The sheer importance of cinema

  • How unreality of cinema provides an oasis to those sick and buried in real lives

 Some things- they could be a quote, a picture, a face, a joke, a voice- leave a very lasting impression on us. We don’t consciously retain these memories and images but they remain somewhere inside and every now and then jump to the fore. We cherish them for a moment and then bury ourselves into earthly things and mundane tasks at hand. Many years back while reading the newspaper, I came across a line and for reasons beyond me it has stayed with me ever since. ‘Cinema is the world’s most beautiful fraud’, it read. What an apt, witty take on the subject, I thought, as there is hardly any other way to summarise the mighty galaxy of movies.

Where else in God’s vast world could a person dream, sense the sublime, taste the betrayal, hear his heart tremble, feel the goosebumps, and see the beginning and end of a story in less than three hours. It is in movies, that we live the lives that were denied to us by gods and fate.

Allow me to present a few examples from the movie-verse to substantiate the claim I just made. Those among us, who want to know how Richard Nixon was dethroned by two journalists after they uncovered the infamous Watergate scandal in its monstrous enormity, watch ‘All the President’s men’. Curious about how Herr Fuhrer Adolf Hitler spent his last days in a bunker, watch German film ‘Downfall’. Long to know how Asadullah Khan Ghalib spent his days and nights in a decadent Delhi, watch Ghalib starring Naseeruddin Shah (Yes, you guessed right, the one master Amir Liaquat Hussain referred to) . Dare to delve deep in the nightmarish abysses of an embattled, paranoid mind of a genius, watch Russell Crowe starrer ‘A beautiful mind’. Wanna witness the human valour in all its glory and gore; watch ‘Gladiator’, ‘Spartacus’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’. Yearn to brush your knowledge on the Vietnam War, watch Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Full Metal Jacket’, Tom Hank’s ‘Forrest Gump’ and Peter Davis’ critically acclaimed documentary ‘Hearts and Mind’.

And the moment I started seeing the world in binaries of right and wrong, a contest between honest and crooked, a war between the just and the bigoted the talkies made me shed my innocence as there were new lessons to be learned.

Or just want to lay back and relax during an idle evening, anything from Messrs.’ SRK and Karan Johar would suffice. Would like to know the mighty tragedies of Shakespeare, but language is an obstacle, get hold of ‘Maqbool’, ‘Haider’ and ‘Omkara’ by Vishal Bhardwaj who masterfully adapted Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Hamlet and Othello for our time and taste.

The choice is limitless. One is free to name his or her poison and the boundless universe of movies have something to offer. Sci-fi, drama, horror, comedy, action, suspense, thriller, noir and on goes the list. It doesn’t matter whether one is looking for an outlet for momentary escape or for solace in a world gone haywire; there is a movie to fit the bill.

It is said that drama was the dominant art form of the 15th century, poetry of 17th and 18th century, and novels of the 19th century. Movies sidelined them all during the 20th century and become the most popular form of entertainment in the 20th century. We are two decades into the 21st century and still movies occupy the top slot despite the advent of TV, onslaught of social media and the rise of video games.

While growing up, and I have no qualms to admit, I learned more from books (which were not in my syllabus) and movies (which entertained, educated and nourished my imagination) than in all the years I studied to pass my exams, bag a degree, and lurch ahead to pass more exams and bag a higher degree. Don’t know whether I was destined to follow Mark Twain’s advice of not allowing one’s schooling to interfere with one’s education or it was just a random coincidence.

As I get nostalgic about events past, I clearly remember this splendid cinema, NAFDEC in F-6, Islamabad-which has been abandoned for more than a decade and presently is in utter ruin-where once a week (twice when I had luck by my side), come what may, I used to visit and marvel at all things beautiful, all things heroic, all things impossible. It was through movies that I learned that every loose end gets sorted out in the end. Later on, it was through them I realized that heroes too die and villains can also triumph. At first, the films taught me to see the world in black and white. And the moment I started seeing the world in binaries of right and wrong, a contest between honest and crooked, a war between the just and the bigoted the talkies made me shed my innocence as there were new lessons to be learned.

And ever since I’ve been learning, unlearning and relearning this very subtle, extremely nuanced thing called human experience. Thank you, dear movies for teaching me faith through suspension of disbelief.