Cinema/Television in India- a story of images
"It's another picture of a victim." Of course it is! And there will be another, and another, and another…and soon it will be forgotten(1)
I should have done something else……
Done something else, other than going on
While struggling on in this terrifying
s o c i e t y ,
I should have done something else.
Day after day I watched a tiny hope
Going into something like a huge pair of
Carrying around with me, in this widespread
The shame of having stayed alive…
I should have done something.
–Raghuvir Sahay; translated by Dr. Binyak Sen(2)
The 1982 Asian Games brought a conscious shift in the way we looked at our surrounding and reflected a sense of spirit towards communal living. The transmission of television shifted from black and white to color and in a single day of its inception it changed the course of our own history and subconsciously marked an impression for generations. The first telecast on September 15th, 1959 did not change the perception of the audience towards cinema; black and white films co-existed with color, but the second-coming of television marked by the ‘spectacle’ of Asian Games killed two birds with one stone- the black and white film and parallel cinema. This also set the foundation for the decay in offering reflection vis-a vis images on screen, however, the era did offer better content on television than cinema. While the former chronicled India and gave a chance to reflect but the latter became a circus, but one important idea continued that of, " The Spectacle" from news to cinema.
There is a stark similarity between the fates of a visionary of cinema and color television in India. Dada Saheb Phalke died a poor man after giving birth to cinema in India, on one hand and on the other, Doordarshan (India’s National TV) today is suffering and hospitalized as well, rather it’s surviving in an ICU for quite sometime. Doordarshan gave birth to a ready made audience who were gradually prepared to take in more, and Nararshima Rao government gave them the ‘choice’ with the social and economic reforms in 1991, and foreign channels like Star TV and domestic channels like Zee TV began broadcasting. Dada Sheab Phalke did the same, established a base for an audience who soon fell in love with the medium.
The era before 1991 is a an era of research, family and social collective thinking, projecting India as a whole, where every element within the space of projection and transmission: from news to serials, held value, not only in determining the ethos of the era, but offered the audience an object that could be valued whether they decide to take something form it or leave it the moment they switch-off the TV. There was an important factor for television providing image, sound and narrative that was self-reflexive and offered more than the cinema of the era; because, an auteur was present behind the work that was telecasted, a certain individual, who had an identity, a personality that, unlike today, is not lost in materiality of desire. Hence, the credit of a television serial meant something back then, today it's a mere text that holds no accordance with the spectator, the image or even the sound of projection, since neither there is a text that is related with the individual, nor the articulated passage of sound or images. The only drawback was that this imagery sowed the seeds of passive (uncritical) fundamentalism that completely blew out of proportion in the era of globalization with the wave of individuality and liberal thinking.
One of the first memories of a ‘spectacle’ could be seen in homes across India where people gathered around a small TV set to watch Ramayana and Mahabharata. There is a direct co-relation with the advent of color television and the first movies made in India. Both heavily relied on re-enacting ‘Indian Myth’ and using the epic-form to entice, inform and bind the audience- to bring them together as a mass, this zeitgeist did give rise to fundamentalism through a conscious propaganda of Hindu imagery whose final manifestation can be testified in the evidence of the demolition of Babri Masjid. Hence, the black and white film projected a passage towards a better future, but the advent of color television slowly created a vacuum of ‘active’ thinking on the part of the audience. And they soon became a passive participant where their rhetoric and activism did not employ their own ‘critical’ thinking but was formed out of information fed through text, images and sound. The vibration of which can be felt across India even today and that severely rose after the coming of Satellite TV.
Marx had once said, "Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.” The past of lazily being fed and cinema and television doing all our thinking is slowly and steadily catching up on all of us wherein we are not able to determine the sudden gaps between reality and fiction in our lives because the process of communication is handicapped.
When viewing a transmission(tv) which is routinely packaged as a spectacle, we are confronted with the representation of realities(through various stories), however, instead of referring the images to its respective physical manifestation, we annotate the images, sound and horror to Hollywood or the crisis to emotion reflected in movies. Either of which are fiction and offer no answers or reflection on our lives. Therefore, what we watch is fiction(cinema) and when we are confronted with a “real- life -crisis”(news) we refer it back to the same fiction(cinema). So it's not surprising that while watching news of real life hostage drama the news anchor keep referring to the “news” as the spectacle, “This is like a movie”, “This is like a Hollywood film”, are the words and expression that is routinely heard. Does that mean the ‘image’, the ‘sound, and the ‘cries’ of our reality is nothing but a movie? And could be forgotten and shifted out just like every new release on a Friday, and the images would not accompany us. Or is it that the language of expression does not exist hence the confusion in referring to the objects of our physical world.
