Film Education


The Mumbai Young Critics Experience

THE MUMBAI YOUNG CRITICS EXPERIENCE

By RASIK TIRODKAR



MAMI organized Mumbai Film Festival last year was the first film fest that I had ever attended. And that was an awesome experience. Back then I came to know about an event called the Mumbai Young Critics where students from colleges were selected to take part. As I had just started blogging a bit on cinema I was looking forward to take part in the event this year. As soon as I saw a poster put up in my college I applied for the event.  We were then called at a college auditorium where we were supposed to review a movie on the spot to get selected. Around 60 students were shown a Danish movie called ‘We Shall Overcome’. I had never written a review on the spot before and was a little worried. So, I was really glad when I received an email from the coordinator of the event confirming my selection. There was also an introductory session at the MAMI office where we were given an idea about our schedule.

Workshop


The organizers of the event were very thoughtful in conducting a workshop for us selected 24 participants. It was held at the convention centre at the magnanimous Kokilaben Ambani Hospital. A hospital, I admit, normally doesn’t feel like an ideal place for a workshop.  But the venue proved to be quite good. We were given valuable insights by a few well-informed and reputed people like:

Amrit Gangar


A film theorist, Mr. Gangar was entrusted with the job of giving us a sort of film appreciation course. He started right from the inception of cinema. We were shown various rare films from the silent era which effectively portrayed how cinema has progressed over the years. Mr.Gangar liked to call those films ‘early’ but not ‘primitive’ cinema. He threw light on how cinema is mainly a visual medium and dialogues and music should be kept to a bare minimum. The most appealing part of his session, for me personally, was when he told us how the Indian sense of esthetics is rich and can be applied while criticizing cinema as well. He also compared cinema with Indian classical music. He said that like every ‘raag’ has a ‘pakad’ every movie also has one like ‘loneliness’ in Charulata.

Daniel Kothenschulte


He is a noted film critic from Germany who was supposed to take the full workshop. But unfortunately due to some visa problems he came in a day or two late. But he took no time in connecting with us. Whatever little time we spent with him was always illuminating. At his session, we were privy to the Cannes Palme d’Or winner ‘Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives’. He also made some of us MYCs who had a short film to show it on the projector. We then had a discussion on them. The best one chosen was unanimously by us, it was as if we were having a mock drill of what we were going to do in the festival. But the best part of his session was when we were privileged to watch the silent film by Tod Browning, The Unkown, with live accompaniment by Daniel himself. That was truly an amazing and memorable experience as I doubt I would again have such an opportunity.

Mayank Shekhar

We also had a good discussion with Mayank Shekhar after watching the film ‘All the President’s Men’. He told us that one should write whatever one feels like about a movie, but the judgments should be justified with proper reasons.

 

The Festival

Though I was not entirely new to a film festival atmosphere it took me time to get used to it. Especially the task of watching 4-5 movies per day. We were given a delegation pass with ‘Mumbai Young Critics’ imprinted on it which we naturally wore with much pride.

We were told that the Mumbai Young Critics would act as a jury and give away an award unanimously for a movie from the International Competition Section. So the International Competition movies were compulsory for us. We were also supposed to review them the very same day. We had the permission of using the laptops at the press arena for this purpose.  A few of the reviews would also get published in the Hindustan Times. At times it used to get very difficult to finish with the reviews as after watching 5 films we used to be mentally tired. Also I am a very lazy writer. But as it was part of the protocol one had no option but to write them.

There were also Q & A sessions with the directors of the movies arranged specially for us. Many a times you really wish to ask the director certain things about his film, but can’t contact him. So these Q & A sessions were quite helpful in that respect. It also helped us in our reviews.

The MYC gave the award to the film ‘October(Octubre)’ from Peru.

Movies

The most exciting part of a film festival is obviously the movies on display. This year the line-up of movies was truly awesome. There was a mix of indie, big-budget and even classic Japanese cinema. My thoughts on few movies:

About Her Brother: Stood out from the usual heavy stuff on display. It’s a heart-warming story of a brother who no matter what always ends up being a pest. It had that charming Hrishikesh Mukherjee feel to it which I totally dig. Highly Recommend.

Caterpillar: A chilling tale about how the wives of the soldiers who took part in the 1942 Sino-Japanese were as real a victim of its atrocities as the men on the battlefield. But I recommend this movie only to those who can put up with large amount of nudity on screen.

Social Network: Purely OK. More so because it is coming from a director like David Fincher.  If you don’t know the story behind Facebook you will enjoy it more.

Biutiful: My favorite movie of the fest. A story about a man for whom everything is going wrong. It’s Innaritu and Javier Bardem. Need I say more!!!

Sweet Evil: A unique femme-fatale tale. She seduces and deceives but all in a seemingly innocuous manner. I recommend it for the fresh treatment to the femme-fatale character.

Zegen: A satire on the Japanese empire’s ambition to expand its boundaries by the Japanese master Immamura. Highly Recommend.

The MYC Gang

I personally know very few who share my taste of cinema. So it always feels good to meet people who may not exactly share my taste but also don’t consider cinema only as ‘light entertainment’. So thanks to Mumbai Young Critics I have made many cinema lovers good friends during the whole event. We have already started exchanging movies. And obviously keep in touch with each other through Facebook.

The Unforgettables

There were few totally unforgettable memories which are worth sharing:

The ‘Unsocial’ Network.

Seeing 300-400 people outside the screen for the Social Network screening the PVR staff which usually must be used to handling only empty shows got cold feet and just shut the doors to the screen. They even tried to fool people like me who were already sitting inside the screen to move out by conducting a mock security check. But these connived attempts of theirs were skillfully dodged by the smart audience. The show started with half empty seats even though there were 300 people waiting outside. The people inside the screen then started screaming to stop the screening and let people inside. The authorities were not stopping the screening even then. A few people got up on the seats and blocked the projection itself. Finally the doors were then opened and the seats filled. Few were allowed to even sit on the aisles. I wonder whether I will get to experience such a scene in a cinema hall ever again.

Discussing Sexuality in a cinema hall

I have previously had many sessions with my friends discussing sexuality in details but definitely never in full volume in a balcony of a theatre. Actually it was the movie Black Field which kind of forced us to have that conversation. This is one thing I would not easily forget.

Closing Ceremony, Dinner and the Stars

The closing ceremony was a memorable affair as the film we Mumbai Young Critics had unanimously chosen was given away an award. Also one of us was given a Best Critic award by the Film Street Journal.  Oliver Stone and Manoj Kumar were given Life Time Achievement awards. This was followed by a dinner at Sun n Sands at Juhu. It was definitely a memorable evening as we got to not only meet but also chat with our favourite film personalities and stars.

All in all it was beyond doubt one amazing experience!

Rasik Tirodkar has been a Film Appreciation participant in my FA batch of June 2010

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INTERVIEW WITH SHOMA CHATTERJI – Role of Women in Indian Cinema

Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji is a freelance journalist, film scholar and author based in Kolkata, India. She has won the National Award for the Best Writing on Cinema in 1991 (Best Film Critic) and 2003 (Best Book on Cinema). She has singly authored 17 published books of which eight are on cinema. She has won around four more awards and three fellowships for research on cinema. She is currently, Post-doctoral Senior Research Fellow of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, Delhi.

What is the role that women play in Hindi cinema and has it changed over the years.

Women have mainly played decorative objects in Hindi cinema for a long time. Or, even in films where they had important roles, they are more victims and martyrs or victimizers of other women. Rarely have films like Kunku presented women as strong women who can raise their voice against injustice, who can rebel in their own way and make their own political statement.

Each decade has presented its own brand of women in Hindi cinema. Mother India is a strong political statement on a woman who can do anything to establish that justice has been done even while remaining within the framework of marriage and motherhood. She defies the micro state of being a biological mother in order to fit into the framework of becoming the mother of the nation when she shoots down her own son to save the honour of a woman of the village.

