The neutral perspective in cinema
Veerapandiya Kattabomman  

The best perspective is the neutral perspective. Only an outsider can have a clear and impartial view of things. Cricket for a long time had umpires from the home countries. Having neutral umpires for all international matches was made mandatory after it was observed that home umpires kept getting the feeling that whichever ball hit the pad of a batsman of the visiting team, it was definitely going on to hit the stumps. Now, what has neutral umpiring in cricket got to do with movies? Nothing really, the connection is only tangential at best.

There are movies that are made on great historic events, personalities or movies based on the culture and heritage of a place or people. Tamil Nadu has a long and eventful history full of great warriors, poets and saints. The early years of Tamil cinema fed greatly off this rich and varied heritage of Tamil. Indian history too has been extensively documented and portrayed in cinema. The observation made here is that the best and most compelling
documentations and perhaps the most honest

documentations or representations of a history has always been made by someone who is not an inheritor of the legacy. To make things simpler, it can be said that it is an outsider who can best portray the history of a place.

The best view of Mount Everest is not got from its apex. The one at the top of a mountain cannot describe it, that can be done only by a man atop a neighboring mountain. We can never describe our facial features to anyone else; it takes a third person to do the job. The point is that one can never get a complete view of anything while remaining within it. That is why, the most beautiful view of earth is from the moon and vice versa.

Cinema based on history or culture is something similar. It takes someone who does not belong to that culture to be able to understand it fully, to highlight the positives and analyze the negatives. Anyone who has grown up with the culture or is an inheritor of the history will either end up making a glorified version or a satire; the balanced view will go missing. This is not a rule, there are lots of creations that have defied this observation. But, there is definitely some element of substance in what has been said above.

Mahatma Gandhi has always been a huge favorite of film makers. Tracing his life on celluloid can amount to documenting a major portion of the Indian freedom struggle. Many film makers over the decades have made accounts of the Mahatma’s life. But, the best is undisputedly the one made by Richard Attenborough- Gandhi. It was one of the first and it is definitely the most complete and engaging account of the Mahatma’s life. This is not to say that the films made by Indian film makers are not up to the mark, in fact, The Making of the Mahatma by Shyam Benegal also ranks as one quality product. But, Gandhi was the perfect depiction of the stature that Mahatma Gandhi had in the minds of all those who were influenced by him. While Rajat Kapoor’s performance as Gandhi cannot be faulted in any way, it is also true that Ben Kingsley’s portrayal is the enduring image of ‘The Father of the nation’.

Even in Tamil. Some of the earliest films borrowing generously from Tamil culture and history have been made by film makers from other parts of the country. Veerapandiya Kattabomman, an account of one of Tamil history’s greatest heroes was made by a film maker originally from the Kannada industry, B. Ramakrishnaiah Panthulu. Haridass was directed by a man from the north of India, Sundarrao Nadkarni.

The Patriot, an account of the American war for independence was made by Roland Emmerich, a German. Lawrence of Arabia was made by David Lean. The story of Queen Elizabeth was brought alive on celluloid by the Indian director Shekhar Kapur.

As said earlier, this is no rule. There are instances to prove that the neutral perspective is the best. But, there can be other opinions too

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