Looking Back: Cinema, Doordarshan, Art Film vs Mainstream Commercial Films

— Partha Pratim Mallik

If I look back, I must say, I was a (and still I am) movie buff. I remember my dad saying, ‘your addiction to TV & Cinema has made me de-addicted.’ My parents were very much worried with my fascination for watching TV, especially Doordarshan Calcutta &Doordarshan Delhi channels on Saturday & Sunday evenings. At that time in a small town like Tamluk, in West Bengal, we did not have much options for entertainment other than 2/3 cinema halls. Naturally TV was able to grab the attention.

At that time I came across a term: ‘Art Film.’ What was that? My little mind defined it as a complete different genre altogether; a film that does not cast Bachhan or Mithun or Sreedevi. A film that does not have songs, jhar-pit (actions), few ‘baaje scenes’ (well romantic scenes), could be categorized as an art film. I was in a process of learning some names like Satyajit Ray, RitwikGhatak, Mrinal Sen, AdoorGopalakrishnan, ShyamBenegal, Tapan Sinha, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Shaji Karun, G. Arvindan, Kumar Sahni, GirishKarnad. But at that age I was still inclined to watch the ‘jhar pit’ and dances of Mithun. Once I bunked school to watch Disco Dancer.

For me the ‘art film’ was something that my dad used to watch every Sunday at 1-30 PM on national TV. The films, mostly in black & white, were something very slow and uninteresting. Moreover the films were in different languages. Dad used to say they all were ‘very good films.’ But I wondered how one can understand them! The language you don’t know, the running images are not so interesting and to make the question paper even more difficult, they run some text in English so fast at the bottom of the screen! Dad said, it was ‘subtitle.’ What the character says on screen, they write it down. You watch the movie and understand the dialog by seeing the text. I tried it. Man, it was so tough! Dad, either you read or watch, what is this!!!

But somehow I started loving them soon. I started discovering a different language beyond all Indian lingos; and it was the cinematic language. The sequential shots started making some sense to my young mind crossing the linguistic barrier. In short, thus films, especially the Indian regional films, helped me in becoming more Indian than a typical ‘Bong.’