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Traversing the Tinsel World

Moinak Biswas

By B.D. Garga
Penguin/Viking, New Delhi,, 2005, pp. 258, Rs. 495.00


It is rare to come by a book on the ‘art of cinema’ anymore. With cinema itself becoming increasingly a product of divergent traditions, and the study of the medium given over to local specializations, one would today perhaps not venture to train one’s sight on such an object. B.D. Garga himself called his informative book on Indian cinema So Many Cinemas (1996) as if to record his wonderment at the impossible array of tongues that the medium has spawned within a single nation, not just verbally, but in form and language. Such pluralities unsettle the very unity of cinematic art. It would be a matter of debate if there is one single artistic goal or endeavour that can cover the entirety of film practices, not to speak of the critical trend that has disposed of the question of art altogether in order to study the culture of cinema. The author, one of the oldest living cineastes in India—a filmmaker, critic and historian of Indian film whose work has been used by lay readers and scholars for five and a half decades now—does not necessarily end up proposing a universal model for film art. His belief is that through a survey of the widest possible range of films and filmmakers one can arrive at a sense of what is good in cinema, as well as how film has evolved through history. He was a leading member of the first generation of cineastes after Independence which looked upon the popularization of a normative film sense as an urgent task. It involved assimilation of currents of world cinema (a category that itself emerged around that time) even as it tried to formulate in bits and pieces a model for a new national cinema. Film education was part of the cultural agenda for development in early post-independence years. The first educators felt the need for inculcation of a general aesthetics of film, based on international standards, which would serve the purpose of a socially responsible cinema at home.   Garga, like his colleague Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, and some of his contemporaries in the Calcutta Film Society, had the advantage of practical experience in film production. He, moreover, had a first hand experience of film cultures abroad at an early age. In the fifties, he was already writing for Sight and Sound in the UK. His first book on Indian cinema was ...

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