and serve the greater purpose of high cinematic art.

Will these people ever come out of their comfortable cocoons and bother to look inwards - and elsewhere - for viable solutions? What have they done in all these years to bring the masses - and I don't mean the unwashed variety; the reference here is to educated, well-heeled urban filmgoers - into the serious cinema fold?

There is no escaping the fact that these self-appointed guardians of good taste are hopelessly cut off from the reality on the ground. In fact, some of them may actually have had a vested interest in keeping the masses out of the domain of the appreciation of socially relevant cinema.

Just one look at the lack of popular participation in the ongoing IFFI in the national Capital should be enough to convince us that the feeble efforts of the authorities and their representatives to take good cinema beyond the confines of an elitist film festival have failed miserably.

Blaming the media or the industrywallahs for the state of the parallel cinema movement is an exercise in futility. What we as a society need to address instead is something far more fundamental. In a market-driven economy, let us not expect concessions from those in the business of entertainment and news.

Everything today - art, classical music, television news and cinema - is a high-risk commercial activity. Why should the print media be expected to play the game by a different set of rules? Indian newspapers and periodicals only reflect the intellectual climate that exists in India today.

What we need to do, therefore, is overhaul our basic education system. With its overwhelming emphasis on exams, marks, degrees and jobs, this system has created a generation of exceedingly lazy viewers. True, purveyors of Mumbai masala and mindless music videos have only made things worse but they certainly aren't the only ones to blame.

Consumerist frenzy has gripped the nation and only films that fuel the acquisitive hunger of the masses have a market. Gen Now is interested only in structured, predigested, familiar fare. Anything that is at variance with the established formula is a suspect.

Our filmgoers are hooked on to feel-good, comfortable yarns. Cinema that challenges them, provokes them, forces them to confront questions is absolute anathema. So, where will the solution come from? The industry will definitely not show the way out, the government won't provide a straw to clutch at and nor will the media apportion the kind of space that non-mainstream cinema needs in order to reach the masses.

The solution lies in like-minded people, filmmakers, critics and scholars alike, getting together once more to initiate a full-fledged movement, to set up an aggressive, commercially driven platform for the promotion of non-Bollywood Indian cinema. The blame game must stop. It gets us nowhere. There is no room here anymore for woolly romanticism of the intellectual kind. What is needed is hardheaded pragmatism.

First Published: Oct 13, 2003 09:35 IST