World cinema, power, politics, and hegemony

334 85 14MB

English Pages 78 Year 2005

Report DMCA / Copyright


Recommend Papers

World cinema, power, politics, and hegemony

  • 0 0 0
  • Like this paper and download? You can publish your own PDF file online for free in a few minutes! Sign Up
File loading please wait...
Citation preview

World Cinema Power, Politics and Hegemony


Ansu Sur Anil Acharya



World Cinema Power, Politics and Hegemony

Satyajit Ray Memorial Lectures

Paul~ox ~ Derek Malcolm Shyam Senegal

PN I '79 1/ · Cb?;:;,/ :Zoo


World Cinema Power, Politics and Hegemony Satyajit Ray Memorial Lectures delivered at Nandan in the year 2004, 2000, 1994


C> Satyajit Ray Archive NANDAN West Bengal Film Centre First Print : Kolkata Book Fair, January 2005

Cover Design Parthapratim Halder

Published by Ansu Sur, Proje_ c t Co-ordinator, Satyajit Ray Archive West Bengal Film Centre

Printed at Collage Impression Pvt. Ltd. 20, Nabin Sarkar Lane, Kolkata 700 003

Price Rs. 100.00


- . ... .

··-- .....





aJ10/0II .

Publisher's Note For those who could not attend Satyajit Ray Memorial Lectures organised by Satyajit Ray Archive at Nandan, we bring out a publication after each occasion is held. Three eminent personalities of cinema spoke on film at three different points of time. We put them together to have an overview of film as we look at it. No editing as such was felt necessary. Some additions as we could gather from them and a brief note on their .contributions are added. We express our gratitude to the big men of cinema as they allowed us to publish their lectures. We convey our thanks to Lakshman Ghosh and Gautam Halder who made the publication possible. •

Ansu Sur

Project Co-ordinator Satyajit Ray Archive

Introducing the Lectures 'Roots here in Bengal, in India' yet 'at the same time part of a large plan, a universal pattern. This uniqueness and this universality and the coexistence of the two' is what Satyajit Ray tried to convey through his films. This was how Ray as the film-maker analysed his films through his inner voice. He has left behind him the great tradition of culture from ancient Indian heritage till the end of the 20th century. Indigenous Indian culture in its uniqueness and universality alongside the Western culture merged into a new expression in his films. As a film-maker, musician, creative writer and painter he ingrained in all his creativities a classic style expressing universality of expression. Satyajit Ray Memorial Lecturers were delivered by a famous painter - K. G. Subramanyan, an economic philosopher and nobel laureate, Amartya Sen, a renowned film critic Derek Malcolm and two important film makers of the others cinema Shyam Benegal and Paul Cox. All these speakers created a symphony of uniqueness and universality. In Satyajit Ray Memorial Lecture titled 'Our Culture, Their Culture' which in a sense echoes Satyajit Ray's own book titled 'Our Films, Their Films' delivered at Nandan I on December 22, 1995 and published as a book by Nandan, West Bengal Film Centre in May 1996, Prof. Amartya Sen analysed Ray and his films in the same manner in sociological perspective. His context was local versus universal and how in the depiction of the local the text shifted into the universal. It would perhaps be relevant to quote from

the said lecture as repetation to build up our argument for a greater homogenity of discourse about films and their relation to society. Sen aptly builds his argument in the same direction as Ray himself :

tn Ray's films and in his writings (including his books Our Films, Their Films and My Years with Apu : A Memoir), we see explorations of all least three distinct general themes on cultures and their interrelations : (i) the importance of . distinctions between different local cunures and their respective individualities, (ii) the necessity to understand the deeply heterogeneous character of each local culture (even that of an alleged community, not to mention a region or a country), and (iii) and the great need for intercultural communication....'

While analysing these aspects he deftly brings out the most important feature ·of Rays works : 'Indeed, not closing the doors of communication with - and learning from - each other.' Not only what in a very conservative aptitude be called indigenous lndianness - but 'Ray's eagerness to seek the larger unit - ultimately talking to the whole world'. Ray's journey thus from the particular to the universal has again and again been emphasised as the main 'ethos' of his works. This is what K. G. Subramanyan, the renowned artist in his Satyajit Ray Memorial lecture 1999 at Nandan finds it to be unravel the truth against falsification and masquerade. He brings in the areas of communication and conduct. Subramanyan in his argument on visual arts touches upon ruptures and displacements and sharply points out the contradictions and confusions. He is simply moved by 'diverse sides of Ray's creativity. • The two lectures delivered on two different subjects merge into one · unity. The divergence of medium,

communication and culture could be brought into a holistic frame. As we were perusing the lectures delivered by two such eminent persons we could think of integrating them into a pattern and structure. The disintegrating disciplines thus moulded into one could open the eyes of the readers to viewing the question of adjudicating our culture in a different light. The central focal point could here. at this point of time, be Ray's creativity and deconstructing it in the. present time frame. We certainly know that a long introduction of this kind could be considered as an act of intervention and an attempt to interpret the lectures. What is being attempted here is to sew the thoughts in one thread in the new context and in the new era when 'the centre cannot hold'. Sen and Subramanyan touched two different aspects of looking at life and our culture from different perspectives in their lectures and we are just referring to them.

'Commercial Monolith' and 'Cultural lmprialism' This is how Derek Malcolm describes the world wide domination of Hollywood films. As an eminent critic and organiser of film festivals he knows the world of cinema not only as a critic but also as a connoisseur of good cinema. Even in common parleys his interest in Indian films or in the larger perspective the Asian films is well-known. In his lecture delivered on Nov. 19 in the year 2000 he has made an elaborate exposure of the conditions that ruefully controls the economics of the film world. He argued that the critics of cinema writing columns for newspapers and journals cannot avoid the adverse situations and conditions braving which film makers of Ray-tribe somehow survive. Derek in his expositions almost certainly supports the Gramscian theory of the dominant and the dominated. He was an admirer of

Ray-films and yet he was conscious of his responsibility as a critic. He quoted a line of inscription of Ray addressed to Derek 'To Derek, who sometimes likes my films'. This line itself shows Ray's regard for Malcolm, and at the same time he was aware of the .difference between a good critic and a critic who for many other reasons could not be called so. Feluda, the hero of the detective films of Ray is an example per excellence as to what a critic should be. The comments of Feluda, on detective novels are best examples of Ray's idea about criticism. 'Sometimes likes my films', is a wonderful acceptance of a critic by a film-maker. Derek was not only the film critic of The Guardian, but was also the President of the World Association of Film Critics. His analysis of films always had the view of the world cinema with due emphasis on indigenous good films in nonEnglish languages. He had the insight of a free critic who did not review cinema only as an end product. The economic background and the cultural history were his concerns when he wrote or talked about films when he said :

The world is said to be growing smaller by the minute, thanks to e-mail, the internet and modern technology. In fact, the reverse is happening as far as culture and the arts are concerned. We know less and less about each other, especially in cultural matters, because the dominating culture in the world is now American. And it spreads far ano wide, with money to burn. He expresses deep anxiety and concern when he says, 'Because people only see American films, the critics write about them to the exclusion of everything.'. He was also afraid about the domination of Bollywood-kind of films in India. The most important aspect of film criticism is to make the people aware and knowledgeable in understanding film

worth its name. Selection, understanding and identification • of good film is, according to Derek most important. Derek gives us an incling into the practice of people of his trade and expresses his dissatisfaction about their conpetence. He blames the newspaper bosses who 'appoint people to the job who are not qualified to do it, and not qualified to fight against the commercial monolith.' He does not forget to mention the apathy and aversion of the western audience to almost all the third world country films avec or sans subtitle. The English speaking world knows the heroes like Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger and the directors are irrelevant in such films. Bollywood also follows the same tradition. He narrates the tragic plight of genuine critics like David Robinson and Geoff Brown. He is sarcastic about those who impose the idea from above. The giants of Newspaper market are now searching for writers to serve popular taste. Derek demands the same respect for directors like Theo Angelopoulos, Satyajit Ray and over and above Kurosawa or directors of the same class in the same category as Renoir Exhibition at the Tate, Berlin Philharmonic playing Beethoven or National Theatre's production of Shakespeare's Hamlet. He expresses doubt whether Satyajit Ray would be appreciated if he made his films today. The world of cinema today suffers from the monolithic syndrome that Derek is worried about and the serious viewers are no less anxious. Derek speaks the truth and all truths are not pleasant. He is a realist and tries to invoke good sense for all who are concerned with cinema as the most powerful medium as well as a unique art of the modern world.


