Saturday, January 26, 2013

Cascades and Fountains

'Yet if so much of our thinking and feeling is connected with seeing, some residue of visual emotion which is of no use either to painter or to poet may still await the cinema. That such symbols will be quite unlike the real objects which we see before us seems highly probable. Something abstract, something which moves with controlled and conscious art, something which calls for the very slightest help from words or music to make itself intelligible, yet justly uses them subserviently—of such movements and abstractions the films may in time to come be composed. Then indeed when some new symbol for expressing thought is found, the film-maker has enormous riches at his command. The exactitude of reality and its surprising power of suggestion are to be had for the asking. Annas and Vronskys—there they are in the flesh. If into this reality he could breathe emotion, could animate the perfect form with thought, then his booty could be hauled in hand over hand. Then, as smoke pours from Vesuvius, we should be able to see thought in its wildness, in its beauty, in its oddity, pouring from men with their elbows on a table; from women with their little handbags slipping to the floor. We should see these emotions mingling together and affecting each other. We should see violent changes of emotion produced by their collision. The most fantastic contrasts could be flashed before us with a speed which the writer can only toil after in vain; the dream architecture of arches and battlements, of cascades falling and fountains rising, which sometimes visits us in sleep or shapes itself in half-darkened rooms, could be realized before our waking eyes.' 

 - The Cinema, Virginia Woolf

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Projectorhead Film Magazine, an online journal I publish, and which is edited by friend/colleague Sudarshan Ramani and whose pages are filled by a number of writers I respect very much, has just issued its eighth edition. The index for Projectorhead: Eight reads something like this:

  • All Things Come to He Who Waits - Sudarshan Ramani (Editorial)
  • An Era of Soft Economics – Gautam Valluri
  • The Wandering Company – Hamanpreet Kaur
  • The Sinister Chandelier – Anuj Malhotra
  • Wes Anderson's Kingdom - Sudarshan Ramani
  • The Real RockNRolla – Satish Naidu
  • The Magical Cabinet of Suarteh Yrboq – Rahee Punyashloka

2012 MAMI – 14th Annual Film Festival
  • Top of the Heap : A Look Back at the 14th Annual Mumbai Film Festival
  • Interview with Ian Birnie - Sudarshan Ramani
  • Film Restoration in Indian and Global Contexts

  • Lost in Translation: Trials and Tribulations of the Academy Award’s Best Foreign Film CategorySoham Gadre
  • Book Review – Zona / Anamaria Dobinciuc 
  • General Review: Independent Titles, Special Screenings and Film Festivals, Screen Diary by  Rahee Punyashloka, Theatrical Releases

Saturday, January 12, 2013


Insofar as one may understand cinema to be a pictorial form of communication; i.e., a medium with a number of two-dimensional surfaces, planes, areas sliding upon one another, like locomotive compartments, in a single-minded pursuit of a destination (in the case of the locomotive: a physical location, in the case of cinema's slides or frames: an abstract notion), it isn't difficult to appreciate why this pursuit is conducted both in space and time (as all pursuits must be). The fact, therefore, of a single film moving with time or within time is integral to the fulfillment of a number of ideas in film: the notion of a narrative itself is built on the central conceit of a present, its past, its immediate future, and the accompanying changes in the universe of the film within these units of time - someone comes, someone goes, others appear out-of-nowhere, more disappear, the hinges of a door come loose, skin wrinkles, the parts of a machine rust, the song on a vinyl record is over and the third song from it now plays, birds halt chirping and the crickets appear - as such, cinema always functions in a set of recurring appearances-disappearances; that it is the one artform that can engage elements of photography (after all, a picture captures not merely someone's presence, but also the absence of the rest of the world not in it), as also, of time-keeping (the ticking of a clock is the ominous soundtrack to all the transformations in the world around us). Of course, the idea in itself may seem a bit complicated, but then great filmmakers consummate it through the simplest of touches; below, two stills from a dysfunctional family from Takashi Miike's debut film, Shinjuku Triad Society (1995) - the younger dissenting brother appears for a family prayer, and as the parents pray in the foreground (the prayer itself becomes the metaphor for time, a device for keeping time), he:

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Summary

With this post, I complete a century on this blog, and it is an excellent co-incidence (as opposed to a devious plan) that this one also gives me an opportunity to summarise my engagement with cinema this year. I watched close to 160 titles this year, which is not much, but a relatively large percentage of those were remarkable or atleast, had permanent merit in them. Below, therefore, are the best films I watched this year (not the ones released this year, but the ones I happened to chance upon), a few images that stuck and a lengthy wishes I have for our national cinema as it were, in  the coming years.


