Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cinephilia - Young Love

I wish I could boast of having been a cinephile since the day I was born. The truth however is bland and stares me in the face. I am incredibly envious of those die-hard movie-buffs who fed off of cinema and scaled walls to catch the latest film in town. I have vivid memories of going to the circus that came to the Red Fort grounds and the puppet show in Sri Ram Center, but no such memory about going to the cinema hall.
I do remember the films that I watched as a child. Back then the fascination was with the stories and characters - not so much the medium itself. I was completely taken by The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins and Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang. The musical was such a spectacle and it was thrilling to watch Julie Andrews and Dick-Van-Dyke do such wonderful routines to the music. The video-store near our house was a regular weekend haunt. VHS tapes of Tom and Jerry, Lion King, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Mr. India, Home Alone and much later, Lawrence of Arabia made their way into our home. There was also a most wonderful television channel called DD3 (Doordarshan 3) which showed films like Born Free and The Gods Must Be Crazy. But my engagement with the material was far less than with say, books, music and theatre.

The film appreciation course at NID in my first year was something of an eye-opener. We watched films like Jojo's Cafe and Wedding and standard film-school fare like De Sica's Bicycle Thief. Alain Resnai's hauntingly beautiful Hiroshima Mon Amour left me bewildered. It was so lyrical, so sublime and yet so powerful. There were other films and directors whose work I learned to appreciate and identify - Truffaut's Les Mistons, Ozu's Tokyo Story, Zhang Yimou's Ju Dou, Pontecorvo's Battle of Algiers, Welles's Citizen Kane, Godard's Breathless and Weekend and My Life To Live, Ray's Aparajito, Chaplin's The Great Dictator and Modern Times, Antonioni's Red Desert, Resnais's Night and Fog, Kieslowski's Three Colours Red White and Blue,Almodovar's Talk To Her and All About My Mother, Scorsese's Raging Bull and Goodfellas, Vertov,s Man With A Movie Camera and Robert Weine's Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to name a few. It was then that I began to really look at cinema. I saw it as the perfect amalgam of the great traditions in art, literature, music and theater. It was a social and historical document. It was unique in that it was imbued with the value of the fourth dimension - the dimension of time.

When I watched Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso, I felt a strange kinship with the little boy Toto who grows up to be a filmmaker. The enigma of cinema - the nearly magical projector, the sound of film whirring through it and the dancing translucent images on the screen - is hard to shake off once of you have experienced it. Today this romantic notion of film and cinema is being replaced by something far less tactile. Something that has changed the very foundation of filmmaking and has empowered many more people to make films. There is nothing even remotely romantic about digital technology. Nothing to touch and feel. No sounds that reassure. The world of objects reduced in one fell swoop to some binary code and little squares that are inadequate from the start.

I am in no position to speak of the joys of one medium as opposed to the perceived ills of another. I haven't had the opportunity to fiddle with a film projector or use the lithe video camera, almost an appendage of the human arm when in use, in diverse ways. I do not wish to debate over the subject of analog and digital - though it is changing the very nature of communication - because I am no expert. But I will say this - if i were to strike up a romance with one of the two, it would undoubtedly be the former.

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