The San Francisco International Film Festival is under way, and this weekend, we saw a couple of movies there. Of these, one was a 3-hour Bengali film called Calcutta, My Love by Goutam Ghose based on Samaresh Majumdar’s acclaimed novel, Kalbela, which I had read in my teens.
Frankly, I came out of the Pacific Film Archive movie theater feeling embarrassed.
The film was introduced by one of the organizers as notable for the Director’s multi-faceted talent not only in directing, but also screen-writing and music direction. Well, in all three aspects, the work was terrible. You can add to the list a few other terribles: editing and acting. This could have been a 1-hour, tightly told story of the Naxalite terrorist movement in Bengal in the seventies. Instead, it was a long drawn, ridiculous piece of amateurish film-making.
The experience disturbed me profoundly.
But no, I don’t want this post to be a review of the film. I want to talk about what’s wrong with India’s film industry, and how it can be fixed.
Let’s start with screen writing. Most films become successful or not because of the screenplay. Very few films with weak screenplays find acclaim. Some rare ones do, because of excellence in cinematography or some other aspect of cinema. Most Indian films have weak screenplays.
Add to that the fundamental problem that all Indian film-makers believe that there is no other genre in cinema than Musicals, thus feeling compelled to insert 5-7 songs in every film, dragging out the run-time by 20-40 minutes for absolutely no reason.
The third really crucial issue is Editing. I am not sure what film schools are teaching in India, but they better start an intensive program on editing. In Goutam Ghose’s film, it took 3 minutes of screen time for the protagonist, Animesh, and his wife Madhabilata to enter their home in a slum, and walk to the bed, so that a disabled Animesh could sit down and meet his son who was born while he was in prison.
In a nut-shell, my key observation is that Indian cinema would benefit from building specialized expertise in screen writing, editing, directing, music, etc. the way Hollywood has evolved. There is a whole profession of Hollywood screenwriters who specialize in that particular art form. And yes, they can win an Oscar for just that.
If India wants to develop a film-industry for International consumption, some thought needs to go into how the “industry” ought to evolve, how incentives, recognition and awards are structured, how technology gets used and leveraged, and how people in the industry are educated.
As it stands, the industry is moving in a random, haphazard fashion, and appears dated.