Why No One Heard of “Hello Arsi” Before?
“Hello What?” most Odias must have wondered after hearing/reading/knowing about “Hello Arsi”, the Odia film that bagged as many as three National awards, including one for the best dialogue, at the National Film Awards announced last Thursday. No one seemed to have a clue about the film while it was in the making.
Budding filmmaker Gurujee Swetachandan spoke for many Odias when he, in a Facebook post the day after, said; “Hello Arsi” – a film got made and won award, but I had no ‘prior’ idea about its existence. Even I heard title of such an Odia film today. Why? Why I have no knowledge about its making, the crew involved, its content?
It’s because Odia Cinema Journalism is dead in Odisha now. Copy-pasting press-releases, asking same questions over and over in all interviews, and buttering ‘stars’, mean journalism for the so-called film journalists.”
This is as scathing an indictment of film journalism in Odisha as one can think of. The bitter truth, however, is that Gurujee is not far off the mark. Film journalism in Odisha indeed consists of a few juicy titbits from the ‘shooting set’, interviews with the ‘stars’ (and occasionally with an Odia who, unknown to the film scribe fraternity here, has made it big in Bollywood or in what is called ‘parallel cinema’ like ‘Hello Arsi’) and plenty of gibberish that passes off as film journalism.
An aside here. This columnist happened to know about “Hello Arsi” while it was in the making, but only because the maker, Sambit Mohanty, was a dear friend who died before he could give it the finishing touches. Knowing Sambit, he wasn’t the kind of person who would go to town about his film. But was it not the duty of the film journalist fraternity to know and inform others about it? Why did they miss out on such a film while it was in the making? In the small world of Odia cinema where barely a dozen odd films get made in a year, was it so difficult to know about it, more so since the maker worked for Information and Public Relations (I &PR) department of the Government of Odisha? The plain truth is none of them bothered. I wonder how many of them have heard of, forget watched, “Some stories around witches”, Lipika Singh Darai’s wonderful documentary on the practice of witch hunting that has earned rave reviews in the national Press?
The primary reason for this sorry state of affairs is that most, though not all, film journalists are film illiterates. For them, learning the art and craft, the nuances and intricacies of film making is not an essential attribute to pursue their chosen profession. All that they think they need to ply their trade is to know some people in the small Odia film fraternity, especially the stars.
Their exposure to the best of world cinema, even Indian cinema, is extremely limited or, worse still, virtually non existent. And they show little interest in enriching themselves cinematically. It is true that their employers are unwilling to earmark resources to send their film journalists to well known festivals in the country, not to speak of marquee world events like the Cannes. But even when the occasional film festival is organised in the state, they seldom show the inclination or the patience to sit through the screening of subtitled films in other languages and are just happy to get an interview or a quote or two from some top guns they have only heard or read about.
But in this age of YouTube and Netflix, does one really need a film festival to learn about the latest trends in film making? One can just sit in front of the telly and watch what one wants at the mere press of a few buttons.
The absence of a film culture has not helped. There are few film societies in the state. Even the ones that exist mostly screen old classics, mostly Odia, rather than the best of world or Indian cinema. Neither the film journalists nor their employers evince any interest in learning through film appreciation courses of the kind that used to be offered by the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune. May be it’s time for the Biju Patnaik Institute of Film and Television at Cuttack to start thinking about offering a short term film appreciation course on the lines of the FTII appreciation course during the summer vacations where film journalists would be exposed to something better than the run of the mill stuff they keep watching the year round.
Most practitioners think film journalism is a walk in the park. It is time they realised it is serious business that needs a love for films, an interest in the art and craft involved in the medium and a willingness to keep abreast of the latest trends in film making. Merely watching the cheap “Ole Ole” stuff is just not good enough.