Utpal Borpujari

February 23, 2011

A Requiem to a Journey Worth Every Step

By Utpal Borpujari

Long before the cinemas of Asian nations had started making waves across the world, when Asian cinema meant largely only Satyajit Ray, Akira Kurosawa, Ozu and Mizoguchi to most, and when Iranian cinema was just about to make its first international splash; one sprightly lady devised out of New Delhi what was perhaps the first magazine globally to fully concentrate on cinema made within the geographic boundaries of the Asian continent.

That sprightly lady was Aruna Vasudev, and the magazine was Cinemaya, which later became the official journal of the Network for Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC), the highly-respected organization that to a great extent helped establish Asian cinema’s presence across all major film festivals in the world. Cinemaya later led to Cinefan – the Cinemaya Festival of Asian Cinema – which was later taken over by the art auction house Osian’s.

Unfortunately, both the quarterly Cinemaya and the annual Cinefan have ceased to exist, despite having grown to become a niche but highly-respected magazine that complemented the popular film festival in Delhi. The book: Asian Film Journeys, published jointly by NETPAC (which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary) and Wisdom Tree, is a fine reminder of that Cinemaya was, and a requiem to what was almost a movement for developing a common identity for cinemas from Asian nations, which with their diverse history, cultures and politics, offer such a huge variety of cinemas that it is actually in a way impractical to tag them under the single label of “Asian cinema”.

Edited by Rashmi Doraiswamy and Latika Padgaonkar, the first two staffers of Cinemaya, the book comprises a selection of articles as they were carried in various editions of the magazine over the years, introducing the reader to cinema from virtually every filmmaking nation in Asia. And what a compelling read it is, despite the articles having been reprints from old issues of the magazine the first issue of which had hit the stands in 1988, and from the catalogues of the first five editions of Cinefan which had begun in 1999.

In a sense, the articles, interviews and analyses comprising the book present the story of cinema in Asia, be it in the prolific filmmaking nations like India and Japan or those with smaller industries, such as Myanmar and Cambodia. What was really unique about Cinemaya was that its writers were people who were highly-knowledgeable about their subject. Some of the legendary names who contributed to it, and whose pieces are part of this book, are Tadao Sato, Donald Richie, Mark Schilling and Chris Berry. And the fact that the magazine went beyond mere criticisms of cinematic work to include in-depth interviews with directors, actors, cinematographers et al, apart from extensively covering issues related to cinema, such as censorship, expression of sexuality and political ideologies and contexts, etc., made it a journal that was academic yet accessible.

The editors of the book have tried to include pieces from the magazine giving representation to all Asian filmmaking nations. And by doing so, they have made it a collectors’ item, especially for those who might have got to read Cinemaya. How cinema has moved in all these countries, and how the society and politics of each country has impacted its cinema, come through in some detail through the articles, analyses and interviews included in the book. For example, the interview of Rithy Panh (“Look Back In Pain”), while primarily focuses on one film, brings up a vivid image of how creativity suffered during the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. Noted critic Chris Berry’s piece on censorship in China, Tony Rayns’ analysis of Zhang Yimou’s work and a fine essay on the “fifth generation” of Chinese filmmakers are able to present a comprehensive picture of the Chinese film industry. Then there are gems like a piece on documentary filmmaking in Pakistan and another on cinema in Myanmar, two virtually unknown aspects of Asian cinema elsewhere. There are several other such interesting pieces that make this book a collectors’ item for both serious film buffs and common viewers who love their world cinema. The Indian angle comes through an interesting essay by Ashis Nandy on “How ‘Indian’ is Ray?”, an interview of Mani Ratnam and write-ups on the works of legends like Ritwick Ghatak and Guru Dutt.

It’s a book that has come out at the appropriate time, when NETPAC is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and quite surely, it is the perfect requiem for a belief that was called Cinemaya, which survived amidst all odds for a number of years, even as quite a few other serious cinema journals took birth and died in between. Reading this book, one can only wistfully hope that someday Cinemaya will return. Amen.

(Asian Film Journeys; Wisdom Tree & NETPAC; pp 655; Rs 1,495)

(Published on http://www.dearcinema.com, 21-02-2011)


June 14, 2010

Indians will connect with my book: Serdar Özkan

It’s not very often that a debutant novelist finds his book compared with The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach or Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. But Turkish writer Serdar Özkan’s The Missing Rose has not only been compared to these classics by critics across the globe but also been translated into 35 languages worldwide, including Marathi, Hindi, Urdu and Telugu in India. The book, whose English version has been released here by Wisdom Tree, has been able to connect with readers so widely because of its universal theme, transcending the barriers of race, culture, religion and all that, says the 1975-born Özkan, who studied Business Administration and Psychology at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, USA, followed by further studies in Psychology at Istanbul’s Bogazici University. He speaks with Deccan Herald’s Utpal Borpujari on what drives his writing:

How does it feel to get your debut novel translated into 35 languages worldwide?

I feel fortunate, because my novel has been published in so many languages in over 40 countries and I have had the chance to interact with many people from so many different cultures and also see how differently or similarly they react to the same story with a universal theme. The journey for this success began with the story, and it took several years. First, a few foreign publishers believed in the story, then as readers loved the book it went onto bestseller lists internationally, triggering more publishers in other countries. 

In India too, it is being translated into Marathi, Hindi, Urdu and Telugu. What kind of reception do you expect to your book in India, a country of multitudes of languages?

I believe there is something in The Missing Rose which makes it appealing for readers from every culture. I expect a similar reaction from the Indian readers. And they may react to it even more strongly because of the mystical background of India. This expectation is already met to an extent given that the English version of The Missing Rose has entered bestseller lists in India as well. 

When did the idea for the book come to you? Is there any element of real-life in it?

I began writing fiction full time in 2002 when I was 26. As the idea of The Missing Rose started to shape within me, I turned to writing fiction full time. The story is pure fiction. But I believe that some stories are more real than reality. Likewise, fiction can be more real than real life. I believe and hope that this is one such story. 

Your writing draws heavily from mysticism of the East. Was it a conscious effort to do that?

There was no conscious effort, but I am interested in mysticism, the unseen face of life. So naturally, the stories I write are influenced by that.   

As an author, how important is it for you to talk about humanism in your writing, as you have done in your novel?

There are so many thoughts and ideas in The Missing Rose as well as my second novel (When Life Lights Up) which is already out in nine countries.  But I never make any conscious intention to express or talk about them. When I write a book, I just try to see the story, and that’s it. I don’t intend to give any message through them. I intend to write books which provide taste, not advice, and stories which go to the heart, not to the intellect. So, if the reader extracts anything from my books, it comes from the story itself and not the author. I believe the best stories are the ones in which the reader forgets the author.    
Among Turkish authors, the world till now knew mainly Orhan Pamuk. How would you describe the standards of Turkish literature in English at present?

Unfortunately, there isn’t much international interest in the Turkish literature except a few authors. But it is getting better. And the international success of The Missing Rose is a sign of that. I believe in the future, literature of Turkey as well as other nations will be more widely appreciated.   

Why did you choose to write in English rather than your native language?

I write in Turkish first, and translate it into English myself with professional translators. So I do write in my native language, but also greatly involved in the writing and translation of the English edition as I would like at least the English edition to be 100 per cent representative of my style.   

Your book has received quite an encouraging response in India. Have you not thought of visiting India to talk about the idea behind it, particularly as it is getting translated into several Indian languages?

I think there is such an effort by my Indian publisher to design an extensive book tour in India for the book. I am also hoping to be able to meet with the Indian readers in person as I have already received wonderful reader e-mails from them. 

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 13-06-2010)


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