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BC should strengthen celluloid link

THE LINK between the British Council and cinema has been strong in India. At least, it was till a few years ago. There may not be any particular reason why the Council has been, of late, according a lower priority to this visually enchanting medium. But the intention to strengthen this bond appeared beyond any reasonable doubt the other day, when this essentially English organisation held a tele-conference in Chennai, Mumbai, New Delhi and London. One has no idea why Kolkata, with its strong presence in the world of celluloid, was kept out of this.

Anyway, movie-makers, actors and writers/critics had a lively exchange of ideas, although, as it is quite often the case with such large gatherings, the focus tended to be diluted.

Here is a typical example. One writer suggested that the British Council should now change its brief: it ought to promote Indian cinema in the U.K. While one cannot question the concern and sincerity of this writer in ensuring a healthy two-way exchange of cinema, this was something farfetched to expect from a body whose aim has been to spread British culture in India.

In any case, there are any number of Indian institutions which have been pushing Indian films and other forms of art in Britain and elsewhere. It is a fact that they have not been active enough or have been too lackadaisical, but surely the British Council may not be inclined to proxy-act for them, given the kind of resource crunch the world has now been facing.

What the Council ought now to concentrate on is to bring in good British cinema to India. For a film buff or writer, classics are always welcome. One never tires of watching and re-watching them. An Alfred Hitchcock or some of the excellent documentaries shot during and after World War II are merely two examples of the kind of celluloid wealth that needs to be shared with Indians here.

But anybody would tell you, that classics are only a part of the cinema in any country. What one would like to watch are contemporary British movies.

Today, these are seen only by a very few Indians, Indians who attend major film festivals at home or abroad.

How many of us would have seen the latest of Ken Loach or Mike Leigh or Michael Winterbottom, to name only a few British directors? They have been extremely active, and what is more, create almost universal cinema.

Loach's latest works — "Bread and Roses" and "Sweet Sixteen" — tackle very human subjects. The first is about the plight of immigrant janitors in the U.S. told in a remarkably touching manner.

The second presents the distress and dilemma of a 16-year-old boy trying to save his mother from her drug-runner boyfriend, prison and eventual doom.

Leigh's family dramas are appealing as well. His "Secrets and Lies" and his last offering, "All or Nothing", concentrate on human emotions, shorn of the type of frills Indian directors pepper their own fare with. Leigh's men and women are extraordinarily down to earth and are placed in very real situations.

In "All or Nothing", for example, a family on the verge of breaking apart comes together after the son falls ill with a possible life-threatening disease.

Winterbottom's "Welcome to Sarajevo" is a touching story of a television reporter's ordeal to save one little refugee girl from the ravages of war, pain and suffering. Shot in a documentary style, this work is a poignant portrayal of cinema at its best.

However, the British Council's role should not be confined to merely getting movies into India. It must actively work out a way of making sure that these are seen by as many people as possible.

Efforts must be made to inculcate a sense of appreciating good cinema among the youth. The Council continues to be a favourite with college students, and if several shows of a film are held in larger auditoriums, this will provide a splendid opportunity for a whole lot of fans.

And, if screenings could be followed by a short debate or discussion, chaired by someone who can communicate well and hold the attention of particularly the `impatient' young, the British Council would have done a great service to the promotion of cinema.

One still remembers fondly the late George Deligianis of the erstwhile United States Information Service: there were many who came only to hear his introduction to a film. This writer recalls his little speech, delightfully witty and wonderfully informative, preceding "Casablanca", words that enslaved him to the Humphrey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman starrer.

The British Council's cinema programmes could become such engrossing affairs.


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