Lights, Camera, Conversation… “The home and the world”

Making the case that a certain kind of “good cinema” can be made without adhering to the aesthetic traditions of what’s traditionally accepted as “good cinema.”

A few days ago, at a dinner conversation, I was asked: “How come there’s been no ‘world cinema’ from the Tamil film industry?” The person asking this question – let’s call him M – wasn’t exactly a long-time follower of Tamil cinema (he said he’s seen only two really great films in Tamil, Pushpak and Michael Madana Kama Rajan), so he couldn’t place the names when I mentioned a bunch of people like Mahendran and Rudraiah, along with films like Aval Appadithaan and Udhiri Pookkal. Or for that matter, more recently, films like Virumaandi (with its shades of Rashomon) and Aaranya Kaandam (with its cheeky blending of noir and pop culture). M said, “But why hasn’t anyone heard of them.” And I said, “Of course people have heard of them. Ask any regular Tamil-movie watcher.” And M said, “I’m taking about outside Tamil Nadu. Why aren’t these filmmakers known the way Adoor is, or Kasaravalli is?”

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For a minute I was stumped, because what M says is true. Film lovers all over India – at least those who take cinema seriously – have heard of Adoor and Kasaravalli (and other great art-film makers), whereas the path-breaking filmmakers from Tamil Nadu remain at best local treasures, unknown outside the boundaries of their home state. I offered a reason for this, that directors like Adoor and Kasaravalli follow a style of filmmaking that’s closer to what’s generally accepted as Art Cinema in the west, even though their subjects are local, whereas Balachander and Bharathiraja and many others worked within the Tamil mainstream, which is far removed from the generally accepted notion of “world cinema.” Or maybe a different way to put this is to say that directors like Adoor and Kasaravalli make movies for world audiences, while Balachander and Bharathiraja made movies for local audiences who would not sit through the austere kind of cinema that plays in art-house theatres around the world.

The discussion reiterated, for me, the fact that to some eyes films made in a particular style are automatically greater than the rest – and, generally speaking, I think this happens in two sequential steps. First, local and international critics follow films made in the World Cinema style; they study these films, analyse and deconstruct them, write about them in international publications, and make these films known to a large audience. And secondly, the art-film audience takes its cue from these critics and treats these films more seriously, with more respect, and they get indoctrinated with the idea that serious cinema (i.e. cinema that needs to be taken seriously) is more or less cinema that’s made in this internationally accepted art-house style. Hence, even within Ang Lee’s films, a Brokeback Mountain is “greater” than a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (though I personally feel his best film is Sense and Sensibility, not just one of the great Austen adaptations, but one of the great book adaptations, period).

And as most Tamil movies are in the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon format – namely, playing infinite variations on genre principles, and sometimes transcending them – they don’t get seen much, discussed much, recognised much. That’s why I’m happy that, today, Tamil filmmakers take their films to international film festivals, and that influential filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap keep talking about Tamil cinema. Perhaps this exposure will trigger a change in the way these films are received and written about. As for the older films, my fond hope is that – much like how the works of Douglas Sirk and Rainer Werner Fassbinder have come to be looked at, over the years, through the lens of stylised melodrama (within quotation marks; sometimes tongue-in-cheek quotation marks) – one day critics will wake up and see what older Tamil filmmakers tried to do. I guess the first thing you’ll say is this: “But those filmmakers were making living, breathing movies. They were making cinema. Whereas a lot of the older Tamil films are just photographed stage plays.”

And here I’m echoing the words of my other dinner companion that evening, V. When I said that Tamil films were made a certain way because they catered to a local – as opposed to a global – audience, she said, “But we cannot make excuses like that, no?” And I said that it was making excuses only if you say, “For a Tamil film, this is okay.” And I was not saying that. I was saying, instead, that there are a lot of types of cinema, and we should judge a film on what it’s trying to do and whether it does that well, rather than whether it fits into some imagined idea of World Cinema. Even within the “photographed stage play” aesthetic, there’s so much stylisation – in the rhetoric, in the symbolism. V then said that she couldn’t get Tamil cinema because audiences rated Sivaji Ganesan a great actor. “How can someone so loud and theatrical…?” And I said, “Watch Uyarndha Manidhan and Motor Sundaram Pillai, and let’s continue this conversation.”

Lights, Camera, Conversation… is a weekly dose of cud-chewing over what Satyajit Ray called Our Films Their Films. An edited version of this piece can be found here.

Copyright ©2013 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

136 thoughts on “Lights, Camera, Conversation… “The home and the world”

  1. Satyajit Ray maintained that he made films for his local Bengali audience and that any recognition beyond his home state was a bonus. But, obviously he also knew how to work the festival/international circuit. Perhaps Tamil filmmakers today just don’t know how to get their films seen outside South India and internationally?

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  2. I think everyone has had the phase when having distorted notions of equating good cinema to anything that comes off as a languid slow-moving “serious” cinema seemed absolutely legit. Maybe its that puritanical notion that one should be rid off more than anything else.

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  3. And I said, “Watch Uyarndha Manidhan and Motor Sundaram Pillai, and let’s continue this conversation.” – how come no one mentions Andha Naal.

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  4. “Watch Uyarndha Manidhan and Motor Sundaram Pillai, and let’s continue this conversation.”

    I would have also thrown in “Mudhal Mariyathai”. A subtle, layered, haunting performance -adjectives I would NEVER have used for a Shivaji performance before this film.

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  5. “whereas the path-breaking filmmakers from Tamil Nadu remain at best local treasures, unknown outside the boundaries of their home state”

    And here I parrot, for the umpteenth time, a way to remedy this: DVDs

    Tamil Cinema still hasn’t embraced or exploited this medium to its fullest.

    What does it say, when the crappiest Bollywood product will be assured of a pristine DVD release 4 months after it’s cinema run, with subtitles and in some cases, a supplementary disc with director’s commentary, while Aranya Kandam and Pudhu Pettai STILL haven’t received an official DVD release?

    Get the films on disc, remaster if necessary, subtitle them well and put ‘em out there and you’ll find a larger audience who’ll discover these gems eventually, IMHO.

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  6. its a fashion for many of those mainly who are early twenties or so to comment upon ganesan for no valid reason . am glad that you had referred UM and Motor sundaram pillai and you can also add nenjirukkum varai ( no make up for any one except muthuraman) no one can match the standards he had set in for another hundred years atleast . self made symbol.

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  7. Baradwaj, Are you saying that people who call a film a Good Film are all connoisseurs or otherwise have exposure to what you slot into World Cinema? What you’re suggesting is that everyone who watches Adoor or Anurag Kashyap and thinks their movies are ‘Great’ automatically watches or has watched World Cinema, allowed their standards to be influenced by them and that that’s how their sensibilities have been formed. This is not only a misconception and a disservice (to all the many sensible, sensitive ordinary-if-discerning movie watchers there are, whether Indian or not), but also condescending towards them: You’re telling them that they are able to appreciate Anurag Kashyap or Adoor Gopalakrishnan or Girish Kasaravalli only because they have had some sort of exposure to or awareness of standards of cinema outside India (‘World Cinema’).

    Or let me put my point to you in a different way: Imagine a person living in Tamil Nadu, young, say 18 or 20 years old, educated and fairly intelligent (NOT in a movies sense, just in a general worldly sense) who has so far only watched your standard-issue tamizh and hindi films, plus say a few run-of-the-mill English language flicks on Star Movies. Are you saying that if I sit this guy (or girl) down and play him a movie by (to take the names you and I have already quoted) Anurag Kashyap or Adoor Gopalakrishnan, he simply cannot be blown away? Are you suggesting that this chap needs some “warming-up”, that he needs to grit his teeth through a few late-nighters on UTV Lumiere or at the Chennai Film Festival? Naansense sir.

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  8. You make many of the right points as always. ‘World cinema’ in any case is not as neutral a term as people think. Much like a global film festival structure always involves certain choices, decisions etc at various ideological levels. But also the category of the ‘global’ that always seems to confer a certain prestige on the recipient (and his or her work) and is sometimes used interchangeably with ‘universal’ is itself dependent on various political histories and so forth. For instance Shakespeare or Mozart aren’t the ultimate global artists simply because they’re ‘great’ but because they benefited from the histories of colonialism whereas the comparable Japanese talent never had the same chance until recently when Japan was re-invented by contact with the West. All of these questions are very complicated at every end of the equation but once again, and in a nutshell, there is no ‘neutral’ category of the global which somehow all works can equally access and then become successful or not based on their intrinsic merits.

    The other question that must be asked is: why should a film become globally known at all? This already suggests a somewhat colonial impulse (or within India one that often finds itself answering to a North India or ‘Hindi’ hegemony). In other words unless the film is counter-signed by a film festival of note or by ‘Bollywood’ or what have you it can never be considered worthwhile in the most absolute ways. However one judges Mohanlal’s skills (and I find them supreme) these cannot be dependent on how well-known he is in India or how many films of his are ‘visible’ anywhere on a film festival circuit. The history of an art form is always deeply intertwined with its political contexts. The latter is a pragmatic truth which cannot be confused with the absolute value of the work. The caveat one must consider is that even the ‘aesthetic’ reception is often framed by these political choices. But this should be a reason to interrogate these things even more rigorously and not simply succumb to them. For instance Kurosawa often engages in a very commercial brand of cinema (this is of course not to argue against the stunning nature of his achievements at a variety of levels). But it is one authorized by the global festival circuit. A comparable filmmaker from India (who doesn’t have to be of the same pre-eminence but just somehow who offers in a rough sense the same combination of cinematic choices) would never be celebrated in the same way within India because the endorsement of this global paradigm would have been absent.

    So a lot of these things depend on contingency. Adoor as a matter of fact is poorly known outside India relative to his merits. Yes there have been retrospectives of his work in certan major cities but there is absolute gulf between knowledge of his cinema and Ray’s (even right after Pathar Panchali). Why is it that Ray Indian portrait acquired so much currency so instantly whereas Adoor’s hasn’t? Once again the answer lies in the very same questions.

    Unfortunately the problem with otherwise significant cinematic voices like Kashyap is that they end up too easily endorsing this very global structure. Or ‘Tamil cinema’ too often becomes simply fodder in a polemical battle with ‘Bollywood’. The latter is certainly a worthwhile goal on its own (it’s one I engage in rather regularly as well!) and there is certainly much of value that becomes more noticeable because of a film festival appearance (here one could write an essay on the ‘out of festival’ economy at the same that is largely for ‘home’ consumption or one that satisfies the same sort of ‘desire’ in the ‘native’ country) but there is something problematic about subscribing rather easily to the global hegemony in these matters. One does not have to stop attending festivals or stop sending one’s films to them but one can subvert things greatly in other ways. I have never come across a ‘hot shot’ Bombay director (in any sense of the word) who has so much as mentioned Adoor. I have never come across conversations where Ray or Ghatak (or whoever) are more than passing references. These directors are simply not invested in these figures the way they are in the same Hollywood-foreign film axis as authorized by the ‘global cinema’ censors. And there is something troubling about this for more reasons than one.

