‘Content-driven cinema’ is a dangerous obsession

Posted: July 8, 2019 in Uncategorized


(A still from Khyanikaa – The Lost Idea)

‘Content-driven cinema’ has become a phrase very rapidly used and engulfed by cinema makers and consumers.

Me : What is content?

My Sense : ‘What’ is the content.

Me : Isn’t it important?

My Sense : It is very important. But …

I do not always allow my sense to speak, because it only corners me more and more. It will take me far away from you, and that’s not what I want. So, I’m keeping my sense aside, and trying to express only a ‘sense’ of it.

Well, if content drives everything, a violin is a violin. A painting of a violin is a painting of a violin. Indeed it is, but have you ever seen Pablo Picasso’s ‘Violin’? Millions of painters would have painted a Violin, but what makes Pablo a Picasso? The content? Think again!

If cinema is defined and accepted as a mass audio-visual medium of showing and seeing stories, I have nothing much to say. But if cinema, by chance, is considered an art form, content-driven cinema is a dangerous obsession. It only means to shift focus from the transcendental attributes of art and hail the gross text of it. It will suit the populist sense of cinema, of course, and that’s the reason why it’s so dangerous.

No art form ever succeeded through ‘gross’ texts. Even literature, thrives and excels in the interpretation of its subtext, not in the meanings of its ‘gross’ text. A poem finds greater meaning in what’s not worded than what’s meaningfully worded. So is the case with any art form.

The reason why cinema has failed (miserably) to appeal to several potent minds is, the over-reliance on content. The beauty of art (and cinema) is that it can transcend the boundaries of content. Cinema finds far more relevance in the contextualization of a content, than in the content itself. If content drives cinema, it will simply be a sequence of moments, orchestrated and packaged into a consumable and tangible wrapper.

There have been great works in cinema which have not been reliant on their content. Godard’s later experiments or some extreme European cinema would be very typical examples, but even a filmmaker like Abbas Kiarostami, who is so eulogized by traditional ‘storytellers’ for his content-driven films, had made a film called ‘Seagull Eggs’. How would you describe the film in a content-driven approach? What’s the ‘content’ in the film? It was neither the eggs, nor the rocks; neither the sea, nor the waves, but something beyond which makes the film so special. The ‘content’ doesn’t make the film, but what makes the film is the valuable connotations.

To confine a film within its content, or to analyze a film through a content-driven perspective will only rob the film of its metaphysical and spiritual aspects. A body without a soul has no life. It’s only the body of a person which one can see and feel, but it’s ‘something beyond’ that makes ‘a someone’ so special. Cinema, much like life, is a perceptive yet undefined identity, an experiential yet undefined territory. Cinema, like most other forms of art, is a provocation, and perhaps, though often taunted as, an intellectual masturbation. If a film fails to take you ‘beyond’ what you see (the content), is it cinema enough?

Time has come to move from a content-driven cinema towards an intent-driven approach. Intent is not a happening, it is not a content, yet it pulls in a content as a consequence of its exploration. Content can follow an intent, if needed. If not, content-less intent too can shine as cinema.

–  Amartya Bhattacharyya







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