Indian films
Film critic Utpal Datta (with mic) speaking at the seminar

Indian Films Need Strong Aesthetic Identity: Utpal Datta

May 9, 2022

"Indian films need a strong aesthetic identity. Fragmented or divided identities will not strengthen the identity of Indian films," opined renowned film critic Utpal Datta while chairing the session Regional Cinema and Its Global Influence at the National Seminar on Indian Cinema and Soft Power organised jointly by ICCR and Flame University of Pune earlier in May 2022.

The seminar's goal was to explore cinema's potential as soft power in a global context through five sessions and the session that Datta chaired included panellists like Vijay Kumar, Sashikiran, Santosh Pathare and Pabitra Margherita.

The other topics discussed were Global and Indian Cinema through Western Lenses, Indian Cinema Abroad As A Vehicle for Understanding Indian Culture and Indian Cinema's Engagement with Foreign Audiences and Advanced Technology.

"We, primarily confine the phrase Regional Cinema to the Indian Context. In a broader sense, regional cinema means films made in regional languages," Datta said.

"For most overseas audiences, Indian cinema is divided into three basic categories – Bollywood, Cinema from the South and Film Festival Cinema. Both Bollywood and Cinema in South Indian Languages are popular overseas. Film Festival films are always regarded as a different genre, and they have a niche audience," Datta said.

Explaining the term ‘Influence’ he said, "Influence is an abstract idea with visible effects."

"The question is - how can Indian films become a powerful player in the global field of cinema? Indian films need a strong identity. A fragmented identity or an identity divided into various quarters with sub-identities will not strengthen its identity," he added.

"My comments might displease some within our fraternity, yet, I say that Indian films are yet to create a respectable global identity. Foreign films inspired Dada Shaheb Phalke, as he learnt the craft of cinema in Europe, and he made his films with Indian content and sensibilities," Datta continued.

"India has a rich tradition of art and culture and is also the home to several renowned artists and art practitioners-both in visual and performing arts. Indian film identity should have been shaped by the aesthetics of traditional art forms amalgamated with machine/technology-based equipment," he further said.

"Once, Indian films stand with a unique identity, they will fight to find a place in the global market. The market is nothing but a battlefield. One has to fight to find a place, and then another battle starts immediately for survival," he added.

"In the book Marketing Warfare, Al Rice and Jack Trout had rightly said that he wins in a battle who can use the latest equipment. This comment is valid and applicable in the war for power as well," Datta further added.

"At the event of the digital revolution, a platform like a film freeway appeared and changed the grammar of film festival entries. The same happened in film distribution with UFO and other players. Another game-changer is OTT platforms like Amazon, Netflix and others. Amazon and Netflix not only exhibit films but also produces them. They produce films according to their requirement, and now they have created a new narrative for films," Datta further said.

He also added that becoming a soft power is not only a market-oriented game but "it is a philosophy, an ideology, and it is the identity of a country".

"In the end, we are selling a product, yet we are also exposing our country's pride and honour to the world. The creator who loves his country has that swabhiman and will think about the country's image. Others are proposal makers or product sellers," he strongly opined

"A few sensitive filmmakers and country lovers feel that the government should not promote such films abroad or inside the country, which shows an undeveloped India with plenty of tribals living in remote areas and living amid superstition, hunger and poverty. India has so many stories to tell to the world. It's time for the government to promote films that tell a story of tradition, values, and development blended with humanity in the language of film," Datta concluded.

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