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  9. Might I also suggest respectfully that (in talking about Kasaravalli/Ray/Adoor), one might be on less firm ground than when talking about Bharathiraja or Balachander? That’s natural of course given TN is the state you — and I just for the record — grew up in, but all I’m saying is that the nuances of the relationship between how audiences, filmmakers and movies, and how that dynamic has evolved over the decades is very different in different Indian states, and that these differences need to be understood and appreciated to make points about (say) Ray or Adoor, or about Indian Cinema in general. A comment by “Hari” in a recent post of yours (“The amour for art cinema”) was, for instance, very insightful in this respect: http://baradwajrangan.wordpress.com/2012/12/28/lights-camera-conversation-the-amour-for-art-cinema/

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  10. Sir you could have said V to just watch Paraskti & Mullum Malaram to prove her that we had an actor & director who could challenge Hollywood actors & directors

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  11. At the looks of it, the most on-the-surface answer is the North’s transcendental way of looking at Indian films. Bala is one of the best in this country, and yet he gets a scant mention here and there, and that too because of Anurag.

    I doubt if there has been some integration at all. Politically, yes, but culturally, there is a big, high wall.

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  12. Baddy, you could apply this same conversation in the context of tamil film music as well. As path breaking as MSV and Raja were, they still internalized it all within the framework of commercial music. So, the general population of listeners still appreciated it as good music without realizing how innovative it was. Also, until Rahman burst on the scene and crossed regional boundaries, tamil music and composers were still restricted to the regional milieu. That’s not to say that everyone can cross those boundaries….just that some chose to. The others are content creating music in their own space and doing quite well.

    But this again points to the fact that music too, just as films, doesn’t have to be composed in a certain way in order to be considered classical, path breaking etc. Ultimately, it’s in the perception of the recepient.

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  13. The best Tamil movies of the past 10-12 years are closer to world cinema standards than anything out of any other Indian movie industry in the same time period. Which movies am I referring to? Pasanga, Yudham Sei (just take out the item song), Aaranya Kaandam, Poo (just take out the comedy track), Kannathil Muthamittal, Autograph, Endhiran (Yes it’s a masala movie, but one of the highest quality) etc. They are brilliant on a technical level, rooted, well-written, and affecting. If I had to pick one out of those as the standard-bearer, it would definitely be Kannathil Muthamittal. How India did not present it as its official Oscar selection is nothing short of a travesty.

    Look at the most acclaimed non-English language movies (Ex: A Separation, Let the Right One In, anything by Almodovar). They are well-produced but present stories that are rooted in a particular milieu. You never feel that they are watered-down for foreign audiences. The characters speak and dress in a manner that suits the story. The values they embody may clash with what modern society thinks, but that’s b/c the filmmaker is being honest to the milieu where his/her story is taking place.

    To put it simply, there IS world-class cinema coming out of Tamil Nadu. The best thing about it is that the movies I mentioned all target a mass audience (even though they may have not achieved box office success). They are not “art” movies. Neither are the greatest movies ever made (The Godfather, The Night of the Hunter, Rear WIndow, etc.). They are great stories, well-told, in a manner that appeals to those who see them.

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  14. Kay Kay: I doubt that DVDs would remedy this. (Though subtitling would certainly help.) See, like Satyam above says, it’s not necessary that Tamil filmmakers are known, and local recognition is its own kind of recognition. But when M asked me WHY they were not know, I was seriously stumped for a sec, and hence this piece. I suppose the same thing applies to, say, Telugu cinema too.

    Rohan: I am not saying that at all. I am just saying that the export of those films across the world becomes *easier* because they are made a certain way.

    Satyam: Well, it’s not necessary that they are known worldwide. This was more about the *why* and an attempt to come up with a reason.

    Udhav Naig: You may be right. Rahman too became truly “global” only after “Rangeela,” so maybe breaking past the “north” barrier is the first step in breaking through to the world outside — probably because news/mags/tv channels/opinion-makers and shapers are so north-centric.

    Filmbuff; Again, this is not about WHETHER there is world-class cinema coming out of TN, but WHY someone like Mahendran is unknown outside.

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  15. “Filmbuff; Again, this is not about WHETHER there is world-class cinema coming out of TN, but WHY someone like Mahendran is unknown outside.” Exactly. And therein you have the nub.

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  16. I agree with KayKay. DVDs with subs and some semi decent distribution system like Netflix will go a long way. I used to watch subtitled Indian movies on DoorDarshan in the late eighties. I was not as much keyed in to movies at that time to think very deeply about them but I do remember watching movies from all over India on Sunday afternoons.

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  17. Baradwaj, I think one of the key problems here is that a filmmaker like Adoor falls under the ‘high art’ category if you will while a very sophisticated commercial Tamil is nonetheless defined as ‘mainstream’. But this mainstream discourse in India is entirely hegemonized by Bollywood. And so the films that are presented for consideration and so in in any ‘international’ context are invariably Hindi films. Similarly you see everyone from Kashyap to Bhansali to Johar showing up at festivals. without adequate ‘national’ attention it is hard for a mainstream film to get noticed ‘outside’. The institutional support just isn’t there. But still I wouldn’t say Kasaravalli is ‘known’ anywhere. It would be an exceptionally well-exposed Western critic to have been exposed to the latter. So the rare review might have shown up at some point or even a retro but this happens within a sea of foreign releases theatrically and then even more on DVD. There are exactly three Adoor titles out on DVD outside India, one in the US, two in the UK. So Adoor is in a group with countless other ‘global’ filmmakers who are similarly disadvantaged. I am not sure if this counts as being ‘known’. Better than being Bala perhaps but once one accounts for that high art/mainstream divide the difference isn’t massive.

    At my end recently it was a job trying to locate Kadal in a theater. Ratnam is one of the more known filmmakers in this context. His work has made lots of festival appearances. There was an impressive such list for Raavan/Raavanan. But the film wasn’t playing in any theater where it might have attracted anything like a crossover audience, it wasn’t even accessible for most critics. And so in the local newspaper where films like Mere Brother Ki Dulhan are routinely reviewed there was nothing on this film.

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  18. “Rohan: I am not saying that at all. I am just saying that the export of those films across the world becomes *easier* because they are made a certain way.”

    What is this “certain” way? Can you define it more specifically? As it stands, it sounds to me like quite an insult — in its generalisation — to film-makers around the world. You’re telling them that they’ve – subconsciously or otherwise – caved into film festival “requirements” while making their films. Except our good ol’ tamizh directors that is, who, unaware or unaffected by the complex post-colonial metastructures of approbation (to take from Satyam’s point), continue to make honest, unaffected cinema for purely local audiences.

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  19. Well, I am not a “film” student but, I love to watch good films from all over the world.
    And.. In Tamil cinema, I found several movies so very grounded in their roots (sometimes so much so that non-Tamils like ma cant sometimes identify with it!) …and yet I could easily cite them among the best movies I watched in my less than 30 years of life. Talks about Sivaji Ganesan reminded me of Thiruvilayadal … (which I strongly believe can’t be made by any non-Tamil director) and its one of the best movies I ever watched (according to me)…

    Perhaps, like one of the comments above said, its just that some people know how to project themselves…and some people, whether they know or not, don’t bother to do that! :-)

    There is a certain uniqueness to “Tamil Classic Cinema”, and I guess Tamil film watchers should rather be proud about it, than saying… “its not fitting the bill of the western definition of art cinema” :-)

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  20. BR, good write-up…the other aspect is the lack of avenues for people to get exposed to cinema in a different language; Absolute lack of interest shown by even Doordarshan doesn’t help either. . They could resume screening award winning films with subtitles (of late lok sabha tv shows a film every week). All my exposure to Ray, Adoor, Ghatak etc happened only because DD screened their work…in more recent times I have been forced to see poorly subtitled prints of tamil films (applies to all indian languages that I don’t speak)

    The other reality is that most of us tend to recognize something as ‘valuable’ only when a ‘western’ reviewer ‘deigns’to be all patronizing about work done in India. So there…

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  21. I hear you all – I think I will start reviewing Tamil films from next week on my blog. That will help it reach the dizzying heights of international appreciation it deserves. My blog’s quite famous

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  22. Sidebar : Ozu was regarded as “too Japanese” to be acceptable to the West for a very long time. He is arguably the most well-regarded now. Mahendran’s time will come. So will Sivaji Ganesan’s.

    From a completely different angle – i remember the time when Rajini was Not a Pan-India phenomenon. The changes he has made to his Tamil Hero persona to be accepted across the board are actually quite minimal , he still caters to his core fan-base i.e. he remains local but gets accepted globally. There is something to that.

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  23. I doubt if there has been some integration at all. Politically, yes, but culturally, there is a big, high wall. – Quite agree. I remember a painful discussion with somebody who’s quite knowledgable about cinema in general but simply wouldn’t be convinced that (a) there are Tamil films made without unarmed fight sequences – kutthu sandai, that is – or (b) it is not true that Hindi films generally don’t have them. Stereotypes introduced in one’s formative years are easily accepted and hard to break out of. I have watched both Aadmi and its Tamil version Alaya Mani. Dilip Kumar handled the sophisticated, suave gent part better but Sivaji Ganesan brought out his paranoia and guilt (the doll scenes) better, with much more intensity. I believe Dilip Kumar did acknowledge Ganesan (or was it Sanjiv Kumar who did) but it’s much harder for many members of the audience to overcome language and cultural barriers.

    Rahman too became truly “global” only after “Rangeela,” so maybe breaking past the “north” barrier is the first step in breaking through to the world outside – In Mumbai, he was popular right from Roja onwards but it reached a crescendo with Bombay and Dil Se. The key is, these were all dubbed into Hindi and did very well and the music found a much larger audience than Ilayaraja ever did.

    But – and this ties in nicely with what you’ve articulated in the article – the other factor in the Raja – Rahman comparison is there is a lot of Tamil folk and Carnatic in the former’s music. It does not in any way make his music inferior or more commercial – I believe it is more melodically and harmonically sophisticated than Rahman, if anything – but it makes it harder for North or global audiences to access it. It was very rare for Raja to make the singers sing Tamil words with a strong Western accent but it became the norm in Rahman’s scores (also, adding a – very – mild Tamil flavour to adult contemporary pop or other easy listening stuff). Raja’s genius in internalizing profound Western influences within an authentically Tamil idiom worked against him. Or did it? Does it really matter if people outside the South don’t like him when he has been so successful in the South and got commercial success as well as critical acclaim in plenty?

    When I watch European films with English subtitles, I have no expectation that it should conform to some kind of Hollywood norm of cinema. So why should any such norms apply to Tamil cinema? It is admirable rather than deplorable if it remains Tamil in all its excellence.

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  24. Rohan: There was absolutely no judgement here about the types of films, merely question about why one kind was more recognised. But if you found insults here, I guess no amount of clarification’s going to help.

    Madan: Absolutely. Taking the Raja/Rahman reference, this piece wasn’t about one being better than the other but about why one is better-known outside his home. And to pick you other example, I think “Aalayamani” is the better film (also the songs are infinitely better), but it’s fascinating to see how Dilip Kumar and Sivaji Ganesan enact the same scenes. It’s an amazing geek exercise that I think scholars of acting can write reams about — where the emphases land, etc. :-)

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  25. And to pick you other example, I think “Aalayamani” is the better film (also the songs are infinitely better) – Would be tempted to agree about the first part, couldn’t disagree more on the part in the paranthesis. :D Ah, each to his own :), I am a huge Naushad Ali fan and Aadmi is imo one of the highlights of his career.