The ordinary woman has hardly been visible in Hindi cinema. During the time of Meena Kumari, Madhubala and their peers, the camera focussed more on the face of the leading lady than on the body. This changed radically from the 1990s when the body of the heroine became as or more important than the face. The sati-savitri image underwent a radical make-over probably with Nutan, who, without showing skin, made a powerful presentation in strong roles such as Seema and Bandini. Geeta Bali promoted the image of a mischievous tomboy, also a positive deviation from the sati-savitri image.

One thing noticed in Hindi cinema is that like Hollywood, the actresses have often indirectly dictated the terms of these portrayals such as Meena Kumari as the tragedienne, Vyjayantimala as largely decorative but a very good dancer, Madhubala for her beauty, and so on. Waheeda Rehman was a powerful actress who blended her dancing beautifully with roles where she could rise above the decorative quality of the characters.

Sharmila Tagore, Asha Parekh and Sadhana defined a change in fashion and style more than change in characterization. They played stereotypical roles in mainstream Hindi cinema wearing big bouffant hairdos, short, skin-tight salwar kameezes and did little more than flutter their false eyelashes at the hero and dance around trees with him.

Jaya Bachchan, Smita Patil and Shabana Azmi stripped glamour off the female lead’s character and played roles that were as important as that of the hero. They were not commercially successful but did very good roles in whichever commercial film they acted in such as Kora Kagaz, Jawani Diwani, Guddi, Rampur Ka Laxman, Sholay (Jaya Bachchan), or Namak Halal, Arth and Shakti (Smita Patil), Karm, Arth, (Shabana Azmi).

Hema Malini defined her own space and dominated the scene with one film after another just through the power of her beauty, her graceful dancing talents and her ability to bring off a hit with any hero ranging from Jeetendra to Rajesh Khanna to Sanjeev Kumar through Dharmenda to Dev Anand. But she could hardly act and it needed a very good director like Ramesh Sippy to bring good performances out of her such as she did I Seeta aur Geeta and Sholay and again, as Meera under the directorial baton of Gulzar. She ruled the heroine batch for nearly two decades. Zeenat  Aman who was pulled in by her beauty queen image, could do nothing to change the portrayal of the Hindi heroine in any way and there were many like her such a Reena Roy, Farah, Neelam, and others.

From Rekha followed by Madhuri Dixit and Karisma Kapoor, the woman in Hindi films became louder in every sense – voice, articulation and delivery of dialogue, sexual aggressiveness and terms of character. This trend continues in a much more aggressive way carried forward in its well-packaged globalized image by the present crop comprised of Aishwarya Rai, Preity Zinta, Priyanka Chopra, Kareena Kapoor, Rani Mukherjee, Kajol and so on. They just do not agree to play complacent sugar syrupy characters who are expected to flutter their eyelashes and turn into glycerine factories at the wave of the director’s hand. Madhuri was decorative to begin with but changed over slowly and steadily with Tezaab followed by films like Beta, Dil, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge culminating in Mrityudand.

Actresses like Vidya Balan, Tabu have struck a balance between glamour and convention helped by their looks and the image they present. The woman is stronger, almost equal to a man in current films such as Dhoom, Dhoom II, Shaurya, Aitraaz where there is almost no difference between the heroine and the vamp because all the female stars are willing to step into negative roles if they are strong and can make a lasting impression on the audience.

Into the 2000 however, one is constrained to point out that most of the high-budget Hindi films that rely greatly on direct marketing by the stars, are either blatant or clever remakes of Hollywood films, both hits and flops. Thus the portrayal of the woman is also a ‘borrowed’ portrayal that is greatly distanced from the Indian woman on the street, urban or rural, educated or not educated, working or non-working and so on. Ethical values have changed to a large extent too because premarital sex, adultery, sexual overtures where the woman takes the initiative are quite common and have also got audience acceptance. Otherwise films like Astitva and Gangster and  Jism and actresses like Bipasha Basu and Kangna Ranaut would never have clicked the way they have.

