The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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THE CINEMAS OF ASIA Edited by Aruna Vasudev, Latika Padgaonkar and Rasmi Doraiswamy, Macmillan, Rs 765

It is a pity that those who are genuinely interested in film movements in Asia have little to go by except for the odd showings by the consulates or the rare entries in film festivals. So, Asian cinema remains by and large an unknown domain. Even in terms of film criticism emanating from Asian countries, there is not much of help.

Cinemas of Asia largely fills this gap, bringing before the reader essays on the cinematic movements in 30 countries, ranging from well-known ones like Turkey to relatively unknown ones like those from central and west Asia.

India, for reasons obvious enough, occupies the pride of place in the book, with a thought-provoking essay by Chidananda Das Gupta. Das Gupta gives an overview of Indian cinema from its humble beginnings, to realism to the golden era of the Fifties to the films by Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak. He also devotes a section to the growth of documentary films and wonders if films like Lagaan, Roja and Hey Ram!, mark the beginning of a new era in Indian cinema.

All the essays have attempted to provide a historical perspective of cinema in different Asian countries, in some of which cinema has flowered under the most trying of circumstances. Government policies, and the problem of censorship in particular, have been studied. The biggest contribution of the book is that it makes the Indian reader aware of the circumstances under which the film-maker has to work in many countries — not all of them democracies like India.

In China, for example, the government (after 1949) became convinced that films could be a major means of propagating the government’s views and promote the political and social policies of the new regime. This meant that film-makers had to accommodate in their scheme of things the rather narrow views held by the government. The strategy worked for the government, but it is unlikely to work anywhere other than the Chinese system. However, of late, in keeping with the shift in ideological stand, Chinese cinema is also being globally marketed.

Turkey is a country which has consistently produced good films notwithstanding the restrictions imposed by successive regimes which followed Kemal Ataturk’s.

What emerges from the book is that in all the countries discussed here, cinema started off as an adventure and symbolized a world of opportunity. In tracing the evolution of cinema in countries vastly different from one another, the essays lead the reader through diverse social and political set-ups, attitudes of liberalism and repression and so on. In the end, however, art triumphs. What Ataturk predicted in the Twenties can be said to have finally come true for Asian cinema: “Cinema will eliminate divergences of views among men and prove invaluable in realizing the human ideal. We should accord cinema the importance it deserves.”

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