    Yeah, agree with the larger point. It’s about more global/’world’ influences than local.

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  26. Brangan – I am with Kay Kay on the DVD point. I got introduced to the works of stalwarts like Mohanlal (several of my friends in law school were from Kerala – didn’t get to know much about Tamil cinema) during my law school where they would patiently sit and translate almost every line of Malayalam dialogue. Now when I ask the same friends for subtitled dvds of more recent Mallu movies, I am told that none exists and obviously we don’t have the time now to watch a movie with dialogues being translated live :-) One of the reasons I keep reading even your reviews of Tamil films, is in the hope that some day, I would be able to catch some of these movies in well-subtitled DVDs (the other reason of course is that I enjoy your writing :-). Moving eastwards, in the late 80s and 90s Bengali cinema moved out of its ‘genteel’, literary moorings and got increasingly influenced by massy Bhojpuri/Telegu movies – this led to a complete loss of ‘urban’ audience who have started coming back only now (in the last 2 years), when suddenly a fresh crop of extremely well educated and talented filmmakers have emerged and are coming up with exciting films, without getting too ‘arthouse’ (By any chance have you watched any of these movies – “Autograph”, “Bhooter Bhobishyat”, “Baishe Shrabon”, “Hemlock Society” etc?). This resurrection has been significantly aided by well-subtitled dvds (especially for a generation of young Bengali men and women in India and abroad who can barely communicate in their mother tongue).

    Separately, I hope to be able to attend your talk with Jai Arjun Singh in Delhi.

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  27. BR, why do your companions at these dinner tables keep asking about Tamil cinema in the context of world cinema and such? And their questions often betray a certain lack of understanding. This is like the second or third piece you are writing in response to such discussions. Next time you should take a couple of guys(or gals) from your commentators here for dinner :-) You have already written about why national award winners are’nt locally recognized as much and why do Tamil films cant make movies on a wide variety of themes like world cinema(another dinner table complaint)and all that revolving around culture/language barrier, financial constraints etc.
    Reading this piece is like eating a re-heated dosai made out of last month’s batter :-)

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  28. Baradwaj, is Adoor really well known outside India. He has hardly won anything big, Venice, Berlin or Cannes. Unlike ray who has number of wins and nominations.

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  29. Props for caring to mention Virumaandi. That’s one helluva assured film.
    It largely remains forgotten by critics and fans alike is because – I dont know – it was a box office success?

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  30. I’m a total cinephile, but unfortunately unexposed to the great Tamil cinema. How do I reach there? I mean, no dvds, no torrents, the film you mentioned- Motor Sundaram Pillai doesn’t even have a wiki page. Tamil filmmakers, critics, film journalists will have to make collective efforts towards it, a cohesive movement may be, like the one going on in Bollywood nowadays.

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  31. Rangan, it was a very good thought to write on. It has been a question even I have asked many a times to myself and other film loving friends.

    Speaking with respect to Malayalam cinema, I have always wondered why such great directors like Padmarajan very much remains an unknown figure, even just outside the state, let alone internationally. One thing obvious of his films are its’ subjects’ universality and also treatment that can withstand the tests of time and region.There are people who say his films are better understood now (maybe in one’s n-th viewing) than 25 years back when he used to make them, or finding newer meanings and layers with each subsequent view.

    Whereas Adoor is a relatively well acclaimed filmmaker nationnally and internationally, this has puzzled me. For one thing if we weigh their films, I don’t think there would be an agreement between movie lovers ( I’m reffering to serious film buffs, critics) in the state , if one’s films can be deemed better than the other. (ofcourse a general audience might pick a Padmarajan movie over the ever-so-slow moving art movies by such filmmakers like Adoor. And speaking of, that shouldn’t be held against either of them — i have heard some weird arguments like, ‘ if a movie that can be understood even by the common man means it isn’t such a great movie’ and vice versa.) .
    Ofcourse the kind of films they have made is very different with different styles and approaches but I’m sure a film lover from anywhere in the world would be able to appreciate a Thoovanathumbikal or a Namukku Paarkkaan Muntiri-thoppukal or an Innale , as much as they would appreciate an Adoor/Kaasaravalli or any other great Western filmmakers movie.

    Also in malayalam, the same could be said of many of the movies of stalwarts such as MT Vasudevan Nair, Lohitadas/Sibi Malayil or Satyan Antikkad (during their peak).

    So what separates them from an Adoor(taking the local example) ? My guess is the latter’s self recognised need and vision to take his product to an international market and not just settle for local appreciation and relatively easier-to-get financial gains.
    Maybe its the Film School trainings of people like Adoor, that makes them want to put their films in the map along with the classics of world cinema that they have been exposed to, during their training.

    While a Padmarajan (or a Selvaraghavan/Mahendran in tamil ,for eg ) would have already produced a similarly great ( and universal ) film, he might not be interested or aware in anything of the need to take his films globally, if at all. For them, it might be just be the approval of common people or appreciation from real film lovers in the state (including good critics) that would be considered rewarding. A recognition in the State Awards would be pleasing and the National Awards might be as far as it could go, though they wouldn’t ever really vie for it.

    But just as Shakespeare’s works were found out and reproduced decades or even centuries after his demise, I think works of these masters could be reproduced to a larger audience. But it would take real time,effort and money. And who is ready for this !!

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  32. Madan: Oh, I don’t know. I love certain songs and soundtracks of his, but from the era, I certainly gravitate towards — say — SDB or C Ramchandra. Rafi under Naushad and Rafi under SDB seem to be two different people altogether :-) But yes, I’ll confess that I haven’t heard the “Aadmi” soundtrack as much as I’ve heard the Tamil one.

    Sudipta Bhattacharjee: I was in Kolkata a week ago, and someone said — only half-joking — that Bengalis these days only want to see Salman Khan films :-) And yes, do make it.

    vijay: I realise you’re kidding, but seriously speaking, I think it’s because most of these people know Tamil cinema only through Kamal, Mani Ratnam and Rahman. That’s it. And they keep asking me for recommendations and I have to be really careful because beyond a point they cannot relate and I keep having to give these contextual summaries.

    Raj Balakrishnan: “is Adoor really well known outside India” — among a set of Indian cinephiles, I’d certainly say so.

    Mambazha Manidhan: “Virumaandi” remains forgotten? Care to explain? I think it’s rated highy, no?

    Palash: What “cohesive movement?” Wiki updates?

    VJ: Excellent comment. Thanks.

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  33. I was thinking about Slumdog..Did Slumdog get international recognition and acclaim because it followed a certain “world cinema” template? On the other hand, if Slumdog was directed by an Indian (or Tamizhan) would he/she not received the same level of recognition? Or, could it be that the tamizhan would have realized the book adaptation very differently, perhaps by breaking into a song-dance routine in a foreign locale?

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  34. Surely Michael Mada Kamaraj is not a world class film. It makes you laugh for some time. so if your companion thinks MMKR is a world class movie he is wrong. Surely HeyRam,Sindhu Bhairavi, Muthal Mairyadhai, Nayagan are more world class than Virumandi….

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  35. Thought I had made a comment very similar to the point VJ and Madan made later, perhaps you missed it….or perhaps I belong to the other 90% category you tangentially referenced! In any case, it’s okay…I’ll still read you :-)

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  36. Rafi under Naushad and Rafi under SDB seem to be two different people altogether – A very valid – and dare I say it, accurate – observation and I happen to like both sides of Rafi…the intense pathos and pain he brought out with Naushad and the delicate romance of the SDB songs. :)

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  37. ….local and international critics follow films made in the World Cinema style; they study these films, analyse and deconstruct them, write about them in international publications, and make these films known to a large audience….

    Brangan, What is the ‘world cinema style’ you keep on talking my friend? what is in common between a “81/2 and Ikru” or “Dancer in the dark” and “Uzak” or “Mother and son” and “In the mood for love”? there is nothing like a ‘world cinema format’ exist, if you are feeling there is a ‘world cinema style’ and it is all a conspiracy, then it is because you haven’t seen enough good world cinema, do watch some good world cinema before you write stupid arguments like this and spread your ignorance.

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  38. After years spent exploring Bollywood across its whole history, plus some new Tamil movies, I stumbled upon old Malayalam cinema on Youtube – and I was simply knocked down. How is it possible that we in the West have no access to this treasure! I am speaking here explicitly not about Adoor & co, but about works of Padmarajan, Bharathan, Lohithadas and many others. These movies are are so down to earth – LOCAL earth, mind you – and so easy accessible to me, a European. If this is not universal language then what is? Only shortly I discovered some old Tamil movies (through Sivaji Ganesan’s court scene – God bless Youtube!) and I am about to take a deep dive into. But also here I am facing the same problem as with Mallu oldies – only few subtitled movies. Do I really have to learn the languages to enjoy South Indian cinema? ;-).

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  39. Agree with Rohan, saying (or suggesting) that Adoor makes films for the ‘global audience’ is an INSULT to an artist who done uncompromising work and dedicated a whole life for film society movement and all related activities for the love for the art of cinema. Please please give him the due respect.

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  40. One of the reasons why a lot of older Indian movies “miss” international standards so to speak is their scores (what people in India call “background music”). They are omnipresent and often consist of screechy violins. Luckily, the composers of the past 10-15 years are moving away from that template (slowly). They’re still (generally…I’m not referring to masters like AR Rahman, Illayaraja, etc.) using the music to guide the viewer to every emotion and often drowning out the dialogue. Another thing is print quality. A lot of Indian movies from the 70s or 80s look like they are from the 20s or 30s b/c of how bad the print has been deteriorated. If people want the classics to be remembered, they need to preserve them. For example, if film preservation didn’t exist, “Vertigo” and “Lawrence of Arabia” would have been lost!

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  41. Jo: “conspiracy”? Sweet Jesus. As I keep saying, where is the indication in this piece that the world cinema style is a constant one or that it is superior? At this rate, one won’t be able to refer to anything or anyone for fear that a statement will get misinterpreted and cause offense.

    dreamer: I don’t know if I’d slap the label “classic” on these (and many other films). For that word suggests an unimpeachable standard of achievement/filmmaking rigour, and a lot of films would crumble under those expectations. Let’s just call these… well, “interesting” films.

    Shankar; Phew. Nee kochukka maaten-nu theriyum :-)

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  42. No Brangan, please don’t avoid the question, The question is simple – when you say that there is a certain kind of ‘world cinema style’ what do you mean? please elaborate on this.

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  43. VJ, You may not like Adoor’s films (which is perfectly fine) but you can not ignore the significant role he has played in the history of malayalam cinema.

    The role parallel cinema played (Adoor, Aravindan, John) is that it challenged everything mainstream stood for and it questioned the industries notions of cinema. it was a dialogue. But the beneficiary of the process was the mainstream itself. Look at the history, the best mainstream films in malayalam was made when there was a strong parallel voice. As a result of these dialogue between mainstream and parallel born a new kind of cinema, which we called that time – ‘middle cinema’, the cinema of Padmarajan, Bharathan, Mohan etc. So you don’t have to like adoors films as audience, it is your choice, but when you talk od discuss cinema don’t forget the fact that without Adoor and Aravindan there is no Padmarajan or Bharathan.

