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Updated: September 4, 2010 16:32 IST

Looking at cinema from a different perspective

D. Karthikeyan
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A group of writers and social scientists — many of them based in Madurai — have launched a full-fledged research journal, ‘Kaatchi Pizhai' (Refractive Error) in Tamil. The journal is dedicated to discuss, debate, criticise and review films and everything related to films.

A bimonthly, the first edition is on the stands carrying articles penned by renowned film theorists Venkatesh Chakravarthy, Sundar Kaali and Rajan Krishnan who have widely dealt on various theoretical aspects of films in the last two decades. The works have been published in refereed journals and by the Oxford University Press.

The journal was introduced at The American College here on Thursday by writers N. Jayamohan and Stalin Rajangam; contributors Sundar Kaali, Professor in Tamil, Gandhigram Rural University; Rajan Krishnan, Film Studies, Columbia University; and R. Prabhakar, Department of Visual Communication, The American College.

Mr. Rajangam said that cinema was not the same as it was some two decades back. It had entered an era of mediated images, being circulated widely, and had become an inevitable part of everyday life. He also mentioned about the easy availability of DVDs and CDs of cinemas across the globe and how it turned to be the raw material for most of the films.

Highlighting Mr. Kaali's article on Vadivel's comedy, which has been put forward for an intensive reading, he explained how certain idioms and social markers of caste supremacy got inverted in his genre of comedy. He also talked about the significance of looking at caste and cinema from a different perspective and questioned why most of the films highlighted or portrayed a particular dominant caste and its practices to a state of normalisation by relating it with an identity, be it martial or south. Do market forces have any influences? This needs to be studied, he said.

Rajan Krishnan stated that cinema was a theoretically challenging subject, a very complex area of study which needed to be explored more. “There is a crisis of academic criticism as we do not have separate disciplines such as cultural studies or film studies as in the West, and even if it is there, it is in a nascent stage.”

Citing an example of the West's contribution to film theory and literature, he talked about how Italian neo-realism films, which though hardly about a dozen could generate close to 400 books dealing about the various theoretical and technical aspects. “We have produced more than 5,000 films but there has been a lack of proper criticism of those films.” Ideological content of the films needed to be analysed and the journal would fill the gap, he said.

Mr. Jeyamohan talked about the anxieties of being a dialogue writer and how commercial aspects influenced a writer irrespective of whether the film was a big budget one or even a documentary. He also talked about the various aspects of filmmaking of yesteryears and how certain descriptions were pre-eminently present like that of a huge dining table and a dressing table scene where the protagonist would be having food or the heroine chooses her sari from a wardrobe. Images depicting luxurious bungalows, luscious surroundings and sumptuous meals formed the part of the films because the theatres were the only space where the subaltern could view those extravaganzas.

Mr. Kaali also talked about the evolution of Indian film research scenario and reminded about the contributions of major social scientists such as Ashis Nandy, Ravi Vasudevan, Karthigesu Sivathamby, Theodore Baskaran, MSS Pandian and Venkatesh Chakravarthy and promised that the journal would be looking at various aspects of cinema using major tools of criticism from popular culture and social sciences.

V.M.S. Subagunarajan is the editor of the journal and Venkatesh Chakravarthy, MSS Pandian and Stephen Hughes are on the editorial board.

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