From the point of view of the Feminist Film Theory how would you analyze a female actor in Hindi cinema today?

Please refer to the introductory chapter of my book SUBJECT:CINEMA, OBJECT: WOMAN – A STUDY OF THE PORTRAYAL OF WOMEN IN INDIAN CINEMA which contains a detailed analysis of which of the two Feminist schools – the American school of sociological analysis, or the British School based on psycho-analytical theory fits into the scheme of the portrayal of women in Hindi cinema. My argument is that since much of Hindi cinema is influenced by Hollywood from the mid-1950s, the feminist analysis of female characters in Hindi films would fit more into the American School than the British School of Feminist film theory. Looking back on Hindi cinema however, I feel that as an Indian critic and film analysis, we should give up the tendency to rely on Western constructs of feminist film criticism. I might add also that they are fine for (a) offering choices of alternative schools of thought, (b) guiding the process of feminist film research, (c) forming frames of reference for specific issues that are global in character such as cinematic depiction of rape, and, perhaps, (d) providing a platform for interesting and exciting comparisons between a Hollywood film and a mainstream Hindi film on the same subject.

I have realised over my years of research into the portrayal of women in Hindi cinema that these constructs, theories and perspectives can neither be directly applied to nor superimposed on Indian mainstream cinema’s treatment and portrayal of women. One has to develop a mode of analysis that is culture-specific and situation-specific. Feminist film theories that draw mainly upon psycho-analysis, semiology and structuralism do not have much bearing on an analysis of portrayals of women in Hindi cinema. So, one has to develop a new theory of such analysis against the backdrop of the Indian socio-economic backdrop within which the real woman lives and works and study the intersections of these with celluloid women in Indian cinema. How distanced are the real women from the celluloid women? Does distancing help nurture better images of the celluloid women or does it hinder the image more and thus distance the audience from these films? Globalization has changed it all and one needs to look at the woman portrayals in Hindi cinema in 2010 with new eyes and through a new pair of glasses tinted with the razzmatazz of Western packaging, sophisticated marketing strategies, the launching of music and stars taking part in reality shows to plug their about-to-be-released films.

Who is a female actor today in Bollywood that you admire and why?

I admire most of them for their commitment, their approach to their career and their roles, their readiness to learn new skills such as fighting, riding, karate, climbing mountains and so on and their readiness to shed clothes according to the demands of the character, the film, the director, their flexibility and the power they exude by their mere presence on and off screen. They are articulate, intelligent and dynamic and hold themselves extremely well in public space and even on screen. Among the choice select, I would pick Aishwarya Rai, Kajol, Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Kangana Ranaut, Konkona Sharma, Bipasha Basu, Rani Mukherjee, Katrina Kaif and Preity Zinta. Sadly, the new crop of young leading ladies who make their debut opposite  heroes like Amir and Shahrukh cannot make it afterwards for some mysterious reason.

Is there any specific difference between the role that women play in Hindi cinema vs other regional Indian cinema

I can only speak in relation to Bengali mainstream which does not stand any comparison at all because most Bengali mainstream films are cut-and-paste jobs from Southern films and Hindi films.

Could you kindly speak about any specific contemporary Indian director who is sensitive to the portrayal of women in Indian cinema and how does that reflect in his work and cinematic choices.

Shyam Benegal, Madhur Bhandarkar, Vishal Bharadwaj, Anurag Kashyap, Anurag Basu, Rituparno Ghosh, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and Mahesh Manjrekar who directed Astitva. Even when they do not make films that are involved in basic gender issues and are gender-neutral in treatment and storyline and approach, they are very sensitive in their projections of the female characters in their films. Madhur Bhandarkar would come on top of this list after Benegal.

