the 'unintended' audience

a commenter, here, says:
this was interesting because i have always read in film studies texts that the characters that amitabh played were emphatically caste-less.
i've no answer to that. perhaps, those wiser men and women do not consider the issues i touched upon in that post of any significance. but consider this: why would an indian make a chinese film? he could make a film in chinese but would that be a chinese film? one needs to look at the who aspect of popular cinema in india to understand why the angry young man was an upper caste hindu. who makes the films, who distributes them, who pays to watch them?

i'll deal with the question of 'who makes them' in a later post, hopefully, but the other two questions are simpler to answer. there are around 2.5 lakh villages in india without electricity- indian films are not made for audiences in those villages. that means for nearly 35% of india: no power, no cinema. cinemas, or theatres, in india number around 12000. around 40% of them are in the states of andhra pradesh and tamil nadu. and a majority of cinemas, across india, are in the metros, 40 cities with over a million population each, and in a couple of thousand towns with around a lakh population each. how many of the 12,000 theatres are we left with now to distribute across the 6 lakh villages (make that 3.5 lakh villages, because as i mentioned earlier, 2.5 lakh villages do not have access to electricity) of india?. not many. so, most of them are distrbuted among villages in more prosperous regions of the country, those with access to irrigation and a history of successful commercial farming. upper caste dominated villages, in other words.

in his essay Indian Popular Cinema as a Slum's Eye View of Politics, ashis nandy offers the urban slum as a metaphor for popular cinema in india. he dubs the slum the 'unintended city'. most of india's mostly rural, marginalized lower castes are an 'unintended audience' for indian cinema. it has been so since amitabh's angry younger days. cinemas in india in 1980 numbered around 10,000-11,000. in 1990, around 12,000 (ashis nandy puts the figure at an optimistic 13,000) and now number 12,000. looking at those figures, you could say, there has been little growth. is that true?

indian film industry in particular, and entertainment industry in general, have been one of the fastest growing sectors of the indian economy. revenues have tripled in the last ten years and are expected to continue to grow at a rate of 17% a year. how did all this growth in revenues happen without a concomitant growth in distribution outlets? oh, the number of distribution outlets did grow, but not in the villages. definitely not in the villages that didn't have any cinemas when amitabh's films were first screened in the 70s and the 80s. growth happened in those areas where indian cinema's intended audiences always lived- in metros, cities, and towns. and in the prosperous villages i referred to earlier. around 20,000 new multiplex screens have sprung across urban india in the last ten years. that's nearly double the number of single screen cinemas in the country. and none of this growth happened in the villages with the unintended audiences.

oh yes, lower caste india does watch indian films but they're not the market, from the film-maker's perspective. not in the 70s, not now. their access to popular cinema is mostly through channels which are, to put it bluntly, not so legal. temporary theatres, video theatres, cable and regular cinemas in the many backward and lawless regions of the country that do not report their full revenues to either the producer, or the government. they were the unintended audience of the 70s, though film-makers of those times were less aware of that fact. they're definitely the unintended audience now.


Space Bar said...

kufr, both excellent posts. you're spot on when you say "one needs to look at the who aspect of popular cinema in india to understand why the angry young man was an upper caste hindu. who makes the films, who distributes them, who pays to watch them?"

Those who control the market are always classless or casteless, because they are the norm against which everyone else are given a name.

i was wondering if you could elaborate about your very last statement in the previous post, about how this makes amitabh's character a 'hindutvavadi'. i get a glimpse of the argument, but it isn't fleshed out enough.

another post?

Sumi Mohan said...

Good post. Caste is not that easily erased, especially, as this article by P. Sainath shows, when it is turned around in a perverse way.

kuffir said...

space bar,

you're too kind. i'm untrained in film appreciation or criticism. or academic criticism of any kind, whatsoever. i thought you'd have guessed by now that i visit blogs such as yours to learn. and it definitely helps that there is an honest, unassuming air about your writing.

two things that you've said in this comment have struck a chord of sorts- control and hindutva. my interest in both is from a caste perspective. this blog is essentially a journey without a compass- whatever was thrown my way, over the years, and whatever i stumble across now, is examined through that lens. yes, a post on both would allow me to discover something. thank you.

btw, i'm curious- were you the anon commenter?

kuffir said...

sumi mohan,

thanks for the comment and the link. i'd read that particular article earlier..my views on most of sainath's writing are mixed.

Space Bar said...

no! i never, ever comment anonymously! if i have something to say i can say it under my alias, can't i?


Anonymous said...

no, i was the anon commenter, thank you for your response. your point about intended audience is a good one, when i saw that amitabh made a movie called eklavya about a "loyal retainer", i really wondered what was going on in his head...

chandala is still sometimes used in thamizh movies as an insult too.

not space bar

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