    This simple point Baradwaj Rangan won’t get it, because he doesn’t know the history.

    Hari

    (btw i love Padmarajan’s Kallan Pavitran so as Adoor’s Elipathayam)

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  44. Jo: I’m not avoiding the question. I’m just wondering when there’ll come a time when I compare A and B, and not have to defend myself against charges that I’m putting A down just because I’m talking about B.

    The answer to your question is in my piece. I’m saying that Adoor and Kasaravalli’s cinema is a non-mainstream kind of cinema — i.e. shots held for longer, no easy background score to tell you exactly what to feel, not everything is voiced out through emotive acting or dialogue or in-the-moment songs/dances. And that “style” is very different from the one followed by the interesting filmmakers in Tamil cinema, because there were no art filmmakers as such, and whatever innovations these guys did were couched in the idiom of the mainstream. It’s just two different approaches, and there’s no claim here that one is “more valid.”

    Neither have I claimed that there’s only one style of “world cinema” — but in a column with limited word space, not everything can be explained fully. Some leaps of faith have to be taken.

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  45. Brangan, So you are saying that holding shots for long, not using background score, natural performances, lack of song/dance is called the ‘world cinema style’?

    You are also saying this is not the only ‘world cinema style’, there are many world cinema styles. Can you please explain what is the other kind of world cinema style?

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  46. Perhaps a conventional & standard definition of “world cinema” will clearly set the perimeters within which a movie is labelled as “world cinema”.

    Is there – as in the broad sense of the arts – a “world book”, “world painting”, “world song / music”, “world play / musical”? Hmm … world music – yeah but what does it really stand for?

    Though the target may be somewhat domestic depending on the country / state of origin esp most South Indian movies, the obvious exception will be Hollywood movies which is made & marketed for the global audience.

    World Cinema may be just a tag penned by pundits when a movie is apprecaited beyond the shores of origin. And also when box office collections justify that …

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  47. Baradwaj Rangan belongs to a category of people who doesn’t have any fine taste. That is not a crime, but the problem is that they don’t want to accept that fact. So they do the trick of once in a while talk about these tastefully done films so that they can give a feel that they know the stuff, then they ridicule it or reduce it to something frivolous (like his definition of world cinema) for them the distance themselves from it and go bak to their comfortable world of mediocre taste. As a result they want to give out an impression that they know fine taste, and they don’t care for it, their mediocre taste is a choice that have made. It help them heal their inferiority complex of not having good taste.

    They make no effort experience finer films and they turn to sad critics. If you reduce the whole career of Adoor to ‘films made in World cinema format’, all it establishes is your ignorance.

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  48. Hari – excellent point. But – can you also tell me why some of the best classics of 80s middle-stream in Malayalam have such pathetic BGM – the screechy violin style that Brangan here alludes to? On top of it, a lot of your mallu brethren claim that as the pinnacle of Background music scoring.

    Dont get me wrong – I am an incorrigible Keralophile when it comes to movies. (Not even a movie buff but floored by those 80s “middle-stream” Mallu movies) but this aspect sticks out like a sore thumb, and I am intrigued at the very vehement Mally bros and sisters’ belief that even that BGM style is the best.

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  49. And just to add – no connection between my first sentence and the rest of the post. oru flowla apdiyE sollittEn.

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  50. Filmbuff wrote: “Look at the most acclaimed non-English language movies (Ex: A Separation, Let the Right One In, anything by Almodovar). They are well-produced but present stories that are rooted in a particular milieu. You never feel that they are watered-down for foreign audiences.”

    But Tamil films often feel watered down for the local audience. Even “Bharathi” had that dumb comedy track of sorts with the two bumblers trying to get a photograph of Bharathiyar.

    Years ago I saw a fantastic film called “Kutty,” directed by Janaki Viswanathan. Many Indian films about poverty or misery have this deadening effect, where the films are just misery without artistry, but I thought this film had a touching lyricism. Vivek gave one of his best performances. I can’t find it anywhere now, and the company that released the DVD in the US is long out of business.

    Tamil cinema never had a separate art-house/parallel movement like some other Indian languages did. As such, it was more that the artistic-minded filmmakers didn’t really have a space fully their own in which to work, and probably ended up making some compromises (songs and whatnot) to at least attempt to be mainstream. In some cases it’s resulted in very good mainstream films, but maybe those films would have been even better if they didn’t have (what I perceive to be) compromises. Even a great film like Subramaniapuram has Kangal Irandal in it, which is a lovely song, but still feels to me like a filmi intrusion of a song into an otherwise uncompromising, honest film.

    Are there many books about Tamil cinema? There are tons of books on Satyajit Ray and on Hindi films. I have three books on Guru Dutt alone, and my dad bought Marie Seton’s terrific Ray bio in the 70s in India. If there were more books available about Tamil film, especially in English, non-Tamilians could at least have a starting point.

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  51. I dont think that Mr Rangan anywhere is accusing Adoor or Kasaravalli of pandering to foreign tastes.. he is simply saying that probably their work is more accessible to foreign audiences because of their realistic and naturalistic styles as compared to other filmmakers who experiment within mainstream formats, so guys..pls relax..:)

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  52. Glad to see others taking up this point too. Rangan, when you say, “I’m just wondering when there’ll come a time when I compare A and B, and not have to defend myself against charges that I’m putting A down just because I’m talking about B.”, the problem that Jo (and myself, and Girish, and a couple of others) have is not that you are putting ‘A’ down, it is that you are putting a thousand diverse ways of presenting a movie all into one pot called ‘A’ ! And if it isn’t actually just one pot, then please clarify how (and why) you’re putting all of it – even if for the sake of this argument – into this one pot?!

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  53. … And the reason that that reductionist method (that all so-called “non-mainstream” movies go into one pot called ‘A’) seems far too simplistic, is that it does not, for example, take into account Hari’s well-exampled illustration of how Malayalam cinema found a “middle path”, through filmmakers like Padmarajan or Bharathan. You yourself have spoken in your book of Mani Ratnam in Tamil cinema trying to find a middle path (you even likened the approach to Buddhism if I remember correctly).

    So where has all that nuance gone, in this piece (and more importantly in your follow-on comments supporting it) ?

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  54. …..”I’m just wondering when there’ll come a time when I compare A and B, and not have to defend myself against charges that I’m putting A down just because I’m talking about B.”

    I will have to disagree with that statement, ok, no one can say you are putting A down, but it is evident that you don’t like A. That is the leap of faith anyone will take if they read your writing with an independent mind.

    A person who like world cinema will not write this way, or make such a needless comparison.

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  55. Hari: “but it is evident that you don’t like A.” I don’t think it’s evident at all, and the “needless comparison” came about because M brought up those two names, and I wasn’t doing a this-is-greater-than-that comparison here, but hey, we read what we want to read.

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  56. Anirudh: “I dont think that Mr Rangan anywhere is accusing Adoor or Kasaravalli of pandering to foreign tastes.. he is simply saying that probably their work is more accessible to foreign audiences”

    Sorry Anirudh, Rangan is saying exactly that and that is what pissing people off, please read this from Rangan’s original post:

    “Or maybe a different way to put this is to say that directors like Adoor and Kasaravalli make movies for world audiences, while Balachander and Bharathiraja made movies for local audiences”

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  57. Brangan, how come there are so many ad hominem attacks in your blog of late? I know you are against censoring posts, but seriously the ad hominem style makes the commenter look like a drunkard in a bus generally making an ass of himself and the others like silent co-passengers who don’t want to draw attention to themselves by asking him to stop.
    Your blog used to be a civil place where cinema was discussed but now is starting to look like a burkha dutt shout contest. You might please want to do something about it.

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  58. Virumaandi isn’t considered a ‘Classic film’ as opposed to say Anbe Sivam. When Anbe Sivam is just a good movie ( and one of my favorites) and Virumaandi is the good film. But, the way they are perceived is quite the opposite. Virumaandi is a Mass hit that got its due. While Anbe Sivam’s box office debacle has given it a legacy like no other. It may even be re-released some day like Karnan.

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  59. Girish: What that line means is exactly what Anirudh says. One set of movies are non-mainstream and global in their outlook, made in an “international” filmmaking language (without forsaking local roots), whereas the other set is “local” and limited and find it difficult to transcend the state barriers. I don’t know how this can be seen as a diss on the former. If anything, fans of Tamil cinema could have seen this as a slight.

    sara: Tell me about it. And the tone has changed too. Earlier, people used to ask for clarifications. Now, they just assume things and begin the name-calling. I guess the only way to look at this is through the eyes of Calvin’s dad’s eyes…. as “building character” :-) Seriously though, what do you think can be done about it? Nothing.

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  60. Hmm… Calvin’s dad used the ‘building character’ cover as an excuse to get him to do something unpleasant that is good for him. I don’t see how vitriolic comments are good for anything, unpleasant though they are.
    I suspect that commenters resort to ad hominem attacks to get a response from you. It seems to be easier to get your attention by attacking you than to politely put forth a point. May I humbly suggest that you totally disregard such posts so as to not encourage negativity in your blog (there’s enough of that in the real world, thankyouverymuch). I’m hoping that wannabe drunkards take the cue that their antics are not appreciated and be more civil.

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  61. Ravi K: In the midst of all the distraction, forgot your comment. Wanted to address the “Kangal irandaal” bit, which I think is both well-used and very necessary. It establishes the love, as such songs always do, but also lulls us into a zone where we care for these people and want good things to happens to them — and I suspect that without this, the twist ending wouldn’t have had as much impact. (Of course, the same love aspect could be established through other scenes, but there’s something about a beautiful song that generates a different kind of caring altogether.)

    sara: I think you’re right. But it’s not always possible to disregard such poss. Because beyond the uncivil tone, sometimes, there’s a genuine question, and in columns like these where a lot of left unsaid, you just want to explain what it’s about, so that people who aren’t long-time readers can get where you’re coming from. The whole point of this comments section IS a back-and-forth, after all. But once you know you’re getting nowhere, you just stop.

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  62. Baddy, the best thing to do about it is to adopt a Rahul Dravid mentality….play well left and be determined! But then, it’s easy for me to say…it’s not my blog and I’m not a public figure either. I understand your pain…

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  63. I do endorse my support for Brangan – who appears to be collateral damage in this debate / discussion. It you do read some semblance of bias, it is in the eye / mind of the beholder.

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  64. Baddy/Sara – The tone of the comments is starting to get more and more aggressive. But in the case of this blog post, most of the comments have stuck to the original topic rather than attacking the writer needlessly. This has been one of the more interesting posts, raising very valid issues about ‘world cinema’ and what it really means. As a ‘lurker’ on this blog, I find that discussions sometimes veer into the territory of ‘you disagree with me, so you suck’. But this one has been refreshingly devoid of personal attacks (except for one comment).

    It would be really interesting to explore the concept of world cinema a lot more, especially in the context of WHY some movies (or personalities) transcend borders more easily than others – a point that Baddy has raised as well.

    PS: One used to be able to ‘reply’ to a specific comment earlier. That facility seems to be have been removed. Hence the generic reply.

