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Indian cinema is still clichêd

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Goutam Ghose's latest offering, 'Shunyo Awnko' (Act Zero), delves into the Maoist movement in West Bengal, the problems with land acquisition by the State and Dr Binayak Sen's activism. The film also highlights the recent Supreme Court ruling that bans mining activity in tribal areas without the consent of the gram sabhas. Ghose, who turns 63 next month, talks with TOI-Crest.

What was the inspiration behind Shunya Awnko?


I read this very interesting story on Ernest Hemmingway's death - was it a suicide or murder? The last line of the article 'a man can be destroyed but not defeated' got me hooked. It became my catch-line. Also, Pushkin's line 'everything is a sacrifice to your memory' runs through the film. For me, the final film was all about developing a plot around these two lines. Further, there was this desire that people should know this country, the wonderful work many young people
are doing all over the country.

But why did you pick the Maoist movement as the film's backdrop?


There was this need to understand how, amongst many democratic movements in this country, some turned violent. It's our fault that the (marginalised) got no protection, especially the tribals. What did they ask for other than what the Constitution provides for? Many states and private companies are flouting the Schedule 5 of the Constitution. They continue to encroach and usurp land, displacing tribals in the process.

Does the recent Supreme Court ruling on the necessary consent of gram sabhas for mining give you hope?


Some hope for sure - and it is great going for my film too. It will definitely have some impact because now you can't continue to displace those who've lived in these lands for centuries. But it's a long fight. I know the kind of rationale that will be offered as argument against this - look how America has developed, they too had to deal with the Native Americans and look at what they created by obliterating them. But if you think that by obliterating 70 per cent of Indians you can grow, you are a fool. Inclusive growth is the only way forward. The tribals are peaceful and they had their indigenous economy but they don't know how to deal with the new market. Of course you need development, roads, infrastructure etc but it should not be at the cost of human life.

Your films have a patriotic streak.


Always, always - that's what my films are all about. I'd say my films are an expression of my patriotism. My last film Moner Manush or earlier films have all come from my love for my country. There's so much religious, political and cultural intolerance right now that I brought back an interesting character from 19th century Bengal, Dada Fakir, a Kabir-like personality as a symbol of our composite culture.

Does it seem strange that your film was not selected for this year's national awards?


Well, I found it strange. But it's the discretion of the jury eventually. I think the jury was not comfortable with this film. A member told me later that the panel was shocked. In fact, somebody complained that the film didn't get censored (laughs).

So what does this say about Indian cinema today?


Despite the number of films, Indian cinema didn't get any recognition at major global festivals over the last couple of years. In the last 10 years there has been no Indian film in the main section of Cannes. What you see is in the newspapers is all about the red carpet-walking. Look at Iranian cinema or even south-east Asian cinema - from Indonesia, Thailand or Korea - they are making brilliant films, doing a lot of experiments. Our cinema has become stagnant. Barring some filmmakers, stories are being repeated or being copied from Western films. We have wonderful actors but Indian acting is still largely theatrical and clichêd. But there's hope - many young filmmakers are doing new things and experimenting with short films.

What are your future projects?


I'm working on a bilingual - Hindi and English film - titled Lala. It's about a little boy. Hopefully I'll start the film by the end of this year.

Will that be a real story like your earlier film?


Yes, it's a real story told by a very courageous young boy named Lala to my friend - a European - and the writer of the story. The film is about this encounter between the two.

Do you regret not having a larger audience?


I do have a niche audience but commercially my films do not do that badly. They've always done good or average business. For a really huge audience, you have to work with a Hindi script.

Is that why 'Lala' is in Hindi?


Not really. My films - be it Paar or Yatra - were made because they came from that belt - either Bihar, UP or Madhya Pradesh. In Lala, my young character is from MP, thus the Hindi.

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