Recently I had been on the jury of the Indian Panorama for the International Film Festival of India, 2014. I have seen more well-entrenched biases than well-made movies.
Panorama Jury biases can take many forms. The most glaring is calling an entertaining movie ‘commercial’ in a denigrating tone. They don’t realise that every movie that has sold, or hoped to sell, a ticket is commercial. Without commerce, the honourable member wouldn’t be breathing, spouting homilies, or voting. In the same vein, some members denounce a movie for being a blockbuster. I’m afraid they use the Panorama as a resurrection ground for flop movies. They sanctimoniously canvass for films on the grounds that they don’t stand a chance at the box-office.
Another bias is the one in favour of languages which make very few movies; a kind of reservation syndrome. The Panorama is not a school Annual Day function where every class and student should participate irrespective of talent. It is also not that cliched integration song in puerile stage performances where all dance forms from various states and all religions are depicted in front of the India map. This false bias also wears the compassion cloak; sympathy for regions with little infrastructure and low budgets. Cinema is, firstly, made with imagination; budgets do not constrain you from writing a brilliant script set in a compact locale. Equating lack of creativity with lack of money is a sorry excuse. And encouraging poorly made movies is enshrining mediocrity.
The final bias is the most insidious and most persistent; poverty is noble. If the subject is about slums, pavement-dwellers, tribals, failed traditional arts practitioners, or ‘the exploited’ — automatically it’s a good movie. Ironically, the biggest exploiters of the under-privileged are their so-called champions, the movie-makers who keep churning out sorry tales about their sad lives and reaping rewards. This bias for negativism also encompasses the rural background, moral high-ground films. ‘Progress is bad’ is their atavistic mantra. Not for a moment do they reflect that were their philosophical leanings followed sincerely, there wouldn’t have been a camera manufactured to capture their profusely bleeding-heart angst. The Berlin wall has fallen, the iron curtain has been raised, but their biased blinkers are still on.
I think the ground rules should be loud and clear: the Panorama simply means the best of Indian cinema. It is not language, region, or culture representative. It should be aspirational and inspirational, not promotional. May Indian cinema flourish without boundaries, across borders.