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  65. Filmbuff wrote” “One of the reasons why a lot of older Indian movies “miss” international standards so to speak is their scores (what people in India call “background music”). They are omnipresent and often consist of screechy violins. Luckily, the composers of the past 10-15 years are moving away from that template (slowly). They’re still (generally…I’m not referring to masters like AR Rahman, Illayaraja, etc.) using the music to guide the viewer to every emotion and often drowning out the dialogue.”

    Comedy scenes are even worse about this, and it’s not exclusive to Tamil films. The score is filled with constant “comedic music” and ridiculous sound effects, as if they don’t trust audiences to laugh unless constantly prodded by the soundtrack.

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  66. Sara, please be specific who and which comment are your referring to as – “look like a drunkard in a bus generally making an ass of himself “

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  67. @baradwaj : Not sure if it’s possible to implement in wordpress but how about an ability to up vote/down vote (like many sites have) / flag a comment ? Enough such votes to hide the comment (like youtube has ). You might still have to go through the comments though :)

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  68. Sara: Thanks for saying what i have felt for a while now – It used to be a very civil place for discourse it does seem to have degenerated into a “Tu tu main main” type of comment space. Not very good.

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  69. I think some people did not read this line or consider it before addressing their criticisms:

    The discussion reiterated, for me, the fact that to some eyes films made in a particular style are automatically greater than the rest

    Pl note, “some eyes”. And, sorry, there are people who draw up a checklist of things that ought not to be there in a film. It’s perhaps easier to focus on the things that are? But that’s nevertheless how they analyse and rate films. Some people go so far as to state there should be no BGM in a film, just silence between dialogues. But what would Clockwork Orange be without the Beethoven quotations? Perhaps such people would find it hard to relate to films that draw a lot on local culture and rely on a style that is largely accepted within that culture (but may not be abroad?). As a casual singer, I would consider Suhanallah from Kashmir ki Kali very tough to sing in an appropriate manner and salute somebody who can nail it, but I bet these kind of people (and most of whom do not sing) would plump for Deewana hua badal 9 times out of 10 because it meets some imaginary notion of perfect sensibility (and presumes that something that is supposedly ‘commercial’ lacks finesse, craft and is easy to make). I have met such people so I will not buy a suggestion that I am only assailing a strawman.

    In my view, not only has Mr.Rangan not generalised arthouse films, he is talking about the viewpoint of some people vis-a-vis arthouse and ‘non-art’ films, not necessarily his own.

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  70. One last comment.

    I don’t read Rangan’s blog, I have read his articles on Hindu and i couldn’t believe someone can write such ignorant opinion about cinema in mass media.There was no way for me to share my comments with Hindu, so i have added my comments here in Rangan’s blog. I don’t get any pleasure out of attacking Rangan. But I have total disagreement with his writing, and i was genuinely interested in a discussion.

    I am a person who spent good part of my life for film society movement and seen hundred and thousands of people in India engaging and appreciating non-mainstream films. So when someone make a ridicules comment in mass media saying that film makes like Adoor make films for foreign sensibility…it hurts.

    There ‘mainstream has a style’ non-mainstream is the one which challenges it and re invent itself all the time, and push the medium.

    Anyway i am glad, lots of people joined in and made interesting points. Now two things can happen.

    1. Mr.Rangan can take note of the comments and have a re-look at his original article and his position with honesty, instead of defending everything he has written.

    2. He can ignore all these points, defend his article, and feel good about himself.

    I rest my case.

    Hari

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  71. Hari: “film makes like Adoor make films for foreign sensibility… it hurts.” – of course that statement hurts, IF IT WAS MADE. And I didn’t make that statement. And if you think I did when some others didn’t, I guess — as I said before — no amount of explaining can help. How can I explain a point I absolutely did not make? :-)

    Madan: of course there was some amount of generalisation here about art films, because this piece was about why someone like M — so well-versed in art cinema — knows nothing about Tamil cinema. This piece is about this phenomenon, and IMO Tamil cinema (by say Mahendran) is very different from what Adoor and Kasaravalli make (and these were M’s names brought up in the conversation), and that was enough for the purposes of this article. There is absolutely no insult or diss to Adoor etc. (I read the piece again after you guys took offence, and I saw NOTHING offensive.) The point here is WHY some cinema travels more readily than others…

    Bala: Not sure if that facility is available on WordPress…

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  72. Walter Murch (famous editor) in his book ‘In the blink of an eye” said something like- “when you make a film your are trying to learn a foreign language, it just happens to be a unique language which only spoken by this one film”

    That is exactly the point. Lots of filmmakers who choose a non-mainstream path take the pain creating these unique language for their film, just because you don’t care you cant say tthey are all following one style is a problem Rangan.

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  73. When I heard that Quentin Tarantino got inspired from Aalavandhan for Kill Bill, I thought to myself – if QT can repeatedly see B-grade movies ( be it KungFu classics ) and make thrillers like Kill Bill, then who are we to start categorizing movies ? I am with the majority now – if people choose to see and accept “vijaykanth stop a bullet with his bare hands”, then screw the minority who calls it bad movie making ( btw, the same minority thought ‘The Matrix’ Neo dodging bullets was movie magic – no questions asked ).

    It is simple – Did you love the movie when you walked out ? That is all that matters.

    PS – If the Matrix had a budget and a tech team like a Tamil movie, Neo will dodge a bullet exactly like how Vijaykanth does.

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  74. Girish: “Lots of filmmakers who choose a non-mainstream path take the pain creating these unique language for their film, just because you don’t care…” I don’t care? That’s the takeaway from this? Oh boy….

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  75. Hmm.. Came back to this thread one last time to see if the stance of the writer has changed. Hasn’t. Still defending, valiantly and pig-headedly, every crude generalisation made in his original article.

    I, too, rest my case. Bye bye.

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  76. Rohan: Just curious. Does it occur to you that you may be the one who’s “defending, valiantly and pig-headedly” a reductive “generalisation” that YOU made from this article? That YOUR “stance” may be the one that needs changing? I don’t know how often you’ve come by this blog, but do you really think I’d make a statement like “filmmakers like Adoor pander to the West”?

    Though, in theory, even if I make such a ridiculous statement and it got published, there’s nothing anyone can do about it, because that’s what opinions are — and if I can make a case for why I think so, then the reader can either ignore it, or engage with it through argument.

    But here, I am not even making such a statement and you guys are assuming that I did and are now expecting a change of “stance.” How can I change a stance that’s NOT been made?

    In your first comment you said, “You’re telling them that they are able to appreciate Anurag Kashyap or Adoor Gopalakrishnan or Girish Kasaravalli only because they have had some sort of exposure to or awareness of standards of cinema outside India (‘World Cinema’).”

    I am not talking about this category at all. I am talking about the Western eye used to art-house cinema and even to the Indian eye that hasn’t really engaged with mainstream Indian cinema (which is what M is).

    To this category of people, is a “Swayamvaram”, for instance, easier to ingest — in terms of filmmaking language and style (just want to clarify that, because I don’t mean “easier” in the sense of “less profound” or some such thing) — than a “16 Vayadhinile”? Is there less dissonance? Is there less “suspicion” about the quality of the film? Is there more of a willingness to engage with it as an artistic product?

    These are some of the questions in my mind, and when I use the word “maybe” in the second paragraph, it’s an indication that these are just questions and there are no clear answers. (Otherwise, I’d have used the word “surely.”)

    The ideal viewer and lover of cinema would be able to engage with both “Swayamvaram” and “16 Vayadhinile” — he’s just have to put on a different hat while watching the film. But given that the latter kind of film hasn’t been around in festival circuits and hasn’t been seen all that much outside Tamil Nadu, Western critics haven’t really engaged with this sort of cinema, and therefore they haven’t been able to help this kind of cinema reach Western audiences (to the extent that Adoor’s films have; not that that’s a huge audience, but I’m just talking about cinephiles).

    And so people like M, who possibly take their cues from these critics — and I don’t mean this in a pejorative way; just that not everyone has the time to watch all the films being made and some of them have to depend on critics in order to make a must-watch list — end up not realising that something like “16 Vayadhinile” exists, that there’s something to it (even if, after, watching it, he comes away not liking it).

    This is exactly what I’m saying in the third and fourth paras. (And no, I’m not relying on memory. I did read this piece again to see if what you’re accusing me of is what I’ve inadvertently said, and I didn’t find anything similar at all.)

    This has begun to remind of the Raja/Rahman debates early in the blog. If I brought up one of their names while discussing the other, then fans of the former, filled with angst and righteous indignation, would accuse me of similar things. When writing columns, a certain amount of generalisation is inevitable, and if something makes you wonder, we can discuss that further in the comments section. And I’m hardly one to say I’m always right. (Even my reviews — usually — are hardly definitive judgments as much as an attempt to come to grips with a film, filled with “perhaps” and “maybe” and question marks.) But what can one do if the other side just refuses to see what you’re really saying?

    But at least we’re talking about cinema, so I guess it’s all good.

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  77. Sometimes the pertinent purpose of communication changes from explaining what was meant to clarifying what was not meant.

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  78. Yuddham Sei ya vittuteengale saar? I would like to know what you thought about the film, maybe i missed ur review. Also this conversation does come up a lot, esp now after the Karnan re release when all my fellow movie watchers thought it was over the top; but they had already come with the mindset that Sivaji acts for 1000 for the price of 10. I was brought up by KTV and enjoy films as they are, there must be some other way in which old films reach the people.

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  79. Sorry to change the topic a bit…but no review for Murder 3? I was waiting for you to deliciously rip it apart so that I could have a few hearty laughs…

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  80. Beware brangan, your comment section is getting more interesting than your writing. Hindu might have to start a supplement just for that(being cheeky). Maybe you just need to say that “Adoor is great” and “that kasaravalli chap or whatever his name is, is phenomenal” and maybe, just maybe, these geniuses would shut the f*** up. (there is even a genius asking for specifics from other commenters)

    On a side note.
    “How can someone so loud and theatrical…?” – I guess if its Al Pacino being loud and theatrical its great acting, whoooohaaaa.

    On a more straight forward note I’m not sure how closely coupled theatre and cinema have been in other states – (for the geniuses this is me exposing my ignorance, not making a generalization)- and I guess the more theatrical and melodramatic a movie is, the less it will be considered ‘art-house'( stressing the word “guess” for the geniuses) by critics who write for various publications and hence the audiences of those critics will not be exposed to those films. This was your point right??? Phew!!! I think you need to negotiate a big raise….

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  81. “I am talking about the Western eye used to art-house cinema and even to the Indian eye that hasn’t really engaged with mainstream Indian cinema (which is what M is)”

    Why don’t you invite M to join in this discussion? Since whole lot of it is about M, it will be interesting to listen to his point of view.

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  82. Rohan, talking about changing stance?…there is a saying: You can always wake a man who is asleep, but never the one who is pretending to be.

