“…Tired of lying in the sunshine, staying home to watch the rain / You are young and life is long, and there is time to kill today / And then one day you find, ten years have got behind you / No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.”
These prophetic lyrics by Pink Floyd from their track Time which features in their 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon ring so uncannily true, especially for filmmakers who suddenly realise that they have frittered away decades, waiting for a chance to make their films.
Unlike cinema, where one can move back and forth in time at will, life moves ceaselessly forward without bothering to give you a chance to undo your mistakes and fix missed opportunities. The vacuum created by aspiring filmmakers who are on the wrong side of 40 is being constantly replenished by younger directors who occasionally spring up surprises with their innovative works, while time continues its relentless march forward.
But what really ails the failed filmmaker? A Hollywood veteran had once remarked that the two most difficult jobs in the world are flying a fighter plane and making a film. In the context of this remark, one can understand those who tried and failed, but what about those who never tried at all but sat in the wings, dreaming up grandiose projects while trashing every effort by contemporary filmmakers?
When the students of a famous film school had attacked the noted Bengali director Buddhadev Dasgupta’s Bagh Bahadur during a special screening in its premises way back in the early ’90s, the angry director had commented that a film school is a breeding ground of arrogance. Looking back, it seems that he was not quite off the mark.
Picking up fights with a visiting director during a drinking session — sponsored by the director, incidentally — has been a common practice in many film schools. With a rarefied frame of reference that encompasses god-like figures like Tarkovsky, Bergman, Ozu, Bresson and Antonioni, every contemporary director suddenly looks like dirt. Gaston Roberge, the famous Catholic film theoretician based out of Calcutta many years ago, had once asked one of his students if he had seen Aparna Sen’s Paromitar Akdin. The student haughtily replied that he does not watch such films. Roberge retorted, “Who will watch your film my son, when you make one?”
Arrogance should be commensurate with talent; and talent in cinema can only be expressed through practice; otherwise arrogance, like an unpublished novel or an unmade film has no value.
As they say, there is many a slip between the cup and the lip and this is no truer than in filmmaking. Watching and appreciating veteran masters and trying to incorporate their styles without understanding their essence have been the bane of many a young filmmaker, and that is what perhaps stops them from attempting their own films more than any other obstacle. The standard they set for themselves instills a fear in them because they know they cannot achieve the mark, and the innocence is lost.
“The film school kills the filmmaker in you,” remarked a hot-shot contemporary director known for his iconoclastic films. It is true that a certain amount of madness and fire is needed to be a filmmaker, notwithstanding the discipline that goes with it. Too much reliance on theory and analysis could prove to be detrimental; after all, filmmaking is not some geometry theorem that one is required to prove. Education can only sharpen the intuition which is the key word.
It is futile to emulate the masters who lived in an entirely different socio-economic context and dealt with concerns and conflicts that may not have anything to do with the reality we live in. It is necessary to figure out one’s own idiom instead, and strive towards it.
Of course, times have changed and more and more film school graduates are successfully making forays into filmmaking without the burden of masters. Perhaps young filmmakers could do well to take inspiration from Fatih Akin, the famous German director of Turkish origin, who acknowledges Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury as his inspiration — and not Kurosawa or Fellini.
(Ranjan Das is a Mumbai-based filmmaker, instructor and writer)