The reel and the real

Ambika Shaligram
Monday, 31 July 2017

In conversation with Virendra Chitrav, secretary of Aashay Film Club which completes 32 years today

Picture abhi baki hai...’ this very filmy line sums up the 32-year-old journey of the Pune-based Aashay Film Club. Giving a more holistic picture, Virendra Chitrav, secretary of the club, says, “Starting and nurturing film clubs is a movement. It will have its moments of ups and downs, good and bad phases, but the movement will not die out.”

On this date (August 1) in 1985, Aashay Film Club was instituted. “The concept of film clubs, part of the Film Society Movement, was mooted by Satyajit Ray, to create an audience for parallel cinema — a discerning viewer for realistic cinema,” explains Chitrav. 

“Till then, there was only ‘reel’ cinema and not ‘real cinema’,” points out Chitrav, adding, “the audience then was not used to watching stories like Bhuvan Shome on screen. So this movement first began in Bengal. Ray was a complete director —  he was aware of the art, music, story and all other elements of filmmaking. He also knew that he had to cultivate a certain kind of audience, to appreciate this creativity.”

But like all movements, this one too had its share of lows. “Initially, the subjects of parallel cinema were new and hard hitting. The stories were discussed, fleshed out well. After a certain period, monotony crept in and the decline of the movement started,” he adds. 

In 1992, the changes of globalisation swept away the hitherto functioning and structure of the film industry and the other art and cultural institutions. Says Chitrav, “We were simply not prepared for the onslaught of Cable TV and the escalating number of TV channels. It was low-cost entertainment within the confines of your home. So why pay film clubs or watch art programmes, and pay fees? The audience had it easy.”

This phase lasted from 1992-97. The Aashay Film Club continued to hold intermittent screenings and festivals in this period. “But if the club had to continue and flourish, then we had to churn out ideas, come up with a relevant programme. So Satish (Jakatdar) and I met senior artists, thinkers like Bhaskar Chandavarkar, Pu La Deshpande and Sunitabai for guidance,” he added.    

This churning resulted in initiating festivals — art, culture and films. “On December 25, 1996, came our first breakthrough. With help of Pu La, we approached the Deccan Education Society and got their permission to convert their amphitheatre into mini theatre. We set up a projection room, two projectors were donated by Pu La. And, then we started screening world cinema, award-winning films,” says Chitrav. 

In 1997, the duo also came up with a project to pay tribute to the multi-faceted personality of Pu La. That was the beginning of Pulotsav. “This was the period we realised that we should blend art, culture and films, so a new entity — Aashay Sanskrutik was born. The first Pultosav was held under this initiative. Then, the film society would hold a trienneal conference. So under Western region, we got the initiative to host it at National Film Archive of India. The guests and speakers were accommodated at Film and Television Institute of India. We formed an abiding  relationship with these two institutes,” he explains. 

In early 2000, came the CDs and DVDs. So the club switched to the beta pattern. And, then came the multiplex era, which the film club took advantage of. “The multiplex era ushered in films which explored themes of parallel cinema but gave it a commercial treatment. So we started Asian Film Festival and the likes. But another decade in 2000, changed the culture and demography of Pune. IT employees and their lifestyle embraced the city. New suburbs were created; commuting became an issue. Plus, political parties and commercial entities also stepped in and started hosting ‘free’ programmes. At the same time, infrastructure cost increased. We could bring out three editions or so of Pulotsav under Rs one lakh or two. Now, the costs have increased,” he adds. 

Chitrav remains firm on the ‘value addition’ and enrichment that the club offers. “We are helping in forming a habit of a discerning viewer. So we are targeting youth and have formed film clubs in 60 colleges across the state. We are also trying to introduce cinema as a subject in the universities. And, we have also started film appreciation course in Marathi,” he adds. All said and done, the movement will continue. 

With Aashay Film Club completing 32 years, a special screening of Sandeep Sawant’s Nadi Vahate will take place at NFAI Theatre, Prabhat Road, at 6.30 pm, this evening. The screening will be followed by a discussion on the policies and programmes of the club.

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