The Lost Art of Revisiting Cinema

I had a rather mellow debate with a friend recently. We were discussing cricket when he remarked that he has grown to like the game far less than he once used to. The main reason he gave was that there was an overabundance of it being played and, of course, being televised. All of this made it less special for him.

I rejected the credibility of that argument, countering it with ‘how can there be a concept of too much of anything we love when it comes to sports and art’.

Considering both of us are cinephiles, I tossed the example of cinema to him. There’s so much content available for us to watch nowadays – both in diverse quality and quantity. Does he ever get tired of that?

He said that it indeed gets a little too much for him at times, which kind of surprised me as I had never felt that way about either cricket or cinema. Nevertheless, we agreed to disagree and shook hands virtually.

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The conversation gave birth to something else in my mind that I have been pondering for a while – the (possible) metamorphosis of those of us who love cinema into people who are no longer inclined to revisit our favourite movies, much like we used to until a few years ago.

But now, there’s so much visual content online that it’s hard to choose what to watch. You don’t even technically need to be a ‘critical observer’ of cinema to enjoy movies, there’s something to suit everyone’s tastes.

When I seriously got into the world of cinema (and world cinema itself) a decade-and-a-half ago, the actual process of obtaining the films was much harder. I, an out-and-out commercial Malayalam and English films lover until then, was introduced to foreign language cinema by a cousin and his friends, who supplied me with either DVDs or downloaded versions. That was also the period of the ‘torrent revolution’, which meant that those of us who were willing to toil for it could find what we were looking for – be it commercial or art cinema. Most importantly, we hit theatres as much as we could.

I loved going to theatres then, and I still do.

I don’t want to digress into how the ‘rise of OTT platforms’ (it almost sounds like a movie) has affected the economic model of cinema viewing, especially in the last half-a-dozen years or so in India. But what I want to point out is – how the OTT revolution changed the re-watching habits of individuals.

I’m an ardent believer that we’re constantly evolving beings, emotionally as well as psychologically, through the course of our lives. I also firmly hold the opinion that revisiting ideas and ideologies from time to time is an essential part of our progress. That’s exactly why I feel that if you’re someone who could be influenced by art deep down, then it’s even more important for you to return to what once touched you and changed you at some point in life.

Because revisits are reflections.

The theory does apply for most things that you love in life (and hate too, philosophically speaking). When I first read To Kill a Mocking Bird, which still remains one of my most beloved books, as a teenager, it moved me so much that for a long time the concept of goodness was symbolised by Atticus Finch for me. I read it once again right after my college and I understood things in ways that I hadn’t thought of before. If I pick it up again today, I’m certain that I’d analyse it in newer ways. I might even be critical of a lot of elements, which is exactly the whole point of giving it a re-read.

Coming back to cinema, I do think that the free-flowing availability of content on the OTT platforms is merely a side effect of an even more apparent change. It’s ultimately us – the present generation(s) – that has changed.

A still from Nadodikaattu (1987).

Over the years, my re-watching tendencies have got more to do with nostalgia attached to a time period, than the movies themselves. I tend to watch breezy comedy Malayalam movies from the late 1980s and 90s a lot more than any other genres because I grew up watching them the most. However, I do have plenty of favourites since I started adulting and life became messier, that I pick up occasionally. Like Her and The Avengers series. But it does amuse me a bit that I haven’t watched a Pulp Fiction or Fight Club in a long, long while.

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I’m not exactly complaining about this phenomenon. After speaking volumes about the need for evolution as individuals and a society, it would be hypocritical of me to opine that we shouldn’t embrace changing patterns. Besides, I also think it’s great that we have so much content from all around the world at our fingertips that is accessible to a wider crowd. I don’t feel insecure about the line between various categories of cinema lovers diminishing either.

I just wonder though…does cinema become more of a dispensable art with the habit of re-watching dying? And are we doing our intellect any justice when we don’t revisit good art at all?

Bharath Thampi is a print journalist-writer.