By Zia Ahmad
At the risk of stating the obvious, Pakistan illustrates a criminal failure to see film as an artistic and cultural structure in its own right. In addition, an absence of any attempt to be made at forming an academic approach to film compounds our cinematic illiteracy. There is an urgent need to dispense away with the conception of films as an escapist indulgence, as well as the banal exercise to document the song and dance and latest fillum gossip as film literature. Film demands critical approach and previous models have shown that criticism can only be beneficial for any art form.
Often enough film critics have proven to be competent filmmakers (Godard, Truffaut, Bogadonovich standing out as only some notable examples) giving credence to Godard’s famous quote, “the best way to criticize a film is to make a film.” Generally, film criticism goes beyond listing the merits and demerits of any other film, calling for a closer inspection of the film, its interpretation and breaking down to smaller components. The film should be posited through relevant analytical perspectives to be seen in relation to applicable theories. History gives much evidence on how critical thought has benefited artistic approach in the West following the age of enlightenment. Our own part of the world has made its own independent artistic progression in music, literature, painting and architecture that exist in a continued state of complacency without any critical approach to respond to.
Film theory was introduced as an academic discipline at colleges around the 60s, with French critics already making their mark in the 50s, and their work indented and shaped successive work in cinema. Closer to home, Indian and Iranian parallel cinema display the understanding of film theories. The gradual transition of cinema from craft to art is attributable to comprehension and application of various film theories around the world.
In recent years Pakistan has seen film and TV studies introduced as academic disciplines at college levels. This should, by default, be a certain indicator of a turn towards a more informed understanding of cinema and performing arts. Proliferation of TV channels and common sense has already achieved the enviable task of diluting the slew of taboo, reservation and suspicion attached to the performing and visual arts. Still in face of it there is the overwhelming risk of not selling out to commercial prospects that invariably cater to the most common denominator. The relationship between finer sensibilities and commerce is a perpetual field of conflict that has been a lopsided affair in a cinema culture obsessed with violent gandasa movies and eloborate shadi/dholki choreography. A shot of critical theory in the arm just might do the trick.