Shyam Benegal, the Other Voice Benegal created a neorealistic tradition with his films during the early seventies. Ankur (1974), Nishant (1975) and Manthan (1976) made a breakaway move in the world of Hindi films. Shyam Benegal in his Satyajit Memorial Lecture in September 1994 called him 'India~ greatest film-maker'. In his lecture he candidly analysed the history of the Filmcensorship from colonial period till today. He scanned the scene of film-certification and threw light on the practice. The criticism is scathing and his comments are justified by the experiences and examples he cited in his argument. He has been able to prove convincingly that film censorship has not been liberal and impartial enough and the story has not changed in the right direction as i~ was expected to be even after the independence. While analysing Hindi films he could, by his sharp insight, experience and understanding refer to the requirement and miserable failure in imitation of Hollywood blockbuster films. According to him Hindi film is a means of (a) giving cultura, meaning to western structures imposed on society, (b) demystifying some of the culturally unacceptable modern structures which are increasingly in vogue in India and (c) vitually those elements of the modern world which have to be accepted for reasons of survival. Benegal looked at the entire scenario with the impact Hindi films have on the rest of the country. Prototypes, banalities and simplistic notions that pervaded the entire scenario. His anxieties and disappointments are not to be taken as negative criticism. He is both positive and realistic.

Hollywood Hegemony and the World Cinema Satyajit Ray Memorial Lecture 2004 was delivered by Paul Cox the famous Dutch-Australian film-maker who is well known for making wonderful films in English language from Australia. This migrant film director defied · Hollywood invitations to make films umpteen number of times to make films independently. He is a great admirer of Indian culture including music. According to him Satyajit Ray happens to belong to the rarest breed of film•makers who have helped film as an art form to advance and to affect sensitive human psyche. Paul Cox in his lecture dilated upon the cultural hegemony of Hollywood spreading its tentacles and affecting the indigenous cultures of the world. He spoke against Talibanism in any form and mourned the death of his friend Theo Van Gogh. Cox in his lecture emphasized the need for individual independence and make films to make the world a better place to live in. He invoked the spirit and message of Rabindranath Tagore whose song he used in his films. He spoke against the American hegemony and gave almost a clarion call to unite and to save the world against the Fascist culture perpetrated by Bush and his henchmen. Paul is in favour of making films with human touch. Sensitivity, love and mutual human relation are to be best explored in films. Himself a painter, author and film•maker Paul Cox donated the sum given for his lecture to the Tsunami affected people to the Chief Ministers Relief Fund.



World Cinema : Politics, Power and Humanity I am overwhelmed by the enormous love I have been given by the people of India and particularly by the people of West Bengal. I am honoured for being invited to deliver the Satyajit Ray Memorial Lecture at a time when the whole world is facing the challenge of the call of humanity to help the people affected by the horrendous natural disaster of Tsunami. In this hour of horror and shock, as human beings we recall Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali (Song of the Road) where the loss of the dear daughter was communicated by muted expression of the mother to the father who comes back after a long journey. The music used by Ray at that moment is reverberating in the whole world facing the catastrophe of so much of suffering and death. I am indebted to Satyajit Ray because in many of his films, I experienced this human voice that deeply influenced me. His Apu trilogy, Devi, Charulata (Lonely Wife) and his films for children: have created a new history from which all the filmmakers must learn to keep the cinema fighting to continue to show the human face. The King of Chaos (Halla Raja) best exposed in George Bush should be stopped to impose further war. Cinema as the most powerful media has a great role to play.


I believe in contingency, a world of accidents like dust motes floating in the air, some of which are inhaled while others slide away, never to be seen. That's why one's life should always play out a story, so that the dust motes we collide with can be deciphered and always remind a person, • that he in fact lives - though to what end remains a mystery. To solve that mystery I have to make films, and to make films means that one h~s to get involved in all the good, the bad and the ugly this world has to offer. I've been fortunate to be able to use film as a means of self-expression; At an early age in my filmmaking career I found the right people to help me and although it hasn't always been plain sailing, we survivedl My films have ·no heroes, no killings as such, no fast cars, no special effects, in fact none of the ingredients that make successful films. Against all the odds though,. my films travel and have found audiences and strangely enough often recoup their budgets. My unsung heroes are real like you and I. They don't belong to society of hero and now Allconsuming (heroes) unknown and in the dark - they arel The world has a conscience after all which cannot be bribed. What we perceive as the truth can lie dormant for centuries waiting like a predator until our collective subconscious screams out for justice-for reality-for the truth we feel inside us. We've created a society here and now, of surface celebrating the outer with a vengeance and ignoring the 16

inner. So called .healthy economics depend on people's willingness and ability to spend and consume with little space or time for heart and soul and the bulk of film has become an industry to reflect and celebrate this insanity. After all we are now called consumers. We used to be called human beings. Nothing earns respect more quickly than to be a greedy consumer. The more you consume or inspire others to consume the more respect you receive. With modesty and consideration you get nowhere. The all-consuming herbs of the movie screens travel across the globe and become treasured icons of collective insanity. They are often only capable of portraying one-dimensional characters that reflect the most violent abuse of the human spirit. Some become President or Governor of California adored and admired by a confused public? -I did go out of my way to see Terminator 25 - just in case I had it all wrong - and was appalled by the senseless violence and the primitive matter over mind, celebration of all that is against the human spirit in general and th~ .potential of the cinema in particular. ' Yes. of course. there's room for the Terminators. but what is happening to the creators? Meanwhile there are-thousands of wonderful actors and directors across the world that don't go through -th& Hollywood manufacturing process and consequently remain largely unknown in the -dark. Sometimes. miraculously little jewels get through the system through this total monopoly and ·against all the odds-get a decent run. But if you ask any of their makers if they received a fair share of the rewards, you'll find that all profits that could have gone towards the creation of another modest little gem W.C.P.P.H-2


have disappeared into that big black hole of international film distribution. In the States, the big studios do not make films as such. The films start as projects, become part of a package then goes into production with pre-arranged and anticipated deals in place. Most films are conceived and planned in accordance with making an adva_ nced sale to television or a theatrical chain. The project must come from a best seller, .ag ~c~ing thriller - usually about a hijacking of one sort or another, or a thinly disguised showbiz biography of someone who came to an apparently wretched end. How else can you interest buyers? Certainly not with anything that tries to treat the human canditlon with any depth. Those in charge of the money like to feel safe, prefer to spend big on something stupid rather than little on something worthwhile. They feel safe with big star packages and known ingredients and avoid all the complexities of everyday life. Meanwhile, words like tenderness and gentleness have almost disappeared from the vocabulary of film. Love, sex, youth, age, life and death. Simple words that are the essence of our existence are now thrown back at us like products in a supermarket. Sex and youth are the hot specials. Judging from the thriving funeral business there is also some mileage in death, but age doesn't rate very highly, doesn't consume enough and would be hidden amongst the old fashioned items, the ones that are essential to give the ·store substance and prestige but don_ 't count In terms of sales and turn over. · Fortunately, no one has really been able to discover what makes a successful film. Apart· from the obvious ingredients 18

of sex-violence and usual senseless special effects the experts are often totally wrong. There is something in the collective psyche of man that, strangely enough, rejects the here and now and searches for a universal truth. Most academy award winners soon disappear into oblivion, but Jacques Tati's Mr. Hulot's Holiday is still shown all over the world fifty years after it was made. . He was allowed to explore his own humour without being trapped by commercial demands. A sense of true optimism rises within me when I see this type of film still being appreciated after all these years. But would Jacques Tati have been aUowed to make this film in today's world ? Would lngmar Bergman have risen from the ashes ? Would Frederico Fellini have made his masterpieces ? Would Satyajit Ray's deep humanity be recognized ? Would Bunuel be appreciated ? I know so many fine filmmakers who are loved and · respected by the movie buffs and also· would be appreciated by the general public only if they could get to the screen. Their contributions are essential to keep the cinema alive and inspire others. Vet they have enor,, 10us problems finding support for their films. Unfortunately, many of them never get the ·chance to develop their. true talents and finally have· to look for something more sensible to do with the~r lives. .These filmmakers don't want to use the cinema to violate human dignity or celebrate _consumerism only. They know, they understand· the true power of film and are conscious of the fact that the only .films we . will remember are those that . penetrate the psyche, that linger in the subconscious, that balance the inner and. . outer. These are the films that most of us are not allowed to make ~nymore- and if we do, they 19

will not be released or may be, only on a very small scale because they will be voted out as not commercial enough by the experts that control our screens. A total lack of vision is essential to being a successful studio producer or successful executive producer. Very few of these people have grown up in an artistic milieu. They don't have the background, the information or the instincts of those who have lived and sweated for films for many years. Yet these people feel they are creative in so far as they reserve their enthusiasm only for films that make money. These creative giants also reserve the right to final cut and can override a director and his team at any stage of the production. But film is not a product like shampoo; it's the most powerful invention of our time. It has enormous power, but man's history of handling power is sorrowful; power Is always abused. The Third Reich used film very successfully. ·we've all seen Leni Reigenstahl's exposed of the gods and her well-backed insight into the remarkable workings of the Third Reich. Let's all thank the gods that television hadn't been ~eveloped in the 1930's. If Hitler and Goebbels had been able to go on daily talk back shows the Third Reich most likely would still be marcing. The only thing we learn from history is that man doesn't le~rn from history. A tragically true clich6. In the light of .this thought it is hard to comprehend that we or us or the hu·man race has stored away enough so called weapons of mass destruction to destroy all of us and probably all living organisms a thousand times over. What a staggering thought when we have no proof from man's history that he can handle power or learn from history.


