— 3 —
RAJASHEKHARA, THE SANSKRIT dramatist, poet and aesthetician who flourished in the ninth and tenth centuries, dedicates an entire chapter in his classic Kāvyamīmāṃsā treatise describing the environment that a poet (broadly speaking, an artist) must cultivate for himself. The kind of standards that he mentions in the chapter by itself offers a mirror to the ruin of what passes off as art, literature, drama and cinema today. A similar example is Kshemendra’s Kavikaṇṭhābharaṇa, another illustrious work on aesthetics.
All such poets and aestheticians deliver this essence: at least a scintilla of culture and refinement is indispensable for anyone aspiring to be a poet or artist. The list of subjects that they all recommend includes but is not limited to the following: classic works of literature, prosody, grammar, the 64 arts, lexicography, logic, and life experience. An artist who is not equipped with these qualifications is endowed with Vyutpattimāndya — the broadest meaning of this term is “cultural penury.”
Today, cultural penury is exactly what we notice in the most visual and the most composite of all art forms: cinema. Actually, “cultural penury” is an extremely mild term to characterise the filth that is being rapidly churned out especially on the OTT conveyor belt of perversion. Depravity, soullessness and nihilism are being actively promoted in the name of cinema. All these are being dictated by a vile soup made up of wokeism, megalomania and demonstrable insanity on the part of elite production houses and armies of deranged writers and directors.
What are the topics that our contemporary filmmakers select? They mostly revolve around crime, sex, more crime and even more graphic sex. And of late, the ugly on-screen march of LGBTQRXXIJKW. Subtle romance has been replaced by grunts and groans. Depravity has slaughtered sensitivity. Deafening cacophony has triumphed over deliberate silences both in voice and music. Suggestion is nonexistent.
Even movies that have no ideological flavour exhibit the same blandness. Of late, most of them are based on newspaper cuttings with familiar themes: gruesome murders, rapes or other crimes… then there is a rush to capture that other new market: biopics. With few exceptions, most biopics that have made in India till date are uniformly atrocious. We also have hilarious adventures like Toilet Ek Prem Katha and Padman, a movie on sanitary pads. What next? Films on handkerchiefs and ties and underwear and the nuances of urine? Fear not. They’ll arrive soon at a theatre near you. The power of idiots in large numbers is truly potent.
Small wonder that the current crop of movies have become mock-worthy memes instead of works of art.
All this is a direct consequence of a variety of factors chief of which is the destruction of true education. More specifically, what is the kind and quality of literature that these filmmakers read, if at all they read anything of value?
Several anecdotes will clarify this point in a tangential fashion.
Two anecdotes will clarify this point in a tangential fashion.
A key thread in the plot of the 1984 Telugu blockbuster, Bobbli Brahmanna was directly borrowed from the celebrated Sukanyōpākhyāna occurring in the Mahabharata.
Likewise, the whole plot for the Tamil superhit Roja is based on another immortal Mahabharata episode: the story of Savitri and Satyavan. Interestingly, the seed for the movie was given by K. Balachander, the film’s producer and iconic director. This in itself is a revelation of the solid cultural grounding of our past filmmakers of his calibre. It is also the starkest contrast between Balachander and Mani “sir.” When Maniratnam attempted something similar with his unaided Communist intellect, he gave us an elongated dud like Dalapathi, a movie allegedly based on the story of Karna. We see Rajinikant, not Karna.
In fact, the emergence and rise of new-age directors like Maniratnam, Ram Gopal Varma, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Ashutosh Gowariker, Rakesh Omprakash Mehra & Co is just a continuation of a downward phenomenon in Indian cinema.
It can be described using this phrase: from Independence to Emergency.
The spread, takeover and subversion, especially of Hindi cinema by the Marxist artistic goon squad was the primary casual factor for this phenomenon. Peddling Marxist propaganda on screen was one side of this coin. The other side has proven fatal. This was the birthing of two generations of writers and filmmakers who consciously ignored and then trashed the ennobling wealth of our classical literature and the finest traditions of Indian theatre. If at all the present generation of filmmakers use our epic and Puranic characters, they use it to contemn the very culture that birthed them.
Without exaggerating, it can be said that there is almost no “mainstream” filmmaker in any Indian language who can make a Pauranic movie. Or even a grand fantasy like Jagadekaveerudu Atiloka Sundari, released in 1990. Or an engaging historical like Mayura.
Our filmmakers have criminally abandoned our classical aesthetic tradition and it is only obvious that audiences are quickly abandoning our filmmakers. Karan Johar and gang are learning it the hard way.
If the Emergency was the political abyss ushered in by a single dynasty that ran the Government like a mafia, the post-Emergency period witnessed the full toxic bloom of the cultural destruction that had been put in motion through the backdoor capture of institutions. Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa’s Tantu narrates this ghastly and painful saga with compelling power.
