Kochi: After the film society movement enabled a wide audience to see good cinema from the world over over five decades, film buffs are divided on the relevance of the movement, pioneered in the country by legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray.
While film scholar N Balagopal and film personality Santhosh Echikkanam argued that Film Societies have become redundant in the fast evolving technological scenario, former Kerala minister Jose Thettayail, who is closely associated with societies, is a strong believer of its continuing relevance.
Recalling the golden days of the Film Society movement in Kerala in 1970s and 1980s, inspired by Calcutta Film Society founded by Ray, Balagopal said it has become "irrelevant gradually" with the arrival of television and internet through which people could enjoy both commercial and serious movies.
"Film Societies are almost dying institutions. These were relevant in those times when people did not have much avenues to watch serious movies. During that period, film societies provided them better platform to enjoy good movies.
"Now all movies are available abundant just a click away. So in my opinion, film societies are irrelevant... It is dying," said Balagopal, who was an active member of a film society in Vatakara in Kozhikode.
Ray founded the first Indian film society, the Calcutta Film Society in 1947. Twelve years later, in 1959, under his leadership, Federation of Film Societies of India was formed as a central organisation combining film societies of Calcutta, Delhi, Bombay (now Mumbai), Madras (now Chennai) and Patna.
Balagopal said televisions started influencing the audience in the late 1980s when Film Society Movement was in its peak in Kerala.
According to film buffs, there were more than 60 film societies in the second half of the 1980s in Kerala, when the Left political ideology was influencing the minds --mostly students and youth.
Film buffs recall serious movies such as "Battleship Potyomkin"-- a 1925 silent film directed by Sergei Eisenstein, "Wild Strawberries"--a 1957 Swedish film written and directed by Ingmar Bergman and "Bicycle Thieves" -- a 1948 film directed by Vittorio De Sica used to be exhibited and discussed through film societies across the country.
Santhosh Echikkanam, who is also a noted contemporary short story writer, said that in his childhood it was the club culture in the state that provided a platform to people in villages to watch good cinema.
"There used to be clubs in villages which provided members the information about serious movies and their historical, social and political aspects."
"Those clubs were almost parallel to film societies in urban areas. Our villages are changing fast and there is no space for such clubs there. It was mainly due to evolution of Information Technology," he said.
Janata Dal MLA Jose Thettayil narrated how during the period of the Emergency, film societies served as platforms to form people's opinion against repressive measures of autocratic administration without inviting legal action from the regime.
"We used to show anti-Nascist films during Emergency under the banner of film society. It was a legal political platform to generate opinion against Emergency," Thettayil said.
He said one cannot write off an Emergency like scenario in future and under such circumstances, platforms like film societies can play their crucial role in generating public opinion and movements against oppressive regimes.
"So we need to transform such societies in accordance with fast evolving technological scenario. You can create a chat-room for like-minded people and discuss about serious cinema.
"Film societies can sustain in the country in that way," said Thettayil who represented the Kerala film societies in the meeting of the Federation of Film Societies of India in the 1980s.