Before the invasion of Iraq I saw on French television a scary 'George Bush' - in combat gear, addressing his troops. One of his outstanding lines was : We're always looking for more peace'. Please consider once again that we have no history, right through the centufies, of handling power without abusing it. We've never had within all those civilizations that came and went, the power we have now. We're at a crossroad and must stop imitating life. We have to find a way to invent life and change our priorities. The cinema should be at the forefront of this. Most films I see take me away from the heart of humanity. I still believe that life must be an act of love, whatever the consequences, and that the films I am involved with must reflect this. We all know the power of the cinema. The average child in America watches approximately four hours of television a day. By the time the child is sixteen, he or she has witnessed some 18,000 killings on the big or small screens, and the poor children that become addicted to video games probably many millions. I think that a TV station or a large cinema chain in the hands of a single minded, profit hungry organization is more destructive and dangerous than an army of combat hungry soldiers. As a child in the Second World War, I saw a group of prisoners being marched off in the snow. Marched off to their death. Death by firing squad.

Later, much later, I heard they had to dig their own graves. None of these people had done anything wrong. They had simply refused to be brutalized by the invaders 21

and had stood up for their country, friends and families. One of the soldiers or one of the killers, a young boy, looked at me as he marched past. Although I was only four years of age, that look has always lingered. I have power. I have a gun. We are going to shoot these bastards. This man is probably dead now or very old and very gray. Maybe he became a human being after words or maybe, he went on killing until he was killed himself. I've always asked myself, was anything achieved in that war? Was anything achieved in any war? Will anything be achieved in future wars? Can anything be achieved in any war? The answer is no. Nothing was ever or will ever be achieved in any war, anywhere, anytime. Nothing can ever be achieved by brutalizing one's fellowman-nothing. In the boo~, Voltaire's Bastards, John Ralston Soul argues that Western civilization is without belief for the first time since the decline of the Roman Empire. We have killed God and replaced him or her with ourselves. Our social identity is no longer ascribed to us by our family and community, but achieved through education and occupation. People are judged not by who they are, but by what they achieve. What is necessary is an exile from materialism and rampant technology. Our true identfty lies much deeper and is far more· beautiful, interesting and rewarding. The trouble with man is the trouble with his spirit. A filmmaker from Iran told me that in spite of all her difficulties and problems with the censors in Iran, she could never accept the many invitations she'd received from he West, or find a safer haven in America. She stated simply, that life in Iran was much deeper. I believe that one should never underestimate the so


called general public, and I get deeply upset when I see films made by committees catering for what lhey believe the general public wants, when one knows what people want is something that touches them-something that deals with emotional truth; but say that to a producer and they'll say:' what emotional truth ? What do you mean ? This is a show business, man; it needs a hook.' There is a great need for simplicity. Only then can we find something infinitely greater than our earthbound complexities. We only have to look at the ocean. What a mighty god and as we have seen, too much for us. But what an inspiration and indication of what lies beyond man. No civilization can survive without belief. Without spirit and faith, we're doomed. With the progression of science, the world has become more and more dehumanized. Man is also losing his emotional unconscious identity with natural phenomena. Thunder is no longer the voice of angry gods. Rivers no longer contain spirits; no more demons live in mountain caves; no voices speak from stones, trees or animals. Let's arrest our journey into the abyss by very quietly asking these major questions. Who lives in this world ? What forms of life ? What living creatures? What is our destiny ? What does it mean to be human? I'm a filmmaker. That's not my profession, that's what I do, and as I stated earlier, I make films as a means of self• expression. I don't have to compromise from morn till night. I believe that if you want to do anything seriously it can't be a profession ; it must remain a hobby. With profession comes compromise and compromise is just another word for mediocrity. 23

One of the insanities of our film culture is the commercial break, the canned laughter, the shopping channels and the enormous pressure on people to consume. We celebrate and admire film star whose salary from one simple film can be more than the entire annual budget of some so called third world countries. .

Every civilization leaves only its art and its history. From history we learn that man does not learn from history. Why then, don't the arts appear at the forefront of our endeavors, so that we can learn to see again, to love again? Why can't we, through the arts and certainly through the art of film, change this deadly and destructive path we've taken and found as Vincent Van Gogh put it so aptly-a brighter sun. Yes, let's put 1110,e emphasis upon the act of creation and if cinema is art, let's not expect it to be easily understood. No one expects this from the other arts. · After all, art Is freedom, art is a mixture of vision and kindness. Vision teaches us to respect and through vision we find divine origin everywhere. In the sea, the sky a tree a simple leaf or a single drop of rain - kindness keeps us close to the child, close to the gods. Creation is not the sole right of the artist either. It also belongs to the baker and the carpenter, the bank manager. and dare I say it, even the politician. Within the arts we find the true potential of the human heart. Within the arts we can rediscover our human rights and our true identity. And maybe then we'll learn to understand again that there's no life of substance without an understanding of death, without an attempt at balancing our right to live and our right to die. Tagore said, 'I know I've loved this life and because of that I shall love death as well.' Western civilization of instant 24

gratification is so out of touch with Death that most people one meets have never seen a dead body. Many die by themselves in white, sterile rooms, drugged out of their minds, surrounded by strangers. There's always some miraculous excuse for Death. Recently I heard that a ninety-seven year old man died of cancer. I think he died because he was very old and very tired. May he rest in peace. Death, as we know it now, is spending our earnings on things we don't need. Death is the manufacturing of guns, . bombs and landmines, things no one needs. Death is the blindness of the fanatic who for the love of his God can plunder and murder or rape and destroy without any respect for the Laws of Man. Death is building cities as drab and gray as possible. Death is emptying the oceans of life and polluting our rivers and waterways. Death is celebrating the wrong gods for the wrong reasons. Death is denying our children their chance to dream of the future. Death is the politics of greed, hatred and ignorance. Death is lost to the Hving. We have forgotten that in the face of death, everything becomes more humane, more alive. In the face of death, only true love makers sense. All the ambitions, all the career moves become meaningless. In the face of death we can find our true spirit. And again it was Tagore who said, 'All we have to do is return the key and our claims to the hours and may be, expect some kind words from family and friends. No more noisy, loud words. People deal in whispers near the dying. Now we have time for ourselves and can think of all those we have loved and how we have loved them. Life could be like that....'


So why are we so strangely out of tune? As we start this New Year, we can be sure that in another 80 or 100 years from now, we'll all be dead. In my case, much less! Maybe a few vegetarians will still struggle about, but the bulk of us, 6 billion human beings as we now have it, will be gone. All of us will have been replaced, all of us who are living now. What will have been the point, if our brief stay is starved of love, dignity and tenderness towards our fellow travellers? What will have been the point, if we continue the present trend of destroying our forests and emptying the oceans of all lives ? What will have been the point if we keep fighting wars in the name of our various Gods or in the name of bringing democracy to the underprivileged? What are we going to do within the cold comfort of our air-conditioned houses and cars, when the sun rises and sunsets have become obscured in the gray clouds of greed, hatred and ignorance? Why do we stomp upon the face of our planet as if we're here forever-as if we own it. A few years ago I directed a film on the life and death of Father Damien. As you might know, he was called the Leper Priest, who gave his life to the deserted sufferers of leprosy and finally caught the disease himself and died amongst them. We received permission to film in Kalaupapa on the island of Molokoi where Damien lived. The remaining patient on the island and only one of them is under sixty-became our friends and fellow anarchists. Most of them played small parts or appeared as extras. They offered us their faces without eyes, their hands with no fingers, their scarred bodies full of wounds. The wisdom, the power, the passion and the love I received from people who'd suffered more than any of us could ever know, restored my faith in the human race.


