Apr 20, 2011

Cruel Cinema: New Directions in Tamil Film at BAM

As a Bollywood enthusiast, I am well aware that India contains multiple film industries based on regional languages and leads the world in quantity of film productions. However, aside from watching a Satyajit Ray (India’s most respected director) film that hails from the Bengali industry, I had never seen any of the other Indian Cinemas. With that being said, I jumped at the opportunity to see Cruel Cinema: New Directions in Tamil Film program consisting of four films by four Tamil directors over the course of four days (April 14-17) at BAMcinématek in Brooklyn. This traveling program was presented by 3rd i, an organization dedicated to showcasing innovative and experimental independent films promoting diverse images of South Asians.

Based in the southern region of Tamil-Nadu, Tamil language films follow Hindi Cinema (based in Mumbai) in popularity, box office gross, and number of productions a year. Cruel Cinema not only provided a unique glance for a Western audience into one of the more unknown film industries of India, but also showed four directors that are the core of a Tamil New Wave. These films are not the run of the mill extravagant musicals as seen in both Hindi and Tamil popular films, but are independent films that depict the violent lives of criminals and outcasts in a gritty mise-en-scène. I went to the opening night to see Selvaraghavan’s Pudhupettai, a gangster film about an outcast's quick rise to the top, juxtaposing both elements of horror (the gangs walk around with machetes slicing one another and the main character is oddly possessed with murderous, supernatural powers) with bits of comedy and cheerful item numbers (song and dance bits). Overall, entertaining with a dark tone, this films both departed from and expanded the traditional escapist entertainment of its popular cinema counterparts by stylizing the gritty, slums.

BAMcinématek was a good organization to host and show the program. The theater was large enough to house the more than forty people that turned out to see the film, the majority were non-South Asians. I would have been interested to hear what is their interest in this type of film. Cruel Cinema was accompanied by a handy program booklet that not only provided a synopsis, Cast & Crew credits, print information (Pudhupettai was a new 35MM print with beautiful color!), but also information about the Tamil New Wave, the series, the directors, 3rd i Cinema, and a short essay entitled Film Culture In Chennai by Lalitha Gopalan originally printed in Film Quaterly. While the information was very valuable for someone really interested to read the very colorful booklet and get details, the program (especially the first night) could have benefited from a speaker from 3rd i Cinema or from BAM to introduce the film and talk about the series. Although my screening was very enjoyable, such an introduction, may have convinced me to come again another night.

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