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A Theory of Cinema that Can Account for Indian Cinema


Ashish Rajadhyaksha


Narrative Evidence: Any researcher who produces an account of something, by definition, also ‘produces’ the object of that account. When that object happens to be one of the most elusive cinematic practices in the world in a geocultural region that is still hard to confront as a whole, it also throws into sharp relief another register of film production. This is the Indian cinema’s production of an account of itself, its self-description: the source of much of the ‘evidence’ I hope to examine here. In drawing attention to this register, my attempt is not so much to produce (yet another) book ‘about’ Indian cinema. I will try instead to generate through the evidence, a theory of cinema – one that can, in my view, most accurately account for the Indian cinema.   Much of the energy of this argument is derived from my contention that the Indian cinema’s self-description, contrary to many theoretical representations of it, is not isolationist. As with any major film industry, the Indian cinema’s investment in producing evidence of why it exists is a serious and significant enterprise. Some of its accounts are intended to manufacture a national cinema and thus, for example, to overcome the often incredibly complex problems posed by what has been described as a ‘Delhicentric’ national media paradigm,1 which has been more embarrassed than otherwise at having been saddled with the world’s largest film production base. This aspect of my ‘evidence’ derives from published accounts provided by agencies designed, officially and otherwise, to administer it: legal material; reports and field studies by enquiry committees; the academic curriculums of institutions wanting to teach films (the disciplines of Film Appreciation and Media Studies); and, of course, the theoretical work of spokespersons of various components of the industry, including federal associations representing producers, technicians, actors and other artists. Many of these could validly constitute themselves as the genealogy of film theory in India.   The important link I hope to explore is that between such theoretical evidence and a related – and equally visible – location for the self-descriptive account. I refer to the one embedded in film narratives themselves. That all film narratives also produce self-validating accounts of why they exist and what work they do, is a basic film studies truism. Such an umbrella narrative, internalizing various institutionalized explanations, takes on a particular edge in places like India, where a cinematic text is inevitably ...


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