Touki Bouki (1973) / Djibril-Diop Mambety

Best Titles.

  1. Le Trou / Jacques Becker
  2. The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog / Alfred Hitchcock
  3. Gate of Flesh / Seijun Suzuki
  4. Les Vampires / Louis Feuillade
  5. Marnie / Alfred Hitchcock
  6. Antonio Gaudi / Hiroshi Teshigahara
  7. Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler / Fritz Lang
  8. Statues Also Die / Chris Marker, Alain Resnais
  9. Zabriskie Point / Michelangelo Antonioni
  10. Cold Harvest / Isaac Florentine
  11. À Nous la Liberté / Rene Clair
  12. Goodbye, Dragon Inn / Tsai-Ming Liang
  13. Crazy Thunder Road / Sogo Ishii
  14. Monsieur Verdoux  / Charlie Chaplin
  15. Sunnyside / Charlie Chaplin
  16. Attack! / Robert Aldrich
  17. Muriel or The Time of Return / Alain Resnais
  18. Blast of Silence / Allen Barron
  19. The We and the I / Michel Gondry
  20. Touki Bouki / Djibril-Diop Mambety
  21. Eyes Without a Face / Georges Franju
  22. This is Not a Film / Jafar Panahi
  23. Hugo / Martin Scorsese
  24. Shock Corridor / Samuel Fuller
  25. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy / Tomas Alfredson

Notable, Too.

  Pauvre Pierrot / Emile Reynaud
 The Beiderbecke Affair / David Reynolds, Frank W. Smith
 The Dreyfus Affair / Georges Melies 
 The Yakuza / Sydney Pollack


Wishlist 2013

This isn't meant to be a manifesto or a call-to-arms, merely the expression of a series of very personal wishes for Indian cinema as it only now begins to enter the 21st Century. While a few titles did gather international appreciation this year, I believe a more permanent change will happen only when we have a setup in place that:

a) facilitates independent film distribution/production/exhibition; this will include funding agencies dedicated exclusively to fund ideas of independent film producers - and they can be both offline and online. These may include funding websites such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo, but more essentially, agencies like the NFDC of yore, development labs and grants that are dedicated to the cause of alternative filmmaking. A serious movement has been made in this direction in recent times by the revived NFDC (which was under a serious threat of being closed in 2009) but much more needs to be done – funding agencies will have to cast their net wider, so that the representation at international festivals is multilingual as well as multi-ethnic, which really is one of the unique features of our cinema. In this regard, the support given to Haobam Paban Kumar, who made an important political film in AFSPA 1958 is an interesting case-study. To extend this, this will also entail a support-system, in terms of funding, exhibition and distribution of documentary filmmaking in the country, which is where some of the most interesting work is being conducted right now. Filmmakers such as Rajesh Jala, Amlan Dutta (and his brother), Faiza Ahmed Khan, Haobam Paban Kumar and of course, Anand Patwardhan can only gain from consistent support. In this case, an agency like PSBT or Doordarshan may also like to revise its methods of granting funds only to established filmmakers and not to younger, lesser known faces who may have important areas to direct their cameras at but not biological age to represent their prospective quality, and helps institute,

c) repertory theatres, independent art-house cinemas, revival houses that are dedicated to programming of contemporary/modern/classic world cinema retrospectives, screenings and rental stores (again, whether online or offline; and rental stores, not streaming sites) of obscure alternative titles that are made available in a legitimate and legal way - not a storehouse of piracy for even if I subscribe to it out of compulsion, their quality is always suspect and well, it is illegal so it is not a part of a regular framework. 

