(This article first appeared in the Mumbai Mirror)
You have sought to define Indian ‘parallel’ cinema outside of a western understanding of terms such as avant-garde, experimental or underground cinema. Can this severance enhance its sense of identity by confining it to its own roots and natural history?
I call it Cinema of Prayoga (or simply CinemaPrayoga) and it is not to aim at a severance. It is to enlarge the historical scope of the Western sense of Experimental and to make it more inclusive of ‘prayoga’ cinematographic practices outside. And it is to find our own root. It is also not to confine it to a particular boundary but in fact it is to de-confine the Euro-American centric Experimental Film. Avant-garde to me is a military word. CinemaPrayoga aims to get out of that.
In India this cinema is often confused with ‘social’, instructive’ and even middle ground cinema. What will you look for in the films you pick for your 7 months long festival?
Cinema of Prayoga is completely a new term that desires to have its definitional stability and its own discipline sans social or political rhetoric. I look at the films chosen for the NCPA Saat Sarjak Saat Samvaad sessions, as having a certain risk taking element, a vision to broaden the contours of cinematography (in the Bressonian sense of creative cinema), a deviation from conventions to explore time and space to offer cinematography a newer grace and plasticity of its own. The seven artists in Cinema of Prayoga program are crucial for India cinematography – they include the young and the gurus such as Kumar Shahani and Mani Kaul.
Was the unfortunate but vitriolic pitting of ‘cinemaprayog’ against “commercially viable” cinema a prime reason for its degeneration in India? Could it have sustained better if it was not seen as challenging the ego of mass cinema?
Let mass cinema remains as such. What happened, I think, was our lack of faith in strengthening the parallel streams and eccentricities that keep any society healthy. We have pushed cinema into mass communication and courses like BMM. You have to struggle hard to find Film Studies departments in colleges. Everyone wants to manufacture ‘consent’ and produce mass cinema like commercials. What a pity!
At a time when India is obsessed with its economic potential and discrepancies can art escape the concerns of economics in one way or another? Is this necessarily harmful?
No, it is not harmful. Even in the capitalist North America, you find an experimental film artist such as Maya Deren – she died a pauper but stuck to her belief in whatever explorations she was trying fathom in the ocean of cinematography. Even now you cannot avoid her work. CinemaPrayoga would like to include the kind of discipline that marked the European and American cinematographic practices within the realm of Experimental Film.
World over the spirit of radical experimentation and its scope is only receding from its glory years. Is this global phenomenon linked in any way? Where has the fodder for new thought gone?
In my interview, I asked Mani Kaul how could he reconcile with Ritwik Ghatak and Robert Bresson. He said, “both could cure me of a disease called realism’. We still extol the virtues of realist cinema. Look at our own popular culture traditions they are ‘fantastic’. We need to rescue cinema from mass communication – let that job be done by advertisements and commercial films. I think such boundaries are clear. In literature we can find James Joyce completely driving himself away from the trodden paths – even in India literature can provide some commendable examples.