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  83. “Lots of filmmakers who choose a non-mainstream path take the pain creating these unique language for their film”

    Maybe this is the big problem. When people get “seriously” into movies(whatever that means), call themselves film snobs or cinephiles and begin to take pride in their vaunted knowledge, anything mainstream is mindlessly looked down upon. Hitchcock was not associated with the word artist until he was pedigreed for long enough and deified by the french critics. Even today, Michael Mann or DePalma or Fincher are not taken as seriously because they are mainstream. I wonder if the same can be said of a Barathiraja or Mahendran too. Not even many tamil people i know of, who are quite into films give much heed to them.

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  84. Rangan i have a request. Can you please write your 10 all time favorite films? please don’t think it is out of context to this discussion, since you have mentioned about Mr.M and the indian eye that hasn’t really engaged with mainstream Indian cinema, i am curious about your engagement.

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  85. Wow !!! (shaking my head) – now if this was an non-mainstream comment, I wouldn’t have had to write that ! :)

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  86. Being not a film buff nor an expert in works of Adoor and Kasaravalli, I do notice a rather mean streak in the comments and rebuttals to Brangan’s piece. Impassioned fans of Adoor and Kasaravalli seem to have taken this a tad out of context.

    The general tone of the article does evoke some difference in opinions – which is what I suspect the writer will welcome – but to miss the forest for the trees is somewhat distressing.

    As an individual who forms the ticketing paying audience, one can agree different genres appeals to different viewers – critics & reviewers included (except maybe the bunch who get free premieres – damn!).

    In that perspective, reviewer-bashing is somewhat discourteous behaviour…

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  87. lowlylaureate: That’s funny. Thought I wrote about “Yuddham Sei,” and distinctly remember discussing shot compositions and such. But can’t seem to find the post.

    Sam Edwards: Taking a break for a month or so :-)

    Vivek: Latter-day Pacino’s a major ham, I agree.

    “the more theatrical and melodramatic a movie is, the less it will be considered ‘art-house’… by critics who write for various publications and hence the audiences of those critics will not be exposed to those films.” That was the point, more or less. But I would say “mainstream,” which is a broader range than just “theatrical and melodramatic.”

    girish: Is there a similarly charming, folksy saying for someone who keeps harping on the same point despite explanations? Do share. Thanks.

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  88. Rangan: “Lots of filmmakers who choose a non-mainstream path take the pain creating these unique language for their film, just because you don’t care…” I don’t care? That’s the takeaway from this? Oh boy….

    If you care, why don’t you list 10 -15 of your favourite films for all us to know what you care for? Is this some personal question for you to avoid?

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  89. Vivek, Rangan, Adarsh Radhakrishnan:The arguments like critics are elitist, they write for art house, they look down upon mainstream etc…..are to be answered by another critic, this is a note by a critic in a smiler situation:

    A Ceremony of Ignorance

    In Variety (January 5, 2003), there appeared an article entitled Nix to the Crix (a typical Varietese headline) by someone called Peter Bart (1). In it, Bart made the tired, old anti-intellectual complaint that critics are too elitist and out of touch with popular taste. His philistine credentials are revealed by maintaining that critics ‘summon up a list of movies that no “civilian” has ever seen or, indeed, ever heard of. There’s no way to contradict a critic if his favorites were shown only at the Ouagadougou Film Festival.’

    Bart, who proudly claims not to be a film critic, doesn’t name any film titles that no “civilian” (i.e. those people, like himself, who have limited knowledge of world cinema) has ever heard of. But you can bet that Bart could not name one film by Abbas Kiarostami, Wong Kar-Wai or Alexander Sokurov, to mention but a few of the leading directors of the day. Neither, in his insularity, does he realise that the centre of creative cinema has long moved from the USA and Europe to the Middle and Far East, and to the Third World generally.

    Bart also falls into a trap of his own making. According to Bart: ‘Elitist by nature, critics find it positively unbearable to endorse any movie that has found acceptance from the mass audience. If the great unwashed liked it, could it be any goddam good?’ In fact, he is guilty of the same selectivity by finding it positively unbearable to endorse any movie that is not popular and of which he has never heard.

    In other words, like an editor of a tabloid newspaper, he believes critics should follow public opinion instead of leading it. But, behind this polemic, is the still prevailing assumption that film is a second-class art, good only for taking a date to on Saturday night, and anyone who differs from this is ‘obscurantist’, in Bart’s words.

    The problem is that, unlike music, films are not divided into ‘pop’ and ‘classical’. It is a lamentable situation that reasonably intelligent film critics, in order to please their bank managers, have to review every piece of commercial vomit that Hollywood, though not exclusively, throws up into their laps every week. It is equivalent to asking a book reviewer to write about airport bestsellers rather than literature. And few people would accuse the book critic of being elitist by reviewing, say, a Milan Kundera novel and not a Tom Clancey pot-boiler. Worse still, film critics of most national newspapers are obliged to lead their columns, on the latest blockbuster, no matter how dire, adding in a few lines at the end, ‘but the best film of the week was an Iranian film by…..’

    Surely, it is the duty of any critic, in whatever art, to alert the public to works of which they would not otherwise be aware. Commentators like Peter Bart not only hinder this process but perpetuate and even celebrate ignorance.

    by Ronald Bergan

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  90. I also agree with KayKay and Sudipto on the point around DVDs and subtitling. I’m lucky enough to have spent a long time living in Madras and so understand enough Tamil to be able to watch Tamil cinema. My Malayalam is worse than basic and so many of my attempts at watching Malayalam cinema have had to be aborted simply because the DVDs didn’t have subtitles. Some of this is down to attitude/desire I think. At the risk of generalising, most of my Mallu friends appear to be fine with the fact that the best films made in their language will only get a limited audience.

    The other (rather ironic) reason I think Tamil cinema (at least post 1990) suffers is the due to the astounding success that Rajinikanth and Kamal Hassan have had with their commercially oriented films. That seems to be the predominant image (even in India, let alone the West) that most people have of “south” films (a term I abhor) meaning that even interesting films that still stick to the tropes of commercial Indian cinema (eg Kadhalil Soddappavadhu Eppadi, Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaaya, Naan Ee, and Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom) don’t get much of a pan-Indian audience viewing them.

    As an aside, did you deliberately choose the title of this post to be the English title of a film by one of our few World Cinema stars? :-)

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  91. “To this category of people, is a “Swayamvaram”, for instance, easier to ingest — in terms of filmmaking language and style (just want to clarify that, because I don’t mean “easier” in the sense of “less profound” or some such thing) — than a “16 Vayadhinile”?

    Did you see Swayamvaram Rangan?

    The general public of kerala has seen it, it was a commercial success. It was made by a loan taken from NFDC and produced by Cithralaeka Film Cooperative founded by Adoor, within 30days the loan was paid back, and the profit made by the cooperative was put into buying equipments and slowly the cooperative had its own studio and precessing lab.

    So as Kodiyettam by Adoor another commercial success, even after so many ears people in kerala still talk about the film and Gopi’s extraordinary acting in it.

    Aravindan’s kummatti is another example, i remember they screened it at schools and kids loved it. Aravindan’s Chidambaram was a also a commercial success within kerala.

    So these films are not enjoyed only by the critics or cinephiles or film snobs or western critics etc, it was accepted by the people, even though it didn’t have song and dance, melodrama and overacting, it is not ‘world cinema language’ ardor was following, it is realism which Adoor was working with because it is essential to his work. And Aravindan’s work is totally different it is fantasy.

    Now there is no ‘world cinema style’ as you suggest- look at your own definition of world cinema language “shots held for longer, no easy background score to tell you exactly what to feel, not everything is voiced out through emotive acting or dialogue or in-the-moment songs/dances” – this doesn’t say what is world cinema style, all you said is this just opposite of mainstream. But why mainstream is a yardstick for looking at other forms of expression? When someone ask what is dosa? you can’t answer it is not chappathi, but you end up doing exactly that because you don’t have a clue of the ‘world cinema’ you are talking about every once in a while.

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  92. Bharadwaj, what are your thoughts on what I said about the scores of Indian movies? Don’t you think that they sometimes lower the standard of the movie and/or make them inaccessible to people accustomed to less “on the nose” music?

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  93. Jo: Where’s the “personal question” in this? I have said what I wanted to say in the piece. Very difficult to narrow down to top-10 films etc. Maybe I’ll write about lists in a future column.

    Bala: Thanks. Ungala maadhiri neraya bit-padam paakaravangalukku dhaan indha maadhiri bit ellaam nyabagam irukkumo? :-)

    Kaushik Bhattacharya: Yes :-)

    Girish: Yes, I have seen all of Adoor’s films except for the last one. And by your statements like “The general public of kerala has seen it, it was a commercial success” and “these films are not enjoyed only by the critics or cinephiles or film snobs or western critics etc, it was accepted by the people,” I see that you’re not getting where I was going with this article at all, so let’s just agree to disagree and end this. Cheers.

    Filmbuff: That could be a factor, no? Because when you combine that kind of music to a particular kind of acting and staging, it can become too much for people used to a more subtle style. (Not that “subtle” is automatically a great thing; it’s just another style.)

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  94. Jo, that is a very interesting article and I certainly agree that a critic should also make audiences aware of films that are not so well publicized as commercial ones. I also don’t consider commercial success as a suitable measure of the worth of a work of an art (now whether there is any basis to measure it is a different question, I don’t think there is). However, I do think art lovers would do well to bear in the mind the truism that you are what you are, not what you wear or eat. I can somewhat understand an artist feeling superior for making art that he considers is superior, though I still don’t agree with that kind of thinking. But how on earth does watching films that others don’t get to watch or don’t want to, make one superior to others? Maybe people who watch so called “leave-brain-out-at-the-gate” films do have a brain and do use it well in their lives? In the 20th century, there was a great opportunity to level the playing field as royal patronage of high art dwindled and bring down artificial barriers. Sadly, snobbery has resurrected these walls and made art a fragmented business again. It is interesting that Mr.Bergan divides music into pop and classical, when there certainly are more kinds than that. Prog/experimental rock falls somewhere in the middle and neither kind of critic acknowledges its existence, with the result that information about it is disseminated by the fans themselves through the internet. Proof once more that neat and convenient categorisation of art into boxes only closes the mind and deprives the audience of accessing art he might have enjoyed, had he not judged it by the cover and decided “it’s not for me”.

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  95. Girish: “But why mainstream is a yardstick for looking at other forms of expression?”….

    Brilliant point.

    Finally you got to the core of the issue. This is exactly what make lots of us uncomfortable of Rangan’s writing. His yardstick is mainstream and he looks at everything from that point of view. But it is his personal choice as a critic no one can question that. But my point is why can’t he come up front and say it?

    But when Hari said, it is evident that Rangan don’t like much of world cinema, he jumped in and said it is not true – he likes. When you (Girish) said Rangan doesn’t care for many unique languages of cinema…he said he care.

    This is puzzling, how can someone who like world cinema, engage with it and care for many languages of expression can make such a generalisation about world cinema. It is an unresolved puzzle yet.

    That is the reason why i have been asking Rangan to list his 10 or 15 all time favourite films. It will give us a clear understanding of where he is coming from, and that should end this debate. But unfortunately he is avoiding this question.

    Dear Rangan, Please for the spirt of the discussion put a list of 10-15 films you love. Since we all spent a lots of time on this debate, this will be a good ending….please.

