Architecture, sculpture, painting, music, poetry and dance are the six art forms. The seventh art is cinema, said Ricciotto Canudo more than hundred years ago. The seventh art is about light, sound and moving images. This art form is living through the emotions on the screen. Cinema is not mere fantasy. Writes Martin Scorsese, “Whenever I hear people dismiss movies as “fantasy” and make a hard distinction between film and life, I think to myself that it’s just a way of avoiding the power of cinema.” Cinema is so special for some. Scorsese says, “Most creation myths start with darkness, and then the real beginning comes with light — which means the creation of forms.” Some moving images can be really moving experiences. Every movie transmits the DNA of its time, said a film critic.
Those who like films are dormant filmmakers. Film-making is a process. It encompasses contents, images, expressions, and language. It is a process that converts money into light, sound and motion in the hope that this will bring some money so that more light, sound and motion can be produced. “At the end of the day are images flickering on a wall”.
In the silent era, expression was the only language used in the movies. Language was added to make the film more expressive. If too much ‘language’ is added, it can be cacophony. Some movie makers know the language of filmmaking. They know the meaning of ‘judicious’ and ‘restrain’, whether it is in the use of language or light or sound. Actor is an important part of a film. We are grateful to the actors who know how not to become larger than the context. They know how to emote in the minimum possible space. A good director can see a particular sequence in the context of the whole film. A good director can describe a film much better because he can see the whole of it much before it is completed. Frank Darabont, director of Shawshank Redemption has aptly described the feeling of a filmmaker: “The amazing thing about any movie is not whether it’s good, but that it got made at all.”
Satyajit Ray was a complete filmmaker. I liked opening sequences of his films. I liked the way he introduced the character in his films. His films were not wordy and explicit. Chidananda Dasgupta aptly summarised his work: chronicle of social change in India, eclipse of Mughal glory, decay of feudal zamindar, impoverished brahmin’s movement from traditional to modern India, elite’s awakening to rationalist ideas, beginning of the liberation of women, anguish of the unemployed, the inexorable death of conscience, reassertion of basic values. Ray was conscious of his cultural background. He had no problem with the “foreigners’ curiosity about the Orient” but did not believe in “pandering their love of the false-exotic”. Ray had limited tolerance for mediocrity.
Now we have 100 crore, 200 crore, 300 crore films. They are ‘valued’ even before the films are conceived, not to talk of their release. “Now, the cycles of popularity are down to a matter of hours, minutes, seconds, …”. How long can we afford to be guided by box office returns? Perhaps as long as it is an industry. Those who have seen films from the front stall only know how exciting watching a film can be in six Anna seats with people with smelly shirts, torn seat covers, filth, ‘paan’ spittoons all around, inborn talent for whistling, and loads of enthusiasm. Someone rightly said, “Those in the cheaper seats clap, the rest rattle their jewellery.” Watching a film in an empty multiplex is not much fun. Pandemic has taken away that fun too.
“The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance limit of your bladder,” advised Alfred Hitchcock. I, therefore, must stop.
Executive Director, Birla Institute of Scientific Research, Jaipur
Vice President, Indian National Academy of Engineering