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100YearsofIndianCinema:WhoseCinema?WhoseCentenary?ThePoliticsofTemporalFilmHistoriography|EditRoom

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100YearsofIndianCinema:WhoseCinema?Whose
Centenary?ThePoliticsofTemporalFilmHistoriography
August5,2013|byGopalanRavindran
Forgetting,Iwouldevengosofarastosayhistoricalerrorisacrucial
factorinthecreationofanation,whichiswhyprogressinhistorical
studiesoftenconstitutesadangerfor[theprincipleof]nationality.
ErnestRenan,
Questquecestunenation?
QuotingErnestRenan,thefamousBritishhistorian,DanielWoolfe(2006),wrotenotlongagothatthenationalframework
predominatesinhistoriographyandthetemporalscopeofthesameisanchoredalongfourpremises.fourvariantsoftemporal
scope.Inotherwords,thehistorymaypurporttodescribe:(1)thecontemporary,thatis,veryrecenteventsinthehistoryoftheentity
whosepastisbeingwritten(2)adenedinterveningperiodsuchasacentury,areign,dynasty,oradecadeoraparticularevent(3)
anoriginatingepisodeorsetofcircumstancesthatgaverisetotheentity(which,becauseitsoriginisbeingclaimed,ismorethana
specialcaseofavariantevent),whichwemightcallhistoryconcerningoriginesgentium,ofwhichthebarbarianWesternhistorians
fromJordanestoGregoryofToursareclassicexamples(doublyclassicalinthattheyareoftenadducedasexamplesofthissortof
historywritingintheWestandbecausetheirauthorsliterally,asPatrickGearyhasobserved,broughttheirpeoplesontothestageof
GrecoRomanhistoryasearlyaspossiblebytransplantingbarbarianpastsintoachronologicalschemepreviouslyestablishedby
Romanhistoriansor(4)thetotalchronologicalspanoverwhichthehistoricalentityhasexisted.Anyoneofthevariantsofthis
modemayormaynotentailaconnectiontoanactualorimputednation,ortoanyothersubvariantofthepoliticalcollectiveentity.
Thislongquotebecomesnecessarytorelatetothiswritingsboneofcontention:100yearsofIndianCinema.Inrelatingtothe
same,weneedtohaveincontextWoolfesthirdandfourthtemporalvariants.ToparaphraseWoolfe,weneedtorevisitthesocalled
birthofIndiancinema100yearsagoasanoriginatingepisodeorsetofcircumstancesthatgaverisetotheentity(which,becauseits
originisbeingclaimed,ismorethanaspecialcaseofavariantevent),whichwemightcallhistoryconcerningoriginesgentiumor
asthetotalchronologicalspanoverwhichthehistoricalentity(IndianCinema)hasexisted.
TherearedifferentmodesofWesternhistoriographyrangingfromtheHistoricismoftheHegelian/KantiantraditiontotheMarxist
modeofHistoricalMaterialismtothemoresubduedmodeofPositivism.Therearealsositesofcountermodeswhichmistakenly
takethepejorativetoneofrevisionism.KarlPopperwastheastuteproponentofthelater.CommentingonrevisionismPopper
(citedbyNovickPeter1988)said,Itfollowsthateachgenerationhasarighttolookuponandreinterprethistoryinitsownway.
Afterall,westudyhistorybecauseweareinterestedinit,andperhapsbecausewewishtolearnsomethingaboutourproblems.But
historycanserveneitherofthesetwopurposeif,undertheinfluenceofaninapplicableideaofobjectivity,wehesitatetopresent
historicalproblemsfromourpointofview.Andweshouldnotthinkthatourpointofview,ifconsciouslyandcriticallyappliedtothe
problem,willbeinferiortothatofawriterwhonaivelybelievesthathehasreachedalevelofobjectivitypermittinghimto
presenttheeventsofthepastastheyactuallydidhappen.Howaccurateisthetotalchronologicalspanofthehistoricalentity,
IndianCinema?Isthishistoricalentitytheproductoftheprenationalentityorthenationalentity?Cantheprenationalexistinthe
nationalentityasapureandunfragmentedtemporallyunifiedcontinualstate?Iftheprenationalbecomesanintegralpossibility,
weretherenotmanyprenationalentitieswhichbecamemainstreamedasthenationalframework?