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  96. I am going to completely ignore the discussions above and try to bring a fresh – and political – perspective to this post. :)

    Don’t you think part of the blame lies with those all-seeing eyes in the North as well? I think our Central Government’s constant ignorance of South India is a very important reason why regional films steeped in their respective region’s mainstream sensibilities are not getting recognized.

    Granted, we’ve been getting a presence in the Golden Lotus awards off late (with Vetri Maaran and Bala winning Best Director nods), but a lot of it is still dominated by the upper half of the country. I always get the feeling that in these awards as well, films with better artistic sensibilities (UH OH!) are given preference over equally well-done mainstream films. I was baffled that Subramaniyapuram was completely ignored come awards time that year. This is where you have to appreciate the Academy Awards despite all their fallacies. Argo is a shoe-in to win Best Picture this year and there couldn’t be a more mainstream film than that.

    Secondly, to extend this reasoning, you have to take a look at other awards like the Padma ones, the Dadasaheb Phalke award, and a few others. S. Janaki’s refusal to acknowledge her Padma Award was most welcome. I loved it! Even Sivaji Ganesan was given the Dadasaheb Phalke award only after much furore over it being awarded to Dilip Kumar the previous year, and he obviously refused to go to collect it in person. Hell, the only National Award he’s ever one has been a Critics award for Thevar Magan. Obviously some thing is deeply wrong with our system if one of the foremost actors of our times hasn’t been recognized at the National level when he has been among festival circuits and other nations. (Hell, even Saif Ali Khan has won it once for a completely drab performance.) On a similar note, K. Balachander was given the DSP award only in 2010, God only knows when Bharathiraja and Mahendran will be in line for that, not to mention minor stalwarts like a Bhagyaraj whose screenplays should be deeply studied by any film student. This stark ignorance of certain South Indian masters is also largely to blame for the general ignorance of their works.

    Thirdly, we come to India’s Official Entry into the Oscars. These are most bewildering for anybody. One year they select a total mainstream film which has nothing going for it like Jeans or they select parallel films which again have nothing going for them. Where’s the pattern? Where’s the consistency? Just how is Barfi! better than the hundreds of mainstream films coming out of Telugu, Tamil, and Malayalam in the same year. Just how is something like Eklavya – The Royal Guard or Rang De Basanti better than the numerous regional films of those years. Hypothetically, do we really think the Academy will not be interested in something like Subramaniyapuram which not only showcases the director’s understanding of the medium but also the blood-stained history of that area of Madurai? Why not give it a chance then?

    Finally, I think the criticism circle – or lack thereof – in India is also to blame. In the US, you have a Pauline Kael or a Roger Ebert publish their entire collected works about all possible films they’ve seen as books for easy consumption, or you have film historians publish interviews with auteurs (both mainstream and otherwise) and so on and so forth. While searching for books, I’ve seen ones on Guru Dutt, Satyajit Ray and a lot of books on the parallel cinema movement. However, I’ve not come across one dissecting into a Balachander or a Bharathiraja or a Mahendran or a Bhagyaraj or a Balu Mahendra or a Mani Ratnam (until now :) ). Why don’t critics take up the added responsibility of taking these directors’ works to places they’ve never been? If they can’t get an interview with these directors, why don’t they write up an analysis of all their films, like you were going to do with Ratnam’s films initially?

    To cite another example, The Social Network is, in the traditional sense, a mainstream film. However, Jim Emerson on his Chicago Sun Times blog, Scanners, has compiled about 10 posts on what makes it one of the best films of this decade. He discusses the film from multiple perspectives and made me look at it differently. (He has significantly more detailed posts on The Dark Knight as well.) Similarly, David Bordwell’s analysis of the same film is a great dissection. As are their pieces on a number of other films from other mainstream directors. They take their time to dissect into mainstream works like Inception the same way they do with auteristic works like Moonrise Kingdom or There Will be Blood. I don’t see Indian critics doing that.

    Finally, availability of films is a valid point as someone highlighted above. The works of our mainstream directors are not easily available on DVD or Blu-Ray. The only way to catch them is through TV telecasts. And more importantly, why don’t our film festival circuits take up responsibility of doing a retrospective on some of the aforementioned directors? When a festival somewhere in Canada can do a retrospective of Mani Ratnam, why can’t the Chennai International Film Fest do one on Balachander, Bharathiraja, Mahendran or Balu Mahendran? (I have no idea whether they have in the past. So apologies if they have.) Surely, they would have access to these films, and it wouldn’t hurt if they dedicate one theater in the week’s schedule to showcase these masterworks. Then you have organizations like The Criterion Collection in the US take up responsibility of taking a lot of unknown films to audiences that might otherwise not get to see them? I don’t see any such movement happening in Indian cinema.

    So, it really is a combination of all the above factors. And that came out longer than I intended it to. Oh well… Had to get it off my chest.

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  97. Jo: Firstly, nothing can end this debate because the core position of this post has been misunderstood and the arguments have gone on from there. (Because you are still demanding proof that I like world cinema, when I have tried my best to explain that I was in no way dissing non-mainstream cinema.)

    Two, there was a time I used to write a lot about non-mainstream cinema, in a series called “Part of the Picture.” You’ll find many of my favourite films there.

    Bala: ROFL!

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  98. Read the article, read the comments. Went back and read the article again. I feel like I should be arms about something so read it a couple more times. If I were to translate the ‘controversial’ bits in layman’s terms, I gather that you’re saying filmmakers like Adoor were able to create something that appeals not just to the local, but also a world audience- Did I get that point right? Some of the comments suggest I have it all wrong! Puzzled about what this baseless ‘debate’ is all about.

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  99. Mickie Menon: “I gather that you’re saying filmmakers like Adoor were able to create something that appeals not just to the local, but also a world audience” — that’s it, thank you :-) After the sarcastic remarks, I too went back and re-read the post, and this is all I said :-)

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  100. Mickie Menon, i request you to read the article one more time-

    “I offered a reason for this, that directors like Adoor and Kasaravalli follow a style of filmmaking that’s closer to what’s generally accepted as Art Cinema in the west, even though their subjects are local, whereas Balachander and Bharathiraja and many others worked within the Tamil mainstream, which is far removed from the generally accepted notion of “world cinema.” Or maybe a different way to put this is to say that directors like Adoor and Kasaravalli make movies for world audiences, while Balachander and Bharathiraja made movies for local audiences who would not sit through the austere kind of cinema that plays in art-house theatres around the world.”

    After reading this you still think Rangan saying – filmmakers like Adoor were able to create something that appeals not just to the local, but also a world audience?

    Rangan begin the paragraph with – “Adoor and Kasaravalli follow a style of filmmaking that’s closer to what’s generally accepted as Art Cinema in the west” And he ends the paragraph with “local audiences who would not sit through the austere kind of cinema that plays in art-house theatres around the world” – put these to together you can figure out that Rangan is not saying filmmakers like Adoor were able to create something that appeals not just to the local, but also a world audience. Because according to his second line local audiences won’t sit through an Adoor film isn’t it? where is the question of appeal? So how you assumed that Rangan said Adoor’s film appeal to local audience and world audience?

    So who is having a baseless ‘debate’ Mickie Menon?

    Now if you take your original line – “filmmakers like Adoor were able to create something that appeals not just to the local, but also a world audience” apply Rangan’s theory to it and delete the ‘appeal to local audience’ part than what have you left with? Adoor make films appeal to world audience isn’t it?

    This is just one part of the problem with the article, there are a whole lot of careless generalisations out there, if you want i can list them for you allover again.

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  101. Girish: er, the full sentence is “while Balachander and Bharathiraja made movies for local audiences who would not sit through the austere kind of cinema that plays in art-house theatres around the world”. So your inference is reductive.

    Now maybe if we cut some touch-me-not political correctness out of this, we can appreciate the simple point that is being made. What works in the market? Ek Tha Tiger, Dabbang, Sirutthai? Clearly, the audience for these kind of films would not enjoy arthouse films. On the other hand, some members of the local audience might crave a different kind of cinema which may in turn also find greater acceptance worldwide.

    The catch is there are films that fall in between these extremes, they may have some of the local flavour that discourages elitist audiences from watching them, but may be otherwise well made films. Since I have not watched Sindhu Bharaivi, I cannot say for sure if I’d slot Balachander in that category because I didn’t like the other films I watched of his (Punnagai Mannan and Duet esp I thought were tiresome films riding on super duper songs and little else). But I can see the point Rangan is trying to make.

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  102. girish: has it occurred to you that articles and blog posts are meant to be expressions of opinion and not bullet-proof mathematical theorems? By definition, each person reading the article will interpret it differently and therefore applying theories derived from one sentence and deleting parts of others serves no purpose at all.

    As I see it, Baradwaj Rangan has just stated his opinions/hypotheses and if you don’t agree, you are welcome to do so but why you see the need to go on and expect him to defend himself is beyond me.

    One man’s meat is another man’s poison but the latter isn’t compelled to consume it…..

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  103. I read through the article again just now and the only sense I get is of the author urging some sections of the audience to give a fairer chance to some films and not go by perceptions of what kind of films are supposed to be superior. Strenuous arguments against this suggest to me that some people are interested in maintaining this superiority/elitism? What is a world cinema point of view or mainstream point of view? There is no such thing, it’s all in your head. An artist makes certain decisions and these may or may not resonate with the audience, over and out. Doesn’t make those who tolerated/understood/or didn’t inferior/superior, as applicable.

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  104. Girish, when you are intent on being wronged, there is no escape from it. I could pull up my sleeves and jump right into this -yes, baseless- and increasingly ridiculous nitpicking but would rather concentrate on the crux of this article which happens to be quite an interesting one. Forget names for now, the point is, what is it about works of certain film makers that hit the mark with an audience wider than the local ones. (That is NOT to say they don’t hit the mark with the local audience as well!) It is something that I have wondered about too. I could do my own chopping and zoom in on just “Balachander and Bharathiraja made movies for local audiences who would not sit through the austere kind of cinema that plays in art-house theatres around the world.” It is a fact, what’s wrong in that? I for one, am looking forward to follow up articles where we get to track some kind of evolution in Indian cinema where more and more creative geniuses get the world recognition they deserve. Am still not interested in names.

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  105. @girish – “Adoor and Kasaravalli follow a style of filmmaking that’s closer to what’s generally accepted as Art Cinema in the west” Not that they wanted to make films for the west. It just happens that the “language” of these films are understandable to the western art cinema audience.
    “local audiences who would not sit through the austere kind of cinema” He is not saying all local audience do not like “the austere kind of cinema”. There is a set of people (I think the majority in TN) who do not like it and the other directors were making films for them.

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  106. On a lighter note, once upon a time, I used to post the weird search engine terms that led people to my blog. Think it’s time to resume with these gems –

    – how could abhishek bachchan allow aishwarya’s breast to be fondled by raavan

    – race 3 naked man saif ali khan

    Am beginning to see why my blog is censored in some places :-)

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  107. I think a simpler reason is the execrable subtitling. It’s impossible to follow along. And to be fair, it’s not just Tamil movies. Almost all of the non-Hindi Indian movies I have seen have a similar problem. The subtitles are carelessly done, almost as an afterthought, and in a way that suggests the people responsible are not very comfortable with the English language. A friend actually sent me DVDs of Virumandi and Iruvar from Toronto but we couldn’t watch them because of the language barrier.

