With internet bringing even the hardest-to-find titles to our private screens in a matter of minutes, films have ceased to be holy grails to be sought after and tracked down. Like a Buster Keaton comedy, scarcity has made way for overabundance. For the cynic in me, the image of the millennial cinephile is less that of a lover courting his beloved than a libertine maneuvering through an image orgy, less a collector and more a hoarder, less a connoisseur and more a glutton. The ease of access to a massive number of films seems to curiously coincide with a phenomenon in Western film culture: canon fetish.
As though rationalizing and controlling the explosion of available titles, ironically enough, tons of film canons purporting to be the definitive lists of films to watch can be seen around the web. Though list-making is as old as mankind itself, millennial canon-chasing, it appears to me, has markedly diverted the cinephile’s attention from “how well” he/she watches films to “how many”.
This tendency has an even more detrimental effect when it comes to “foreign films”. Instead of confronting the complexity of a certain culture, nation or identity group, nationalist film canons invariably try to give it a simple shape, narrativize nationalist film histories and reduce films from autonomous aesthetic entities to socio-cultural documents: from film as art to film as evidence.
This will to power over the vastness of nationalistic cinemas often leads the gullible cinephile to have a monolithic understanding of them. An alternate film canon that seeks to correct this myopia must point to the blind spots in existing discourses, to the contradicting tendencies within national cinemas, to the essential incomprehensibility of a pluralistic culture and, ultimately, to the impossibility of forming a definitive film canon itself. Hence, every worthwhile canon in an anti-canon and must open up newer avenues for exploration instead of pigeonholing entire cinemas to a few bullet points.
It is with such an intention that I have tried to come up with the following list, which entirely consists of films from India that have remained under-discussed or un-discussed in popular forums within or outside the country. With the national mass-media blithely conflating the already dubious Indian film centenary with that of Bollywood and churning out brain crushingly banal canons, there is a need to counteract this constricting tendency with discussions about films on the fringe, films that would poke a hole through all the generalizations and preconceptions. The 25 films on this list – most of them available for viewing online - find themselves there not just because of their relative obscurity and independence from established regional film industries (though that is certainly one of the criteria), but because of their remarkable artistic merit as well. If I were to make a more inclusive list, it is very likely that many, if not all, of the following entries find a place once again. I have avoided retaining multiple films from a single director, in the hope that those piqued by these films would seek out other equally praiseworthy works from these filmmakers.
Though there is no particular preconceived connection between them, these films, in one way or another, help illustrate the various polarizations at work within the many cultures of the country, on the impossibility of making a commentary about India in its entirely and on the misguidedness of constructing an “Indian film canon”.
These films, in essence, embody and celebrate the spirit of “We are like that only”.
Essential Viewing: Assorted Parliament Proceedings.