Delhi, being the capital of India, is the centre of art and culture. Where a person could attend a lecture on classical music in the morning, go for a book reading in the afternoon and watch a movie in the evening. Every month screenings (other than theatrical releases) are held all over the city from: schools, colleges, NGOs, cultural film clubs, and at embassies. If there is one thing I’m proud of doing while not attending my media classes (where I did not learn anything about cinema or media) was visiting all venues, clubs and festivals that are part of film culture in Delhi. And most of my observation are based on those experiences I have had at different screenings held in all corners of the city.
Delhi is definitely no Paris, London or New York, we may have similar amount of screening but the attitude one has towards the medium are not the same. One cannot blame the audience, since we never had a film culture to help inform the audience. To date, there is no magazine/website that offers a critique so that a person is informed about the medium. We don’t have a space like the Cinematheque, Film Forum or BFI. So it’s not startling that in a country of a billion people who love movies to escape, as much they hate their lives, are offended when you offer them cinematic sensibility. As years of ignorance in the field has resulted in a crowd who firmly believe that “cinema” and “ using your mind” in “ theaters” are bad for health. However, with my own generation, people are aware of world cinema. Bergman, Fellini, Wong Kar-wai, Jim Jarmusch, Godard, Truffaut are in vogue and people are interested in trying out something different. It’s funny but interesting nonetheless that, people who watch mainstream films condemn the art and vice-verssa but both these group hardly bother about our own auteurs. So in a hip coffee-joint it's cool to watch a Wong Kar-wai film but cannot be same for Buddhadeb Dasgupta.
Every screening in Delhi evokes different forms of film love that co-exists within the country. Most screening in colleges and schools are not well attended, since these screening are done with the purpose of education pertinent to the course of the individual media college. Few who do have genuine interest lose out sooner or later, since the right teachers don’t exist to impart the proper education. Theatrical releases are still restricted to mainstream films and Hollywood blockbusters, and only in key cities (metros) in India one does have a chance to watch a foreign film. Families and friends treat film releases like a social event and going to movies is an important part of people lives here. People do complain about the quality of films and much more; yet they go for mainstream films. First there is no genuine choice so that one could assess if people are really interested in going to movies that are non-mainstream. Second, because of the lack of cinematic knowledge on any form of media (print, television, and web) most are never able to explore different forms of cinema, and hardly aware how to go about things. But if there is a genuine effort to promote and champion films things do move, like The Lives of Others was hit when it was released in India, and had few weeks box-office runs. Last year, the retrospective of Swedish master Ingmar Bergman was a hit all over India.
The second group of screenings in the city is done by the NGOs, government organizations and few private cine-clubs that screens documentaries at home or different auditoriums. These screenings are mainly restricted to documentaries that deal with social, political, or environmental issues at most. Most of the screening or the discussion that takes place is not regarding the medium per se, but more towards the content of the documentary. Most of these screening are not well attained by all strand of film lovers, but just those few close-knit groups who are interested in documentaries. The people who come here can be found attending screenings in most part of the city, and a genuine love for the medium can be seen among a number of people who come here. Again, the problem that continues to persist is the absence of a dialogue on not just “what” we see, but also on “how” we see things. Every year there are number of film festivals on various social issues organized by government bodies (PSBT - Public Service Broadcasting Trust) and NGOs.
The third group of screenings is a homogenous mixture of elite, pseudo-intellectual, and cinephiles. These groups of people are largely seen in the screenings held at embassies, film festivals (big/small) and various cultural centre film clubs. The film clubs at the cultural centers in Delhi IHC (India Habitat Centre), IIC (India International Centre) are the oldest running clubs in the country, but they mainly have members who are too old or to elite to offer their point or discuss. Most screening just happens. Sometimes there is a discussion if the filmmaker is in town or someone has come forward to hold one; otherwise it's dead most of the time; most cinephiles can’t afford these screenings at cultural centres since it’s usually restricted to members. The embassies too don’t offer anything different from most screenings, a large number of people can be seen, and these can be confused with the state of affairs regarding promotion of ‘cinematic’ integrity.
More than film screenings show the side of cinephilia in my city; a small shop that sells pirated DVDs of foreign film offers a chance to meet and discuss with people whom I would have not meet otherwise, because these cinephiles, mainly old or salarymen, prefer the comfort of their living room than to go out and watch. Not that they don’t go to film festivals when held, but they prefer only when something more than screening can take place, like a discussion or exchange of ideas (Osian film Festival is the only one worthy of such a distinction here). Similarly to the other places of cinematic interest, this place is also populate by all forms of film lovers. But the positive element about this group of film lovers is that they are receptive to ideas and always willing learn.
The interest in cinema is certainly on a rise in the city, with distributors releasing foreign film; 24hr satellite TV offering round-the-clock world movies and the availability of choices for foreign film. However, we are still away from cinephilia in true sense to rise or be explored. We still don’t have a place where one can come to discuss, learn and watch movies in the right spirit. Or critics or cinephiles who could champion these films with the right information and for the right reasons.
So even though there are various centres for screenings that are happening throughout the year, not one of them offer a place that can be called a film club. However, there is a positive side to all these, since there is a healthy crowd of cinephiles in the city. People who are genuinely working towards understanding the medium: as critics, filmmakers or just being a good audience. All this has not translated into a common group of people to promote, write or talk about cinema.
We are hoping that in the coming months when we start our film club we can tap into different group of cine-goers in Delhi and initiate a process of unifying cinephiles under one roof. And then one can truly evaluate the ‘state of cinephilia in the city’. We are also coming up with ‘ Cinephile Meetings’ in different parts of India to encourage people to come and discuss, learn and share about cinema. We are moving towards approaching embassies, media schools and different high schools to start discussions whenever any screenings are held in Delhi. There is genuine interest among different groups and social class in India for good cinema, and people are interested in learning, it is just that people never have come together to take initiative and when they did things have changed.
Satyajit Ray and his group of cinephile started the same in Calcutta. Adoor Gopalakrishnan started with the same progress in Kerala and things have moved. We are hoping for the same in Delhi and move towards different regions in India. Our manifesto is the first step towards more concrete action and it serves as a base to what we wish to achieve or formulate in the country a co-operative for film criticism, production, distribution and exhibition of quality films.
Andrew — People are genuinely going out and purchasing foreign films it’s in vogue and will continue for a long time. What pinches me more than anything is the non-availability of Indian films in proper format and quality of our own masters: Ghatak, Ray, Gopalakrishnan, Buddadeb, etc. or some of the younger generation of filmmakers. Personally, I feel India is an emerging market and there is plenty of scope for all kinds of films to be distributed in the country and people are purchasing originals for a change. And if some ‘extra’ content is added it definitely be value added. Another area is the distribution of films online. I also think that for Benten there is plenty scope for distribution in India since there is plenty of space for movies other than established auteurs of World Cinema. And I also think someone seriously should think about picking the DVD/online right of masters of Indian cinema.
As for the market, I think, it's evolving and with proper coverage and information people will go about making their purchases and decision.