In an article recently published in The Viewspaper (‘The Demise of Parallel Cinema’ http://theviewspaper.net/cinema/2008/09/4153), the writer has presented (by his own admission) a very bleak and forlorn picture of cinema in India today. However, I felt that his article lacks a certain depth and understanding of cinema that I believe is very important in order to comment on the issues he has raised. So first of all let me remind you all about the main arguments of his article. He says “Cinema was born out of the impetus to represent the reality in a more convincing manner.” This being his opening statement he writes that the cinema of Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and V. Shantaram were all pertaining to social change and society in India. According to him, the turbulence in the economy in the 1970s and Emergency led to the birth of “PARALLEL CINEMA”. Then he goes on to say that TRP driven television channels have driven ‘good, meaningful, parallel’ cinema out of competition.
First things first, it is indeed erroneous to say that cinema was born out of the impetus to represent reality. Indeed, one can very much say that this statement echoes French film theoretician Andre Bazin’s basic belief in the nature of cinema and the cinematograph itself. If cinema is an instrument of representing reality then fiction cinema in itself becomes unacceptable, since it is not reality but a construction of a story. This argument can be extended to cinema as a whole and any cinema thus becomes a construction. So the argument that cinema should reflect social reality is indeed very inappropriate and as such can be very well negated. Next, among the filmmakers he has stated, only Shantaram can be said to have properly made films that consciously reflected social values and changes in post-independent India. Ray on the other hand was more concerned with humanity at large and the erosion of human values which cannot be pegged down to any specific geographical location; it was just because he was from Bengal that his films were based here. So a Panther Panchali can be set in any place anywhere in the world. In fact, it has inspired many films around the world, most notably Idrissa Ouedraogo’s Yaaba. Mrinal Sen, especially from Bhuvan Shome, has consistently tried to potray a political ideology which marks some of his classic ventures (Interview, mentioned by the writer of that article being one of them). Such politically motivated and ideology based films cannot under any circumstances be said to portray social reality or any kind of reality as such, since his perceptions, by his own admission, are tinged with a certain pre-defined outlook.
Actually, films in India has moved far beyond the mere rigorous definitions of ‘parallel’ and ‘mainstream’ and has moved on to a vast new territory, such that many definitions are being reviewed. As he himself says, the change has been brought about by changing socio-economic conditions and globalisation that has touched every aspect of India’s consciousness. So, films have moved on to be bracketed under specific categories and have now become more audience based. So new and new filmmakers are making their voices heard even without complying with ‘popular Bollywood’ constraints and traditional producer hurdles. The most important step in this direction has probably come from the fact the cinema in India is now an ‘industry’. This has meant that directors are free from the traditional pockets of funding and can explore diverse options for funding his films. Films like Jaideep Sen’s Hula and Rajat Kapoor’s Raghu Romeo are concrete examples of how cinema in India has changed in the past fifteen years, post LPG era. He has also said that the turbulent situation of the 1970s gave birth to the ‘parallel cinema’ movement in India. This again can be challenged very successfully as most ‘new wave’ directors started before this period maybe except Shyam Benegal, who under no circumstances, as my friend would like to believe, is past his prime (watch Welcome to Sajjanpur to confirm).
Finally, in today’s world, cinema has ceased to be a mere profit-loss balance sheet business. There is always an audience for different kind of cinema and it is being made, not maybe by the same directors who were there during the 1970s, but by new filmmakers who have incorporated new ideas and changing situations to bring out a new kind of cinema that is definitely good and cannot under any wild stretch of imagination be referred to as ‘rubbish’. Contrary to my friend’s views, I fervently believe that the situation is indeed very congenial for ‘the lover of serious and meaningful cinema’ who now has the option of selecting from a wide array of films made for different kinds of audience. The fact the Om Shanti Om and Welcome can co-exist with Guru and Lagaan is an indicator that cinema in India has moved beyond mere labels. The fact that my friend refuses to acknowledge is that god cinema can also be ‘entertaining’ (this may differ from person to person; I personally enjoyed Bhuvan Shome, which undoubtedly is a good film and a ‘parallel” film).
Good cinema has a space in India and has an audience in India, as always, probably more so now that it is so very available and within reach of audiences. Television channels have a commercial aspect to their functioning, which necessarily means that they would show only those films that they think would attract the largest audiences. But this has not meant that ‘god and meaningful’ cinema is not shown. Many channels frequently screen old movies by the new age directors. New channels have come up which showcase a wide variety of films from all over the world. As such, directors have come up with newer formats to suit changing scenario. Thus films reflecting newer problems and urban social realities are being made. Some recent examples in this regard maybe Farhan Akhtar’s Dil Chahta Hai, Rahul Dholakia’s Parzania, Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Swades and Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya and Company. Cinema in India has moved on and as such it would be wrong to say that good films have died down. It is just that they have been refashioned and repackaged to suit the present day sensibilities. A good, well-made film will be appreciated anywhere in the world at any point of time and as such can never be ascribed to a particular style of content base. Howevery, I would agree with the article’s title “The Demise of Parallel Cinema” (http://theviewspaper.net/cinema/2008/09/4153). Indeed parallel cinema is dead because good films need not stick to any particular label such as ‘parallel cinema’. A good film is a good film is a good film.
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