What power or what immense beauty was hidden in that shrunken, dwindling flesh old and ugly and decayed in terms of the unreal world we live in, but young and beautiful and so alive in terms of the real world we could inhabit. Most of this was written before some 200,000 people lost their lives in a massive Tsunami_and then grew silent and remained silent, before the American people re-elected a slightly deranged President on moral values, before an extremist brutally murdered my dear friend and fellow filmmaker Theo Van Gogh. Only the Tsunami, a tragedy ot biblical proportions, can be explained. The re-election of George Bush and the Murder of Theo Van Gogh come out of the same sinister black box called the 'creeping theocracy', be it Taliban or Christian Taliban, where its totally acceptable to place one's religion above the laws of man. The taboo on confronting this dark side of religion cannot be explained. It's not like McCarthyism in the 50's but like Germany in the 20's. It's time for us to speak out and to stand up. They thought that Hitler was a joke when he first appeared on the scene. Then people were threatened and they stopped joking and then grew silent. Consequently, millions were slaughtered. Theo Van Gogh had the courage to make an ele~enminute film based on a true story written by a woman from Somalia. He was threatened, but didn't stop joking. Then he • was brutally silenced. Who would want to harm the village fool, he said. Now this little film has silently been banned around the world, even after various stations have programmed it. And nobody admits that they're afraid! And don't want to become a target. Suddenly this little 27

film doesn't fit the schedule anymore. ·It has become a time bomb. Theo was riding his bicycle to his editing room after having dropped off his son to school. A man shot him eight times - as he lay deying in the street of Amsterdam a dagger with notes from the Koran and threats to Hirshi Ali, the scriptwriter of the title films they made - was put in to his big loving heart and then with a sharp butcher's knife an attempt was made to separate his lion's head from his body. It was a religious slaughter in the name of religion. This happened in Holland where the death penalty is not known. On a clear day to a loving father, a courageous speaker of the truth and an exceptional filmmaker. 'You may kill us; but we shall not be silenced' says Nikos Katzanlokis in Freedom of Death. No, we shall not be silenced. It's our duty to speak and oppose the dehumanization of our planet, the globalization of fear and hatred through this creeping theocracy and the brutalization of the medium of film. Theo had just found his true voice through film. He wanted to rock the boat; he wanted to shake the foundations, not out of malice, but to provoke, to force debate. He was a wonderful, compassionate fearless lover of life and I feel privileged to have been his friend and comrade in arms. We can't insulate ourselves against physical pain and suffering or against death. But we can make· our lives, our journeys so much more creative and rewarding, so much more beautiful when we realize that blind faith can only lead to blindness. When we realize that most of the misery in this world comes from people wanting pleasure or gratification for themselves, be it physical or spiritual instead of giving pleasure or showing tolerance to others.


When we realize that this existential· fear comes from the • absence of light and consequently the absence of love. This love being a joy in another person. May be we are all praying to the wrong Gods. I ·t hank you.

Paul Cox 3rd January 2005 Satyajit Ray Memorial Lecture 2004 Nandan, Calcutta



Paul Cox Filmography

Paul Cox Director - filmography

2004 2001 2000 1999 1997 1996 1994 1993 1992 1991 1990 1989 1988 1987 1986 1986 1985 1984 1983 1982 1980 1979 1977 1976 1975 1975 1972 1968

Human Touch The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky Innocence Molokai: The Story of Father Damien The Hidden Dimension Lust and Revenge Exile Touch Me The Nun and the Bandit A Woman's Tale Golden Braid Island The Gift Vincent Cactus Handle with Care Winners My First Wife Man of Flowers Lonely Hearts The Kingdom of Nek Chand Kostas Inside Looking Out Illuminations The Island We Are All Alone My Dear The Journey Skindeep



Writer - fllmography 2004 2001 2000 1997 1996 1994 1993 1992 1991 1990 1989

1988 1987 1986 1984 1983 1982 1977 1976

Human Touch The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky Innocence The Hidden Dimension Lust and Revenge Exile Touch Me The Nun and the Bandit A Woman's Tale Golden Braid Island The Gift Vincent Cactus My First Wife Man of Flowers Lonely Hearts Inside Looking Out Illuminations

Producer - filmography 2001 2000 1996 1994 '1992 1991 1990 1989 1986 1984 1983 34

The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky Innocence Lust and Revenge Exile The Nun and the Bandit A Woman's Tale Golden Braid Island Cactus My First Wife Man of Flowers

1977 1975

Inside Looking Out We Are All Alone My_Dear

Editor - fllmography 2004 2001 1994 1987 1977 1972

Human Touch The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky Exile Vincent Inside Looking Out The Journey

Actor - fllmography 1996 1992 1987 1984 1979 1968

Lust and Revenge Careful To Market to Market Where the Green Ants Dream Apostasy The Girl Grabbers

Cinematographer - fllmography 2001 1987 1977 1975

The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky Vincent Inside Looking Out We Are All Alone My Dear

Miscellaneous Crew - fllmography 1999 1996

The Five Senses The Quiet Room

Himself - fllmography 1997

Guy Maddin: Waiting for Twilight


Should We Shoot the Critics ? I am greatly privileged to be given the chance to deliver this lecture, not only because I admired Satyajit Roy so greatly, but because I considered him to be a personal friend of mine, as are Bijoya and Sandip. Now there is always a kind of tension between the film-maker and the critic, however friendly they may be. If a friendly critic praises them, they regard you as a valued supporter but they don't really believe you. And perhaps that was why Satyajit Ray once gave me a book of his, inscribed : To Derek, who sometimes likes my films. Actually, I disliked none of his works, though I did like some of his films better than others. But now he has gone from us, I regard them with more rather than less affection. He was a giant, and as long as films are remembered at all, · his will be. Indeed they look even better now than during his lifetime against most of the work being produced today. Where are the giants today? We have gained a lot technically but lost a lot artistically. Unfortunately, even in Ray's lifetime, he was often given praise without understanding. Even those who honoured him did so without actually seeing his films. When he got his American Oscar for his career, just before he died, there were a good many members of the Academy who had only the faintest idea of who he was. It was only at the insistence of people like Ismail Merchant, 37 "

Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma and others, who knew his work well, that the decision was made in his favour. Why was this? Because there is, I fear, an enormous ignorance of world cinema everywhere, and it is getting worse each year. That is why festivals like that of Calcutta, which I attended this year for the first time, have become more and more valuable. It many Indians, for instance, are unable to watch the British films they would like to see, many British people are unable to see the Indian films they would like to see. It is the same everywhere. Ttie world is said to be growing smaller by the minute, thanks to e-mail, the internet and modern technology. In fact, the reverse is happening as far as culture and the arts is concerned. We know less about each other, especially in cultural matters, because the dominating culture in the world is now American. And it spreads far and wide, with money to burn. • If you go to Europe now, you will see the same Hollywood films in every capital city, from London to Rome and Helsinki to Athens. Most of the responsibility for this lies at the door of Hollywood's huge financial power-,a big American film gets up to 400 prints in the UK alone. A British film by Ken Loach or Mike Leigh is lucky to get 40. The publicity budgets are equivalent. Small surprise that everybody is aware of the American film, and few have heard of the British one. It is the same all over Europe. And the media - newspapers, radio and television - cooperates with this conspiracy. This is where, of course, the critics come in and where I reach for my gun. Nowadays, newspaper editors all over Europe and I believe, the world - appoint people to the job who are not qualified to do it, and not qualified to fight


against the commercial monolith. This is particularly true of film which is often considered something other than an art form - merely an entertainment for as many people as possible. So when an Indian film comes to London it is compared by critics who should know better than last week's Hollywood film and judged as something strange and a little peculiar. Probably too long and too slow to be understood. The result of this is that less and less non-Englishspeaking films come to London, except at Festival time, and so less and less people can see them. It is a wheel that turns full circle, Because people only see American films, the critics write about them to the exclusion of almost everything else. And because critics do that, the public is not made aware of world cinema as a whole. Could we say that the same is happening in India, substituting Bollywood for Hollywood? I leave you to answer that question. But it is certainly happening in Europe and large parts of the world as well. This is a kind of cultural imperialism almost as dangerous as the political imperialism you know so well here. It doesn't open people's minds. It closes them. I remember going up to Manchester to talk to 500 . ordinary school children. Why I was asked to talk to them, I don't know. Since they had never seen critics in their life, they did not know what the critics actually do. They were supposed to watch a Hollywood film and I was supposed to lead a discussion about that film. It was not a very good film and they did not really discuss it much. One of them raised his hand and said, 'Well Mr. Malcolm, do we dare say what we think about the film.' I said, 'I can tell you what I think about this film in one sentence, even in one word, It's 39

rubbish,' They all agreed. So I said to them that they will see a Chinese film next morning. They said, •oh, nol Chinese films are boring. Has it got subtitles?' I said, •ves it has got subtitles.' They said, •oh so boring. We don't like films with subtitles.' I said, •vou are to come at 1o o'clock, all, five hundred of you. If you are bored with this Chinese film, you can stay up to forty minutes. If you may stay. But you are free to leave after forty minutes. But you will have to stay that long.' So they all came to see the cinema grumbling the next morning. It was a Chinese film they had never heard of. After forty minutes, of the five hundred about eighty left, the other children stayed till the end. It was amazing, the comments heard afterwards. Who is the wonderful actress Kong Lee? Why is she not working in Hollywood? And I said, 'She does not know English. She is Chinese. Chinese do make films off this quality.'