If I take an old tapped VHS of Newstrack (a news programme that used to come on DD) and watch the demolition of Babri Masjid, it makes me angry, frustrated, sad, it even offers the ‘space’ to think, and gives us the power to reflect. Today, the news is more animated than reflected. It’s precisely the reason that the power of images is lost to offer evidence that one can ‘see’ in its physical manifestation. Hence, a report today becomes a routine, where the reporter, the anchor and the producer are simply doing their duty of reporting. So if muted and stored and the same report is juxtaposed with previous one weeks offering: every gesture, expression and manner will be the same, not that one is looking for ‘emotion’ or ‘acting’ within the clutches of news, because where one seeks information(news) it gets fantasy and presumptions judgment and when one escapes to fantasy(cinema) we are offered meta- fantasy.
Both so removed from life- the physical body and mass of the world around you that there is simply no connection, but a spectacle- a drama, and there is a constant re-filtering of the same drama. The major shift being the ‘ presentation’ hence a shot of "Sharukh Khan" on a news channel with a reverse shot of a channel’s report on "victims of violence" offers the same formula of corrupted image and sound with mannerism that offer judgment without reflection or information. You can change stories but you can’t manipulate human perception that is based on garnering viewers on the idea of emotions. So an interview of Sharukh Khan(image) to get TRP established on the free-ground of getting viewers who would have an 'emotional connection' with the superstar, and the same for the news story on a bomb-blast(image) is repulsive.
It’s precisely the reason why the images we see on screen and the images we see in television today have become so dependence on the text that is supplemented in the newspaper and magazine- the last bastion of truth as believed. The text offers an evidences as opposed to the fantasy of television, hence a report on Godhra in magazine/newspaper (not all) offers us a choice to think. The text offers us an aptitude to look, the images on screen and television are so far removed from us that it makes us blind even when we have the ability to perceive and conceive. So instead of asking where is Dr Binyak Sen or who is Sudha Bhardwaj or when can we walk to markets without fear, we detox our “mental” and “physical” exhaustion from such issues because we believe that as an individual we have no less worries, but we fail to realize that an individual consciousness is largely based on his own social consciousness. Perhaps, it's not our fault but the problem lies with the images we are growing up with everyday, and we severely fall short on questioning the image and the absence itself.
Television and Cinema have fallen in a decadent state where too much is in the hands of too few, there is no autonomy of any sorts whatsoever, every image we see, every word we read and every sound we hear is controlled through rigorous censorship some are visible (Censor Board) while some remain hidden (people who have investment in this conglomerate) It’s precisely then there is a dire need to look at the ‘absence’ that is missing; in order to form the foundation of a ‘ struggle, as reading between lines, looking at blank images and questioning the voices we hear has become important. Therefore, the news of an Indian winning an award at Berlin Film Festival needs to be reported, the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights to Dr, Binyak Sen should be seen and, definitely, the voice of Kashmir should be heard. It’s precisely then there could be a balance between what the audience ‘want’ and what the ‘media’ perceives, because perception in itself is formed out of judgment that is routinely based on surveys and rating. But the mere outline of their ‘research’ is faulty because the mass at large is already blinded that they themselves don’t know what they doing. Since their opinions and perceptions are formed out of ideas and judgment that are routinely formed by the ‘spectacle’ of cinema and television, it gives rise to parochialism; often due to the reiterations of the images projected and opinion transferred through dialogues, as also interviews and text bombarded in terms of superlatives not to mention faux “ Breaking News” blurbs
Serge Daney, the French critic talked about cinematic concept like ‘montage’ or ‘close-up’ gifts that cinema makes to the twentieth century. These concepts along with the different shots: long, medium, close, and extreme close gives an important co-relation that cinema holds in accordance to life (where the distance of a shot gives the impact on-screen) and gives a rare glimpse into viewer’s perception and gives us an understanding of the depth of human bond and relationship.
Let's take a hypothesis, For example:
A blast in a remote part of India
An extreme long shot
Media not worried, devoted not much time-frame, people not bothered, because it's somewhere in a remote place of India so images not transmitted, texts are not devoted and the sounds is never heard. Inspite of the fact that this could be an important foreground to understanding the depth of every subsequent shifts of spaces.
A blast in a small town in India
A long shot
The media responds with little speculation, security still not tight anywhere in the country. People go about their lives unless of that respective town. Images devoted, but if, a filmstar or cricketer gets sick, there is a shift in transmission. Newspaper and Magazine do devote some time towards the event. Sound is heard. But all three don’t make an impact on the collective conscious.
A blast in a mini-metro
A Medium shot
The media find this as a good information to report (Speculating) it could go on for few days there is still no collective reflection of the event. It has happened still somewhere away from the ‘central’ idea of India. Hence the notion that video stands for “ I see” its finally forces us not to see, because than the image is becoming redundant, and as a ' mass' we are not able to realize things and it seems far removed from us(passive) instead of questioning(active) every element that is important for our own safeguard.
A blast in a metro
The country wakes up: politician to common man, everyone is hurt or rather awakens form the deep slumber. Suddenly the security agency wakes up. The media goes in a state of frenzy. We are bombarded with images from television, cinema and text about what has just happened in ‘central’ India.
