Cinephilia la India: A Decay of Cinema

The Moor's Last Sigh

Is there a living, breathing, thriving Cinephile community in India? I doubt, whether such a cine-love exist in close proximity of people who know each other. Often, I bump into people whose love for Cinema is simply to dive into the other line of spectrum, “ I have seen this films group”, and be a poseur of the purest kind(since watching such film for a broad group of people has nothing to do with love, but more to do with acceptance into an ' elitist' group, that again, Cinephilia and such film don't hold. True, Cinephilia, here in India is something extremely rare to see, a person who has the capacity to watch varieties of films, discuss, learn, and talk about them humbly and, opinionated, is rare. Since, often than not, most discussion of such kinds slides into flames and rants.

Susan Sontag wrote and important piece on the nature of Cinema and Cinephilia in general. And I think it's important that such a significant piece on the nature of our medium- which we so lovingly adore and enjoy, be shared(I'm sure most of us here are not well read about Cinema). Perhaps, in the coming weeks we should closely think and explore the ' Cinephile Community' here in India. What are our tastes? Where do we lack? How do we connect? Are some question which is important to ask. Since, Cinephilia, is not only about discussion, but the merit and understanding it provides through the discourse; and a common ground of taste that makes this group of people vital for the growth and survival of the medium. Moreover, the goal should be to build a critical school of thought, and not just another group of fan boys and poseurs.

As Indian Cinema needs a support (who love the medium- Cinephile), and not just another Shahrukh Khan and Karan Johar fan clubs. Since the importance of such fan clubs or critical look at filmmakers could only hold importance when compared on the overall merit of the 'Indian Film Industry,' since Cinema in India also exist beyond the boundaries and clutches of Bollywood.


It was at this specific moment in the 100-year history of cinema that going to the movies, thinking about movies, talking about movies became a passion among university students and other young people. You fell in love not just with actors but with cinema itself. Cinephilia had first become visible in the 1950's in France: its forum was the legendary film magazine Cahiers du Cinema (followed by similarly fervent magazines in Germany, Italy, Great Britain, Sweden, the United States and Canada). Its temples, as it spread throughout Europe and the Americas, were the many cinematheques and clubs specializing in films from the past and directors' retrospectives that sprang up. The 1960's and early 1970's was the feverish age of movie-going, with the full-time cinephile always hoping to find a seat as close as possible to the big screen, ideally the third row centre. "One can't live without Rossellini," declares a character in Bertolucci's Before the Revolution (1964) - and means it.

For some 15 years there were new masterpieces every month. How far away that era seems now. To be sure, there was always a conflict between cinema as an industry and cinema as an art, cinema as routine and cinema as experiment. But the conflict was not such as to make impossible the making of wonderful films, sometimes within and sometimes outside the mainstream cinema. Now the balance has tipped decisively in favor of cinema as an industry. The great cinema of the 1960's and 1970's has been thoroughly repudiated. Already in the 1970's Hollywood was plagiarizing and rendering banal the innovations in narrative method and in the editing of successful new European and ever-marginal independent American films. Then came the catastrophic rise in production costs in the 1980's, which secured the worldwide reimposition of industry standards of making and distributing films on a far more coercive, this time truly global scale. Soaring production costs meant that a film had to make a lot of money right away, in the first month of its release, if it was to be profitable at all - a trend that favoured the blockbuster over the low-budget film, although most blockbusters were flops and there were always a few "small" films that surprised everyone by their appeal. The theatrical release time of movies became shorter and shorter (like the shelf life of books in bookstores); many movies were designed to go directly into video. Movie theatres continued to close - many towns no longer even have one - as movies became, mainly, one of a variety of habit-forming home entertainments.

In this country, the lowering of expectations for quality and the inflation of expectations for profit have made it virtually impossible for artistically ambitious directors, like Francis Ford Coppola and Paul Schrader, to work at their best level. Abroad, the result can be seen in the melancholy fate of some of the greatest directors of the last decades. What place is there today for a maverick like Hans-Jurgen Syberberg, who has stopped making films altogether, or for the great Godard, who now makes films about the history of film, on video? Consider some other cases. The internationalizing of financing and therefore of casts were disastrous for Andrei Tarkovsky in the last two films of his stupendous (and tragically abbreviated) career. And how will Alexsandr Sokurov find the money to go on making his sublime films, under the rude conditions of Russian capitalism?

Predictably, the love of cinema has waned. People still like going to the movies, and some people still care about and expect something special, necessary from a film. And wonderful films are still being made: Mike Leigh's Naked, Gianni Amelio's Lamerica, Fred Kelemen's Fate. But you hardly find anymore, at least among the young, the distinctive cinephilic love of movies that is not simply love of but a certain taste in films (grounded in a vast appetite for seeing and reseeing as much as possible of cinema's glorious past). Cinephilia itself has come under attack, as something quaint, outmoded, snobbish. For cinephilia implies that films are unique, unrepeatable, magic experiences. Cinephilia tells us that the Hollywood remake of Godard's Breathless cannot be as good as the original. Cinephilia has no role in the era of hyperindustrial films. For cinephilia cannot help, by the very range of eclecticism of its passions, from sponsoring the idea of the film as, first of all, a poetic object; and cannot help from inciting those outside the movie industry, like painters and writers, to want to make films, too. It is precisely this notion that has been defeated.

If cinephilia is dead, then movies are dead too . . . no matter how many movies, even very good ones, go on being made. If cinema can be resurrected, it will only be through the birth of a new kind of cine-love."

(The Decay of Cinema - Susan Sontag (February 25, 1996 in The New York Times.)

Senses of Cinema: Permanent Ghost: Cinephilia in the Age of Internet and Video


Anonymous said…
Nitesh! It's great to see that there are some real film enthusiasts in our country. So far I've only met cinephiles who have seen a lot of good films but have no idea what they speak of or the typical "I know it all" public who will disregard the best of cinema in favour of their own indulgence in egotism as merely something they'd do on an ordinary sunday afternoon. What we need around here are people who don't care much about how much more one knows than the other and just simply share the wonderful moments they've each found in their experience of cinema. In saying that I hope I don't come off as too judgtemental myself. Good work, a well written piece here!
nitesh said…
Gautam, couldn't agree better with you. Sadly, the state of film enthusiast and tons of film lover in our country lie in that very state( of egotism) which again, hold no intrinsic value, so I don't know what they holding upon. I mean no one becomes Great by watching a Godard film or inferior if he/she just seen a Karan Johar film. What is important in India in this stage is to move towards establishing a certain critical ways of looking at film. Since, their exist almost no unique voice to ' Criticize' Cinema in the right vain here, excluding the so called TV Host and Critics of our National Dailies. As they have generalized ways of examining a film and most criticism of Cinema in India, tends to start on story and end on story, sadly something which is not exactly the genesis of Cinema.

Seriously, you nail it when you put we need a group who are not here to flaunt what they know, but rather its should be about sharing, discussing, constructive criticism so on so forth.

In the end we handful of people from here should collectively work towards such endeavor,and your blog is definitely a right place to start for most people- with plenty of constructive and opinionated article you have written about.
Anuj Malhotra said…
To Nitesh

"we need a group who are not here to flaunt what they know, but rather its should be about sharing, discussing, constructive criticism so on so forth. "

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