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November 1997, Week 3


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 21 Nov 1997 12:55:25 +0500
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sumit Basu <[log in to unmask]>
To: "Gareth B." <[log in to unmask]>
TEXT/PLAIN (85 lines)
> Therefore, there are [at least] 3 Indias in cinema: the India of
> American fantasy (e.g. Indiana Jones), the India of Indian fantasy (the
> song-and-dance films), and Ray's view of the "real" India.
> I'm surprised Ray isn't popular in India; I had thought he was cultural
> hero there. The popularity of the song-and-dance movies, however,
> certainly does reveal something about the Real India, since it's Real
> Indians who support these extravaganzas.  My intuition is that this
> version of India holds the same place in the Indian psyche as the 6-day
> Edo Dynasty flicks hold in Japanese culture and the 3-day Westerns hold
> in the U.S.A.
> Please comment on this. After all, it's impossible to know if such
> analogies are worth anything without the comments of someone who's
> there.
> Paul E. Clinco
   The analogy in my opinion holds at least supeficially.'Commercial' or
'formula' films, as we wish to call them in India, share some common
features in any country. Dependence on the star system, repetitive
themes, advocacy of convenient social virtues, use of well
established icons,equating good
with the rural and bad with the urban etc. are features I have seen in
commercially successful films from many countries.
   This very similarity of purpose however, poses a paradox.If Indian
films and American films have the same ingredients for success, then why
are American films shown and seen in India(or in any country for that
matter) and not vice versa? This thread has not been, in my opinion,
able to answer this question satisfactorily.
  The success of American cinema outside USA depends on a host of
cultural issues. To an average Indian, the image of America is a blurred
yet enticing one and formation of that image takes place through many
sources. This image of a remote El Dorado is reinforced by films.American
films, though many Indians donot understand English, have somewhat the
same effect as the indigenous 'song and dance' fantasy in the sense that
it supports the collective day dreaming about a fictitous land of
infinite permissiveness and affluence.
This would lead us to believe
that success might be tied to how well a film confines itself to the
boundaries already defined by other cultural inputs and how well it
unquestioningly pampers the beliefs generated by these inputs. If safety
razors can sell in India just because they are 'imported from the USA',
so can films! So 'Rain Man' would have to struggle to get a foothold and
'Sudden Impact' will run to full houses. Similarly in the US, when Ray's
'Ballad of the Road' is shown, people (reportedly) walk out because they
cannot stand the image of people eating with their hands, wheras Mira
Nair's 'KamaSutra' meets with unprecedented success.
P.S. In a sense in which 'popularity' is universally defined, Ray is not
popular in India.He made his films in Bengali, one of the 25 major and
200 odd minor languages of India.His films were subtitled in
French,German and English but never to any other Indian language.So his
reach was limited to the upper middle class that feels comfortable with
   His status as a cultural icon stems from his getting the Oscar for
lifetime achievement (if you remember, he got it from his deathbed).To a
country struggling with colonial hangovers, what can be more valuable
than such a recognition, altough a bit late (and as cynics point out, a
bit out of sympathy), from a land of 'milk and honey'?
  Research Student (Ph.d.)                   'J'Block,Apartment-3,
  Department of Mechanical Engineering         Indian Institute of Science,
  Indian Institute of Science                  Bangalore- 560 012.
  Bangalore-560 012.                           Ph: 91-80-3092429
  Ph: 91-80-3092598
         | I am. That's all. Had words been ever mine?       |
         | As I look beyond, from one horizon to next,       |
         | To have life, not words, suffuse my every pore,   |
         | I have wetted my sightless eyes with the night.   |
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