This notion of cinema/television looking at problems and life only consolidated between the metros in India (close-up) has certainly left a void in understanding the causes of several problems that are germinating at the grass-root level (extreme-long shot). This is precisely why almost all television production shot usually in “close-up" and movies have lost its values, as there is absolutely no relation between the subject and its surrounding. Since the surrounding in most cases never exist, and if does, it has no inherent value, and is never explored. This is another reason why a close-up of Guru Dutt could offer more impression about the individual and society in general than the projection we see on-screen today. It also helps us associate with the past to make a better future, but most images projected today - through television and cinema, have lost all source of meaning and values, and this a major why its never remains part of mass social awareness and is easily forgotten.
This lapse of memory in public sphere and media to “question" the authority for a choice of better life and secure living hardly happens and things move back to normal, unless something new comes up. Perhaps, this distance of spaces is severely one reason why we are never able to feel the emotions and loss of human life to force upon a collective voice to seek out to live. Hence, a violence in Kashmir has no association with a business man in Mumbai, and vice-versa, and when it does it's because of the impact of the projection of images in(close-ups) but these images too slowly reach a point of exhaustion. And the audience after the initial bombardment of shock, horror and emotions simply move on, it's only those who are personally affected that the scars never heal, especially when the " answer" or even the " questions" die out in a matter of days. The last Indian and one true exception who managed to break the illusion of the ‘ spectacle’ and remained questioning, fighting’ and winning as a common man is, Neelam Katara. And when we take a close-up of her picture and place it against that of GuruDutt(close-up) both images provide an important evidence in embodiment of the human spirits, the hypocrisy of society and the creation of reality of ‘ images’ by men who are representative of our own lot, and trusted to provide service and growth in their representation towards the society. And it’s only in such a shot- reverse shot that a similitude between cinema and life could be established and images accompany.
However, at grass-root level most voices are never heard (sound), the problems never shown (images) and consciousness never talked about (text) that really leaves a major portion of our own society feeling ignored. In the name of entertainment, information and service to the audience, a fascism(cinema and television) is evolving that is not ready to take criticism and the subjects around them are not ready to allow the criticism to deter the determination for a global domination in the name of projecting the " fantasy" of the masses. The idea to ‘ question’ is becoming smaller day by day, it’s incisively because how the ‘ images’ have shaped my own generation- we are shown and we are fed- what we want to see, to please us and keep us happy in an ‘utopian state’ that the representation is mainly forcing us to do. The people who force this upon us are clearly the ones that are bridging the divide between them and the workers irrespective of the fact that they have no knowledge or understanding of their own crafts, hence Katrina Kaif can become actresses simply on beauty while a technician keeps surviving for their livelihood. A politician can dry up the money in a state but a farmer has to pick up a gun to protect his land, and both our representative fail to realize that without the “ worker” and the “ farmer” they will cease to exist.
Sadly, we too get blinded because the “image” is something we cannot touch (inspite of our knowingness that we created them, and can break them) and also not question. But if ‘beauty’ and ‘body’ are the only two physical attributes for doing ‘a work’, and if that is the only parameter then every worker should be paid a crore (a million dollar) for dancing around. The idea that entertainment and information evolves only passive participation is deceptive; this is something that has constantly been hammered in our genes so that there are no mutation for struggle and revolution, because any form of active involvement and questioning is directly against the hegemony of authority, those who are supposed to be our own representative, and that is inversely related to our own social nomenclature where a distinctive choice other than the one laid is considered insecure. Yet, I believe, there is a need for a collective mobilization of people to help inculcate the ideation of pushing toward returning back to zero, to begin fresh in order for exploration and projections of issues and problems deeply affecting our day to day living.
To critique a film against the mass is subjected as prejudice; it’s considered against the will and freedom of the society, who are dying for escapism, and the product is tailor designed for them. Isn’t such a tailor made life designed for the North Koreans, the only difference lies in the fact that there state of living(images) is out in the open, but here its hidden under layers of freedoms of choices and opinions that is projected towards us through the medium of cinema and television. Such promises and dreams that politicians show us with every fresh election and filmmaker with every new Friday release reminds me of two verses from the Faiz Ahmed Faiz Urdu poem, Hum Dekhenge(We’ll See)(3), and a line form Tagore's poem My Country Awake(4):
Lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge
Woh din ke jis ka waada hai
Jo loh-e-azl pe likha hai
Jab zulm-o-sitam ke koh-e-garaan
Rui ki tarah ud jayenge
Hum mehkumoon ke paun tale
Yeh dharti dhad dhad dhadkagi
Aur ehl-e-hukum ke sar upar
Jab bijli kad kad kadkegi
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
- The Ideal Picture Needs No Titles: By Its Very Nature the Art of the Screen Should Tell a Complete Story Pictorially (1928) by F. W. Murnau(1)" The original lines go as follows: "
"It's another war picture." Of course it is! And there will be another, and another, and another"
- Thoughts on Alma-Ata and Beyond- Binayak Sen(2)
- Hum Dekhenge, Urdu Poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz from a song sung by Iqbal Bano(3)
- My Country Awake- Rabindranath Tagore.(4)
- Television In India- wikipedia/indiantelevision.com