Lessons for filmmakers: ‘Cinema no longer about self expression’

Filmmaker Ashok Ahuja talks about evolution of Indian cinema.

Aroosa Shaukat October 03, 2012


“Cinema is no longer a means of self expression. I long for films today that are genuinely from the heart,” Indian filmmaker Ashok Ahuja said on Wednesday.

Ahuja was speaking to students at the Beaconhouse National University’s (BNU) City Campus. Held under the theatre, film and television department of the School of Media and Mass Communication, the lecture aimed at sharing the experiences of filmmaker, who started his career in the ‘70s as a play producer.

Ahuja has produced as many as 200 plays and films in his career.

“I miss an environment where people can share their beliefs, values, hopes and aspirations through the medium of cinema,” said Ahuja.

He said contemporary Indian cinema paints a picture quite different from 30 years ago. “Back then the idea was to use film to tell a story, not to make money,” he said. Ahuja, who graduated in 1976 from the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune, said filmmakers were trained to use cinema to express themselves.

“Nowadays filmmakers cannot exercise much creative freedom,” he said. “They cannot experiment with films…since big corporations have taken control of the creative side of filmmaking.”

Talking about a generation of filmmakers from the ‘80s called the ‘new wave,’ Ahuja said there was a burning desire in these filmmakers to challenge prevailing trends in mainstream cinema. “Unfortunately many of those who started by fighting the system later became part of it.”

Indian cinema today is much bigger…the publicity budget for some films is now more than the production budget, he said. “The pressure on Indian cinema to be market-driven is a loss for cinema itself,” he said.

Ahuja said there were more opportunities for new filmmakers today but they come at the cost of creativity.

Ahuja also screened excerpts from his 1982 award winning film Aadharshila. Aadharshila, his first film, is a story about a young filmmaker who starts his career in an environment which does not welcome inexperienced filmmakers.

He said since the film had revolved around young people stepping into the real world, he had cast mostly young actors except for Naseeruddin Shah, who played the lead role. “I knew I had to put my trust in people for people to trust me,” he said.

Ahuja remarked that he was often asked if the film was autobiographical. “I think most films are autobiographical,” he said. “Aadharshila portrays what I felt back then…so it can be considered autobiographical in that sense.”

With most of the film shot at his house, Ahuja said the entire crew lived at his house for the two months of filming. “There is a lot similar between how we worked on the film and how the protagonist worked on his film,” he said, before pointing to scenes in which the character played by Naseeruddin Shah takes to the streets with his friends to promote his new film.

Talking to The Express Tribune, Ahuja said he hoped that cultural ties between India and Pakistan would increase in the coming years.

Speaking about the commercialisation of cinema, Ahuja said the tools required for filmmaking depend on finance…for which filmmakers compromise on content. “Films need money but they need so much more,” he remarked.

Asked about the importance of giving in to the demands of the audience, he said, “What about one’s demands from oneself?”

He said filmmakers often faced challenges that were are more personal than political or economic. “Life is about being true to yourself and your ideas - that is what a filmmaker must keep in mind,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 4th, 2012. 

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