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Cinema and the People

Narendra Panjwani

By Jonathan Torgovnik
Phaidon Press, London , distributed by Roli Books, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 118, price not stated.

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 2 February 2005

Picture books, like this one on India’s film industry by Israeli-American photo-journalist J. Torgovnik, are difficult to talk about; you often cling (in quiet desperation) to the captions below, to make some sense of the photographs which constitute their main ‘text’. This is a paradox of our relationship with pictures and paintings. We’ve all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words, but when confronted with an actual picture—of a street scene, a slice of life, a close-up of a complete stranger’s face considered ‘deep’ and meaningful by a photographer—we can’t find even ten of those thousand words (!) This is especially so when the photographer has not been kind enough to slip in a caption.   Mercifully however, Torgovnik has been kind: there are captions accompanying almost every picture, plus an introduction by London-based TV anchor and author, Nasreen M. Kabir, to let you know that India produces 800 films a year. Bollywood’s Hindi language output is part of this figure, which also includes films in Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali, and other Indian languages. Then there is the figure that some 14 million Indians go to the movies every day, at more than 7,000 cinema theaters around the country. And some of these ‘cinemas’ are little more than travelling tents pitched in rural fields.   While such figures are impressive in a world scenario dominated by Hollywood, I am frankly a bit tired of hearing how multilingual India’s film output is bigger than even that of Hollywood. Good, but can we now turn our attention to the number of trashy, forgettable films we make, which far exceeds the handful of good ones per year? And compare those as a proportion to Mother Hollywood? Kabir in the book’s introduction tells us that “fewer than eight out of the more than 800 films produced each year will make serious money”. It would also perhaps be politically incorrect to bring up the matter of the shameful plagiarism of Hollywood films by its Indian counterpart.   Be that as it may, the book is the result of five years of fairly creative snooping around film shooting sets, cinema halls, city streets and village tree-tops with a camera, by a lens man who is basically an interested foreigner. I make this general statement because Shriman Jonathan T. does not speak anywhere about the reasons for his special interest in Indian cinema. He is ...

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