Several of the best film critics in Britain have now either resigned or been thrown out - notably David Robinson of the London Times, who came to India often and wrote sympathetically about Indian films. His sin was to put a New Zeland film by Jane Campion above a Harrison Ford film from Hollywood in his column. The paper refused to allow him to do so, and reversed the order. When he complained, he was told it was his last column. This despite the fact that Robinson was one of the most respected critics in the world and the premier authority on Chaplin. The next critic of The Times was Geoff Brown, another able and knowledgeable critic. He was later sacked 'for knowing too much.' Before he was sent packing, however, something happened to him that you might scarcely believe. One week, he wrote a lengthy and laudatory review of a film by Theo


Angelopoulos, the distinguished Greek director. In it, he called Angelopoulos one of the most masterly of Europe's film-makers and accounted the film one of his best. When he opened the paper the next morning the review was there complete ; but underneath it were the short comments of three other people, apparently taken more or less at random from the street. These comments were quite different. The first was: 'What in Harvey Keitel doing in this rubbish'; the second was 'This is the most boring film I've ever seen" and the third was, in its own way, rather witty. It was 'If this is the Greek Cinema, I'm not even going on holiday there.' Now these three 'ordinary' people, asked to give their opinion of the film, would never normally go to a film with subtitles, and certainly not to a film by Angelopoulos. It might. have been worth asking them their opinion of a new movie from Sylvester Stallone of Arnold Schwarzenegger. But to put them in front of an admittedly difficult European ar.t movie could only be considered a provocation. So I wrote to the Editor of The Times in the following terms; 'Sir, I would like to congratulate you on your new policy of using ordinary film-goer's opinions next door to those of your film critic. I hope you will do the same when the Berlin Philharmonic plays Beethoven at the Festival hall next week, and when the Royal Ballet Company performs Giselle at Covent Garden shortly. It might also be entertaining to hear what the man in the street thinks about the Renoir exhibition at the Tate, or the National Theatre's production of Shakespeare's Hamlet.' My letter was not printed, but I later got a reply from the Arts Editor of The Times, which simply said: 'I know what 41

you mean, but have to tell you that the idea was imposed upon me from above.' The fact is, of course, that even Murdoch's Times would not dream of treating their other critics in this manner. The paper would expect its music critic to be an expert, its theatre critic to be knowledgeable and experienced and its art critic to know what he or she was talking about. But movies are different. Anybody can write about them, and anybody should. If the film critic writes about an allegedly obscure Greek film, then he should be corrected by the ordinary man in the street who knows better what the public wants to see. 'It's nice', one Arts Editor told me, 'to find a film critic without .any baggage.' In other words without either knowledge or experience. That way, presumably, he or she can reflect better what we want to see, without putting any strain on anyone's brainbox. The result of this attitude has been the appointment of a number of what you might possibly call 'bright writers' to the post of film critics in British newspapers who know little or nothing of film history except where it reflects hollywood and its stars and who are not interested in films they think the ordinary filmgoer would reject. One of them recently came out of an Iranian film at the Cannes Festival exclaiming that he didn't know Iran made films and how surprised he was that the film was quite good. You can imagine, what might happen if and when a new Indian film arrives in London. What strange thing is this ? The result of all this is devastating to the screening of world cinema in the UK. The smaller distributors who used to buy interesting films from all over the world cannot afford the advertising necessary to spread a the word about such


films and have always relied on the critics to encourage people to see them. Now they find their wares either relegated to the bottom of the column in favour of the latest Hollywood films, or not reviewed at all. Added to that, the BBC and Channel Four buy less and less no-English-speaking films, which makes matters worse. As far as India is concerned, only three new serious Indian films have been shown .commercially in London over the last eight years. Bollywood, it is true, has reached out from the video stores into the multiplexes recently, with a number of Bombay spectaculars playing well in areas where there is a sizeable immigrant population. But if Satyajit Ray were making films now, it would be extremely doubtful whether his films would be given a decent run in London or whether the reviews would acknowledge him to be the great film-maker he was I speak of the UK. But part of my job is to be President of the World Association of Film Critics, and I can assure you that it is virtually the same all over the world. Good critics from Europe, Russia, North and South America and indeed the East are finding it harder and harder to make their voices heard. Editors, it seems, would far rather print gossip than criticism or have an interview with a star than a proper appreciation of the film he or she appears in. We seem to be obsessed with celebrity and the surface of things rather than anything properly cultural. This is the age of nothing built into something, and something degraded into nothing. If we fight against this, we are called elitists, determined to celebrate things ordinary people have no taste for.


We are, it appears, living in a time when what we call a dumbing down process is in full swing, when culture is becoming increasingly homogenised and when everybody is being encouraged to see the same thing, read the same book and listen to the same music. Should we shoot the critics for this? Well, it is not, of course, exclusively their fault; but they, or those who appoint them, have to take at least some of the blame. A critic should be one step ahead of the public, not one step behind. We need to know more, not less. We need to believe that culture is important as well as computer literacy or passing exams. That no educated man or woman can be a whole person unless they have in them some appreciation of culture. We need to understand the past before V/8 can comprehend the future properly. Film is part of culture in the same fashion as all the other arts are. It appeals to and influences millions upon millions of people. Those who write about it trivialise it at their peril, and at ours. While it is certainly not true that neither Hollywood not Bollywood has anything to offer, there is another cinema and we should take care of it. Critics can help to do that, and too few of them do. They seem to as inevitable that commercial forces will drown everything that isn't addressed to the majority. It isn't so. People have often asked me what it takes to be a good film critic, and it is difficult to reply without seeming pompous, since there are all sorts of critics writing, or talking, in all sorts of specialist and non-specialist media. But if I were to confine myself to newspaper criticism, which is what most people read and what I do for a living, the first thing, obviously, is a sympathetic editor, You can't write


anything coherent without the space to do so and the understanding of those who will allow you to do so. Even where there is understanding, you have to be entertaining, since all the knowledge in the world is pretty useless if you write boringly, you also have to write to the space provided. It's not much use penning fift~en hundred words if there is only space for 1000. You have to be prepared to write fast, since there is often little time to consider a review and even less to correct what you have considered. You have, in short, to be a good journalist if you want to be a good critic. There's a craft to it as well as an art. Secondly, you really do have to know something about the cinema, its history, the difficulties of making films and the problems associated with showing them effectively. And most important of all, you have to believe that some of the greatest artists of the past century have been film-makers as well as authors, playwrights, musicians and painters, It isn't always easy to make people understand this, especially within a culture like that of the UK which tends to regard film as entertainment first and culture afterwards. But are not Ray, Chaplin, Orson Welles, Bunuel, Renoir and Kurosawa as great as are other artists of the 20th century? And not only as great, but as influential too ? I think they are. You MUST think they are if you are to be a film critic of any standing . •

Thirdly, a good critic must have an understanding of the other arts as well, because film is influenced by the theatre, literature, music and painting. If you know nothing about the other art, you will be only half armed as a film critic. Film isn't an island to itself. It is an amalgam of much else besides. What would Bollywood be without its music ? What would some of the great adaptations of literature be without •


the inspiration of the original source material ? Finally, and this may seem little naive but I will say it anyway, you have to be decent, well-rounded person to be a film critic. If that sounds absurd to you, I would only say that films are about people and their stories, and if you don't like people much how can you write about their stories sympathetically ? Sympathy and understanding are a great part of the armoury of a good critic, who knows there is no such thing as an objective critic, but only a subjective one. All a critic does is to say what he or she likes or does not like, giving good reasons one way or another. He is not God, though he may begin to think of himself as such. He is himself, taking from his own experience and often unconsciously parading his own prejudices. There has to be a heart involved as well as a mind. And a recognition that other opinions may matter too. It is very easy to become an eagerly-read critic if you simply attack without sympathy. It is much easier to become noticed if you destroy rather than build. It may be nice for editors to know that readers search for his critic's words week by week to see what calumny is coming next, what reputation is going to be undermined. But in the end this is not criticism. It is betraying both film and the reader. A critic should also be able to admit mistakes, to change his opinion if he feels he has initially got it wrong. I have done that often enough myself, and never regretted it, even though one can look a little foolish at the time.


