Issue :   
December 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         December 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:December' 2018


Why India lags behind !

Gautam Kaul

Chantel Akerman BBC Culture wing recently reached out to 209 film critics from 43 countries writing in 41 languages, located world- wide, and asked them to name their choice of the world’s best 100 foreign language films. The survey, the first of its kind, threw up some surprises.
From the 45,000 plus films made in India, the international community of film critics could remember only one film, Pather Panchali, which could be inserted into this list. Mercifully, it ranked a high 15th position, meaning it was a favourite of most of the sampled film critics.
A fall-out of this survey was also the fact the film critics voted Chantel Akerman of Belgium, as the greatest woman film director ever for her three hour and thirty minute film ‘Jeanne Dielman’. The personal bonus out of this list was for me, the fact, that I had seen 61 of the world’s greatest foreign films, but I was not touched by the BBC Culture survey. I am still wondering who were the Indian film critics reached out to give their opinions on the world top best foreign film films.

Akira Kurosawa The top position was occupied by Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, one film which has been imitated by many foreign language cinemas, including USA (The Magnificent Seven) (USA) and India (China Town). The other listed first three films were Bicycle Thief (Italy), Tokyo Story (Japan) and Rashomon (Japan.
Foreign language film critics had a clear slant on the cinemas of the Far East with Japanese films leading in the choice for 11 films, China (6) films, Taiwan (4) films and Hong Kong (3) films . Most of the films that were found favourites in this list were regular in international film festival circuits and even sold well in commercial European film circuits.
I have a suspicion that BBC reached out to their listed film critics located only in the Far East and South Asian countries. Some omissions are glaring. There were no films from Ireland, South Africa, Senegal, Egypt, Hungary, Turkey, Israel, where some of the best cinema has been created by individual film directors.
Cinema remains beyond borders, is one message which this list sends out.
It is also timeless, but needs to be transferred to the younger generation every two decades. For instance a film like ‘Citizen Kane’ (USA) or ‘War and Peace’ (USSR) is not part of the youth generations experience. Perhaps ‘Exorcist’ is.
This film historian’s confession of having seen 61 film from this list is only possible because I have been part of the same generation that took international film festivals serious business to sit through, in India. Perhaps there may be more persons on the wrong side of 70s who have also done the international film circuits and can boast today they have been privileged to see more films from this list. But there is no denying that this list will see changes as more great dramas will battle out for attention and find spaces for themselves in such lists.
BBC’s pick of Chantel Akerman, as the greatest woman film director is also a surprise. Akerman made only sixteen feature films and two dozen short films; she also filmed some of her short films. Her fame apparently rests on her film Jeanne Dielmen. This film came to India in the IFFI of 1977, and had a single screening at the Uphaar Theatre in Delhi. Uphaar had a seating capacity of over 1300 seats yet for this unknown film, there were only about 200 of Delhi denizens to witness the start of the screening.

Mehboob Khan The film was in three parts, each part being a day in the life of Jeanne Deilman, a single mother with a grown up boy who is indifferent to his mother. We see the character go through her daily routine each day in excruciating details in real time. When Jeanne peals a pot of potatoes for her lunch, the pealing takes about 20 minutes of reel time, enough to put off the ordinary viewer. It did indeed. When the film ended three hours and thirty minutes later(210 mins), there were only three persons still sitting, namely yours truly, another would be film critic Satender Mohan and a film fan Tapesh Sharma from Chandigarh. Mohan was a regular member of the Delhi Film Society. Both of us had a good laugh for having successfully passed the ‘ordeal’!

Raj Kapoor We need to seriously ponder why, despite an average of 1700 films each year, Indian cinema is not able to create an international image for itself. I identify three main reasons.
Indian cinema, like its traditional foreign policy, has not tried to impose itself upon other national cultures.
Even when our films impacted international audiences in film festivals, the Indian film producer did not contemplate expanding his business frontier into other areas in the world.
It was Mehboob Khan’s ‘Aan’ which broke this jinx with world screenings for weeks in France, the Middle East and in USA. Raj Kapoor’s ‘Awaara’ followed the fashion into the socialist world of the day.
Again,Indian cinema produced for its Indian audiences alone. It did not even contemplate an international audience because it was satisfied with the returns which came from the box office when the film was a commercial success on the Sub continent.
The Indian Diaspora had not happened to create an international market for Indian films until 1960. The first of the films that started business internationally were moved in the Middle East countries and in South Asian markets. Europe and USA were still too far located .
To a lesser extent, the absence of a section dealing in the export of films in the various IFFIs organized in India, showed the national government’s reluctance to promote its cinema wares officially. The Congress led governments were averse to using cinema as a foreign policy weapon and when it did, it did so reluctantly.
Cinema is such a sensitive subject of personal choice that I will refrain from exercising my franchise to name those films which could have found mention in BBC’s own list. They would still be only two or three. We generally make mushy films for mass audiences and that is where our rupee goes. The Jews elsewhere would rather invest internationally!