Redefining Cinephilia: Alternate Film Collectives And Screening Practices In A Digital Age And Neoliberal Milieu
In my essay, I would navigate, examine and analyse the emergence and growth of a new genre of film collectives, that organise (mostly) people-funded film festivals and screenings of (mostly) documentary films; and whose efforts lie outside of both commercial film distribution networks, and traditional film societies working within a State-regulated institutionalised framework. The first decade of the new millennium saw an organic growth of independent and unregulated film collectives in many disparate places – from Pedestrian Pictures in Bengaluru, to Vikalp in Mumbai (which later spread to Delhi and Bengaluru), to VIBGYOR in Thrissur, to Cinema of Resistance film festivals in Gorakhpur and other small towns of UP. In an age where digital film circulation has significantly dented the rationale of the older variant of film societies, the new variant of film collectives have taken films to a diverse range of new audiences. My interest in this area grew out of my own involvement with one such collective. As a co-founder of the People’s Film Collective in Kolkata, I have been part of the curation and organisation process of the four-year-old Kolkata People’s Film Festival. In this capacity, I have also been involved in numerous film screenings in and outside of Kolkata. This experience, as a film activist, has opened up a horizon of possibilities that alternate modes of film screening offer.In principle, such non-traditional screening practices are not entirely novel. From its inception, independent non-fiction films had to rely upon alternate modes of film circulation, as the traditional modes of film distribution were out of bounds in most cases. In fact, AnandPatwardhan’s debut film Waves of Revolution, which arguably marks the first independent documentary film in independent India, had to be smuggled outside of India, assembled in exile, and widely screened abroad, in non-traditional screening spaces. Many non-fiction film makers have since taken their films directly to the audiences sans mediators – but often in active collaboration with ground-level activists – bypassing market-driven or State-aided modes of film distribution. I would like to argue, however, that there is one crucial difference between earlier attempts by film makers and these new collective attempts. In the latter, the very act of screening films become democratised as these collectives involve a sustained coming together of film makers, film activists and audiences in shared platforms where the audience has a direct stake and shared ownership of the screening space. This opens up newer possibilities of critical reception and an alternate form of participatory cinephilia, which was not explored before.
In my essay, I would ask if there are continuities between the new genre of film collectives with earlier (traditional) film societies, and how that continuation might have worked out in praxis? Or is it more a question of legacy than actual continuation? Secondly, what has been the guiding principle of these collectives? Thirdly, what are the factors behind their emergence and modest growth in anera of Neoliberalism? Finally, I would explore if and how it redefines the concept of cinephilia.
Indrani Das Sharma
The Ghungru Tells- Metamorphosis Of Kathak, It’s Purity, Improvisation And Commercialization In Bollywood
Bollywood is a self-acclaimed representative of composite Indian culture. Since it’s inception,Bollywood has used various Indian folk and pure-classical art forms. Songs and dances are anintegral part of every mainstream Bollywood film. A Bollywood film without a single song isconsidered as an parallel/art film by most average movie-goers.As we know, cinema is a storytelling medium. Similarly, the word Kathatk is etymologicallyderived from Katha – the art of storytelling. The person telling the katha is the kathak. In ancienttimes, the knowledge of epics and mythology was conveyed to the people by storytellers nameKathakas, who resorted to narration, music, and dance to tell their stories.
Now, Kathak is a school of dance as well as a community of dancers. The word might sound simple,but it has a history behind it, which throws much light on the position of classical dance in theNorth.
Kathak had it’s origin in the broken religious traditions of the Vedic period, and then fell into decaythrough the ups and downs of India’s feudal history, until it’s emotive qualities were recognized bythe great Mughal emperor Akbar. This marked the transition of Kathak into secularism, while itbecame enriched by the grace of Islamic costume and choreography. The poet king, Wazid Ali Shah,
rescued it and restored it to the famous LucknowGharana, who’s descendants have attempted topreserve this art form.
As cinema changes, so does it’s dance choreography, bowing to the socio-economic changes in theviewer’s mind. As western culture started seeping into the Indian mainstream, certain elements ofWestern dance found their way into Bollywood dances, marking a shift away from the Kathak basedform that was in place earlier towards a more westernized experience. Where professional Kathakdancers used to be hired to play the role of the protagonist to ensure accuracy in the dance form,now, a shift to stars was seen.
Kathak, which began as an expression of the Radha-Krishna stories or the Shiva stories, hasevolved with changing times and changing patronage. Similarly, Bollywood dance has also evolvedaway from it’s roots in North Indian classical dance. However, both are still, at their core, mediumsof storytelling and it is this change in the way they tell their stories and the intertwined relationshipbetween them that I wish to further investigate.
Indian cinema is notorious for producing typical sound experiences that are based on anoverwhelming use of “song and dance” sequences whereby careful incorporation andattentive organization of sounds are generally ignored in the narrative strategy(Rajadhyaksha 2007; Gopalan 2002). There are indeed many examples from popular Indianfilms that have kept mindful sound design at bay, mostly creating a loud and high-pitchauditory setting to provide a remote and imaginary cinematic landscape. Challenging thispopular preconception about Indian cinema in the larger public, in this project I intend toshow that this generalized perception of Indian cinema could be erroneous if we considerthe historical trajectories of sound production as opposed to exporting an essentialisttypecast. The advent of digital technology indeed makes it possible to incorporate richlayers of a number of prominent sound components in the production scheme of soundorganization in the current breeds of Indian films made in the digital realm. There is a newbreed of Indian films that methodologically distance itself away from the popularmainstream Indian cinema known for its typical narrative tropes of the spectacular butescapist song-and-dance extravaganza. This new breed of Indian films captures animmersive immediate reality of contemporary India (Chattopadhyay 2016). In my previousresearch (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016) I have indicated a major shift within Indian cinema,marked by the proliferation of a new trend, with audiences increasingly feeling the need torelate to the convincingly real and believable sites within the constructed film space as adiegetic universe. A number of recent films such as AshaJaoarMajhe (Labour of Love,AdityaVikramSengupta 2014), Court (ChaitanyaTamhane 2014), Masaan (Fly AwaySolo, NeerajGhaywan 2015), and Killa (The Fort, AvinashArun 2015) do not rely on themusic, or practically do away with it, using instead a reduced amount of dialogue (or nodialogue, as with films like AshaJaoarMajhe). These films represent a renewed sense ofsituated-ness in everyday life meticulously portraying ordinary sites known as the livedexperience in contemporary India with its emerging urban spaces and urbanizing ruralhinterlands. Due to this narrative strategy, the sites become significant characters in thestory. In the proposed project “Sonified Cinema”, I will conduct a thorough study of thishistorical trajectory. A particular focus on the creative use of sounds will help to put theinquiry, analysis and observations in context. A practice-led perspective in the project,involving archival research in SRFTI film archive and library, as well as interviewing filmsound practitioners will provide with the empirical evidence to qualify the research. Theextensive interviews will form the essential body of empirical research in the projectresulting in a comprehensive historical understanding of sound practice in Indian cinema.
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