Film is an important medium which has become an integral part of the social and political life of Tamils

Plans are afoot to establish a film institute in Madurai Kamaraj University to cater to the aspirations of youngsters who want to make it to the tinsel world, enter digital media circles and make a mark in alternative film making. Kalyani Mathivanan, Vice-Chancellor, MKU, has been taking concerted efforts to have a film institute modelled on the Pune based film institute, which has been received well by academicians working on film studies and film production. In the last one hundred years of Indian cinema, Tamil Nadu has an inimitable space in the history of cinema as the connecting line between films and Tamil socio-political reality has been thicker than expected.

Film is an important visual medium which has been an integral part of the modern social and political life of Tamils. Nothing could exemplify this better than the title song of a film, ‘Aanpaavam,' where Maestro Ilayaraja's rendition says, “Indiran Vandathu Chandiran Vandathu Indha Cinemathan; MGR Vandathu NTR Vandathu Intha Cinemathan; Kalai Valarnthadhum Ingethan Kadhal Sonnadthum Ingethan; Katchi Valarthadum Aatchi Pidithathum Indha Cinemathan.” The Hindu looks at how the academic world in Madurai has been engaging with films and aspects of film making in theory, production and consumption points of view and the significance of having a film institute here.

Film studies

Film historian Rajan Krishnan, states that cinema is 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 with 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.”

As far as films are concerned under academia here, the concentration basically goes to film production. The folklore touch of film studies, which is centered around the consumption part i.e., from the viewing aspect, is conspicuously missing, says T. Dharmarajan, Head, Department of Folklore, MKU. He further says that like rural folklore where aspects of deification, possession and rituals to gods and goddesses are being done, we have fan clubs which are seen as part of urban folklore, deification of matinee idols, performing milk abhisekham and the entire cultural edifice related to those carnivals. Folklore is concerned about how films are consumed within the society, and it is at the consumption levels and pattern the political messages are confirmed, Dravidian movement and its relationship with films area great example. Another aspect from folkloristic point of view is that films are a major threat to traditional folklore. So it becomes essential to study about films as they corrupt the former; however it is a two-way process, where traditional folklore provides fodder to films, especially the comical aspects and buffoonery. Finally from the production point of view also folklore's contribution to films is important, fairy tales and ballads have provided the story pattern for many films especially in the case of MGR films.

The folklore department focuses on popularizing the unsung genre of ethnographic films, we can train students to produce ethnographic films, when it comes to alternative cinema, we talk about documentaries and short films but ethnographic films are not discussed, it's a creative cultural concept which needs to be engaged with. Film institute concentrates on the production aspects of film making but how to watch films and understand them is lacking among the viewers. This lacuna leads to a situation where films are made mostly depicting cult formations and hero centric ones, says J. Balasubramanian, Head (in charge) Department of Journalism and Science Communication, MKU.

Though we produce films which are mostly commercial ones, we lag behind in the making of historical films, so we are left with a situation to digitally re-create and re-release old films like Karnanand Veerapandiya Kattabomman, though film historians have claimed that these films have many factual errors and provide false consciousness. Post graduate courses in film studies could bridge this gap not only at the level of helping production form but also from the consumption point of view and could as well help in the creation of films with historical precision. The Department of Journalism and Science Communication conducts film screening once a week called Vellithirai and Department of Folklore has Folk Media Club, which screens films twice a month.

The establishment of a film institute in Madurai would help in a great way to inculcate a culture which could influence film making and lead to a situation where good historical films could be made , he said. For the last 15 years Madura College has been conducting awareness programmes on alternative films, it includes documentary and short films. “Right from 1984, we started screening films mostly getting them from embassies, to show students that there is another form of filmmaking,” says R. Murali, Principal, Madura College. Thanks to technology, things have changed a lot; it has democratized film making now. All you need is a camera. Formalism has been replaced through immediately captured images. The basic idea is to make students appreciate good art forms in films. Mainstream films are too commercial and are dishonest except for a few in depicting realities.

“Madura College has been organizing film festivals for the last 13years, and now with an effort to blend technology and the philosophy of films we have started two courses, Diploma in Digital Video Editing and Diploma in Cinematography. The courses would be held in a lucid format with film theories, and flexible eligibility conditions. MKU film institute could help us jointly organize workshops and establish the much needed space to nurture the sense of appreciation to alternative film world,” Prof. Murali concludes.

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