<b>ScreenSavour:</b> Of the click and the bait
People commit suicide and friends post videos on social media even before rigor mortis set in; that’s how fast news is served. The question is, how reliable is it?
If anything travels faster than light in today’s times, it is electronic news. And if anything is faster than that, it is the social media. It is amazing how, within less than 24 hours of his stupid remarks about cows and peacocks, the high court judge from Rajasthan has spawned such a wide variety of reactions and jokes that are flooding the social media; and with every passing hour, more and more imaginative jokes and cartoons and analyses are cropping up like ever-mutating cells.
As they say, the world has become a small place thanks to immediate availability of information and connectivity. People commit suicide online and friends post macabre videos of people dying accidentally on Facebook even before rigor mortis set in. The mobile phone has empowered people to record the moment as it happens and we no longer have to wait for it to be reported by journalists and documentary filmmakers. It is another thing that a lot of trash and misinformation are being circulated, but there is no escape from the deluge.
This was not always the case. There was a time, till a quarter of century ago, when people depended on good old Doordarshan for any kind of information, apart from of course, newspapers and magazines. The immediacy and excitement was missing, but people did not mind because life was still laid back despite the tumultuous socio-political events that marked the times. The demolition of Babri Masjid by right-wing thugs and the subsequent riots were reported at first by BBC only; satellite television had already arrived, but Indian viewers could not trust the local channels. News which were deemed sensitive were heavily censored and filtered. It was only the magazines that went in for in-depth coverage and analyses.
The other source of information, till the advent of satellite television was of course — something which today’s generation wouldn’t know of — the ubiquitous Indian Newsreel that was projected before the beginning of any film during the days of single theatres. Those newsreels were composed of capsules which depicted the actions of the government, mostly in favourable light, and were shoddily made by technicians who were employed with the Films Division, a government organisation under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting that made these films. People generally walked out of the theatres when they were screened and timed their re-entry exactly after 20 minutes, just before the actual film started.
It is because of these shoddy newsreels that documentary in our country got a bad name. The conflict between documentary and feature films was set, with the former being associated with boredom and the later with entertainment. It is only in recent decades, thanks to a host of young filmmakers from all over the country that documentary has gained respectability. Films Division is still there, headquartered in Mumbai with branches in most metropolitan cities, but it also has geared up to meet the changing times and challenges and are inviting outsiders with proposals to make films that touch upon social aspects of the country, without being propagandist like in olden times.
If one were to look up the vast library of newsreels made by Films Division, despite all its sloppy work, the films do serve a very important function: it archives the ways of life of those times. In this, they are valuable source materials of a bygone era. For what is a country without its memories? As Patricia Guzman, a famous Chilean documentary filmmaker had once remarked, “A country without documentaries is like a family without photo albums.”
We shudder to think that when our country got independence and Nehru made his famous “Tryst with Destiny” speech, there was no official filmmaker to record the event. Whatever we see of that event was recorded by British and American freelance camerapersons. It was only in 1948 that the government set up the Films Division which was described as ‘the official organ of the Government of India for the production and distribution of information films and newsreels’. With its centralised set-up, huge infrastructure and weekly releases, it soon began to reach out to people in the remotest corners of India.
But viewers had to wait, unlike today.
(Ranjan Das is a Mumbai-based filmmaker, instructor and writer)
Columnist: 
Ranjan Das
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