d) a set of societies for film critics such as the international FIPRESCI (t
he Indian chapter is represented currently by individuals who were excellent critics back in the day, but aren't active anymore) but the more local film society circles in cities such as Austin, Boston, New York, Los Angeles - thereby allowing criticism to exist as a fully-formed profession rather than a weekly response to the 'latest releases' - in that, specific grants/institutions should be allocated to aspiring film critics and the work of established serious writing on film should be routinely awarded. As such, there should also be a network of critics that organises frequent seminars, discussions, student exchange groups that these critics interact with, and a general filmmaker-critic interaction that is literally absent in the country (the new Baradwaj Rangan- Mani Ratnam interview book is an excellent starting point).

e) in the extension of above, print journals/magazines/platforms that are involved in the serious and sustained publication of serious writing on cinema. In this regard,  Cinemaya which was run for 21 years, Deep Focus which has recently been revived in Bangalore, or film journals such as Close-Up or Movement, which were active during the 1960s and the 70s could be important precedents.

f) an agency instituted and much more essentially, funded for the preservation of our cinematic legacy – in this regard, the work in the recent years of a government organ like NFAI has been commendable, but truth be told, I believe it was only under the able leadership of the late Mr. Vijay Jadhav, who died end 2010, that the NFAI could really fulfill the promise of its early days under Mr. P.K. Nair. As such, there is a need for more awareness, more involvement of the youth and needless to say, formal courses at film schools/institutes for people interested in film preservation (I know they have instituted a 6 weeks course but that is nothing, and means nothing). Currently, the NFAI has 11000 titles with it and Films Division (who still haven’t released a boxset of the films of S Sukhdev, SNS Sastry and Pramod Pati) have another 8000 films. 4000-5000 titles made in the country since the dawn of cinema are irreparably and permanently lost while around 17000 titles are in active circulation. But what’s more important is the urgent need to institute a culture of curiosity in regards to old titles – even if NFAI does have prints of silent films, it is not as if enough demand is being made to make them available to the viewing public. The screening of Throw of Dice (1928) at Trafalgar Square which was attended by 10000 individuals should be an important point of discussion – it means film-lovers in this country are curious about India’s silent film. In this regard, the work of historian B.D.Garga and critic Chidananda Dasgupta should be read and circulated widely. Important steps have been taken in the recent past with the issue of the DVD boxset of three of Phalke’s films (out of which, Krishnajanama (1919) is even available on Youtube) and also a number of screenings of Raja Harishchandra (1913) to mark the centenary of that film, but more needs to be done.  A government funded autonomous agency, perhaps NFAI itself, should now be funded to build its own underground vault of our cinema and should be given enough money to help us locate our films from world over and get those prints back home. 

g) which brings me to the point of the need of film education - film as a subject should be included in school curriculum, but even at the level of higher education, there should be an opportunity for the students to seriously consider cinema as a profession and not a passing hobby - this will happen only when there is a proper film school  that is cheap/affordable/government subsidised and creates professionals with individuals sensibilities and not individuals with professional sensibilities. In this case, looking at the Lodz Film School (which FTII was initially modelled on alongwith VGIK, Moscow), VGIK Moscow and of course, the best of 'em all, the Beijing Film Academy will help immensely. Also film schools and film education should be exempted from five-year plans - because these need a sustainable fifty-year plan to make any real change. 

h) they will need to reorganise and revitalise the FFSI (Federation of Film Societies in India) - nothing interesting is happening on the Film Society front in the country, except in the Western Region where individuals like Sudhir Nandgaonkar are instrumental in putting up interesting programmes in colleges/universities as well as organizing film appreciation workshops. The FFSI main headquarters in Delhi are housed in one room and the rules for registering a society are archaic. An impetus from the central government wherein a society is setup in every city (if not every school, ala FILMCLUB in UK) is much needed. The older film societies such as Chitralekha in Kerala, Suchitra in Bangalore, the now-defunct Katha Center for Film Studies in Mumbai and Cine-Central need to be given further impetus to refresh their objectives and spread out to other parts of the nation with their experience. In this regard, we also need more serious film festivals - the work of the Baburao Painter Society in the Kolhapur Intn't Film Festival (and on a side, the Pune Intn'l Film Festival), Jan Sanskriti Manch in Gorakhpur and Gurpal Singh/Swagata Sen in Puri is exemplary - more such festivals should be organised with a regular incentive of both income and social change. The International Film Festival of Goa should quickly be severed from the government and made autonomous with an ambitious film professional who should be selected after a series of selection rounds as the director of the festival. 


A Few Resonant Images