Comments A film-maker may make a very good first film. But in his next film he can become extremely ·self-conscious and may not deliver what he can. You have to be careful not to overpraise a film. It's terribly harmful. It also makes him nervous about what he can do next, if he receives lots of praise. I have known in India certain directors who have been so over-praised that they were unable to make another good film. Over praising is as bad as under-praising. You shoudl, be terribly careful in you attack and how you praise as well. Publicity does influence the critics. lri London a few years ago I went to see a film. Its director wanted me to say what I thought about the film as a critic and how it was going to appeal to ev!)rybody. The film was Star Wars. The director didn't expect much return from the film but it became the most famous film of the decade and it brought in more money than any other film ever made. Everybody said it was wonderful and there wouldn't be a seat in the auditorium. And this affects you. We are all affected by publicity. Any film by Ken Loach or Mike Leigh is worth seeing. They may not be the best Ken Loach or the best Mike Leigh but they will be interesting. When I started film criticism thirty years ago, people took film critics too seriously. They would read The Guardian and se~ a film. Critics like it, so we better like it. That's awful. It's


equally awful if film critics have no contact wih ordinary people. I can kill a film if I like. But I would rather help a film. Destructive criticism is harmful to a film. To kill a film is much easier than to get people to see serious films. I have never killed a film completely. We have a responsibility towards the public, towards the film-maker. We have to be a bit careful before we actually slam something. It's very difficult to get critics to work together. We have different opinions, But we all agree that something needs to be done. But how can you join hands with your Editors? Once a critic was fired in Latin America and we wrote a letter to the editor signed by many European critics, Trying to defend him. But the Editor said it was none of our business. You can't do much about it. However, if a filmmaker is imprisoned and we write to the Government of that country, very often the government gets extremely nervous. So, sometimes we can work together. Often in your column of 1500 words you have to write about six films. One of these may be a completely commercial film and another may be a film which is not commercial at all, an art film perhaps. And you have to use the same words to describe them. You have to change gears like a car during its course. You cannot talk about big commercial films in the same way as art films. It's very difficult to use the same words to try and describe what sort of a film it is. You must describe what a film is like. Let all the flowers in the garden bloom.


Would I make a good film? No, I think, I might make a reasonable film, but I doubt my capacity ·for making a good film. Sometimes I do sit in front of films and say even I can do better than that. For me commercial films come first; because either you like them or you don't like them. And you can reasons for liking or not liking them. Reason first.



Derek Malcolm Bibliography

Derek Malcolm . Bibliography 2000 1991


2002 2001

A Century of Films : Derek Malcolm's Personal Best Tauris Parke Talking Films : Best of t_h e "Guardian" Film Lecturs Fourth Estate Hardcover - July 25, 1991 Film and Theatre Stars Hippocrene Books Hardcover - September 1, 1984 Bollywood - Popular Indian Cinema A Century of Films : Derek Malcolm's Personal Best Paperback

Guardian, UK Dekalog (Kieslowski) The Music Room (S. Ray) Rio Bravo (Hawks) The Seventh Seal (Bergman) The Spirit of the Beehie (Erice) The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums (Mizoguchi) THe Time to Live and the Time to Die (Hou) Tokyo Story (Ozu) Touch of Evil (Welles) Tristana (Bunuel)



Popular Cinema Good evening. I' have been singularly honoured and privileged by this invitation of the West Bengal Govt. To . . deliver 1he first Satyajit Roy Memorial lecture instituted in the memory of Indians greatest film-maker and one of the worlds great creative artists of cinema, who forty years ago was putting the finishing touches to a film that would be considered one of the finest creations of film-art. With 'Pather Panchali', Cinema in India came of age; it had achieved the status of art. The world celebrates the Centenary of Cinema next year. In the last hundred years, it grew very quickly from being a curiosity - and invetion of industrial technology to optically record and project images of objects in motion - to become the most popular entertainment form of mass culture in the world. Like all products of industrial technology, it was easily replicated and disseminated, shown in exactly the same form with equal ease all over the world. With the coming of television and video, cinema can now teach the privacy of idividual homes across the continents simultaneously. Over the years, popular cinema has been more pervasive and influential in dictationg and shaping our urban cultures, our social attitudes and behaviour, our life styles and our world view than any other entertainment form. In fact, the impact of popular films has been perceived to be so great that over the decades, politicians, political parties, the administration and large sections of the


establishment have constantly commented on and sought to censure films for what is considered their deleterious effect .on the people. Films have frequently been blamed for a great deal of societal malaise. For instance, the increasing incidence of crime in urban areas, crimes against women and the frequent breakdown of law and order in the cities. Even the Supreme Court has on occasions indicted popular cinema as having been at least partially responsible in many cases of individual & social crimes. Several law courts have to deal with cases related to the influence of films on social misdemeanours and crimes. It is not unusual for defence lawyers to quote scenes from films as having influenced their clients to commit crimes. This ploy has often been used in order to get reduced sentences for the accused. In recent months, the criticism has grown to a crescendo activating the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to convene meetings of the Censor Board otherwise known as the Central Board for Film Certification with members of the national commission of Women, film critics and representatives of the various branches of the film industry. The single agenda for these meetings is to find the means to curb the increasing incidence of violence and obscenity in the cinema. The film industry has always argued that it is engaged in producing pure entertainment. Its contention is that films are shaped by the demands of the audience and by what interests the public. This has been countered by the view that what interests the public need, may not always be in the pl:Jblic interest. One member of parliament said that the cinema could not be viewed as pure entertainment since it perpetuated its own reality on a captive audience and that it presented a persuasive world view that was not only


against commonly accepted values of right and wrong but also tended to strengthen the . prejudices inherent in our society. A sociologist has suggested that the contention of the film industry that films took their shape based on the demands of the audience is a self-perpetuating myth and the increase in the glamorous depiction of crime actually helped to promote it among the young. As always, the means chosen to curb the socalled harmful social effect of films is censorship. Not that censorship does not already exist in our country, a code for censorship of films meant for public exhibition goes back a long time in India. The Colonial Government established a Censorship Board in the 1920's largely to prevent films that encouraged nationalism and anti-colonial thinking from being shown. This was revised by Independent India in 1952 and once again revised if at the end of 1991. The word censorship was deleted and the organisation that certified films as fit for public exhibition was called the Board of Film Certification. The following are the basic guidelines of the Board : The objectives of film certification will be to ensure that(a) The medium of film remains responsible and sensitive to the values and standards of society. (b) Artistic expression and creative freedom are not unduly curbed. (c) Certification is responsive to social change. (d) That the medium of film provides clean and healthy entertainment. & (e) As far as possible, the film is of aesthetic value ana cinematically of a good standard. 57

In pursuance of the above objectives. The Board would ensure that: Anti-social activities such as violence are not· glorified or justified etc..... There are nineteen such strictures agains violence : child abuse, violence against women, racism, religious sectarianism, anti-scintific, antinational, and anti-consti-tutional attitudes etc. The guideUnes have been once again revised this year making for explicit codes for defining vulgarity and violence. As sociologist Veena Das says, 'the present set ol guidelines is based on the premise tha the human body can be territorialised by being divided into presentable and nonpresentable parts'. For good measure, the new guidlines have a clause to prevent the depiction of politicians & police personnel in a bad light. Despite all these provisions, film censorship in India has never really been successful. Considering that India produces over 950 films a year, practically no film has suffered an outright ban except for some foreign films that were considered inimical to India's foreign policy interests. The reason is simple. None of the guidelines can be interpreted with any degree of objectivity. And use of precedents to censor films makes it frequently absured in its application. Many years ago, my film Bhumika was given an adult certificate not because there was anything unsuitable for people under the age of 18 to see it but because it had a theme that would interest only adults. This effectively prevented women from seeing the film because films with an adult certificate normally attract an allmale audience in our country. Recently, 'Bandit Queen', a film .that takes an unambiguous look at caste oppression was treated by the censors in much the same way as 'Anjaam', a vastly sadistic and gratuitously manipulative film. 58

An amusing case deals with Govind Nihalani's new film 'Drohkaal'. A sequence was asked to be deleted by the censors because it was much too convincing. Over the years, censorship has unconsciously determined the king of films that are made. The film industry, by and large, tends to tailor its imagination to conform to the censorship code. This is particularly true when it comes to political and social subjects where the general attitude is that of not taking any risks, while the common feeling arr rong the censors is that film-makers are constantly trying to subvert it. There is yet another attitude when it comes to depiction of violece and sex. This is a cat & mouse game-film-makers the censors to find out how much is too much. ~