    I’m hoping that this is something production houses take more seriously when releasing DVD versions. If they want to tap into global markets and show their cinema to the world they have to conform to better standards.

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  108. Mickie Menon: “baseless- and increasingly ridiculous nitpicking”

    You said in your earlier post “filmmakers like Adoor were able to create something that appeals not just to the local, but also a world audience”

    My question to you was, please show me where in Rangan’s article he has written that – Adoor’s films appeal to the local audience?

    Please answer that question, before attacking me.

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  109. Arun: “Adoor and Kasaravalli follow a style of filmmaking that’s closer to what’s generally accepted as Art Cinema in the west” Not that they wanted to make films for the west. It just happens that the “language” of these films are understandable to the western art cinema audience.“local audiences who would not sit through the austere kind of cinema” He is not saying all local audience do not like “the austere kind of cinema”. There is a set of people (I think the majority in TN) who do not like it and the other directors were making films for them.?

    You should ask this to Rangan what he meant by ‘local audiences’ in the sentence, was he refraining only to TN audience here. But the situation in other states (like Kerala) are different ?

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  110. Many of you calling us names and complaining that we are keep on making the same point over and over again, but you should think that we are doing this because Rangan is not accepting his mistakes or owning up his position.

    Now i have made a request to him to simply list some of his favorite films, but he is refusing to do that as well, if he can’t narrow it down to 10 names then make it 20…we are waiting. Since he is comparing mainstream and non mainstream films in this article, it will help us understand him better if he can come out and say the kind films he loves combining mainstream and non mainstream together.

    Please Ranagn

    btw, i have gone through “Part of the Picture.” it is a series only on world cinema, but here in this article you are comparing both, the context is totally different.

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  111. Kaushik Bhattacharya, I totally respect Rangan’s or any writer’s point of view, but he has to at-least own his point of view, that’s all we are saying. When the second paragraph of article says that “- maybe a different way to put this is to say that directors like Adoor and Kasaravalli make movies for world audiences, while Balachander and Bharathiraja made movies for local audiences who would not sit through the austere kind of cinema that plays in art-house theatres around the world.” there are three problems with it.

    1. Writing about Adoor makes films for the ‘world audience’ is a very ignorant point of view, and it is an insulting to the artist. He is making films with a lots of integrity rooted in the culture and pace of of the people whom he is representing in the film, it is not that he is working with an internationally accepted world cinema language. But as you said it is rangan’s point of view so even though we don’t agree with it we should respect it. fine.

    2. But when some guys pointed this problem, he said he never said that adoor makes films for world audience, instead he said adoor’s films appeal to local audience as well as world audience, but we are not been able to find that part anywhere in the article. Can you? Why can’t he stand up for what he has written is the question?

    3. Now just of argument, if you agree that Rangan is saying Adoor makes films which appeal to local as well us world, then what is his focus of the article? if he saying that only TN audience has this peculiar behaviour of not sit through the the austere kind of cinema and situation in Kerala, Bengal and Karnataka re different, then where is any mention of different kind of audiences in the article, in the reference to audience there is only a generalisation.

    One more thing Kaushik, i can understand point of view of writer, but when the point of view is about someone and it is making a judgement on someones like Adoor’s 40 year’s of work you better be sure and make your judgements bullet-proof mathematical theorems, or at-least accept the mistake when people point it out to you.

    “One man’s meat is another man’s poison but the latter isn’t compelled to consume it”…..sorry we are having a discussion here because we care for cinema.

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  112. Even if Mr.Rangan has expressed views that he’s being accused of here, he has made it clear in the comments section that those weren’t his intentions. Maybe some misunderstanding in communication.

    Regarding the general cinema audience of Tamil Nadu and other states like Kerala, I don’t think filmmakers of Mr.Adoor’s stature would have been as successful in TN as they are in their own state. We wouldn’t have understood their films. Frankly because we don’t have a reading habit as prevalent as in other states like Kerala. That might be a reason why our very own successful filmmakers made some very good films within the mainstream format itself without being too experimental.

    And as far as asking Mr.Rangan to list his top 10 films list, I don’t know. Having followed his writings for sometime he doesn’t seem like someone who would have a list of top favourite films.

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  113. Hari : “VJ, You may not like Adoor’s films (which is perfectly fine) but you can not ignore the significant role he has played in the history of malayalam cinema.”

    LOL. Where did I ever say in my post about I not liking Adoor’s cinemas. Why do people get such knee-jerk reactions without even really caring for what’s in the post but maybe just glancing the post for a second or so and presuming the rest of the things according to what they want.
    I don’t feel like explaining it all again, for one thing you wouldn’t even care.

    And seeing all the rage against BR, if this is the response (although by a very very few) to a totally well-intended and well thought out general piece by a film critic in his blog(or newspaper), no wonder on what has been happening to films like Viswaroopam !

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  114. “For a minute I was stumped, because what M says is true. Film lovers all over India – at least those who take cinema seriously – have heard of Adoor and Kasaravalli (and other great art-film makers), whereas the path-breaking filmmakers from Tamil Nadu remain at best local treasures, unknown outside the boundaries of their home state. I offered a reason for this, that directors like Adoor and Kasaravalli follow a style of filmmaking that’s closer to what’s generally accepted as Art Cinema in the west, even though their subjects are local, whereas Balachander and Bharathiraja and many others worked within the Tamil mainstream, which is far removed from the generally accepted notion of “world cinema.” Or maybe a different way to put this is to say that directors like Adoor and Kasaravalli make movies for world audiences, while Balachander and Bharathiraja made movies for local audiences who would not sit through the austere kind of cinema that plays in art-house theatres around the world.”

    Boy is this nitpicking or what?

    Brangan – pays due respects to Adoor, Kasaravalli and the likes “Adoor and Kasaravalli (and other great art-film makers)” Says their style of film making is closer to what’s generally accepted as art cinama in the west.. and says that some tamil film makers while “path breaking” stray too far away from this style.

    This to me is like saying batting greats like Dravid and Tendulkar have a style of play that is closer to the MCC books whereas a Sehwag or a Laxman have path breaking styles that produce comparable if not similar results but stray too far away from the orthodox techniques. While this opinion may be brilliant or flawed, it certainly does not warrant the vituperative outrage it seems to have attracted.

    At no point in the article is there an allusion to Adoor or kasaravalli consiously trying to stick to any unoriginal narrative patterns to cater to a world audience in particular.

    @ Girish: The 3rd point in your last comment possibly points to a ladder of inference largely in your mind than whats there in the article

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  115. Gen observation: While Jo or Girish may or may not have been trolling, the general trend by Brangan side-kicks here is to escalate any disagreement with brangan’s opinion into an attack on the commenter, and escalate the stakes gradually to make them hit out in frustration and then use that to dub them trolls. Well played. I am very proud of the clinical efficiency with which we do this.

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  116. Girish, from the comments thread, I’m not sure what makes you say that Rangan does not own his point of view. He’s explained it several times and I don’t see any inconsistencies. I don’t see how you can expect him to “own” a point of view that is your interpretation though.

    As for your point about Adoor, why should a film that is “with a lots of integrity rooted in the culture and pace of of the people whom he is representing in the film” as you say not appeal or cater to a world audience? There are aspects of every culture that are universal and there are aspects that are uniquely local. And on top of that there is the style of presentation in the film which in any event was my take on what Rangan was trying to say. My own experience of Adoor’s (and of Malayali cinema) is somewhat limited (thanks to the inadequacies of subtitling) but on average I’ve always found the style to be more universal than Tamil cinema.

    Where did the issue of caring about cinema or not come from? I was just saying that if you disagree with Rangan or find something he said objectionable, you have a choice to ignore the post. Simple as that :-)

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  117. naanumoruthozhil: thanks for calling me (and some others) a Brangan side-kick. Guess something like this would happen only on the internet :-)

    I don’t know either if Jo or Girish are trolling but from the comments thread I don’t think anyone’s been attacking them personally. I’m sure many of us might disagree with Brangan and parts of what he says but I don’t understand the rationale for the disagreement to take the form of an “hey, your opinion is wrong, please explain it to my satisfaction or take it back” attitude.

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  118. Kaushik Bhattacharya: Yes, that sidekick comment was distasteful because people were making long arguments and not just blind attacks, and this sort of bland reductionism and name-calling is the thing that keeps some readers from commenting. It is these comments that I wish I could hold back, because they contribute nothing to the discussion, but then there’s free speech and all that jazz :-)

    You’re right about this: “something like this would happen only on the internet”

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  119. “The mysteries of creation are marvelous. When two persons meet at any time or place, the differences between them are patent. Their forms and manners differ. They differ in their cleverness and intelligence. Their opinions also vary. Without understanding what underlies these differences, the materialist thinker emphasizes the differences. Today, a growing number of intellectuals, ignoring the unity that underlies the diversity, propagate the cult of differences. The good persons who realize the unity behind the apparent diversity are dwindling in numbers from day to day. This is highly unfortunate.”

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  120. Nanumoruthozh, let me put some of that reductive reasoning onto the other side of the fence:

    Gen observation: While I (along with X,Y, or Z) may not be Brangan’s supporters, the general trend by Brangan trolls here is to escalate any of their disagreement with brangan’s opinion into an attack on the commenters who chime in supporting Brangan’s stand, and escalate the stakes gradually to make them sigh in resignation and then to further use that to dub them sidekicks/chamchas/groupies/supporters. Well played. I am very proud of the clinical efficiency with which we do this.

    See what I just did there?

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  121. OK, you don’t agree with what Brangan is saying, why are you hell bent on asking him to accept his mistake? If you don’t agree move on, it ain’t the end of the world.

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  122. @hari “OK, you don’t agree with what Brangan is saying, why are you hell bent on asking him to accept his mistake? If you don’t agree move on, it ain’t the end of the world.” But we are no longer asking Rangan to accept his mistake, we are asking him to own up his position at least, but he is being slimy about his own point, that is why this repeated request.

    @ Rangan, please answer this simple question, when you say that you mean to say in your article: “filmmakers like Adoor were able to create something that appeals not just to the local, but also a world audience”

    Where in the article is this point written or implied? please show us?

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  123. Satyajit ray’s movie though influenced by european neorealism were based on short stories and steeped in bengali literature. Ray, was of course more eloquent and hence was able to communicate better with european cinema makers.
    My personal opinion is that film makers in Kerala and bengal had the artistic freedom and ethical similarities to the french liberals, because of the similarity of their socialistic principles in which the region was steeped in during the 60s 70s and 80s. Not that I am a socialist, it is just that the socialistic milieu gave the artist more freedom from commercial compulsions. But, tamil cinema and Bollywood are highly curtailed by the corporate studio culture that is long standing and the system cripples the auteur. I guess that is the reason why movies like uthiri pookal, iruvar or aval appadi are not churned out frequently.

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  124. Kans345 – “But, tamil cinema and Bollywood are highly curtailed by the corporate studio culture that is long standing and the system cripples the auteur” …not true. The fault is with the film maker who sell himself to those commercial greed so easily. Also the fault is with the critics like Rangan who write in mainstream media sounding like the auteur is the one who is making films for the foreign audience.

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