This piece is being written from a village called Heggodu in Karnataka, where a visionary called K.V. Subanna set up a cultural centre called Ninasam (now headed by his son Akshara).
Even way back then in 1949, he saw the need for exposing an audience to good cinema and a film society was a part of the organisation, which works with theatre in a big way. So, according to the website, “Ninasam Chitrasamaja was an organisation formed to encourage the film culture and also to hold film festivals. A film appreciation course was started with subjects including film history, film techniques, film theory, film criticism, art films and popular cinema. Films that were staged included those by masters like Satyajit Ray, Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa. The films and plays being staged by Ninasam started to attract audience from all over Karnataka and its popularity also grew considerably. The popularity of Ninasam prompted the Ford Foundation to sponsor a project called Janaspandana whereby similar film festivals, plays and appreciation courses were to be organised in other areas of Karnataka. This project ended in 1985 but the activities have continued. It is estimated that about 200 thousand people were exposed to cinema and around 5000 people were exposed to the appreciation courses.”
This need to initiate and guide audiences has never been a priority for Bollywood—they get the audiences they deserve, and also it suits the purpose of mainstream cinema if audiences leave their brains at home. This is probably why our cinema is where it is in terms of quality, not even a blip on the international scene. But filmmakers with a passion for cinema, who want to break the Bollywood mould, it is imperative that the culture of cinephilia that had once come up due to film societies should be revived. Audiences might still choose to see a brain dead entertainer, but at least they should not do so because they believe that is what mainstream cinema should be like, or because there is no alternative. Those writing on cinema should not use terms like “path-breaking” so loosely, without knowing that a particular path was broken ages ago.
As far as creating alternatives go, it’s not in the hands of aspiring filmmakers, but creating a culture of informed viewing would obviously help our cinema grow—even keeping in mind that filmmaking is ultimately a commercial activity and needs to make money for all concerned. Still, all the acknowledged masters were (are) also auteurs and artistes.
Today, with DVDs available, it is easier to get together small communities of film lovers and make film viewing a collective experience, which will serve to expose audiences to cinema that they would otherwise not be able, or willing to, access for fear of not ‘understanding.’
If it could be done in a village in Karnataka, it can be done anywhere.