Despite the censors, the uneasiness remains. And legislators, sociologists, groups, and members of the judiciary continue to express their concern time to time. Since th·e advent of TV and Video the feeling of unease concern is greater because of the sudden increase in the dissemination popular film culture through the length and breadth of the country setting fears that popular cinema is determining universal standards of cultural be haviour. To understand the nature of this concern it is necessary to look at cinema the Indian context and to find out why popular films are so popular. Our cinema essentially caters to what is probably the . most pluralistic and diverse, multicultlJral, multilingual and multireligious population group in the whole world. We make films in more than twelve languages.Most of these never go beyond the regions where the language is spoken. When we talk of our films, we tend to mean films made in Hindi that


cater to the national market. It is he Hindi film that we consider as representative of Indian films. Hindi films have dictated the from and style of oth_e r regional language films in India. The form of popular Hindi cinema is unique in the sense that it is different from the form that films have taken in other parts of the world. In traditional Indian dramaturgy & the performing arts, complete entertainment is only possible when the nine emotions of love, hate, joy, sorrow, pity, disgust, fear, anger and compassion are blended in different ways around a predominant emotion. The main emotion could be love or joy but without the others neither are they defined nor experienced. Indian cinema can be considered to the an heir to this tradition. The urban theatrical forms of · the nineteenth century from which early Indian cinema often took its subject matter and form, also took from the urban theatre: dances, songs, comedy and melodrama. In short, all the elements necessary for complete entertainment. The plots and story lines are used as pegs to hang various emotional ingredients that make up for entertainment. This form of cinema becomes difficult to explain in the context of world cinema or in western aesthetic terms. An eminent Indian social thinker, Ashis Nandy, describes the Hindi film as a specta~le and not necessarily an artistic endeavour. 'In a spectacle, (he says) black is black and white is white-emotionally, motivationally and morally; all shades of grey are scrupulously avoided ... since they detract from the logic and charm of the spectacle. Thus, in the popular Hindi film, when somebody has a change of heart, the change is dramatic is dramatic and total. Such a person cannot be


allowed to linger in a normative limbo, and the clues to such a change must be clear and well defined. If the story line chooses to depict the hero as an apparent mixture of good and evil he must eventually be shown as essentially good, whose badness is thereby reduced to the status of a temporary aberration. It does not allow for residuals in a character. It has to be split between good and evil. A spectacle has to be an overstatement. It does not generally have an unexpected conclusion, it only has a predictable climax. It bases its appeal not on the linear development of a storyline but on the social configuration which the film presents of many known elements or themes derived from other movies or traditional tales. The viewer is actually expected to know these elements by heart and to experience in the films a feeling of deja vu. 'Indeed the issue of plagiarism in such films has been wrongly posed. 'The film-makers operate within a consensual system which rejects the idea that the elements of a story are personal property or individual creation. A popular Hindi film aims at presenting a not-so-unique combination of themes that have been witnessed hundreads of times before. The successful film is different from the unsuccessful film in that it presents a more popular or efficient combination of themes arived at by design or sheer luck.' 'The storyline in these films have to be synchronic, (known) and ahistorical. The stress is not on a linear unfolding of the story. There is only a diachronic facade that is designed to be pierced by the viewer. The viewers know from the very beginning that the villain will, however good his behaviour, bare his true self sometime or the other and that he will ultimately be humUiated, jailed or killed. The hero, 61

too, even if he has mortgaged his soul in the first few reels, is bound to recover his ethical moorings later in the film. Since both heroes and villains are typecast with well known actors and stars and their roles tailor made for them, there is a coformity to the viewers expectation. 'Popular Hindi films are therefore by their very nature conformist. They cannot be otherwise without losing their appeal. I quote again, 'The popular Hindi film is not concerned with the inner lives of the characters on the screen; it is concerned with the inner life of the viewer. It actually reverses a major tenet of modern fiction & films; the characters do not develop through situations, rather, the situations develop through the character. The story is told through a series of incidents which are woven through means such ·as coincidences, accidents and through songs & dances. Judged by the logic of the structures, such films are anti-psychological. The follows directly from their nature as spectacles. Spectacles have to be anti-psychological in their context; they can only be psychological in their impact.' Perhaps, the most important social function of the Hindi film is its ability to act as an interface between the traditions of Indian society and the disturbing modern or western intrusions into it. At tt,is plane, the Hindi film is a means of (a) . giving cultural meaning to western structures • superimposed on society, (b) demystifying some of the culturally unacceptable modern structures which are increasingly in vogue in India and (c) ritually neutralizing those elements of the modern world which have to be accepted for reasons of survival. Once again the emphasis is to on the inner struggle between modernity and tradition or· any deep ambivalence towards the West. In fact, the Hindi film's function is to

externalise an inner psychological conflict and handle the inner passion generated by social and political processes as problems created by events and persons outside. These events and persons are both ideal types and representatives of different aspects of a fragmented self. These fragments are only separately manageable and one of the main functions of the Hindi film is to keep them separate; the hero and the anti hero, the heroine and the anti-heroine, the virtuous mother and her brutal mother-in-law, the large hearted feudal father-in-law and the vicious middle-aged smuggler, etc. The moment you combine these fragments into single figures they cease being ideal types; they become psychological descriptions of conflict-states in the Indian mind. Audiences in India are most comfortable and totally accustomed to this cinematic form. Psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar says, 'Hindi cinema represents a collective fantasy. A group daydream, containing unconscious material and the hidden wishes of a vast number of people. It is not overly complex. The producers & directors etc. are strongly motivated by the very reasonable goal of making a lot ot money. The daydream they develop is not idiosyncratic. They must appeal to those concerns of the audience which are shared; if they do not, the film's appeal is bound to be disastrously limited. Like other high fantasy products, Hind, films emphasis the central features of fantasy; fulfillment ot wishes, the humbling of competitors and the destruction ot enemies. The stereotyped twists· & turns of a film plot ensures the repetition of the very message that makes a fairy tale so deeply satisfying to children. Hindi films may be unreal in a rational sense, but they are certainly not untrue. 'The depiction of the external world may be flawed; thei, relevance to the external life of the viewer remote, yet the 63

Hindi film demostrates a confident and sure-footed grasp of the topography of desire and its vicissitudes. 'Desire and fantasy are inexorably linked. Fantasy is the mise-en-scene of desire. It is the world of imagination fuel/ea by desire. The relationship between the collective fantasy of Hindi films and Indian culture is complex. Though itseff a cultural product, the Hindi film has shaped popular culture in an unprecedented way.'

Values projected in popular films have determined the visual style of other forms of visual communication; calender pictures, magazine illustrations, schemes of interior decor and architecture; even traditional iconography of statues and objects of worship have accepted the visual values of these films. Gods and godesses look more and more like film stars. The one single dominant musical form in urban India is the film song. Most popular music is imitative of film songs. Popular theatre imitates cinema. Classical dance in most public performances has been shaped by the values of the films dances. Hindi films, through the vehicle of fantasy and the process of identification temporarily heal for the audience · the principal stresses arising out of Indian family relationships and everyday life. Many of these films echo ancient myths; in other words, Hindi films are modern versions of certain old ad familiar myths. Films are known to create contemporary myths as well (i.e. Jai Santoshi Ma) offering solutions for conflicts that are generated by new political, economic and social processes. " ·During the colonial period, most Indian films tended to pit westernization in confrontation with trdition. West-ernization was seen as an aspect of colonialism. Western values were considered inimical to and threatening Indian familial social 64

traditions. Villains tended to wear western clothes; women who smoked were seen as vamps. In the hero versus villain situation, it was always the villain who was westernized and therefore was depraved and perverse. The Indian tradition was seen as being liberating and also the sole repository of moral and social values. In the last twenty, with rapid industrialisation and the burgeoning growth of urban centres, the relationship between western Indian traditions has, become more ambiguous. The nationalist movement had projected a view that stressed traditional Indian values of simple living with non-materialist goals as the ideal. The growth of the urban middle classes (now estimated at over 200 million in a population of almost 900 million) has made for a paradigmatic shift. Materialist goals now seen to be the desired objective. Urbanisation has also accelerated the break-up of extended families. The family as a primary unit of Indian society is changing to the individual as the basic unit of society. Popular Hindi cinema has been reflecting these changes, however, distorted the reflection may seem. The complexion of the cinema audiences itself has changed considerably in the past twenty years. The urban middle-class has moved inreasingly away from cinema to television. The working class and the urban poor consisting of young adults and teen-agers have become a significant audience of films. High urban unemployment and the increasing marginalisation of the poor in the cities has given the mass audience a lumpenised character. Often the argument in favour off stricter censorship is because of the kind of audience that today inhabits the cinema halls. W.C.P.P.H-5