Thecaseofcinemasoftheprenationalpastinthevastculturalgeographiesofpastseektomilitateagainstthelogicofasupposedly
unifiednationalentityintheconstructionsofthe100yearsofIndiancinemainmorewaysthanone.Firstly,thebirthofcinemasin
theprenationalpasthadamultiplicitoustemporalscaleandmoreimportantlydidnotstartlikeatrainjourneyfromoneoriginand
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9/8/2016

100YearsofIndianCinema:WhoseCinema?WhoseCentenary?ThePoliticsofTemporalFilmHistoriography|EditRoom

didnotendinasingledestination.Moreimportantly,thedistinctionbetweentheusagesofthewordscinemaandfilmhavetobe
rescuedfromthenationalistprojectofidentifyingsinglepointsoforigins,thefirstIndianfilm,thefirstIndiandynastyetc.,
IdentifyingthefirstIndiandynastyisasproblematicasthefirstIndianfilmasbothbelongtotheproblematictemporalscaleofthe
prenationalandinamultilingualandmulticulturalgeographicalcanvas,itbecomesimpossibletakesideswithanycasesthatmight
getpushedupinthenationalimagination.Secondly,theproductionofafilmdoesnotconstitutethebirthofcinema.Thereareas
manypreconditionsforthebirthofcinemaastherearepossibilitiesforthesocial,cultural,political,legalandaudienceconstructions
ofcinemaastheuniverseofconventions,practices,lawsrelatedtoproduction,distribution,exhibitionandconsumptionandthefact
ofthematterisfilmisafilmanditdoesnotconstitutethecanvasthatiscinema.Thisistosaythatthebirthofachildinafamily
doesnotconstitutethefamily.Thefamilyisasumtotalofmemberswhonumbermorethanthechildandwhosepracticesand
conventionspredatethebirthofthechild.Inthissense,themuchtoutedbeginningofIndiancinema100yearsagointhebirthof
filmRajaHarischandrahastobereadmorelikethetemporaltravestywhereinthechildisforcedtostandinforthelargerfamilyin
his/herimaginations,inamistakenstate.
Indiansarefondofobservingcentenariesandanniversarieswithmisplacedsenseofhistoryandfacts.Thisbecomesmoreglaring
whentheIndiangovernmenttakestheleadasapiedpiperinpushingwronglypositionedcentenariesandanniversariesandthe
Indianmediagetsgreedytogetmoreadvertisementrevenueandeasycontentaseagerbeaver/hungryrats.Notlongago,Govt.of
IndiaburneditsfingerswhentheGOIissuedacommemorativecovertomarkthecentenaryofthefirsttheatreinIndiabasedona
misplacedfactinabookbyafilmhistorian.ThiswasabouthowtheGovernmentofIndiagotanimportantdateinthehistoryof
cinemawrong.TheElectrictheatreinMadrascameintobeingin1913asapermanenttheatre.GOIsoughttoissuethe
commemorativecover13yearsbeforein2000.Believeitornot.Thecoverwasissuedandbecameacollectorsitem.
Thisyear,accordingtoourpiedpiperandtheherdofeagerbeavers,marksthecentenaryofIndianCinema?Thisviewflowsfrom
thelogicthattheIndianmadefirstfeaturefilmwasmadepossiblebyDadhaSahebPhalkein1913.Thisispossiblycorrect,ifone
takesamyopicviewofwhatconstitutesthebirthofIndiancinema.ThebirthofthefirstIndianfeaturefilmisonethingthatthepied
piperandtheeagerbeaversaremostkeentopaintasthebirthofIndiancinema.ThethebirthofthefirstfeaturefilminanIndian
languagenodoubtrequirescelebrationasacentenaryeventinthatnarrowsenseofIndianfilmhistoryandnotinthebroaderandtrue
senseofIndiancinemashistorywhichneedtofactorinallfacetsofactivitiesrangingfromfilmproduction,direction,exhibition,
distribution,audiencenetworkingbytechnologists,publicists,filmbuffsandaudiencethemselves.
AtruesenseofIndiancinemashistoryshouldalsoencompassthestrikinglyremarkablespiritsofunsungheroesofcinemasin
differentregionsofIndia.Whenwetrytoidoliseasingleindividualasafather,wesuccumbtotheprocessofmainstreamingthe
multiplicitiesthatgavebirthtoIndiancinemasindifferentregionsofcolonialIndia.
LetsnotforgetthatwearemistakingfilmascinemawhenweequatethefirstIndianlanguagefeaturefilm,RajahHarishchandra,as
thethebirthdateofIndiancinema.Thisbirthwasnodoubtimportant,buttherewerealsootherequallyimportantpioneerswho
labouredtogetcinemaaplaceintheheartsofaudiencesandgovernments.Theyprobablydidnotmakefilms.Buttheytookcinema
tothehinterlands.AcaseinpointisthefatheroftouringtalkiesinIndia,SamikannuVincent,whomuchbeforePhalketouched
camera,touchedfilmequipment,touchedthepsycheofordinaryIndiansthroughhisprojectionsandmadepossiblearevolutionary
connectwiththeaudiencesattheirhomeground,farfromtheurbanareaswhichhadpermanenttheatres.Withouttouchingonthe
dimensionsofexhibitionanddistributionmodelpioneeredbySamikannuVincent,theearlyhistoryofIndiancinemaslooksartificial
andparochial.
