Film Journalism in India

Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee

Cinema has become an important part of Indian culture, besides being a huge industry worth about Rs 100 billion with increasing transnational operation. It warrants more responsible, serious, educative and productive journalism. Attempts are being made by the government, civil society groups like film societies and several trade bodies to promote better film journalism

Indian cinema turns 100 this year. India’s first indigenous full length feature film Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra premiered on 21 April and was commercially released on 3 May 1913.  Though another feature film titled Pundalik on a Marathi saint was released a year earlier, Raja Harishchandra enjoys the distinction of being the first wholly Indian venture in sync with the patriotic sentiment of its times, vis-a-vis Pundalik, which was an Indo-British joint production.
In the last 100 years Indian cinema made phenomenal growth both in terms of number of films produced and business.  India presently produces over 1100 films a year, the largest number produced by any country in the world in over 21 languages. In the first decade of the new millennia (2001-2010), 10, 932 feature films were certified. Indian film market was Rs 87.5 billion in 2010 and expected to grow to Rs 136.5 billion by 2015 according to a July 2011 PWC report.
Feature films comprise of the staple form of entertainment for the masses in India besides theatre and musical performances and region specific performing folk forms like yatra (a form of open air theatre) very popular in Eastern India.
It is very difficult to tell what the first film magazine in India was. The Bengali Film weekly Bijoli which started in 1920 was one of the earliest film magazines in India. In 1924, India’s first periodical exclusively devoted to cinema ‘Mouj Majah’ was launched in Gujarati in Bombay (now, Mumbai) by J.K. Dwivedy. Other film journals like ‘PhotoPlay’ started in Kolkata in 1926 while ‘Movie Mirror’ and Kinema started in 1927 in Madras (now, Chennai) and Bombay respectively. In 1929 a Guajarati film periodical ‘Chitrapat’ edited by Nagin Lal Shah was launched in Bombay. In the following year Shailaja Nanda Mukherejee started the Bengali Film Weekly ‘Bioscope’. Two other Bengali film magazines ‘Weekly Batayan’ edited by Abinash Chandra Ghoshal and Chitralekha edited by Bibhuti Bhusan were launched in 1931. In 1934 the Hindi Film periodical Chitrapat edited by Hrishan Charan Jain was launched in Delhi. In the same year another film weekly Rooplekha was also started.  Film India, a very influential film monthly was launched in 1935. In the same year the first Tamil film journal ‘Cinema Ulagam’ edited and published by P.S.Chettiar was launched. The Indian Screen Gazette was started in 1938. In the following year a magazine titled Film Industry was started in Bombay. Sudhansu Basu launched a Bengali Film Weekly Roopanjali in 1951. The Indian Express Group started its film based weekly newspaper Screen. Published in English, Screen became very popular all over the country. After 16 years of the release of the first Oriya film Sita Bibah, the first Oriya film magazine Cine Orissa was published in 1951 from Berhampur in Ganjam district. The fortnightly magazine Filmfare was launched in 1952 and the following year it announced its annual awards which in later year became a rage. It probably prompted them to start “Filmfare Awards South” for movies in Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, and Telugu languages, presented annually.

