The impact of social media and lack of any archival material were some topics discussed
Is writing on Indian cinema limited to Bollywood, to the point of excluding regional cinema? And then again limited to biographies of stars? In the age of social media and blogging, is every blogger or tweeter a film critic?
These were some ideas and questions tossed around at the Bangalore Literature Festival’s panel on “From Screen to Page: Writing on Indian Cinema”.
The session held out much promise because it featured the likes of author-documentary filmmaker Nasreen Munni Kabir, two National Award winning film critics - The Hindu’s film columnist Baradwaj Rangan, film scholar M.K. Raghavendra, and Mumbai-based journalist and author Sidharth Bhatia. Moderating the panel was Sharmistha Gooptu, who has written on Bengali cinema and is a founder-trustee of the South Asia Research Foundation. But at the end of the session, one didn’t get a cohesive picture of the subject and panelists only got to skim the surface - the ideas getting scattered, and the moderator taking up too much time to get to the point - didn’t help.
Kabir set the tone of the discussion with her crisp admission on some of the challenges of film writing. “Cinema is an art, which belongs to everyone, and everyone has an opinion about it. Therefore it is difficult to write about it. What sells are biographies and books on film stars. Writing on Indian cinema, in English, has been uneven...”
Both Raghvendra and Bhatia underscored another challenge - the lack of any archival material and records whatsoever. Rangan pointed put that there haven’t even been enough books on Indian cinema yet; volumes are happening now. He also led the discussion to another idea: that writing about cinema and making films are mutually exclusive things. “Some may have found a middle ground but it takes someone from outside to harness their world. A film journalist plays a role in unlocking a filmmaker’s mind,” said Rangan.
Another reason for the lack of books on the craft of filmmaking - filmmakers don’t want to write! “They are only interested in making films, not having it written about. Even if they agree it becomes a vanity project,” said Bhatia from his experience.
When Gooptu steered the talk to social media and film critiquing, there was vociferous response. Both Raghavendra and Rangan observed how social media has made film reviewing hysterical, and limited commentary to saying it was wow, cool, or that it either sucks, or rocks! Kabir said “you can’t unlock minds with a medium like Twitter. Writing about cinema for the here and now is different from writing about someone’s body of work.”
On books being Bollywood-centric, Rangan said it was plain market dynamics - publishers commission books on Bollywood because they know there is an audience for it. Raghavendra brought in the dilemma of language. “When I write about Kannada cinema in English, people here ask me to write in the local language. But when you write in their language, they won’t read it!”