WHY HINDI FILM JOURNALISM HAS FAILED
The irony here is, that we are discussing this subject in an English language journal and not where it normally should be found .
Look around the Indian situation of newspaper circulation and you will find two clear mysteries. First there is no periodic weekly in Hindi which enjoys a nation wide circulation like many English weeklies enjoy. Secondly, when we have Hindi newspapers with multiple editions, even exceeding the number of English multiple editions, there is no serious attention given to discuss the state of affairs existing in the Indian Hindi cinema industry or even the Indian cinema industry, which generates today, business exceeding Rs 5000 crores annually. Something has to be wrong somewhere in this scenario.
There is much to suggest that when newspapers and miscellaneous printing began in India in the mid 1700s, the subject of ‘theatre’ found a place of mention for itself in the distribution of spaces in such journals. The news of drama being staged by the touring English company was mentioned both in the local English and vernacular sheets. This reporting remained mainly as an angle of publicity but while making mention of the presence of the actors group and their wares, mention was also made of the kind of play they were putting up for the audience. An occasional reporting by a member of the audience was inserted which was the criticism of the story and performances. There was no one appointed to report on the dramas that were coming to town because the costly performance prevented a train of ‘opening nights’ taking place even in the most populated city in the country.
We still find the existence at least five theatre companies having their theatre halls working full time in Calcutta (Kolkata) showing performances of Bengali plays. Towns like Patna, Darbhanga, Lucknow, Allahabad, Delhi, Agra , Ambala (Umbalah), Shimla and otherwise at least all the cantonment centres in North India had at least one drama performing hall for the local audiences.
Cinema’ first screening in India took place in a hotel in Bombay (Mumbai) and in a converted drawing hall. The next regular screening took place during evening times under party tents erected in open spaces, and finally when this turned into a business proposition, the local Parsi and Gujarati film exhibitors moved into the premises of drama showing theatre halls and closed the drama performances. When films became more popular fare and drew more people onto themselves, the same exhibitors constructed voluminous cinema screening halls. This still did not bring out the Hindi journalist full time into writing for the Silent films now under production.
The first one to report and comment on the local product was Loknayak Bal Gangadhar Tilak, a Marathi journalist, who wrote the first film criticism in his newspaper ‘Kesari’ and donned a new hat as the first film journalist in the country!!
Until about 1920, the made in India silent cinema was meager is number. To fill theatres, a very large number of films from foreign sources were procured. This led to promotional writing on the films running in town which were rehash of the publicity material supplied to the news printers. Therefore we find the earliest evidence of film reviews written in English language newspapers and journals. What we do find finally are criticism of silent films made in India beginning from 1925 when readers are complaining of the poor taste of films being screened in towns which violated the sense of decency of the Indian audiences. This criticism led to the formation of the Dewan Rangachrier Film
Enquiry Committee in 1927, which gave its Report and led to government intervention in many areas of film production, distribution, and film exhibition. Still missing was any direction in film appreciation.
When silent cinema began to talk, it promoted the drama writer’s entry into writing for new films. Film producers searched for known writers in Hindi language in the already recognised regions where the language was spoken and had its dedicated both writers and readers of literature.
We are suddenly introduced to names such as Munshi Prem Chand, Kanhaiya lal Munshi, Sarat Chand Chattopadhyay, Mohan G Dave, Rabindranath Tagore, Manto, Devshri Mukherjee, V.K. Sathe, K.A. Abbas, and others. They were asked to join the writers’ groups located in film studios to write for films. These writers were also joined by known names in Urdu writings drawn mainly from Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Bihar.
But films are a corrosive art and the more sensitive writers began to feel out of waters. Finally one by one the original Hindi writers for cinema starting walking out of the studio environment. Tagore, Munshi and Mukherjee were the first in the group, Chattopadhyay and Manto followed.
In 1934 when the Progressive Writer’s Group had been created, most of the writers were also doing writings for Hindi cinema. They felt the cinema medium would be a strong vehicle to propagate the socialist message into the masses. And they, to some extent succeeded. The effect of the Second World War and India’s entry, however spoilt the party!
Interestingly, the coming of Hindi cinema created the ground for the introduction of language periodicals.
