Talking about talking pictures
Antagonism between art cinema and entertainers seems to have emerged from how one looks at the magic lantern-offspring. Initially, the criterion by which artistic value is judged has been the uniqueness of the art object, it’s conformity, originality and independent form. Popular cinema is charged with pandering to a pre-established viewers and employing clichéd situation and stock characters, subsequently the product becoming ‘generic’, traditional and archaic.
Cinema with it magical ability to weave dream on the silver scree and also ability to hold up the mirror to the realities of life has been really a great fascination for mankind. As a powerful media instrument, it has the added responsibility of toning up cultural and social value of the people; again as a medium of entertainment it has blossomed into a huge worldwide entrainment industry. As the film maker draws from life and his experience as well to make a film, film in turn influences to a larger extend the social pattern of life. It is a fact that cinema art or otherwise continues to contribute a lot to the society. We have to represent our cinema internationally properly, all forms of cinema should be given due representation whether it is art cinema, mainstream or middle cinema. Film pundits therefore feel a great need to bridge the gap between mainstream and parallel cinema. Attempts had been made in this direction in the past decades; however they had not found qualified success. A cursory look at the evolution of Indian cinema in the seventy years of independence will reveal the fact that the audience then was a homogenous lot and film makers also made films which spoke to everyone. However, within a span of a decade or so ‘the Ghost goes to West’. Filmmakers influenced by the west, to be precise European films, became conscious of ‘form’ and started to make the kind of films which failed to reach out to the mass. Consequently, segmentation began creeping into Indian cinema – directors of mainstream cinema, making films with the sole objective of B.O. and thus, was not of creative works and directors taking up issues dear to them and experimenting with cinematic language. The latter’s films were of rare excellence but scarcely found large audience. There were appeals from all concerned that film makers must put finger on the pulse of the people and use their creative ability to make films that would interest all. However, most film makers in the industry felt that money being primary concern; they would prefer to put their money in entertainment films only and not to the so called purposeful films. Their popular cinema is nothing but a kind of escapist entertainment and has nothing to do with society’s present mode of living. A group of intelligent film makers appeared on the scene with a vow to stand against the commercialisation of film industry weeded to the untruth and exploitation. The rise of new Indian cinema in the fifties with Satyajit Ray doing “Panthar Panchali” is known by all and of the historical account. With Mrinal Sen’s “Bhubon Shome”, Shyam Benegal’s “Manthan”, Kumar Shahni’s “Maya Darpan”, etc., began the second phase known as the Indian New Wave. The voice of the alternative cinema has never died since then, though a bit feeble and has gone through a hard time.
In the late eighties, we witnessed a very interesting feature – the rise of a new force known as middle cinema – a cinema designed to work within the limit of popular cinema with a high artistic contribution. However, it could not see much light of the day, for with the introduction of sponsored programmes of Indian television the role of the middle cinema had become more and more unbalanced and subsequently began to lose its artistic vision. At the same time, television quickly and quietly developed into a giant monster too and forced a number of talented young film makers to serve it. The big money it offers for TV premieres, the taste of the sponsor, the rating game competition for the prime time slot – all these have created a situation where film makers have no alternative but to choose less and less complex and controversial subjects.
So much said, so much done, however, question is – has the dichotomy between the art and mainstream cinema validity of an argument anymore? Is the advocacy of either art or mainstream cinema pertinent?
Mr Serge Losique, Director of Montreal Film Festival replied best – “We, in Montreal, do not make any distinction between art films and commercial cinema. There are only two kinds of films – good and bad. We will include whatever we think deserving viewing.”
Mr Mrinal Sen, doyen of Indian cinema, seems to endorse Mr Serge’s observation. He (Mrinal Se) does not believe in strong demarcations between art and commercial cinema though he admits to making films to serve his conscience. “I make as many films of the commercial variety as the other man does. Nobody will be happier than me to see that my films have reached a wider audience,” he said.
Today, we are looking into the new millennium and must concentrate on the happenings around us. Human concerns may be the central focus of the cinema despite rapidly changing technological scenario in the world of cinema. At the same time also we must be apprehensive of the globalisation trends and the consequent dominance of trans-national corporate culture. Every art form should take into account the human factor and the plurality of views and thoughts.