Films of Movements
Rajat Kanti Dasgupta
Published by Gangchil, Kolkata 700111
The author has chosen the title of the book ‘Films of Movements’ which from his perspective is, and by general agreement, the most important constituent of the more broad-based domain of political cinema. If we accept that political cinema is a genre of cinema by itself, its crop has been rich through the ages in the films of Griffith, Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov, Charlie Chaplin, Joris Ivens in the early years of film-making. In the post second world war era, films of this class assumed mainstream status in the hands of Costa Gavras (Z, The Missing), Gillo Pontecorvo (Battle of Algiers). Fassbinder (Fear Eats the Soul) and others. The author has made a clear statement in the introductory piece of this volume under review that his essays will reflect his search how film-making has been a fellow-traveller with people’s movements. From this stated global position, the author has entered into the realm of Indian films. The refrain of the author in four of his eight essays in the book is the lamentation that Indian directors have not cultivated political issues, chronicles of movements or activism in their films except in patches. In his quest for analysis of this near absence of political cinema in Indian context, at least up to 1950’s, the author has attributed this phenomenon to colonial rule and more particularly to the repressive censor statutes- Indian Cinematograph Act, 1918. He observes that political plays in Bengal were not unknown even in early twentieth century, whereas the films of the time were mostly mythological or based on social issues of sentimentality. While on this subject, the author could have delved into the economics of film- making of that era which vastly influenced not only the class of films being made but also the preference of the viewers where political cinema had no place. Yet, the hesitant baby steps of Do Bigha Zameen ( Bimal Roy) or Dharti Ke Lal (K.A.Abbas) could have found a place in any of the essays. Growth of film-making into a vast industry in the countries where it is relevant, has been made possible by the considerations of market economy it had created, except perhaps in regimented societies of Soviet Block. Makers of political cinema, often due to limited viewership and lack of interest of financiers, had to wade through difficult waters to make it happen. Joris Ivens, the maker of the Spanish Earth, the documentary on Spanish Civil War, is an example.
The arrangement of the book, comprising one introductory piece and eight essays, some of them too brief though to be called ‘essays’, is somewhat unstructured. The ideas of the author have not developed in a linear narrative from one essay to a subsequent one. The fourth essay is mostly on the history of political cinema in Russia and later Soviet Russia. He returns to his subject in the fifth essay, but the brevity of the next piece-titled ‘চলচ্চিত্রের ইতিহাস শ্রেণী সংগ্রামেরও’ disappoints the reader. Far from its challenging title, the author in this one-and-a-half-page writing, gives only some disjointed information without doing any justice to the title. The fact that political cinema has been an uncharted territory in Indian filmdom, has been emphatically but often repeatedly mentioned in three essays of the book, not necessarily with complementary new findings from his search. In the last two essays, in the context of Film Society movement in Bengal and the worldwide turmoil of the late 1960’s, the author stated what he has already done elsewhere in this volume, except mentioning the names of some short films of political genre which have been made in India from 1970’s by Anand Patwardhan and other directors of his ilk.
The repetitive statements notwithstanding, the strength of the book is the relevance of the principal issue raised which is that political cinema is an important vehicle of man’s struggle for space and freedom and against the machinations of the rulers. In that context, review of a couple of such films- Indian or international- would have given the readers the right perspective.
The eight essays and the introductory piece, run into fifty-two pages. For unstated reasons, the author has added thirty-four stills at the end of the book, not all from films of movements. Some of the films, stills of which have been used, have not been mentioned in his essays. Also, in this section, Battle of Algiers has been stated to have been directed by Costa Gavras. This is actually a landmark political film made by Gillo Pontecorvo.
Yet, the author’s work is a curtain raiser for vernacular film literature and will certainly stimulate further analytical work on the subject.
(Courtesy: Frontier weekly)