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Cinema journalism in the time of COVID-19

Bollywood celebrities at a protest meet in Mumbai in January.

Bollywood celebrities at a protest meet in Mumbai in January.   | Photo Credit: PTI

The film industry has been wrenched out of its cocoon and we need to pay attention

As I start this column, the one and only press screening in the near future — Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles much-celebrated Cannes jury prize winner Bacurau — stands cancelled. I bring out my notepad to strike things off from my to-do list.

No meetings lined up at Soho House, no events at any of the suburban five-star hotels, no interviews in Oshiwara and Lokhandwala. Life in the time of COVID-19 can seem mournfully desolate for a film journalist. Yet, at the same time, it has become decidedly challenging and stimulating. When the world, as we know it, is changing drastically and irredeemably, cinema can’t stay complacent and comfortable in its aesthetic and escapist isolation. So too when it comes to writing about it.

It comes with the awareness that the sense of void I might be feeling is of little consequence given the critical state of affairs across the world. But I cannot brush aside the fact that it’s barely a few days and I am already missing my filmi routine. I miss the American Beauty-inspired interiors of PVR Le Rêve in Bandra and the cheese sandwich and small samosas at Juhu’s Sunny Super Sound preview theatre. I thought this year I would participate in making history by attending the first-ever film festival in Saudi Arabia. Far from it. The fate of one of the grandest celebrations of cinema, Festival de Cannes, also hangs in the balance.

But more than any of these banalities, it’s your very place in the larger journalistic scheme of things that calls for introspection in such times. Cinema and cricket, two of the most popular news topics, suddenly seem weirdly out of place. In my immediate memory as a journalist, I have felt the churn most during 9/11 and 26/11; it happens briefly during elections (the filmi candidates and campaigners notwithstanding); and it has been happening consistently over the past three months, ever since the Delhi police barged into the Jamia library.

Beat of the times

It was a defining moment, a tipping point. Disturbed, enraged, not knowing what to do about the unrest within, I had gone the next day to a small, spontaneously held protest at Mumbai University’s Kalina campus only to find a bunch of known faces from Bollywood mingling with the ‘hoi polloi’, perhaps trying to reclaim their supposedly airy world of images and anchoring it in the real. Just as I was subconsciously trying to attune the journalist in me (that is always a step ahead of the cinema writer) to the beat of the times. Protests became sites to forge a larger intuitive connect with the film fraternity in asserting the fact that cinema can’t be peripheral to national discourse.

Much like the stars we mingle with, film journalists are assumed to live in ivory towers. It’s time to step out of the bubble and engage with the real world. More so at a moment of reckoning of the kind we are facing now. Yes, many more people are presumably lapping up mounds of content from the cable and the web within the confines of their homes. I have two Berlinale films and several indies in my inbox, Road to Roma to watch on Netflix, and Virus to revisit on Prime Video.

Cinema has been wrenched out of its cocoon. There are huge losses and uncertainties across the spectrum — from big producers to daily-wage earners, from theatre owners to audiences. The creation, distribution and consumption of cinema is set to change unalterably, and this demands our attention. And give it, we must. Until it’s safe once again to return to feel-good, escapist entertainment.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 10:55:34 AM |

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