Email Interview conducted on Friday, October 08, 2010



CINEMA: ART OR INDUSTRY

Premendra Mazumder is working on cinema in versatile capacities. As a film critic, writes for various publications worldwide. Authored a book on Hundred Years of Indian Cinema in Bengali. Edited several film journals. Worked in the editorial board of the ‘Dictionary of Asian Cinema’ published in Oct. 2008 by Nouveau Monde Editions, Paris. Member of the ‘Federation Internationale Presse de Cinematographique – Fipresci’. Official Correspondent for India for the ‘Cannes Critics Week’ since 2005.


Today how would you look at cinema, as an art or an industry. How does it maintain the balance or is there a need for a separation.

Cinema is a perfect combination of art and industry. Its a brilliant creative work and a superb saleable product as well.

Cinema always maintained an ideal balance during its ontogenesis. Its not needed to facilitate an unhappy divorce of such a generative marriage. Any unwarranted effort of such a separation will simply be futile.

Do you feel that there is a space where a filmmaker as an artist can exist without bothering about how their film will do at the box office. Is there an independent DVD market that can exist for this artist who does not have to rely on mass appeal but address a  select audience and still be in business. Who offers this space to the filmmaker. Can a filmmaker afford to use cinema as a ‘pen’ can she/ he really be free to create.

If there is sufficient resource to be patronised, the filmmaker as an artist can exist without bothering about the box-office. But it is difficult to survive as the producer may not be interested always to waste money for such a benevolence. When any creative art comes to the market, it becomes a product. And whenever there is any necessity to depend upon the returns from the market the absolute independence of the creator is compelled to compromise with the conditions of the market. On the other hand the quality of the product can also control the character of the market. Even it can create its niche market for its own survival. Cinema has this quality in abundance. So a filmmaker has got enough opportunity to experiment. As the vast community culture of film viewing is changing very rapidly to small group culture or to individual culture, the scope to reach the target audience is also increasing very speedily. Shifting from large single-screen theatres to small multiplexes or to personal home monitors, creates wider opportunity to ignore the box-office oriented complex market mechanism controlled by the nexus of financiers, producers, distributors and exhibitors. Film sense is increasing apace amongst the educated viewers through the constant persuasion of the support groups like film clubs, film schools, film studies departments of colleges and universities, other film education centres et al which could be a good help for the independent filmmakers to ignore the box-office. Only constraint is the lack of professional approach. A film-society activist or a film scholar is ready to spend Rs.200(+) per ticket for seeing a big-budget product in a class-I multiplex with friends or family members and there is nothing wrong in it but the same person will not be ready to promote a low-budget independent film in the same multiplex even at the half price and rather find either for a complimentary pass in some academic show or opt for lending a DVD at Rs.10(-). When these group of film intelligentsia will realise that not only their intellectual support is sufficient to promote a good film or an independent filmmaker but also their financial support is very much necessary for their survival, the total premise will be changed.

Independent DVD market for a select audience is in existence worldwide, even in India. For example, the entire NE zone of the country where the people are contented with their own language and culture has a huge home-made DVD market. Its a booming business there since the digital technology opened the new horizon in audio-visual culture. In mainstream market also the existing oligopoly could be challenged by the independent filmmakers as there is a high demand of genre-wise films. Here also the role of the above-mentioned support groups is very much important. People with real film-sense should realise that even to make a very small budget independent film a bountiful amount of money is needed and if the filmmaker does not get it back it will be impossible for the artist to survive. So the support groups should come forward to activate the alternative channels for promotion of such positive efforts. Even an alternative market network could also be built up using the technological advancements.

This space is being generated through a complex market mechanism. There are some forums in existence who are trying to explore the market. Demand is also increasing to cater the need of the consumable products. Some satellite channels are marking some slots for such films not to promote good films or independent filmmakers but to cater their own need for finding out new avenues to increase profit. Some support groups may come forward jointly to operate a separate channel for promotion of such films in a regular manner. When the people in general will have the wide opportunity to taste the good films at their home comfort according to their own convenience, they will certainly come forward to promote such films by purchasing the DVDs or going to the theatres paying entry fees.

