Indian cinema has often been categorised into either commercial or art cinema. Is a further bifurcation now emerging between low-budget and big-budget films?
These were some of the many interesting questions that surfaced at the screening of Kannada film Navilaadavaru at Surana College, and the subsequent seminar on the topic "Navilaadavaru in the context of Endhiran".
Navilaadavaru, made by director B M Giriraj, is an interesting experiment in more ways than one. Prior to this film B M Giriraj has also worked as Associate Director on Kannada film Moggina Manassu.
Giriraj’s first full-length feature film, with its own original perspective on the making of the mind of a terrorist, was completed at a cost of just about 35,000 rupees over two months.
Most of the expenses seem to have revolved around production costs, with the actors not charging any fee. Yet the final result is surprisingly credible, helped in no small measure by a good script backed by strong performances from actors Revathi, Pradeep & B M Giriraj in pivotal roles.
On the dais were writer and professor of Tumkur University G B Harish, film critic and editor of kannadasaahithya.com Shekharpoorna, film maker and theatre person Kesari Harvu, film enthusiast David Bond and activist John Devaraj.
Opening the discussion, G B Harish acknowledged that films like Navilaadavaru have the ability to bring important questions before society. Shekharpoorna contrasted Navilaadavaru and Endhiran, and questioned the politics, economics and culture promoted by Endhiran made at the cost of 200 crores. He argued for social and moral accountability in filmmaking, and the need to develop a visual culture.
Yet Kesari Harvu pointed out that both Endhiran and Navilaadavaru had a different target audience. So it was not about cost, but the meaning that cinema wanted to convey and vehicle that it chose to carry its voice. He asked, "Will we promote a film on the basis of cost or content?"
On a similar vein, David Bond questioned the "false division" of cinema under different labels. He said, "Cinema is like a house that has many rooms. If any of these rooms are not present, cinema is the less for it." Both commercial and low budget films had a history of having co-existed and even feeding off each other. So the only distinction that one could make was between good cinema and bad cinema.
John Devaraj added a new dimension to the debate, when he blurred the boundaries between low budget and big budget films, speaking instead about cost effective filmmaking.
The young enthusiastic audience jumped into the fray, in vehement defence of Endhiran. They argued that audiences came to watch cinema for entertainment, and as long as cinema performed that goal, it was legitimate. Endhiran and Navilaadavaru were both good films, but they were different, and could not be compared.
So even while the critics maybe still debating this one, the audience’s verdict seems to be out on this one. Categories could sometimes be redundant, but good cinema is always relevant.