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Books On Cinema

One assumes that the exercise of a yearly evaluation of books on cinema and critical writing on cinema published in periodicals in India has been conceived as part of an agenda aiming at raising the level of appreciation and understanding of cinema, and in the process an improvement of the general quality of cinema. Given the valorization of Bollywood in the media at the cost of the more central cinematic values over the last decade in particular, there were very few books in the year’s entries that attempted to locate films in a well defined context—historical, technological or artistic—and then read them closely. The two kinds of books that dominated were, firstly, carelessly documented and flamboyantly designed coffee table books; and secondly, incompetently edited and shoddily produced, supposedly ‘archival’ monographs published by government institutions. The exceptions were few and far between.

It was in the regional languages, particularly in Kannada, Malayalam and Marathi, rather than in English and Hindi that there were probing, critical studies of cinema in those languages, deeply rooted in histories, and with profound insights into the local; the insights naturally illuminating the films. As we were exposed to the richness of a lot of this writing, we felt the need for translation of this material into other Indian languages. In fact, the Directorate of Film Festivals of India could take up  project to publish an annual anthology of regional writings on cinema, maybe along with selected book excerpts, translated into English, offering readers in the country and abroad, a feel of Indian cinema in its many manifestations and Indian film criticism growing out of different cultural histories.

The portfolios of film criticism sent in by individual critics were mostly collections of film reviews in the daily newspapers, rarely rising above the level of smart pieces with quick judgement for an indifferent readership. Several of these reviewers have mastered the skill of putting the film story across with exemplary precision, which the popular films too lack. One wonders if the film critics being trained and imparting training at the film studies and research departments at universities and media institutions consider the national film awards irrelevant, for there was almost nothing that could represent that newly emerging discipline. Indian cinema deserves better professional editorial values in the making of publications in the field. It is a shame that there were very few books that were properly edited and designed and even ‘proofed’!

Once one has gone through such an exercise, one feels frustrated at the sense of sheer inaccessibility of what an enormous body of film watchers and film critics in India think about the films they are exposed to, and what they expect from cinema. The inaccessibility only grows with the growth of a jargon-bound language of film criticism that moves farther and farther away from the sensory, rugged, immediate experience of cinema in the raw. 

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