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The Age of Imitation

M. Madhava Prasad

We are inadequately mindful of the sheer novelty of our times. We try too much to keep our poise, to prop up the illusion of continuity, rather than actively discover the new. This newness is all the more difficult to discover because it is hidden behind a simulacrum of newness! Newness is concealed by a pretension to newness. All around us the discourse of global capital proclaims the advent of a brave new world and instigates a collusive enthusiasm. Like a brandname kitchen, it has become quite easy to set up and cosily inhabit an appearance of change, thus protecting ourselves from what is really and perhaps – who knows – terrifyingly, new. While capital proclaims the triumphant advent of a new world, we must keep in focus the fact that what is new is only the disappearance of the old and the possibility and challenge of rebuilding the spirit in the face of a pull towards a service-sector-dominated state of dependency. We live in an era where the radical dissociation of letter and spirit has unleashed the agitation of a multitude of spirits seeking to restore the link, to re-found the community. This is for me a more important basic criterion for evaluating the cinema of the present than all the aesthetic criteria that have served us to separate the good from the bad in the past.   Film history teaches us that there are movements, moments in historical time that produce styles or clusters of films which bear the mark of a new spirit, and call forth a new subject. In India there have been attempts to produce a national style distinct from that of popular cinema. There is also a conviction held by some that the popular cinema is distinctly Indian in its provenance and essence. My own limited knowledge of this field tells me that this is by no means true. In fact it is doubtful whether there can really be something like a national style considered in a synchronous mode as a style among many. I think styles emerge in the time-space of historical emergence and decline, of the rise and fall of socio-political orders, of responses to crises. Even the great national film styles of the modernist era, the Soviet, the German, the French, the American would be difficult to make sense of without their historical context. The most durable film styles are nothing if not the ...

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