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Constructing an Indian Aesthetic Theory of Cinema

I’ve always asked myself this question: why is it that despite the richness of some of the Indian theories, they are rarely used in understanding any modern day phenomena like that of cinema? The reason, as I understand, lies in the difficulty of grappling with the enormous complexity and diversity of Indian theories. For example, among the major theories, occur the following orthodox schools which base themselves on the Vedas: (they often come in pairs and hence counted as one where the material base is provided by one and the philosophy by the other) Nyāya-Vaiśesika and its new incarnation Navya-Nyāya, Mīmāṁsā, Saṁkhya-Yoga, and Vedānta; these are challenged by the following heterodox schools which don’t accept the Vedas as their authority: the 4 schools of Buddhism, 2 schools of Jainism, and Cārvāka or the Lokāyata-darśana; finally, Kasmir Śaivism which needs to be placed somewhere in-between the two groups, since, even though it is based on the Agamas and not on the Vedas, yet it has a close affinity with Vedānta on the orthodox side and Buddhism on the other. The richness and complexity of understanding this huge spread of Indian thought arises from the fact that almost all of them continue to co-exist in India; while their intensities continued to vary from time to time, yet none of them ever went out of business fully in the course of Indian history. This enormous body of arguments and counter-arguments raises one legitimate question for an inquirer: in which school does he pitch his tent? The problem is further compounded by the fact that all these theories have more or less evolved together, their process being to bounce off ideas from one another by punching holes in each other’s theories, both within and outside their own groups, only to be filled up by subsequent theoreticians and so on. This resulted in the fact that, to a great extent, any one theory already contained the germs of almost all other theories. Thus, in India, there could be two ways of looking at these theories: as individual theories belonging to a particular group or as a ‘meta-theory’ where all the theories have made their varying contributions to build up a ‘larger theory’. In modern times, if we adopt the first approach, we would be forced to be confined to any one of the theories to the exclusion of all the others which is likely to impoverish our understanding of Indian thought. A better approach would, thus, be to adopt the second approach where the best solutions provided by particular schools to particular problems would be accepted as the valid one. On the face of it, it appears to be a far cry from being a satisfactory solution and, yet, this process seems to have been sanctioned by the Indian theories themselves. For example, whenever a particular school has come up with a powerful idea, it has ultimately been accepted by all the other schools on both sides of the divide. As for instance, the Buddhist idea of non-qualified perception as a prelude to a qualified perception eventually came to be accepted by all; the Jaina idea of truth being conditional to one’s point of view had a huge impact on all Indian thought; Nyāya’s preeminence in analyzing the cognitive processes of perception and inference set a new bench-mark for all subsequent theoreticians; Mīmāṁsā’s ability in explaining verbal cognition assumed an authoritative status in time; Saṁkhya’s classification of basic mental states as sattwik, rajasic and tamasic formed an underlying assumption for almost all Indian theories in the course of time; Kasmir Śaivism’s aesthetic considerations ultimately acquired an almost unchallenged status in India; and so on.

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