The main Hindi film trade paper Trade Guide edited by B. K. Adarsh was started in 1954. Another Hindi film journal Sangeet was started in 1956. Chidananda Dasgupta, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and others started the Indian Film Quarterly in 1957. The federation of film society of India launched their journal Indian Film Culture in 1962 in Kolkata. The year 1959 saw the launching of film periodicals like Shama (Urdu) Sushama (Hindi) and Ras Rang (Marathi).  In 1960 the weekly tabloid Movie Land was launched in Madras. The journal of the CTA, South-India a Madras (now Chennai)-based monthly was started in 1963 as the first technical film journal in India.  The Tamil film journal Bommai edited by B. Viswanath Reddy was started in 1966.  Next year he launched a Telugu monthly Vijay Chitra. The Cine Central Kolkata, started its Bengali film monthly Chitra Bhikshan in 1967.  English monthly Star Dust which became very popular was launched in 1971. The Bengali film fortnightly Anandalok was launched in 1975 by Kolkata-based Anand Bazar Patrika Group. Kozhikode based Matrubhumi Group started the Malayalam Film Journal Chitra Bhumi in 1978. The nineties saw the launching of ‘G’ a suave film monthly from Mumbai.
Television made its entry in India in 1959. By mid 1970s it became popular among masses and film magazines began to write about television programmes. It was after 1980s, when entertainment content of television increased and television sets became ubiquitous that publications exclusively on television began to appear.
The new millennia saw film journalism adopting and adapting to the web media across delivery platforms. There are now several hundred thousand film-content focused websites in practically all Indian languages. Some of them position them as web edition of a film magazine with news, views, reviews and interviews as content. Several others have different contents- films, trailers, titbits. Several industry-focused sites have also come up. Many established film magazines started their web edition.
Interesting advancements have been made with the progress of technology. Consider what Galatta Cinema, the print media initiative of South India’s movie portal has done. Launched in April 2007, it claims to have become the largest circulating English cinema magazine in India for South Indian moviesi.  In 2010 it becomes the first Indian movie magazine in the world to be available on the iPhone. It was also the first to launch a mobile version on the iPhone, Android and Nokia app stores. Several other magazines followed the trend.
galatta cinimagalatta app

There is in fact an overload of content across delivery platforms so far film-related subjects are concerned. However, the problem lies with the quality of the content, looking from journalistic perspective.

Film journalism in India: Quality in question
Barring few notable exceptions, Film Journalism in India has largely been non-serious and gross entertainment-focused. Information regarding films and gossip relating to the heroes and heroines has been the staple of film journalism. Devyani Chaubal (1942-July 13, 1995) was among the first to bring ‘gossip’ into the centre stage of film journalism. Until her arrival, gossip was at the fringe of Indian film journalism. It was Devyani’s vitriolic column titled “Frankly Speaking” published in Star and Style that created a trend. The focus gradually shifted from serious articles on cinema to gossip and sensationalism.
Subsequent years saw a different trend: public relations companies feeding the bulk of the content of the film magazines. Nandita Puri, journalist and wife of actor Om Puri, in an answer to a question regarding the problems of film journalism during an interview in Tehelka magazine saidii : “Bollywood journalism is about PR and pimping. Of course, stars have glamours personal lives everyone wants to know about, but now that has become the core of film reportage. Occasionally, you hear about an actor doing a good job. There is a very sleazy side to it. They raise a person to the sky and when the PR companies are off the payroll, they hit back. The media is on a high now but eventually it will get exhausted.”
There are other problems too. Many journalists feel that there is not enough space for comprehensive articles on films in newspapers. Veteran film critics and journalists feel that increasingly ‘ill-informed and ill-qualified’ people are asked to cover cinema. There has been a change of purpose too. As veteran film critic Sudhir Bose complains that media has become unmindful of its role in informing and educating people about cinemaiii.  “Journalists today are only going after negative stories. They only want to do stories that will get into print and hence instead of writing informative pieces, they go for sensational stories.”
Cinema has become an important part of Indian culture, besides being a huge industry worth about Rs 100 billion with increasing transnational operation. It warrants more responsible, serious, educative and productive journalism. Attempts are being made by the government, civil society groups like film societies and several trade bodies to promote better film journalism by way of instituting awards, fellowships and scholarships. Several media schools have started film journalism courses to churn out better trained professionals. As Indian cinema turns 100 and the country celebrates the celluloid century - film journalism must improve its content quality. Film Journalism should not be only ‘entertainment, entertainment and entertainment’. If that happens then the result is obviously a ‘Dirty Picture’.

The author, a journalist turned media academician presently heads Eastern India campus of Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) located in Dhenkanal, Odisha.
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ii. Tehelka, February 2012