— 4 —
IN 1974, TOM WOLFE was rudely jolted awake in his bathtub when he read the following words in The New York Times written by one Hilton Kramer, dean of the arts at Yale University:
Recall what I had mentioned about The Theory, The Theory, The Theory! in the previous episode of this series?
Tom Wolfe’s awakening culminated in a devastating evisceration of not just Hilton Kramer but the phenomenon that he represented. Titled The Painted Word, Tom Wolfe gave a masterclass and a magnificent critique of the art scene in the Elite and Posh America of the era, something he contemptuously called “Cultureburg.” Here is a sample:
Modern Art has become completely literary: the paintings and other works exist only to illustrate the text…Art made its final flight, climbed higher and higher in an ever-decreasing tighter-turning spiral until… it disappeared up its own fundamental aperture… and came out the other side as Art Theory!… Art Theory pure and simple, words on a page, literature undefiled by vision.
What Wolfe lamented and outraged about was the disappearance of the most fundamental element in all art: beauty.
And here is the legendary DVG writing about the same thing in 1969. An anguish, an anxiety about the loss of beauty in literature written in beautiful prose.
“… art is the experience of beauty, grandeur and exaltation. But today, the new kinds of art works flooding into India from Europe and America, do they give us this experience? In my case, the answer is no. Perhaps my view might be partially blind owing to my attachment to our artistic tradition. But a person who regards Jakkanachari, Tyagaraja, and Valmiki as Gurus does not get the aforementioned experience in these new works of art. But others who don’t have this attachment might experience beauty in them.
In which case, what is beauty?
In today’s world, there is no standard to measure it.
For us, dignity of dressing is beauty; for others nudity is. For us, subtle movement of the human body is beauty; titillation is vulgarity… new cults in art like the hippies and the Beatles have become popular even in India…to my eyes, their dressing and behaviour appear grotesque in the extreme. Even their painters have followed the same path…
The fate of modern poetry is also similar…the simile is derived from some place and its object of comparison is unclear…it is impossible to understand the feeling or emotion attempted to be conveyed.
OVERALL, IT APPEARS AS THOUGH A SENSE OF ANARCHY AND FRENZY IS BEING DELIBERATELY SPREAD…
In my limited knowledge, a true conception of beauty and exaltation is characterised by selection and proportion. Not all things in this world are endowed with beauty, and not all parts of a thing are equally beautiful… But there is a fundamental philosophy underscoring selection and proportion. THE VISION OF BEAUTY AND GRANDEUR SHOULD NOT PERVERT THE CONNOISSEUR’S MIND. THE PAINTING OR PLAY OR SCENE MUST IMBUE JOY AND NOT INFLAME CRUDE PASSIONS. The enabler of beauty and profound values is a cultivated inward attitude of bashfulness… BASHFULNESS IS THE PROTECTIVE ARMOUR OF ALL ART. SANS THIS, THE WORK OF ART BECOMES AN EXHIBITION OF DEPRAVITY. Thus, the work of an artist is one that carries immense responsibility. Just as how the artist needs freedom, he must also erect restraints upon himself. (Capitalisation added)
Clearly, filmmakers of our own time continue to flagrantly violate every single warning that DVG has given here.
But to state it in polite language, today’s movies make us leave the theatre after having merely witnessed them, not experienced them. We have facts, not characters. Expertise in technique and craft have become convenient bypasses for circumventing art. In fact, at some point in this journey towards the bottom, acting or performance has been slowly murdered. We now have stock expressions for emoting which last for fleeting seconds instead of the time-honoured art of sustaining an emotion at length…the fine art of the monologue has mostly gone extinct, and both monologues and dialogues have become one-liners…instead of allowing the actor to use his or her innate or honed creativity and wide reading to interpret the character, readymade factory products are being handed down. As far as Indian cinema is concerned, we have bodybuilders and gymnasts and athletes as onscreen “heroes.” The acclaim received by “character actors” is precisely because the main leads are not actors. Female leads exist to perform one or both of these two functions: (1) arouse sexually the audience (2) spew the woke ideology.
In the final reckoning, this lethal handiwork of the Left which has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams, serves another defining purpose. The example of Lenin’s hounding of intellectuals and artists is illustrative. The moment he captured power, he decreed that all art was meant only to propagandise Communism. In other words, the Left uses art, literature, drama and cinema not merely to make an ideological statement but ultimately to topple governments. No section of the society is immune from it.
The first step to do that is to kill the very foundations and goal of all art — beauty and joy — and to replace it with pessimism and agitation. The downfall of Indian cinema has occurred exactly on these planes.
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