There are many other forces at work. Films have lost at least 30o/o of their market to television. Video piracy cuts into the revenues of cinema. In the past, films in India were financed from sources that were connected with the film industry. The distribution and exhibition sectors contributed to the making of films, the element of risk being shared by the entire industry. This is no longer so. Cinema was not and is not officially considered an industry in India which would have allo~ed it to raise finance from financial institutions. Much of the present financing comes from sources unconnected with cinema. Interest rates are usuriously high. This has radically alt~red the manner in which films are made today. The high rate of failures at the box office in recent times had made film-making much more hazardous and speculative than ever before. There is a desparate bid to hold on to audiences.In order to ensure this, several strategies are at work. There is blatant plagiarisation from other successful Indian or Hollywood films. Film songs have started to resemble western rock and pop music. A great deal of reliance is placed on engaging audience attention with pure sensation. This makes present day popular films a frenetic melange of high voltage sensationalism. Obviously, in all this, sex and violence play a very large part. In the process, the use of the traditional Indian cinematic form has remained more or less a ritual. Without the normative elements of commonly accepted social morality, the social effects of these films are unpredictable. ·Indian cinema has not created too many genres. We have had the mythological, the family social and now a genre that can only be called contemporary revenge themes in a , familial set up. Today, most films are in this genre. They 66

consistently project the view that personal vengeance is the only means to meet the ends of justice. This projection is n.o t without logic. The machinery of law and justice in India has sorely pressed with the enormous s~io-political and economic changes taking place since independence an~ the common feeling among large sections of the urban population is that the system does not have adequate safeguards to ensure social justice. The appeal of taking the law into one's own hands is great. This is one of the. reasons why so much concern is being expressed recently about the effects of cinema on Indian society. The second reason is the fear that films play an important part in legitimising socially unacceptable attitudes and in breaking down social restraints that are cosidered necessary for a civil society. The role of films in legitimising public behaviour and · attitudes is well-known. It is also well-known that films preach to the converted and strengthen already existing social attitudes and vi8\vs. In recent years, one can notice a subtle shift in characterization in the popular Indian cinema. The fragmentation ~f the good self from the bad, making for heroes and villains, is not so simple anymore. Villains are no longer all bad. They have a residual good in their make-up. A very successful film released a few months· ago entitled, 'Darr' or 'Fear' has the villain obsessed with love for the heroine, an obsession which he is unable to express openly. This makes him terrorise her and her family uhttt he is eventually destroyed. Several of the film's elements have been adapted from the American film, 'Cape Fear'. Many recent Hindi films · have created attractive villains. The actors playing these parts have gone on to become 67

stars. This would not have been so in the past. Today, they overshadow the heroes who are seen as respectable but single dimensional. Villains appear to lead privileged lives, enjoying power without any social and moral restraints. Tbe only reason they fail is because they find themselves on the wrong side of the fence. This is where the popular cinema becomes subversive in the legitimisation of the villain. The parallels with the Indian political scene are obvious. The last . two decades have seen several aberrations creep into .the Indian polity. Electoral politics have led to the creation of vote banks often based on community and caste affiliations. Politics is no longer entirely free of criminalization. There are numerous cases of a nexus between politicians and organised crime coupled with the inability of the law to deal with these adequately. Some popular Indian films reflect the concerns, but very much within the traditional form, by reducing political equations to problems of character and background in the persons of the heroes and villains. Indian audiences accustomed to this form tend to respond literally to such films. There is proof for this in the way film star heroes have become successful politicians. N.T. Rama Rao, a very successful film star of Telugu films, who had an outstanding career by playing Hindu Gods on the screen became the epitome of the good and just based on his screen person. He was elected to the State legislature in his home state of Andhra and was made the Chief Minister. He now leads the main opposition party in his sate. Before him, M.G. Ramachandran, a matinee idol of popular Tamil cinema, had become a successful politician and the Chief Minister of Tamilinadu. The roles he played were usually that of a hero who fights for the rights of the poor, dispossessed and the 68

exploited. However, the equation was not as simplistic as it soumds. In the context of Indian politics, his films were seen as exhortations to the people in the state of Tamilnadu to reject the hegemony of the Central Government and its plan to impose Hindi as the national language, and to demand greater autonomy for the state. They were also seen as crusades against the centuries old cultural domination of Brahminism and the caste system in Tamil society. The films that are popular in these areas are made in the languages of the region. The form of these films is similar to popular Hindi cinema but their expression is far more culture specific. Perhaps, this is one reason why they appear to be more focussed in their persuasive ability. I have always believed that individual creative expression is difficult in the conventional form of popular Indian films. Their undurstress on mass entertainment makes them operate in a standardised culture. Yet how many films of great artistic merit have the kind of influence on society that popular cinema has had over the years? Great films have often reflected with extraordinary insight into the human condition and extended the horizons of cinematic but rarely have they had the cultural, social and political impact of popular cinema. It is in the nature of popular cinema to be manipulative. It is based on enhancing and strengthening deep seated collective beHefs and prejudices. It generally triviaHzes social and political processes by reducing these equations to good and bad. Its greatest success lies in making the audience a willing participant in its manipulation. Can censorship make any difference? I, for one, do not think so. The greatest impact of films is on the young and the impressionable. The only way a change can be made would be through education and


more education. Apart from general education, filfll education becomes very important. Much as literature is taught in schools, films must find a place in our school and university curriculum. This seems like an utopian. Without film education, however, I cannot believe any real change in audience perceptions is possible. As a film-maker, I have been greatly interested in films as a catalyst for social change. This has motivated a great deal of my film-making and recently in my work for TV. Eighteen years ago, I made a film called 'Manthan' or 'Churning'. This was a film produced by raising small contributions . from 500,000 livelit,ood farmers in Gujrat State. It told the story of the making of a dairy co-operative by poor farmers in a village and its repercussions on the traditional village society. The film was reasonably successful at the box office. Its real value as it turned out was beyond its worth as cinema entertainment. Spearhead teams from the National Dairy Board used the film for discussion and debate in at least 50,000 villages all over the country, The creation of milk cooperatives in all the milkshed areas of the country .has contributed to making India one of the largest milk producers in the world. While the film cannot possibly be credited with this success story, it certainly had a seminal role in stimulating farmer interest in the making of co-operatives. This has convinced me that films can be effective catalysts in social change but not necessarily through their conventional use in the cinema theatres. Finally, I would like to touch upon the influence of Hollywood films in India. American films have been in India over 75 years. Yet their share of the market at no time exceeded more than 10°/o. One of the reasons is that 70



American films were always shown in India in their original version. There are obvious cultural reasons for this as well.However, the influence of Hollywood films has been incalculable on the Indian film industry. _ They have been constantly plagiarised and adapted to suit Indian cinematic forms. Even the revenge theme in Hindi films can b.e traced back to American originals. During the last two decades only a limited number of Hollywood films were allowed into the country. With economic liberalisation a large number is expected to enter the Indian market. Contrary to earlier Hollywood · policy, 'Jurassic Parl( was recently released, dubbed in Hindi. It has broken all previous box office records. And now, comes a film called 'Universal So/diet. Other films are likely to follow suit. Whether there is stiff a cultural barrier to the success of Hollywood films in India will soon be on test. Of even greater interest would be to see if popular Indian films that have, so far, successfully appropriated elements from Hollywood films would not be appropriated themselves in the present climate. Before I end this talk, let me leave you with a thought. Reflecting on mass media of which cinema is a part, Umberto Eco, the distinguished Italian semiologist and thinker says, 'The mass media first convinced us that the imaginary was real, and now they are convincing us that the real is imaginary; and the more reality the TV screen shows us, the more cinematic our everyday world beomes. Until, as certain philosphers have insisted, we will think that we are alone in the world, and everything else is the film that good or some evil spirit is projecting before our eyes'. \

Lecture delivered at Nandan, Calcutta, in September, 1994 71

Shyam Senegal Filmography

Shyam Senegal Director - filmography 2004 2001 1999 1996 1996 1994 1993 1991 1990 1990 1990 1988 1987 1986 1986 1985 1985 1985 1985 1983 1983

Bose : The Forgotten Hero Zubeidaa Samar Sardari Begum The Making of the Mahatma Mammo Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda Antarnaad Abode of Kings : Rajasthan Nature Symphony A Quily of Many Cultures : South India "Bharat Ek Khoj TV Series Susman "Katha Sagar" TV Series "Yatra" TV Series Festival of India Nehru Vardan Trikal : (Past, Present, Future) Animal Reproduction and Artificial Insemination in Bovines Mandi 75


Sangathan Tata Steel : Seventy Five Years of the India Steel Industry




Growth for a Golden Future


Jawaharlal nehru


Satyajit Ray, Filmmaker



1979 1979

Pashu Palan Reaching Out to People




Junoon 1978 Kondura ... 1977 New Horizons in Steel



Bhumika : The .Role



1976 1976

Manthan Tomorrow Begins Today : ldustrial Research


Charandas Chor

1975 1975

Hero The Quie Revolution, Part 2




Bal Sansar Learning Modules for Rural Children

1974 1974

The Quiet Revolution Violence : What Price? Who Pays? No. 5


You Can Prevent Burns




Suhani Sadak Foundations of Progress Notes on the Green Revolution


1972 1972


1972 Power to the People 1972 The Raag Iman Kalyan 1972 Raga and Melody 1972 The Shruti and Graces of India Music 1971 The Pulsating Giant 1971 Steel : A Whole New Way of Life 1971 Tala and Rhythm 1970 Quest for a nation 1970 Why Export? 1969 Flower Garden 1969 Horoscope for a Child 1969 Poovanam 1968 Indian Youth : An Exploration 1968 Sinhasta, or The Path to Immortality 1967 A Child of the Streets 1967 Close to Nature 1962 Gher Betha Ganga

Writer - fllmography

1985 1980 1978 1978 19n

1976 1974

Trikal Kalyug Anugraham Junoon Bhumika : The Role Manthan Ankur


Producer - filmography 1996 1988 1987

Sardari Begum Powaqqatsi (international producer : India) Susman

Miscellaneous Crew - filmography 2000

Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar

Himself - fllmography 2002