Thursday, June 2, 2011

Asian Film Journeys

A chronicle of Asian cinemas

C. S. Venkiteswaran

ASIAN FILM JOURNEYS — Selections from Cinemaya: Edited by Rashmi Doraiswamy and Latika Padgaonkar; Wisdom Tree, 4779/23, Ansari Road, Darya Ganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 1495.
ASIAN FILM JOURNEYS — Selections from Cinemaya: Edited by Rashmi Doraiswamy and Latika Padgaonkar; Wisdom Tree, 4779/23, Ansari Road, Darya Ganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 1495.

C. S. Venkiteswaran

The film magazine, Cinemaya, by any count, was an adventurous attempt. For, when journals even on Indian cinema (which were few and far between) almost invariably proved to be short-lived, it ventured to keep track of the various trends in Asian cinema and promote the best in it — a task considered impossible because of the diversity and complexity of the terrain. If the magazine managed to survive (and thrive) for more than a decade and half (1988-2004), it was due to the commitment, passion, and ingenuity of the people who were behind it — Aruna Vasudev and her team of dedicated cineastes. As Rashmi Doraiswamy, in her introduction puts it, “it [ Cinemaya] was the product of historical circumstance of looking inwards at our own continent.

The information revolution, internet, proliferating festivals, new technologies and digital media that have changed the rules of production and distribution, the aesthetics and reception of cinema, have also necessitated a different kind of writing and focus on cinema. Cinemaya fulfilled a task it had set to perform: of making the cinema of Asia known in all their fine details.” Coincidentally, Cinemaya came into being when Asian cinemas were beginning to make their presence felt, thanks to the national cinemas as well as notable film festivals.

This volume puts together select articles from the magazine and from the five Cinefan catalogues (1999-2003). It painstakingly presents the rich mosaic of film history, auteurs, events, films, and trends in cinema in various parts of the continent. In between are interviews with filmmakers, historians, critics, and curators. This combination gives the book a dual character — that of a historic chronicle and a first person account. The very list of the countries covered is an indication of its breadth. They include: Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea, the Soviet Union, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. The book also has sections like ‘Musings' (by critics and filmmakers), ‘Beyond Boundaries' (which looks at the interface between various cinematic cultures within the continent, and that between Asia and the West) and ‘Reflections' (a collection of writings that addresses the question: ‘Is there such a thing as Asian cinema?')

A distinguishing aspect of this volume is that it gives, from a historical perspective, a panoramic view of Asian cinemas in their varied dimensions — aesthetic, industrial, sociological, and technical, besides discussing issues related to censorship and identity. Some of the illustrious personalities and stimulating thinkers of cinema figure in this volume. For instance, the section on Japan has writings by luminaries like Nagisa Oshima, Tadao Sato, Donald Richie and Mark Schilling, and that on India feature Ashis Nandy, Madan Gopal Singh, Partha Chatterjee, Amrit Gangar, P.K. Nair and Ravi Vasudevan, among others.


Interestingly, by way of self-reflection as it were, the very necessity or relevance of a journal like Cinemaya in today's context is discussed and debated. According to Rashmi Doraiswamy and Aruna Vasudev, the very context that necessitated a publication like Cinemaya no longer exists. Doraiswamy says its ‘classical vision' and its ‘enlightenment' projects are “probably no longer relevant in an age when your neighbourhood is the globe itself, and information about every nook and cranny is available at the click of the mouse.” Vasudev argues that Asian cinema “does not need the sort of promotion that was our single-minded determination when we set out…The histories, cultures, societies of the countries and their cinemas are known and documented…”

But many of the observations made and the anxieties expressed by cineastes in the book strongly suggest that such a journal is indeed as much relevant now as it was before. In Ma Ning's view “the usefulness of the concept lies in the definitive and differential values it has acquired in usage.” Obviously, in the global context, regular and meticulous mapping of the art and industry continues to be essential, not only to demarcate the common ground of such a broad identity but also to delineate the differences between and within. While the new context of digital technology seems to offer a lot of ‘information' as far as perspectives are concerned, one still looks forward to journals like Cinemaya for keeping the debate going on a sustained basis and to serve as a document for researchers and film-lovers to access and work upon. The book stands testimony to such an effort.

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