By Suren Rāghavan –
It is very challenging to detach the South Asian life from the many forms of arts richly available around its societies. The civilizational process in South Asia seems to have wrapped around with demonstrative sense of arts even while certain renouncer philosophies like Buddhism and Jainism has lived over 2500 years. In a modern sense, to me, cinema in South Asia is the collective expressions of all such arts in a historical continued process. It encompasses politics, societal analysis, human bond, group behavior and an intricate penetration of every single aspect of our contemporary life. Beside, cinema has also become the ocean that is able to collect all others forms of arts from music to make up. There is no other way the contemporary Indian music could have broken boundaries and conquered the world stage if it was not based in popular cinematic context.
However more realistically, South Asia also is a location where humanity is kept away from its otherwise rightful place. From Afghan tribal warlords to Kolkata’s child prostitute gangs to the rape victim in Jaffna , South Asian lives are constantly undermined by the structures created by their often identity centric politics. In this, cinema unlike all other forms of art had stood as an anthropological interlocker to self-imitate the structure and the agency. Added, nowhere in the world cinema industry individuals cross from the melodramatic hyper screen to harsh realpolitik like in South Asia. The cinematic influence in the direct political results and representation is a sub culture in India and other South Asian cinema.
Cinema does not stop at questioning the basis of power. The multiple genres of cine narratives present complexities and conflicts of our lives at individual and collective level in a world that gravitate without an epicenter. Different film makers use different styles and dimensions to probe their theme. It ranges from hyper modern actions to neo-noir realities of lives destroyed by an urban metro liberal economy. It is in this sense that cinema offers as an unparalleled medium of instruction for social empowerment in South Asia. The interconnectivity of cinema to intellectual art, to industrial technology and the combined impact on the market places makes it a deep influencer beyond mass entertainment. Therefore meaningful cinema beyond entertainment is a social signifier that interpreters structures and democratizes discourses. Such signifiers make cinema an accepted location to produce and interpret political meanings.
Mostly oppressive South Asian post-colonial political structures have become either more internationalized under liberal sense or militarized in an ethnonationalist sense. At a time when traditional civil agencies have been dismantle by tribalist elections practices, and where masses have entered a hyper hysterics of nationalism or religious members of a consumerist cult economy. Education, media, justice system and ethic of accountability are seriously adulterated to accommodate the elitist urban ethnic mythologies. Isolated protest voices of deeply under resourced student bodies and trade unions have displayed their limitation to capture the civic imagination and mobility for transformative politics.
It is in this background that the role of cinema in South Asia needs a newer reading textually and contextually beyond the objectives of transferring meaning, messages and nuances. Our cinema has been the contested location of subterranean meaning where subtle boundaries of ideologies are broken across the political identity of masses. Cinema,in South Asia has become the human efforts of emotions and expressions photochemically projected on a screen over a democratized consumption process as a symbol of a wider structural intervention. It, in real essence is, one of the most powerful social networking mediated by light and sound that cannot be dismissed by elitist power players. What is powerful about cinema is – properly used – it could be the mobilizer of an otherwise enchanted civic consciousness to desire democratic nuances for wider humanity and social liberty. As a student of political science and a researcher of cultural symbolism in structural polity, I firmly believe in the power and the beautify of cinema.
Many of my friends know that cinema has been my first love long before I stepped into the world of academia. So there is biasness to confess. A positive biasness. At a time a when a society has gone into deep sleep about its own present and future political directions without the hope of a collective opposition to restore minimum currencies of democracy, the role of cinema makers cannot be subservient as some have opted to become. The factory type cheap reproduction of contested historical mythologies as political smoothers for a primordial ethnic hegemony has gone too far in Sri Lanka. The alternative is costly in material and physical sense. Regime owners and their sympathizers have lost the ability to tolerate even a marginal variation in social discussion . That is the reason why significant contributions form Bora Diya Pokuna to Flying Fish are treated as threat to the ‘national security’. Challenging such illdemocracy demands intelligence and creativity. I see Colombo Film Festival as a combined effort towards such end in a timely context.
Of course like all human efforts this too displays some pointers of weakness and limitations. I wished a wider mass base bottom up approach than the present metro centric offer. But that is a point we can debate as I am willing to believe in the motives of the key player of this enterprise. Quintessentially cinema was treated as a reflector of culture meaning and human civilizational process in contemporary setting. Modern cinema has stepped out of that (dark room) of mere cultural practice. Its political significance cannot be under estimated. It is an intervention which invites us to participate in the process of designing and transforming ourselves and our politics. Colombo Film Festival – the first effort of such nature is an opportunity to all those who desires to be challenged in our thoughts and actions in a wider political screen. Go see all films if possible. Discuss the text and narrative. Be part of a change that is waiting to happen sooner than later.
*Dr. Suren Rāghavan is a visiting professor of political science at St Paul University Ottawa and a senior research fellow at Center for Buddhist Studies – Oxford University. Cinema is priority amongst his many interests. He is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org