The New Emergence of Asian and Indian Cinema


Oct 6, USA (SUN) — If indeed it is said that art mirrors reality or is a reflection of the current culture, be it spiritual or material, then what the Asian and Indian filmmakers are doing as opposed to their western counterparts, is light years ahead of the so-called "Hollywood dream factory." Not only in terms of content, but style. Why is this?

In its 100-year history, motion pictures have made great technological advancements and even transcended many genres in exploring the human condition in terms of subject matter, be it didactic, religious, propagandistic, or just plain entertainment.

Of late, while the Hollywood films are quite deplorable, being caught in the modes of passion and ignorance, the filmmakers of the East are exploring the spiritual realms of the heart in ways Hollywood has just begun to tap. Cinema has a great influence on society and can dictate mores and values that other media cannot by the sheer fact of it's huge worldwide distribution arm.

While the west has concerned itself primarily with materialism, Indian cinema today (known as Bollywood) as well as Chinese filmmakers, have crossed the boundaries of the human heart in ways audiences worldwide can relate to in emotional and lyrical manner. In fact, it is this writer's opinion that the cinema from the east, China, India and Thailand, will be as great a movement in the coming years as pop music was in the 1960's with the emergence of the Beatles.

Be that as it may, there is no doubt that this "Zen" style of filmmaking influenced by the Buddhist schools of thought promulgating a more meditative and spiritually conscious lifestyle has been a key influence among young Chinese and Indian students within the realm of art in general. While this has always been observed, never has it been more prominent in today's cinema from the east.

One major breakthrough for example, is the incredible success of the Hindi film "Lagaan", (2001) India's second most expensive film ever made. It's a simple story set in 1873 about the plight of rural Indian villagers combating English rule and tyranny. Not only did it garner top reviews from American critics, but it also went on to be nominated for an Academy Award as best foreign film. At almost four hours running time, this is amazing. Needless to say, the film was fabulously entertaining. Even the song and dance numbers were truly mesmerizing and I am not even a great fan of musicals per se of which Indian films have predominantly been geared to and still are. But the unique aspect of the movie was the inclusion of Radha-Krishna deities and even a dance number enacting Radha's feelings toward Krishna etc. In this way, people in the west became aware of bhakti yoga if only in a roundabout way.

Bollywood is based in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and the biggest producers of films in the world boasting 600-800 films per year far surpassing it's Hollywood counterpart. While a majority of those films can be considered mundane in the truest sense of the word in their zeal to copy western-style cinema. Amongst the serious filmmakers from the past are Satyajit Ray's famous "World of Apu" trilogy coupled with today's new American-Indian filmmakers like M. Night Shyamalan ("Signs" "The Sixth Sense") and the emergence of bold women filmmakers like Mira Nair, "Salam Bombay", "Monsoon Wedding" and "Kama Sutra," as well as many other serious film artists that have not received worldwide recognition.

It is also a little known fact that there were many black and white films in the 1950's showing rural and urban life in India that addressed many of the country's moral, social and political taboos. The films were highly professional, dramatically powerful and technically adept.

Unfortunately, these films never arrived on western shores or if they did, they were lost in the "art house" maze. The time wasn't right perhaps. Today, with the advent of the internet, cellular picture phones and video on demand, the world has finally shrunk. We are now, "A global village."

While motion pictures have always been a money-making industry that tries to cash in on formulaic, big budget special effects, the trend is beginning to shift. Just this year the motion picture industry has experienced it's worst box-office attendance in 20 years in the USA and it doesn't seem to be getting any better. This can be attributed to people's taste in film content in general and also to DVD sales and rentals which now appear in stores much earlier, sometimes 2 months after initial theatrical release. Another factor are the high technological advances in home entertainment systems, plasma TVs and laptop computers where watching a movie in the comfort of one's home seems more pleasurable and hassle-free. The cost of seeing a film ($10.00 in Los Angeles) coupled with the expense of buying popcorn has also made film going an expensive affair.

In a way, these Asian and Indian filmmakers are coming closer to the transcendental ideal of karma and reincarnation, getting closer to revealing our eternal relationship with God.

This then is my hope for a new revolution in film, here in America. That we, as human beings, transcend the ideas of caste, creed and racism with new emerging filmmakers who are not just fixated on the dark side of the human condition and caught up in the mire of passion and ignorance. We need a spiritual revolution in mass media. Ideally, we need "Krishna conscious" writers, producers and directors to imbibe the great ancient Sanskrit texts of India known as the "Vedas," and lead a new revolution in consciousness and create commercially viable films with God centered themes despite Hollywood's current mindset.

It is essential; as we all stand poised on the brink of nuclear holocaust, that filmmakers and producers, who wield the power of communication, take up the responsibility to show us the light if we are to survive as a human species. Hopefully, toward a new Vedic or Krsna conscious society.


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