ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Cinema in the Digital Age

Moinak Biswas holds (“For a Political Cinema to Come”, EPW, 16 August 2014) that the assimilation of “styles, techniques and themes of the minority alternative films” has refashioned the nature and style of conventional cinema with “interesting” results. Consequently, he wonders, would the concept of “popular cinema” survive? In other words, mainstream cinema, through this assimilation, has co-opted parallel cinema in its fold, leading to the end of the mainstream-parallel divide. Biswas’s analysis of the current trend in Indian cinema seems accurate when one considers the recent collaboration of independent film-maker Dibakar Banerjee (director of low-budget, smartly directed films like Love, Sex aur Dhokha and Shanghai) with big-budget, blockbuster director and producer Karan Johar in the film Bombay Talkies (2013). The trend, according to Biswas, led to the decline or “the near absence of political film-making in India” today, primarily due to the absence of an alternative film sector in the industry.

In this regard one would like to state that the mainstream-parallel (alternative) divide, though a reality, was always problematic. It cannot be denied that various shades of grey exist between the extremes of black and white. The popular trend of differentiating cinema into two simplistic, mutually exclusive segments became popular in the 1970s and 1980s (big-budget, escapist, non-real, star-centric films as “commercial” and low-budget, “realist”, political or new-wave cinema marked by superior cinematic content, including superlative acting, as “Art” or “Parallel”). The trend was later frowned upon by eminent film personalities including the new-wave director Mrinal Sen who maintained that at the end of the day there could only be good films and bad films. The tendency to generalise big-budget blockbusters as “mainstream” was also challenged by many, including Amol Palekar, a prominent actor identified with small, low-budget but popular Hindi films. Palekar asks (interviewed by Faisal Shariff on, 20 October 1999):

Which mainstream cinema are you talking about? The cinema which flops 95% of the time? Why do you keep talking about that and why do you keep using that as the yardstick is my counter question. The Amol Palekar-Basu Chatterjee combination or Amol Palekar-Hrishikesh Mukherjee combination stood on an equal footing with the Manmohan Desai-Amitabh combination or the Shakti Samanta-Rajesh Khanna combination. All existed together. So why are we saying that mainstream cinema is only that and not Amol Palekar-Basu Chatterjee?

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