Bitty Ruminations 91 – The erasure of (film) history

Posted on September 17, 2020


There are two reasons for writing this. One is awkshwayrd’s comment on the SADAK 2 thread, in response to my comment about Mahesh Bhatt: @brangan: There is a masterclass from you buried in the comments here. I’d never heard of any of these movies (MANZILEIN AUR BHI HAIN? AWAARGI? SAATHI?) and I’m a 80’s kid with a very Bollywood-y (or Bombay cinema as you would like it) family. 

The second is this tweet that came in response to my Kamal Haasan-Lokesh Kanagaraj piece:

Regarding awkshwayrd’s comment, I know he/she is a film lover and a regular on this blog. And all of us have gaps in our knowledge. But when you combine the two comments, I get the sense of a history being slowly erased (much like what is happening in other fields in India today).

This is not coming from a place of “I know best”. Not at all. Also, I know better than to extrapolate the odd tweet to an entire “generation”.

But I am curious about what this could mean for Indian film journalism in the future, if (a) “hearsay” becomes fact (again, not about you, awkshwayrd) and (b) if younger readers/viewers or even critics and film journalists are just not interested in older stuff, and dismiss it with contempt.

Some of this is inevitable: the cycle of life, the passage of time, etc. I addressed some of this in my Lata Mangeshkar piece.

But what if “Mahesh Bhatt was a copycat in some of his films” becomes the dominant narrative among those who have not seen the earlier films he made, simply because this fact is repeated over and over and nobody is doing the actual research — and thus, an entire body of work gets undervalued?

When I say “actual research”, I mean the actual work of watching the film or talking to people of the time — as opposed to simply Googling things up, which will only give you earlier versions of the “truth” from those who did exactly what you did.

It’s the same with Tamil cinema. Every time I read something about, say Rudraiah’s AVAL APPADITHAN, you get the sense that it blew open the minds of the Tamil film industry — when, in reality, it bombed and was celebrated only by a few cinephiles (mostly filmmakers of the time).

So when this “fact” keeps getting repeated, will it become “truth”?

Just a few idle musings from an old man on a Thursday morning!