PAGE 07: The Cinephile’s Annus Horribilis

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By Sachin Chatte

If there is one song that won’t be sung for 2020, it will be the Ervin Drake number made famous by Frank Sinatra in 1966,‘It Was a Very Good Year’.  For some, it may not have been such a bad year (making it a very good year), while for many, it has been the most dreadful time of their life.  

Cinema also got affected as much as anything else and while the OTT platforms have made hay (the stock price of Netflix has almost doubled since March 2020), personally, watching films in theatres is what I missed most during the pandemic. Little did I realize that Friday afternoon of 13 March 2020, at Galaxy Cinema in Rajkot (where I happened to be commentating for All India Radio, for the Ranji Trophy finals between Saurashtra and Bengal), that it would be the last outing at the theatres, for a long long time. The last two days of the cricket match were played without allowing any spectators in the stadium and the term Corona had just made a sly entry into our lives. Our annual Films Critics Guild awards to be held on 15 March got canceled, the event was deferred to be shown online and while recording it, for the first time,  I saw a room full of people wearing masks.

For our weekly Cinephile Film Club screenings of ESG at Maquinez Palace, we had invited Geetha J, the director of the Malayalam film Run Kalyani (2019) to present her film. Even her tickets were booked for the third week of March, but just when we were wondering if we should err on the side of caution, the situation changed so rapidly, that we were left with no choice.

While it is assumed that all film lovers were binging on films during the lockdown, that is not necessarily true – not in the case of yours truly at least. One can binge on a web series; films have to be savored after a viewing.

While there was a fair bit of content that came out on OTT platforms, only few were impressive. MUBI (which curates excellent world and Indian cinema) and revisiting old films are what saved the day. Ultimately, a classic is called so, because it has stood the test of time and continues to do so. An Ozu or Kurosawa, and the other giants of world cinema, will always continue to inspire filmmakers, as long as cinema exists.

Not so long ago, I asked Girish Kasaravalli, the living legend of Indian cinema, about what he has been watching or anything new that has caught his attention. With a slight disappointment on his face, he said there wasn’t anything in particular. “I do watch new films now and then but at the end of the day, I go back to Ozu. That comforts me most; I keep discovering great value in his films”, said the veteran director referring to the Japanese master whose profoundness lies in the simplicity of his films. For the uninitiated, Kasaravalli himself is a Gold medallist from the Film and Television Institute of India, with numerous accolades to his credit and 14 National awards, including one for his debut feature Ghatashraddha (1977). 

One of my discoveries during lockdown was the films and books of David Mamet – a screenwriter, director, author, playwright, and Pulitzer Prize winner. Among other films, he wrote The Untouchables (1987) for Brian de Palma and Wag the Dog (1997) for Barry Levinson. He also directed films like Heist (2001), House of Games (1987), Homicide (1991), and The Spanish Prisoner (1997). Equally enjoyable are his books on films – ‘On Directing Film’ and ‘Bambi vs Godzilla’, which was about the business of cinema.

Even though theatres around the country opened in October, the response has been lukewarm. Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (2020) too couldn’t really draw audiences back to the theatre; although given that there were very few people, I felt as safe as one could possibly feel during these times.

While IFFI didn’t have big numbers this time in terms of audience participation, there was enough evidence of people ready to move back to normal, with a sense of caution. With the 52nd edition of the festival coming up at the end of this year, here’s hoping for good films in November and, till then.

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