01 January, 2009

2008: The Year of “World Cinema”

Though world wide web has rendered physical boundaries almost redundant, living in India came with a price tag for film buffs. The unequal distribution of cinematic wealth made us often feel bitter. All the more when our American friends dropped names like Criterion collection and Netflix during every conversation on cinema. We had our pirates, Palika Bazars, bit torrents and nosey street corner DVD rentals, though hardly a competition when it came to quality and accessibility.

Nothing short of a revolution took concrete shapes in 2008. And boundaries of the silver screen got pushed like never before to encompass the whole world.

Signs of the “movement” started showing up in January 2008, when Palador Pictures, launched a five DVD Francois Truffaut collection. This was followed by collections of Akira Kurosawa and Wong Kar Wai. Sooner, NDTV group announced their new venture NDTV Lumiere, a 24 hours world cinema channel, backed by theatrical releases and DVD collection.

By February 2008, the first world cinema channel was already up on air. UTV World Movies, started beaming foreign films directly in our living rooms. A launch marked by advertising blitz, which took everyone by surprise.

Later, the basket got only bigger, notably Shemaroo, Enlighten among others entered the segment.

It was lot more than a co incidence that while the corporate sector was branding their world cinema venture as “movement”, the Federation of Film Societies of India, turned 50. A body, set up in 1959 with Satyajit Ray as its president and late prime minister Indira Gandhi as vice president.

The federation represents more than 300 film societies scattered across the country, where many of us (including me) have seen the very first glimpses of world cinema.

Entry of corporate world cinema distributors, into the field, which was considered the domain of film societies and festivals till date, created new issues. Some distributors tried to pose as new generation film societies, while some announced “why to wait for a film festival” and blamed festivals for dissuading masses from watching foreign cinema by associating them with high arts. On one occasion, a private distributor even asked MAMI film festival to stop screening films that they held rights of, while the prints were provided to the festival by the Spanish culture centre!

Gradually, the societies and private players learnt to live together. As they understood that their paths met quite often. Besides, they realized that societies and festivals could also add to their revenue and provide them access to an audience that they will take months to reach out to otherwise.

The brighter side of the private players’ entry was, we were treated to some theatrical releases that we would have been denied of otherwise. NDTV Lumiere chose Orphange to start its theatrical screenings on May 30, 2008. Soon, films like Persepolis, The Secret of the Grain, Three Monkeys, Caramel were released week after week that was unprecedented for Indian theatres!

One of the high points of the year was a traveling film festival of Swedish master Ingmar Bergman. Seven films including Silence, Through a Glass Darkly, Wild Strawberries were screened in six cities in the month of August and September. A treat that cinephiles will long remember the year for.

UTV World Movies while looking for popular elements in the foreign cinema, was presumably an instant hit with masses. Whereas, the old timers got their share of “world movies” through programmes like “Platinum collection” and “50 films you must watch before you die”. The channel screened classics like Three Colours trilogy and new finds such as 13 Tzameti. Interestingly, the channel was screening, Chabrols’s “A Girl Cut in Two” while it was still doing festival round.

Now, the channel has a rival in NDTV Lumiere, that went on air in October, 2008. A channel that rightly boasts an enviable collection handpicked from international festivals.

NDTV Lumiere library lent South Korean master Kim Ki Duk and Finnish maverick Aki Kaurismaki’s collection to festivals, where their retrospectives were held.

How can a world cinema “movement” be complete without “Bicyle Thieves”, the iconic film that inspired an entire generation. Surprisingly, for some reasons the film slipped the attention of any one of the players. Finally, on October 17, 2008, Enlighten Film Society, released it on DVD, making a foray in home video market.

The year 2008 marked an overwhelming beginning of organized world cinema distribution in India. Though, accessibility, information and in some cases quality of projection still remain an issue, lets hope, wrinkles will get ironed out in 2009. And, film societies, festivals and private players will come together to take “world cinema” to every nook and corner of the country.

Nevertheless, the year 2008, has assumed such a significance for world cinema lovers, that it could rightly be called the beginning of a new era. Just switch on your television, visit nearest DVD parlor or a multiplex to see the difference!

No comments: