Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Filming the egalitarianism

Notes for a film theory about the cinemas of Assam 

Altaf Mazid

  • “I have directed the film ‘Joymoti’ from a realistic point of view which is the features of all class I English, American and Russian film s. So far the actors busy in production are concerned it will be quite different from other Indian films – I am employing Russian method of directing through all the pictures” . “The picture as contemplated will be a new move in India. No professional actors and actresses are required. All artists are scrupulously searched and discovered and only ‘types’ are selected following Russian method. All the girl artists are requited from respectable families” .
Inspired by the socialist realism of cinema of the 1920’s, expounded by Lev Kuleshov, Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla crafted the first Assamese film, Joymoti (Joymoti, 1935) , in which he tried to achieve these endeavours. By doing so he attempted at Assam’s filmic genre, ‘realism’ (aka egalitarianism), creating an immediate connection between society and cinema which is in practice till today to a comparable extent. It is not a cinema per se but in resemblance with other cultural materials of the land, is a cinema of different manifestation compared to the rest of India. The size of the cinema is small, around 350 films in seventy six years. One might also like to term it as ‘cottage cinema’ .

Here I have tried to contextualise this cinematography, the only one of its kind in India, with the social and cultural history of Assam and forward proposition of a possible film theory of the cinema based on the egalitarianism characteristic of the society. These attributes of the cinema have found little room in the scholar's desk, one of the reasons being confined circulation of the films within the geographical boundary of Assam alone.

The realistic beginning: 

A slight repetition first - India’s first film was a mythology – Raja Harischandra (Raja Harischandra, 1913). Dadasaheb Phalke, after seeing a film about Christ, got highly inspired to make similar religious films based on Indian mythologies – ‘while the life of Christ was rolling fast before my eyes I was mentally visualizing the gods Shri Krishna, Shri Ramachandra, their Gokul and Ayodhya . . . Could we, the sons of India, ever be able to use Indian images on the screen? ’ Thus began a film genre termed as ‘mythological’ which lasted throughout the silent era, then rolled forward till the 1960’s as a main genre but went on declination to remain as a sub-genre, such as, to a film called Jai Santoshi Ma (Hail the Mother Santoshi, 1975). Phalke himself made more than one hundred films, mostly based on religious themes of Hindu pantheon. For Phalke, filmmaking was both religious as well a nationalistic vocation; he was a fervent believer of the nationalistic philosophy, swadeshi (indigenous production and self-sufficiency). He provided the stimulus for film production in different parts of the country, except Assam. Filmmaking in Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras started happening, with the similar religious materials as their premise of works. In nearby Bengal, the first Bengali film was Satyabadi Raja Harishchandra (1917), a remake of Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra.

In Assam, it is an entirely different story altogether. Jyotiprasad Agarwalla, observed that ‘Generally speaking, Bengali and Hindusthani films are very artificial. Even the famous directors of Bengali and Hindusthani films can not make differentiation between theatre acting and film acting. . . . Theatre acting is artificial and film acting, natural. Likewise the situation of the film also has to be natural’ . “Still the films made by New Theatres of Bengal, Prabhat of Pune, Bombay Talkies of Bombay find no comparison with the films of Europe-America . . . . the film goers of high quality European and American films can not stop laughing at the photography, lighting, make up etc. of these institutes. 

His staunch belief of making films realistic was a political decision of higher order which in the 1930’s no filmmaker of India has conceived about. Joymoti was a nationalist film, the only work of the kind in the country, which tried to create a cultural world with the elements of Assamese society. But why not, Agarwalla was a nationalist to the core as well an intellectual of many virtues.

The society at large:

The notions of realism that Joymoti depicted also brought into the inherent characteristics of egalitarianism of the Assamese society; and/or rather egalitarianism got manifested into realistic expression in camera. The composition and characteristics of this society is quite different from the other societies of India. It has its own distinctiveness in population components and social patterns. This being so its dress pattern, food habit, cultural and religious norms and practices, social and community customs etc carry a typical outlook. Since the early times the region has been the home of Indo-Mongoloids of the South and South East Asia although Austric, Dravidian sub-strata and Aryan cultures over and above have swept over parts of the region. The Aryan-Hindu religious and cultural norms have been a dominant influence here but the living presence of Buddhism, Islam and Christianity in more recent times can be traced.

Here live many indigenous communities; they speak many languages, dialects, sub-dialects, though most do not have written script of their own. Various tribal communities, now at different levels of acculturation, integration and assimilation vis-à-vis the Assamese Hindu society, live in the hills and plains. Although Saivism and Saktism (and also Tantrism) have had strong roots here, neo-Vaishnavism with a wonderful spirit of liberalisation and synthesis was ushered in 15th century, and its influence on the population has since been both pervasive and abiding . Neo-Vaishnavism gave birth to an egalitarian society and still the people are following the basic tenets with profound belief and high respect.

Realism and/or egalitarianism contd . . . . .

In Joymoti we find infighting for supremacy among the clans in power among which a woman of extraordinary fearlessness becomes a martyr to save her husband further saving the state from the tyrannical situations. The film ends with death of Joymoti, cutting into several shots of a river, presumably Brahmaputra, with a song in the background, praising her heroic efforts and urging the river water to carry the her ideal to the far and the wide. A similar ending is also noticed in Indramalati (Indramalati, 1939), the second and the last film of Agarwalla. Chadiram kidnaps Malati to marry her but she is already in love with Indra. Indra somehow rescues Malati just before Chandi could any harm to her. Now the question is - will the villagers accept Malati after the happenings that she was away in Chandi’s custody for a few nights? The film ends with Indra and Malati leaving the village ‘towards an uncertain future. Indra answers to a query of Malati – the rays of sun will lead us towards the road. ’ In both the films, Agarwalla drew utopian perception where the lead characters after freeing themselves from the shackles of oppression go into oblivion. Through Joymoti, he wished the people of Assam to come to know the news of her heroic sacrifice pending call for any counter protest against the tyranny. Similarly, Indra and Malati did not attempt to return to the village and induce the people that Malati was never subjected to test her honour. These depictions lead to a sort of conclusion of ‘love your enemy ’ and have mercy upon them. The feeling might not be compared to Christian egalitarianism as such but in the context of Assamese society, the words hold certain rationalization.

We come across similar ray-of-sun-leading-the-road ending in Ganga silonir pakhi (Wings of the tern, Padum Barua, 1976) where a young widow, after her husband’s death, desires to get reunited with her pre-nuptial lover without success. Meemanxa (The compromise, Sanjib Hazarika, 1994) again tells the story of a young widow who, out of necessity, had to succumb to a middle man for getting released in bail from a false police case. Hemanta Das also showed plight of a young girl forced to sell her body for food in Tothapiu nadi (Still the river flows, 1990) whose father’s small passenger boat became outdated in the wake of the concrete bridge just completed in the river Brahmaputra.

In Agnisnan (The ordeal, Dr. Bhabendranath Saikia, 1985), the protagonist voluntarily makes herself pregnant by a young man, out of an extramarital affair, to settle score with her neo-rich husband who brought a young second wife home, totally ignoring the status of the first wife. An interesting observation of the film is the portrayal of class and caste questions. On a call of Menaka, the first wife, the young man, Madan, a thief by profession, comes to meet her. He sits down at the front porch of the veranda while the lady in command takes her seat in the exterior of the same veranda. The thief is supposed to be from a low caste and obviously from downtrodden. But these kinds of issues were never at play in this cinema. One might come across a film, Aparajeya (The Undefeated, Chaturanga, 1970) about political tension between scheduled and other castes, but that is an isolated piece of cinema far removed from the general mind-set of the society. It is impossible to imagine any film from Assam about the conditions of the lower caste people like Bhavni Bhavai (A folk tale, Gujrati, Ketan Mehta, 1980).

In Assamese, by and large, these radicalism and protests remains a closed door affair, confined amongst the protagonists and the trusted few. The public was never taken into confidence. These manifestations are also the expressions of a traditional egalitarian society as the victims cannot go for complain and seek justice, from anyone else, other than the almighty. The society might accept the situations but a dilemma on the part of the victims debar them to relieve their minds. As against these films, we have Parama (The ultimate woman, Bengali, Aparna Sen, 1984), where a young wife, on getting involved with another man, gets socially exiled and was made redundant by her own family. The situation here is semi-feudal, where position of woman is shaky. In Assam, tradition will discourage a similar married woman to come out with a second man and get portrayed as ‘the ultimate’ woman. So far the cinema plots go; a young widow commits suicide when the family tried to put her in isolation as happened in Adajya (The flight, Santwana Bardoloi, 1996). They discovered her closeness with a young American scholar who was a regular visitor to their house analysing ancient scriptures. Adajya depicts individual's inner growth being strangled by social customs but the incidents remain isolated having no share to the outside world. So is Ganga silonir pakhi (Wings of the tern).

Business of realistic imagery

Joymoti might have satisfied Agarwalla to see the political values of the Assamese images on the screen but it failed miserably in the market. So was Indramalati. Nevertheless, they turned out to be role models for the entire generation of filmmakers of Assam. From Joymoti onwards till date the practice of cinema has mostly been confined to personal and private concerns. Barring a few incidents, it is simply the virtue of artistic compulsion. The works are solely individual efforts and acts of benevolence, sustained largely by family wealth and savings and contributions from friends and relatives.

However, the realistic imagery of Joymoti turned out to be a continued reminder to the upcoming filmmakers that any future work should be an Assamese entity with dialogue, dress, gesture, music etc in all their correctness. Yet the third film of Assam directed by Rohinikanta Barua (1941) fell short in one count compared to the fourth - ‘the audience remained at suspect at the artistic sense of the filmmaker for using Bengali background music in a historical film like Manomoti. As against this in Parbati Barua’s mere sentimental love story between city boy and village girl, ‘Rupahi’, portrayal of Assamese life and tune was reflected although in a liquefied manner’ . The indoor shooting of the films were done in Calcutta studio but it is for sure that the directors tried hard to remain faithful in filming only the ‘Assamese’, following Agarwall’s constant detest of using Bengali materials. Nevertheless it can be well perceived that the production could not manage to organize fund to charter the required musicians to Calcutta. Such a catastrophe was reported to have happened with Joymoti too - during post-production in Lahore, Agarwall discovered that location sound and dialogues are missing from the negative. Finding no other option, he accepted the default output and dubbed the voice of about thirty characters with his, including those of the female characters . Suresh Goswami’s Runumi (Runumi, 1948) also met a similar fate – ‘it is sad that the photography was not satisfactory ’. Also, in Sakuntala (Sakuntala, Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, 1963), ‘it can be presumed that since the title role was given to a Bengali actress, very little dialogue was given to Sakuntala. At times this actress appeared to be a silent maiden. ’

Concern for more Assamisation

A two-fold situation of Assamese film may be observed from the above discussion – short of money yet more of traditional values on screen. As stated above, the growth of the ‘traditional’ here is manifestation of the psyche of the indigenes. In Assam, caste difference is never a social as well as a political factor; position of women is high, no dowry system in marriage, no bride burning, and no female infanticide and most strikingly, communal conflicts are always at the bay. Violence of any order was unheard of till the advent of insurgency and militant activities of the 1980’s. Under these circumstances the filmmaker became bound to select only those materials that portray these ethos otherwise people will reject them since the films have limited circulation within the Assamese speaking people alone. This is again a further hindrance to cut down the production costs to bare minimum.

These states of affairs appear to be a yoke on the filmmakers but it may also be termed as a blessing in disguise. It allowed them to mould their works along the traditional values of the egalitarian society. For example, as the society may not accept bizarre death, none of the films about three Assamese freedom fighters, Piyoli Phukan (Piyoli Phukan, directed by Phani Sharma, 1955), Maniram Dewan (Maniram Dewan, Sarbeshwar Chakrabarty, 1963) and Kushal (Kushal, Jahnu Barua, 1998) could show their bodies hanging from the gallows. While the first two films cut the sequences to the corpse after their release from the gallows, the third film symbolized it with flying away of two pigeons whom the hero nurtured with tit-bits of food in his cell till the previous day.

 For a traditional society, life centres on the family and its concerns. Hence, family films from Assam have always found prominence. This is an easy and popular genre worldwide, including India. In such recent films of India, we notice several urban pop values making entry into them. For example, in her friend’s marriage ceremony, Tanu sips alcohol straight from a bottle of rum which she snatches from a young man in Tanu weds Manu (Anand L. Rai, 2011). She gets pink immediately and starts a joyful dance for the wedding where others also join including her would be husband Manu. But in Assam, no heroine has ever drank alcohol in the screen out of fear that the film will never get released in Assam, and the potentiality of regional censor board certifying the film for ‘adults only’ stands high. Here, these types of sequences are mostly designed with the lovers and/or their friends doing a Bihu item number, since Bihu is regarded as a very higher form of folk material. Toramai (Toramai, Dwiban Barua, 1975) was the first film to introduce a Bihu dance. That was such an innovative beginning so much so that the dance began making appearance in every romantic film. The Assam movement’s (1979-86) resultant about the danger of loosing the cultural identity of the Assamese indigenous people, due to the influx of large scale illegal Bangladeshi nationals, gave rise to huge popularity of Bihu-like folk materials. Then onwards Bihu has turned out to be a national and radical symbol of Assamisation. The market has now spread to production of innumerable video compact discs, and in every other film it has been compulsory to include a minimum of one such song and dance sequence. A latest release Janmoni (Janmoni, Rajesh Bhuyan, 2011) is heavily loaded with such numbers. The film is the celluloid version of the production company’s several previous vcd versions of the same genre.

Rolling back, we come across a number of family dramas starting with Nimila Anka (Unsolved sum, Lakhyadhar Choudhoury, 1955), a first film to grapple with socio-economic reality. Similar social themes are in continuation in the body of Assamese films till today. The 1960’s can be termed as the 'golden era' of the Assamese cinema. It was founded on the belief that for cinema to gain in health, every Assamese should buy a ticket at the counter. During that period, village people used to charter buses to the nearest town to see the latest fare. Touring cinema circuit, eventually, had to multiply their screenings to comply with the demand in remote areas. The trend continued up to the nineties till television choke down the culture of film viewing in theater.

The other cinema regions of the country have eased the crisis, to some extent, by walking on the middle by producing film for television and/or multiplexes. But Assamese cinema had to lie around in the same platform where it stood before the introduction of television. The business as such is not expanding; multiplexes are limited to the capital city alone. Further, the size of Assamese diasporas is quite small for running a professional television channel. Yet films are getting made with private investment with little return. Most ventures run into loss. Nevertheless the family dramas are taking birth on the screen with same small town and/or village stories. The bulk of Assamese people living in urban areas, until now, are first generation middle class are having close tie with their ancestral root in their native villages. So films based on such mixed materials are a welcome for the producer. Three recent examples are – Jetuka patar dore (Like the coloured leaf, 2011) of Jadumoni Dutta, Jiban batar lagari (Live alone, 2009) and Pole pole ure mon (Wings of ecstasy, 2011), both by Timothy Das Hanse. The characters and situations are – honest school teacher-cum-leading villager, brilliant young people, farmer believing strong work culture, hard working self-help group, honest politician, leading social figure, energetic fashion designer, mass communication student, village having deep respect for traditional culture and human values, neo-Vaishnavite organization, Bihu and community fishing dances, mass campaigning against the corrupt etc. All the films are saturated in simplicity and presentations are postcard-like. Three other issue based films – Aai kot nai (Mother everywhere, Manju Bora, 2008) about misery of people displaced by the Assam-Nagaland border clashes; Basundhara (The earth, Hiren Bora, 2009) about human-elephant conflict out of rampant deforestation, and situation of flood in Turgat (Pain of life, Dr. Bhupendra Kaman, 2009) are also filmed in location with realistic observation. But none of them could delve deep beyond the apparent reality of the situations. Two interesting mention here are Asif Iqbal Hussain’s Ajan faquir sahib (The man from Baghdad, 2008) and Srimanta Shankardev (Shankardev the Noble, Surya Hazarika, 2009). Both delivered their materials only on their surfaces with no third dimension. The theme of Ajan is high on communal harmony of 17th century. However the so-called ‘harmony’ got diluted in this age. So is the second film. It tells the life of the great social reformer in a school-text book fashion.

The point of deliberation here is, even now in this modern days of rapid economic change and development, Assamese films are reeling under the spell of realism which vis-à-vis is a mirror image of egalitarianism. Although we find several other films also like Hridayar prayojan (Call of the heart, Gauri Barman, 1972), The sixth day of creation (Deepa Bhattacharyya, 2005) and Dhuniya Tirutabur (Those beautiful women, Pradyut Kumar Deka, 2008). These films tried to deal with human psychology out of love and sex. But they have also lost their focus somewhere turning the films into implausible entity.

Regardless of the less favoured positions, one must remember that this small cinematographic region is remarkable for the charisma of many intellectuals, artists, painters, dancers, writers, et al from other art forms. Beginning with Jyotiprasad Agarwalla, we come across Bishnuprasad Rabha (multifaceted artist, revolutionary singer, man of many virtues) Parbatiprasad Barua (lyricist and composer), Lakhyadhar Choudhoury (actor, social worker), Prabin Phukan (dramatist), Phani Sharma (actor, dramatist), Suresh Goswami (dancer), Dr. Bhupen Hazarika (composer, lyricist, singer), Brajen Barua (composer, lyricist, singer, actor), Phani Talukdar (writer, editor), Padum Barua (film critic, film society organizer), Gauri Barman (painter), Pulak Gogoi (painter), Dr. Bhabendranath Saikia (writer, novelist, editor), Dulal Roy (dramatist), et al. Their presence has lifted the cinema to an intellectual sphere. Renowned Bengali actor Ahindra Choudhury made a remark on the sets of Rupahi (1946) - ‘There was never such a gathering in Calcutta studio with so many highly educated people’ . Here we may again like to read again the very first quote of this paper – ‘All the girl artists are requited from respectable families’.

That the Assamese cinema is still tied to the traditional values of the society may also be perceived from this passage - ‘No body wants sex, violence, rape, cabaret dance, court dance in Assamese film. I have observed innumerable financial loss faced by Assamese film having these scenes. In Assamese film, audience can not digest these . . . but in Hindi film there is no difficulty . . . . usually all the family members see an Assamese film together. On the other hand most of our audience are villagers. All the family members also see together a Hindi film. But they have learned to accept . . . these sequences in Hindi film. . . . . The hero and the heroin of ‘Pratidhanni’, Pabitra Barkakati and Iva Achau, were rocking in a swing by embracing each other in deep intimacy. Now the audience will accept the scene. But probably most audience could not accept such a beautiful scene of love and affection forty years back. . . . . The kissing scenes of Mridul Gupta’s ‘Abhiman’ done by Tapan Das and Purabi Sharma became talk of the town. Pancahli Gupta and Pallabi Dutta Barua appeared in swimming costume in ‘I killed him Sir’ by Pradip Gogoi and Mridul Gupta’s ‘Krishnachura’ respectively. Nonetheless these scenes never added any plus point to the business of Assamese film. Afterwards I came to know that the costume scene was cut down from ‘Krishnachura’. . . . . . In ‘Devata’ directed by Dara Ahmed’s one new actress named Babita Sarma took part in a rape scene with much courage but the audience did not accept it. The scene was done with much aggregation. Rapist Jayanta Das tearing down the frock to pieces wearing by Babita Sarma with distorted facial expression made the scene much more vulgar .’ Notwithstanding, Brajen Barua, the director of Dr. Bezbarua (Dr. Bezbarua, 1969) depicted a scene of rape quite intelligently. There were two Dr. Bezbaruas in the film, one bad, and the other good. The bad Dr. Bezbarua after trapping the heroine in his chamber makes advance to her, of course, after delivering several chilling dialogues. Finding no way out, the girl, picks up a razor from the doctor’s table, and threatens to slit apart her own throat, thereby saving her honour. The villain then retrogrades and lets her go away. This is a two-fold strategy by Barua. He invited the audience to fantasize a rape, and simultaneously with a similar erotic stroke of brush stunned the audience with Indian, read ‘Assamese’, women’s Utopian cause for her chastity. The film happened to be the commercially most successful work in the history of Assamese cinema, even today.

A film theory in lieu of conclusion

‘Film theory is more often studied, as other arts and sciences, for the shear pleasure of knowing. Most of us simply want to understand a phenomenon we have experienced fruitfully for many years. Certainly, there is no guarantee that film theory deepens the appreciation of film, and in fact many students claim a loss of that original unreflected pleasure which all of us once had in the movie theater. What replaces this loss is knowledge, an understanding how things work. ’

The world history of writing on film is as old as the birth of cinema itself in 1895. In that sense, the first important film theory penned down was probably William Laurie Dickson, the assistant of Thomas Alva Edison in 1896. However, the phenomenon of cinema studies has evolved from the twenties with a psychological and aesthetic study of cinema in 1916 by Hugo Münsterberg called ‘The Photoplay: A Psychological Study’. The book is treated as the first theory of film. It is a period when authors were concerned mainly with establishing that cinema as an art. After Münsterberg, there have been a number of writers trying to understand the cinema – André Bazin, Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstien, Edgar Morin, Jean Mitry, Jean-Luc Godard and Christian Metz. This second period from 1940 to 1960 can be called the period of classical film theory. During the time, Hollywood and other major film production centres throughout the world achieved certain classicism in film form. Between the mid-1960s and the end of 1970s, there has been a profound renewal of film theory under the joint influence of three main intellectual currents – structuralism, Marxism and feminism; and three main disciplines – semiotics, psychoanalysis and linguistics. This period can be called as post-classical.

However, there is no strict rule to arrive at a theory or the other. All film theories approach their subject logically, though the logic of one theorist will differ from that of another. Film theories then are reducible to a sinuous dialogue of questions and answers, we may compare them provisionally just by examining the kinds of questions asked and priority given to each question.

Realism, about which we are talking about here, is one of the partial theories among lot many others. But ‘discussion about realism in film, as in other art forms, tends to be tortuous or circular. . . . . The problem of realism arises once we have accepted, even as a hypothesis, that the world exists, either as an objective fact for the people to look at, or as set of possibilities, which they construct through their intelligence and labour, or as the product of their imagination, or most plausibly, as a combination of all three. Alongside this world, which does not stop changing, and arguably part of it, exists a range of artistic forms and practices, of which film is one’ .

The nearest film sub-sub-theory with which the realism in Assamese cinema may be compared is Italian neo-realism. The neorealist style was developed by a circle of film critics that revolved around the magazine ‘Cinema’. They were Michelangelo Antonioni, Luchino Visconti, Gianni Puccini, Cesare Zavattini, Giuseppe De Santis and Pietro Ingrao. Largely prevented from writing about politics (the editor-in-chief of the magazine was none other than Vittorio Mussolini, son of the dictator Benito Mussolini), the critics attacked the ‘telefono bianco’ films that dominated the industry at the time. As a counter to the poor quality of mainstream films, some of the critics felt that Italian cinema should turn to the realist writers from the turn of the century. The neo-realists were heavily influenced by French poetic realism. Both Antonioni and Visconti had worked closely with Jean Renoir. The style is characterized by stories set amongst the poor and working class, filmed on location, frequently using nonprofessional actors. The films mostly contend with the difficult economic and moral conditions of post-World War II Italy, reflecting the changes in the Italian psyche and the conditions of everyday life: poverty and desperation. .

One gets a tendency to draw parallel of the situations with the situations with Jyotiprasad Agarwalla. As a counter to the poor quality of ‘Bengali and Hindusthani ’ films of the time, Agarwalla felt that Assamese cinema should turn to realism with an idea of beginning a new film culture. In both of the films, we trace a different approach of filmmaking which become somewhat embodiment till this date in the body of the cinemas of Assam. But while Italian neo-realism was a conscious challenge to criticize the then political situations including poor quality mainstream films, with Assamese film, the evolution of the different brand of cinema, relatively removed from the other films of India, can not be envisioned as a conscious attempt. The only serious effort was Joymoti. Thereafter Agarwalla himself had to abandon the path of location shooting by shooting parts of Indramalati to the confines of film studio. Thereafter till the end of the 1960’s, most films were shot in the indoors.

However, it is for the overall egalitarian psyche of the people that has forced the practitioners of cinema to remain content with simple and naïve contents for the reason that the films can be enjoyed together by all the family members. Added to this is the cost of production which must be kept as minimum as possible since the market of this cinema is limited. Even within the present geographical map of Assam, the commercial viability of Assamese cinema in the southern and western parts of the state is almost nil. Taking these two factors in close examination, I want to propose a film theory, which might be termed as ‘egalitarianism’. The materials for scrutiny are nearly 350 films made in the last seventy six years.

In India we come across two attempts of theorizing Indian cinema. One of the key arguments about Indian cinema lies in the thesis of the ‘modernisation of tradition’, which challenged the view that technologies had an inherent quality of modernity (modernity here conceptualised as a break from the past). Thus, photography and cinema were deemed to have inherent qualities of realism and the ability to transform modes of narratives particularly in terms of staging, address etc. This study by Ashish Rajadhyaksha, Geeta Kapur, and Anuradha Kapur refers the meeting between Indian art and photography is a useful starting point. This logic of tradition being “modernised” was also located in the formation of the Parsee theatre and is considered to have been subsequently extended to the collage of cinematic techniques of narration, particularly the ‘song-dance-action’ format. Further, frontality and tableaux as a mode of representation, which has its origins in Phalke, can also be located in present-day cinema .

The other thesis is in the form of a book, ‘The Indian film theory: flames of Sholay, notes and beyond’ written by Gaston Roberge . ‘In it, Roberge focuses on the celebrated Bollywood hit, Sholay, and constructs a theoretical analysis of why the film was so successful with audiences. The reasons for its popularity, he argues, can help us understand the implicit theory - or theories - with which Indian filmmakers work. The author emphasizes the need to abandon the antiquated distinction between ‘art cinema' and ‘commercial cinema', which continues to blight today's academic film scholarship. He believes that, as far as Indian films are concerned, it is emotional content that is of the greatest importance, not intellectual or social analysis. Using examples from the work of Satyajit Ray, including Pather Panchali, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne and Ashani Sanket, Roberge shows how even that pre-eminent exponent of the so-called art film operated with the fundamental principles of Natyashastra. ‘Most academics dismiss popular cinema because they see the film in the framework of a western theory of film as expressed by Aristotle two thousand years ago based on the great dramas of his time. I am convinced that if we want to understand the popular film we have to look at it from the point of view of the Indian subcontinent,’ says Roberge .

In Assamese cinema, we also observe modernisation of tradition and operation of fundamental principles of Natyashastra. Having accepting presence of these characteristics, my argument points to the unique aspect of Assamese film – ‘egalitarianism’, although I do not claim this as my final and conclusive study. It needs much more analysis and debate. But one thing is true that for this egalitarian approach alone, Assamese cinema will go on making much more diverse creative works in the days to come, especially in digital format for of its low cost of production and instant internet release. Money-wise how much they will earn is a matter of luck and chance similar to business of any commodity for sale in the market. #

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