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‘Films that stay with you are stories of human interest’

Payel Majumdar Upreti | Updated on January 27, 2019 Published on January 27, 2019

Shyam Benegal, the maker of such path-breaking films as Ankur, Nishant, Manthan and Welcome to Sajjanpur talks to Payel Majumdar Upreti about cinema, then and now

How has film-making changed over the past 25 years?

Nothing has changed in the film industry. Television has grown in the last 25 years, and its corresponding audience has also grown. TV has a footprint much bigger than that of cinema now. Thanks to the invention of multiplexes in the last few years, there are no more than 13,000-14,000 cinemas, with an average of 400-600 seats each, in the country. For a population of over a billion, that is hardly anything. Television, on the other hand, has a far better reach. This has also resulted in film-makers taking into consideration revenues and potential avenues on electronic and digital media while making a film.

How has the film-making process changed?

Film technology has taken huge leaps. Some 25 years ago, celluloid was still the prominent medium. That quickly changed with time. The last film I made on celluloid was eight years ago. It was already difficult to get the film processed the way you wanted it, because of a dearth of labs that could get the job done. Shooting digitally is a completely different process. The texture of celluloid film is pleasing to the eye. Digital images aren’t really made of chemical pigments like film on celluloid, which can be likened to a watercolour painting or oil on canvas, but are clusters of information, or light. The resultant imagery is quite different.

How has digital technology affected storytelling in films?

Storytelling changes because of the way the media is put to use — the manner in which we perceive images, mentally and emotionally. There is such a proliferation of visual content in present times, because of the sheer amount of content being produced, that the pace of stories has become faster. Audiences are provided with the gist of the story rather than all of it. Each generation has its own preferences. While there was a time when a live audience would sit through traditional folk theatre from 7 in the evening to 7 in the morning, listening to hari kathas, it’s hardly realistic to expect that kind of undivided attention from audiences anymore.

How do you feel your films have changed in response to your evolving audiences?

Since people are used to the medium of film, I feel that not everything needs to be spelt out anymore. Film storytelling techniques are more sophisticated than they were a decade ago. There has also been a certain homogenisation of mainstream content all over the country.

What kind of cinema do you like to watch?

I like quite a few of the recent film-makers. However, of late, I don’t get around to watching all the films that are out there. This is perhaps because one finds that, with age, one becomes far more particular about choices. I don’t think films have drastically changed over these two decades; the same stories are being told differently to suit the attention spans and aesthetics of the audiences.

Ultimately, the films that stay with you are stories of human interest, those that touch you and affect you. While every generation has its own preferences in the kinds of films that they like, there are some — such as Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali — that cross the time barrier and remain with us, and with different generations relating to them. These are stories that describe the human condition.

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Published on January 27, 2019
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