There seems to be a devastating drain of wisdom from our country’s collective conscience. And nowhere is it felt more than in our cinema. It seems to have degraded into a parody of a foreign market-driven behemoth whose own aesthetic standards are highly questionable. The tragedy is not that we have turned bad but that we gleefully mimic the bad.
And the mimicry, the impersonation, is conferred the title of the best. The National Awards Jury, unfortunately, is playing fugitive to its own responsibility. The Jury is supposed to be as important as the art of cinema. It is the highest repository of a country’s aesthetic wisdom and intelligence. This is a body that is made up of sage-like eminent men, comparable to the judiciary and deserves to be as revered, whose choices will instil not just courage but knowledge in creators. It lays down the principles, and also precedents. The jury is to cinema what sacred texts are to religions. The jury’s vision, therefore, is unimpeachable. And even if questioned, the answers will function like a beacon.
This was the 63rd national awards, and 63 is a kind of age when wisdom is expected to shine brightest and is supposed to reflect most resplendently in the choices of the Jury. But at this juncture, instead of acting on the wisdom that we have assimilated over the years, have we subordinated it to the market wisdom of Hollywood? Are we witnessing the overwhelming dominance of Oscar culture in the psyche of our films?
Take a list of Oscar-winning films over the years, and we can find that most of these are produced by big studios. These big studios, always in search of new markets for their films, have used the Oscars as the bait to lure the non-English speaking world into their cinema. The Oscars is nothing but the result of Hollywood’s search to find a larger market for their films. And what about the aesthetic standards of these Oscar films? Virtually none can match the sublime standards set by the greats of World Cinema, a Tarkovsky, a Fellini, a Bergman or a Satyajit Ray.
Even Marilyn Monroe, the empress of Hollywood kitsch, had no illusions about her industry. “Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul,” she had said. Now, by preferring the mass movies, has the Jury offered its cheeks for the kiss of the market?
Take a closer look at the movies that won this year, and you will see that they are also, quite ominously, made by big studios. Like the Oscar films, these are the ones not many Indians have missed. But sadly, none in our country has seen the best films that have come out in our regional languages like Assamese, or Marathi or even Tamil. These films are shunned by the theatres, also by prime time television.
It is part of our political vision to promote the culture of the land. And no art form carries the burden of being the ambassador of a country’s culture as cinema. It is here the selection of films that can best represent our aesthetics becomes crucial. More important, therefore, will be the selection of the jury members who will sit in judgement of the films that will eventually be our perennial global ambassadors. Alas, it is here that we have witnessed the pauperism of our bureaucracy. They, by their petty considerations, have pulled the jury down from its exalted position.
After the mid 1990s, virtually no film of ours has made it to the competition in the most respected Cannes International Film festival. On the other hand, films from countries that came late to the art form of cinema like Thailand or South Korea or Indonesia are regularly featured at Cannes. And these films are suffused with the emotional anxieties of their land. These countries have the wisdom to pick these films as their representatives. Can this be said about our jury and our films? We suffer from vision blindness.
As a consequence, we are developing a system parallel to the one in Hollywood. Like in the case of any other consumer good, we have gone in for assembly-line mass production of cinema, for the convenience of the market. A Faustian bargain we have made, exchanging our soul for worldly gains.
This lack of aesthetic wisdom, wrought by an insensitive bureaucracy, has weakened the system. Take the students of FTII, Pune, for instance. During my time, I just paid Rs 300 to Rs 400 per month for my entire three years course. Now, the students are asked to pay over Rs two to three lakh as fees. How many of our children coming from the deep interiors and far flung corners of our country afford this? So, eventually, it is the city-bred who manages to get admission to the country’s premier film institute. It is as if we have cut loose from the core that constitutes Indian-ness.
We urgently need someone to discover the soul in a work of art. That is the highest political wisdom that could be thought of. Cinema, like all forms of art, should travel ahead of its time. It is only those who can be part of such a futuristic travel should be chosen as the Jury. Or else we would disintegrate into a country addressing a second-level citizenship.
Last five Years’ National awards
2010: Adaminte Makan Abu (Malayalam - Salim Ahamed)
2011: Deool (Marathi - Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni) & Byari (Beary - Suveeran)
2012: Paan Singh Tomar (Hindi - Tigmanshu Dhulia)
2013: Ship of Theseus (English/Hindi - Anand Gandhi)
2014: Court (Marathi - Chaitanya Tamhane)...