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September 22, 1997


Farzana Versey

There cannot be 'stock' reality

Smita Patel and Om Puri in Ardh Satya
Smita Patel and Om Puri
in Ardh Satya
Reappraise the value of realistic cinema. Has it achieved any success at all? If its avowed purpose is to portray the human situation as it is, has it done anything for the depicted human situation itself? Is not realism via the viewfinder a form of escapism?

When we seek to answer these questions, we make the mistake of classifying it as a debate: art versus commercial cinema, good versus bad. When the fact is that realism cannot be categorised and, for it to succeed in films, it can only be in its capacity as a prop or an unobtrusive backdrop. A facsimile of authenticity is not possible, for all cinema verité comes to us through the camera's eye, which acts as its own filter.

As for the much-touted objectivity of parallel cinema, it is a myth or an objective, nothing else. No cinema is more subjective than this one. It is here that the filmmaker tries to express his political and ideological stand.

Kajol, Bobby Deol and Manisha Koirala in Gupt
Kajol, Bobby Deol and Manisha
Koirala in Gupt
How much do these films influence the audience? If we say that our commercial films make us into junkies and teach us the wrong values, how much of off-beat cinema has sought to be corrective and reformatory? Is making a film about a real situation reality?

Has the other cinema been able to shake off its own obsession with star billing? It would be foolish to presume that a Shabana Azmi or an Om Puri or a Robert de Niro or Al Pacino draw crowds because they depict the common man in their films. They do so because they have acquired some glamour, having reached the audience, ironically, through the much-maligned commercial cinema. And offbeat cinema is not willing to let go of this star pull.

Kaifi Azmi and Mayuri Kango in Naseem
Kaifi Azmi and Mayuri Kango
in Naseem
Isn't it surprising that, though neo-realism made its advent at a time when films were considered a vulgar medium, it did not try to create a viable alternative? Weren't these filmmakers too preoccupied in breaking new ground in the language of film to really care about the substance and its use in social change?

If the purpose of serious cinema is to raise the standards of the masses to make them see things in a larger perspective, then it has not succeeded. Simply because it has not tried. There has been an exceedingly superior attitude towards the very masses who have given it grist for its mill. People about whom the film is rarely get to see it. If the argument is that the idea is not to change the sufferers, then no adequate attempt is made to reach the victimisers either.

Aamir Khan and Karishma Kapoor in Raja Hindustani
Aamir Khan and Karishma
Kapoor in Raja Hindustani
By putting the ball in society's court, the filmmaker cannot absolve himself of all responsibility. He is not doing his bit for society, he's just doing it for himself. That his concerns are serious is not in doubt, but his motives are certainly not above doubt. (Here one would want to make an exception of Shyam Benegal who sometimes gets co-operatives to sponsor his films and thus ensures their participation in the 'reality' business.)

No one goes out of his way to be anti-realist. Even a run-if-the-mill film deals with an intelligible reality, though it may not be intelligent. There cannot be a stock reality.

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Farzana Versey