LetsalsonotforgetthemenwholabouredhardtogetbulkyprojectionequipmentfromtheportcitiesofBombay,Calcuttaand
Madrastothetownsinhinterlands.Letsalsonotforgetthecheeringcrowdsthatgreetedthemwhentheywerealightingfromtheir
trainswiththeirequipment.HereisonesuchincidentinvolvingaearlyfilmpioneerinSouthIndia,MurugesaMudaliar,whohada
lastingrelationshipwiththeatreandfilmartssincehisarrivalinMadrasin1895throughhisventures,MajestictheatreandKinema
Central.SaysMohanVRaman,anactorturnedearlyfilmhistorian,Accordingtothefamily,MurugesaMudaliarwenttoBombay
in1915andpurchasedequipmenttoscreenmovies.AhugecrowdgatheredattheCentralStationtowelcomehimonhisarrivaland
haveaglimpseoftheequipment.Hewastakeninaprocessionledbyabandandfolkdancerstothetheatre.Hestartedscreening
silentfilmsandbusinessbegantoboom.
AnotherrecordedanecdotetalksofthesignalcontributionmadebythemanagerofaelectrictramwayinMadraswhenhemade
possiblesupplyofelectricitytothefirstfilmshowinVictoriaPublicHallduring1890s.HerearemoregoodsamaritansImentioned
inmyearlierpost.HerearetherealfathersofIndiancinemas,whomadeeverythingpossibletopopularisefilmswhentherewasno
nationcalledIndiaandnoPhalkesinonelocation.Tobespecific,onecancitethepioneeringrolesofM.Edwards,whoscreened
thefirstmovingimagesin1897atVictoriaPublicHall(nexttoChennaiCentralStation)Cohen(Lyric1907?),Mrs.Klug(Bioscope
1911)andWarwickMajorandReginaldEyre(Electrictheatre1913),whosupposedlybuiltthefirstthreepermanenttheatresin
Madrasduring19071913SamikannuVincent,whogavebirthtotheconceptoftouringcinemasinsouthIndiain1905and
RagupathyVenkiah,whowantedtostealthesheenfromWarwickMajorsElectrictheatrebybuildingthefirstIndianowned
permanenttheatre,Gaiety,inMadrasin1914.Scholarsworkinginotherlocationsshouldprovideinformationabouttheforgotten
filmpioneersinsuchlocationstocorrectthewronghistoryoffilms/cinemasinIndia.
LetsalsonotforgetthecontributionsofNatarajaMudaliar(whomadefirstTamilfilmin1917)andthefathersonduo,Ragupathi
VenkaiahNaiduandRSPrakash,whomadeastellarcontributiontothebirthofTeluguandTamilcinemas.RagupathiVenkaiah
Naiduinvolvedhimselfinproducingshortfilms,distributionandexhibitionsince1909,fouryearsbeforePhalkemadehisfilm.Lets
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alsonotforgetthecontributionsofanothergreatpioneer,JCDaniels,whicharebeingbelatedlyrelatedtobyKeralagovernmentand
people.ForeveryPhalke,weremembereveryyearwrongly,wehavecometofabricatehistoryonourtermsandnotonthetermsof
theforgottenfacts.Welacktherigour,sincerityandhonestytocounterthepropagandisticpracticesofvestedinterestssuchasababu
inaGOIministryorapowerfulandpopulararmofIndiancinemasuchasbollywoodorthemerchandisingspiritofIndianmediato
profitfromanythingandeverything.
References:
1.Novick,Peter(1988).ThatNobleDream:TheObjectivityQuestionandtheAmericanHistoricalprofession.p.395
2.Raman,Mohan.V(2011).EndofAnotherEdifice,TheHindu,December19.
3.Ravindran,Gopalan,(2010).TheBandwagonEffectofWrongFilmHistoriography:TheCaseofElectricTheatreinColonial
Madrasblogs.widescreenjournal.org/?p=179
4.Woolfe,Daniel,2006.OfNations,Nationalism,andNationalIdentity:ReflectionsontheHistoriographicOrganizationofthe
Past,inQ.EdwardWangandFranzFillafer,ed.TheManyFacesofClio
CrossculturalApproachestoHistoriography,NewYork:
BerghahnBooks,pp.71103.
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2comments
1Panditjugalkishoreshastri{08.05.13at12:43pm}
BetweenearlyeventsofIndiancinemabasedonthejournalsofbrithistoriansandtheGrecoRomanpedagogy,gopalanfailsto
bereadablebecauseprolixityisneveragoodsubstituteforcomprehensibilityregardlessofenormoushelpwemighthavefrom
Kant,Hagel,Woolfeandwhathaveyou.Thespiritofhistoryliesnotinitsrepititionsbutinitsrewriting.Gopalanneedstosay
thankyoutoBollywoodforcreatingamasterpiecewhoseearlydraft,accordingtogopalan,waswritteninmadrasbackinthe
day.
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2KPRADEEP{09.03.13at5:15am}
ThankstobroughtmeaunimaginablehistoryofIndiancinema.Whenwecelebratethecolourofcinemareallymisswho
imergethedarknessoftheThanksProf..
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