Dhani Ram ‘Prem’ launched his Hindi periodical “Chand” from Allahabad in 1930. He was joined by another venture in 1932, named Rangbhoomi, then Chitrapat(1933),Cinema(1934), Shama(1939), Filmi Titiyan(1941), Film Ved Puran(1950), Shushma(1959). From Calcutta a Bengali magazine on films started named ‘Ulto Pravesh’(1931).
Babu Rao Patel in 1936, started his English magazine Film India from Bombay.
What may be noted here now is that all the named pioneering film journals failed to survive through time.
Rangbhoomi closed in 1960, Chitrapat closed in 1934, Shama and Shushma magazines closed in 2000. The other named periodicals also did not survive beyond 1960.
During the period of 1972-74, there was also an attempt to bring out a daily Hindi newspaper on the Indian film industry, called Chalchitra, which failed because of nonexistent advertising support. We note with regret that it was not only the unfortunate fate of Hindi film journalism that failed to survive the vicissitudes of time and newspaper ownership, even a class Hindi journal like Dharmayug had to cease publication when the owners of the banner refused to support it financially.
There are some interesting reasons why Hindi film journalism has failed since cinema became ‘talkie’.
Hindi was for a long time associated with the Indian freedom struggle simply because it was the language of North Indian people who were the principle participants in this struggle. In a sense, it was a slogan of the Swadeshi movement. Those who were eye witness to the many incidents of the struggle all reported their accounts using the Hindi language. Such journals which were 4 page or 6 page full sheets retained their small circulation as many of them were forced to close by the British administration, because of the fiery content they reported. Many of the reporters associated with these news sheets took home token salaries which became the norm as salary base for them when the freedom struggle ended in 1947.
When the freedom movement ended, Hindi journalism took a wrong turn to cease identifying with the new causes of society. Hindi also became a political slogan once it was declared the official national language. The advertiser shifted his allegiance to the language of big commerce, namely English, and in this shift journalism in English language improved its content and readership.
Where Hindi journalism survived, was due to the ownership which offered to the politician a base for publicity round the year and when the same politicians joined the government he got government advertisement for the journal. The Hindi cinema sector of commerce offered no such funding to make the trade attractive to become a self surviving small scale printing activity.
There was another problem associated with Hindi film journalism. It was the state of the mind of the reader and also of the owners of the periodicals.
Cinema was considered a dirty technology, and those who indulged in it were considered not ‘class’ persons. Those who reported on this activities in arts, were also seen as just above, being unclean. When ‘Chitrapat’ wanted female reporters, it advertised , “Wanted cultured ladies only”. A Hindi film production company advertised: wanted artists who are married couple.
To be a Hindi film journalist, a person needed to be a multi talented-multi tasking person and working at a salary living just above the poverty line. For nearly fifty years of Indian journalism there was no category of a Hindi film journalist in the newspaper world. The job was first of a sub editor or a city reporter who also filled the requirement of writing for cinema and Hindi cinema in particular. Most newspaper appointed retainers to file stories on films and called them “ By a Film Critic” or “By our film critic” for incursions related to film appreciation.
No film expert can, or could, survive in the country merely working full time in Hindi film journalism. Where they have survived, is in English film journalism as ‘film editors’, and they number not more than eleven persons.
There is no person as a Hindi film journalist who runs a syndicated film news feature service in the country. Those free lancers who write in multi edition Hindi journals, even with 32 or 39 editions, are paid for writing in one edition, and not for each of the other editions of the same banner. This film critic has personal experience of this system. The maximum payment given by the newspaper in such case did not exceed Rs 2000 for 600-800 words. Then there is small number of journals who are willing to print anything submitted, but will not pay at all to the writer. Their philosophy is that the writer is paid for having his name in the printed article. Such writings are infrequent, and cannot be termed as Hindi film journalism.
The Government of India has instituted awards in recognition for writing in film journalism in the National Film Awards scheme. Here again Hindi film journalism has to compete with 16 other national languages. It is rare that a Hindi film journalist, and this would always be a freelancer, who receives the recognition he reserves through this award.
To develop Hindi film journalism, we would have to see first the revival of periodicals devoted to serious Hindi language literature. There would be in such ventures a section for writings on films and filming. The world will still be more prone to print scantily clad women for selling their wares, but if the remaining space was filled with food for the mind, I am willing to stare at the girls sharing space with my literary comments.