Advancement of technology will shortly make it possible to use cinema as a ‘pen’ and the filmmaker will be ‘free’ in the real sense of the term to create.

Many young aspiring filmmakers in India want to express themselves but feel limited by the economic approach of ‘the mainstream feature film’ . What are the other options available to them to make a livelihood as a filmmaker.

First of all the aspiring filmmaker has to decide the specific goal and then the way to reach there. The problem with most them is that they are basically confused and can not decide what they exactly want to achieve. There is nothing wrong to dream about being a Yash Chopra or a Ritwik Ghatak, but it is practically impossible to be the both at the same time. Its a Laputan proposition. And to achieve a specific goal the filmmaker should be philosophically honest. Limitation of funding for making artistically brilliant film is always there as the producer wants a quick return of the investment with a handsome profit. Still there are so many excellent films which have glorified the history of Indian cinema without bothering for the box-office.

To make filmmaking a livelihood is really difficult at the initial stage particularly for the outsiders. Ad-films, corporate films, commissioned documentaries etc. could be the options at the struggling stage to survive. Even after getting success several filmmakers continue earning from these alternatives.

What are the options of funding a film for a young filmmaker today.

As the film industry in India is being corporatised very rapidly, there are many opportunities of getting funds for the young aspiring filmmakers. Corporate houses could be approached directly with the specific proposals. Like independent filmmakers, independent producers always exist, who have the money and want to be associated with some good artistic works. Some NGOs are there in the business. Govt. organisations like NFDC, PSBT, FD etc. also provide funds. In state levels, there are some organisations. Some reputed international film festivals have got some projects. Many funding agencies are there. But for any such project, one need to have a worthy proposal and right valuable contacts.

What has been your experiences with film festivals across the world.

Refreshing & worthful, exciting & colourful. Festivals enrich the knowledge, update the information, explore new talents, retrospect the veterans. Interactions with the filmbuffs of different countries create an comfortable feeling of international bonding beyond borders based upon cinema. Its an excellent opportunity to expand the wings in an open sky of cinema.

Are film festivals an alternative space for an artist to get recognized.

Absolutely right. Film is an universal form of art. So its universal recognition is most important to a real artist. And the film festival is the right forum to get that recognition. A film may or may not be accepted in the land of its origin. But it could be highly acclaimed internationally. That certainly benefits the artist, intellectually and sometimes financially as well. There are so many examples which confirm that a real artist has been recognised first by some festival.

When does a young filmmaker know that he is ready to enter his film into a reputed film festival. What are the qualities in a film that you look for being on the jury board of many film festivals yourself. What is the special quality that takes the first prize and appeals the most.

It depends upon the self-judgement, which, in most of the cases, are not correct. So the members of the selection jury are compelled to see so many bad entries. An efficient consultant can show the right path.

A good film draws your uninterrupted attention from the beginning till end with all your sensations focused on it without any distortion and it pursues you even after the final bell rings and keeps you obsessed for ever. As a member of the jury I find this quality of a film.

Film is a very complicated medium. So process to judge the best is also very complicated. There is no hard-and-fast rule, but some pre-fixed conditions could be there. It differs from festival to festival. Some common aspects are to evaluate different sections, such as, form, presentation, content, script, cinematography, sound, music, acting, editing and overall performance. But which appeals most is that it should not only be a good film but the best one amongst all in the competition.

How do you enter your film in the Cannes festival. Do you feel the process of selection is transparent and democratic.

I am the official correspondent for India for the Cannes Critics Week for last six years. I strongly believe that its selection process is very much transparent and highly democratic.

If you would have to list the top ten film festivals in the world what would they be.

As I work as the consultant for several film festivals worldwide, I should not comment on this particular point. I think all the festivals are important as they promote good cinema, explore new talents, create and nourish healthy film culture. That’s all.