Everything that I once knew has been devoured by the digital world.
I can still smell film, the chemicals that coated the long-winded series of frames that made for the moving picture.
My first memory of film is of finding a big loot of it tucked away in the storage room of my house. My father taught me to wind about five feet of film tightly together and then push the centre out conically till it became a long sword. It made for a great light sabre in the days post the first Star Wars movie. I was Luke Skywalker and the wound-up negative, my lance.
As an assistant director, I spent hours with film. One of my jobs was to look for the cutting of the edited shots when the director wanted a certain shot to be extended in the edit. Rolls and rolls of film would lie in large flat aluminium boxes and the assistant editor and I would have to point each roll to a source of light and see the frame within and discern whether it was the shot we needed. It was backbreaking work but it was what filmmaking was about.
Those were the days when we did not even have a video monitor on the set to see what we were shooting. It was all left to the Director of Photography. He said the shot was okay, so the shot was okay.
After the shoot was done we would wait endlessly for the lab to send us the rush print. We would rush to the edit to see what we had shot. There was palpable excitement in the air as we gathered around the editing machine, the editor would thread the reel through the edit machine, the machine would whir to a start and the frames would magically turn into a movie. We would laugh and cry and scream excitedly.
The last time I edited on film was Ghulam (1998). The last movie I shot on film was 1920 (2008).
Last week, I saw a length of film ailing by the side of the road, the chemical coat had been worn out by the hot sun and the images on it faded with time. I walked to it and picked it up. I had no idea why it brought tears to my eyes. I still make films, I still write films and under my occupation in forms I still write filmmaker, but there is no film. It is as if a celestial coup ousted film from its throne and now films are made without film.
I stood there holding the piece of film for a long while, it felt great to touch it again. I wanted to take it home with me. But I did not. I let it fall back by the side of the road. That time was gone and it was not coming back.
As I rode home in the car I realised how much I had missed the touch of film through the years. Computers and digital technology had certainly made things easier and faster but what I had been missing was the actual connection, the touch, the feel of film.
The processes that once I could see right in front of my eyes were now locked away within the insides of a machine. What was once a tactile real process, was now a mystical abstraction.
Then like a flash it came to me; what was true of my relationship with film was true of every relationship in the world today. What was once tactile and real was now locked away somewhere in cyberspace.
I don’t hear the sounds of children playing, spoiling a Sunday nap. I wish they did spoil a nap! They are now glued to television sets playing computerised games. I don’t hear the sound of a young voice calling out the name of his friend on an upper floor of a building, wondering if he was okay to meet. I don’t hear the older voice screaming into a landline phone on an overseas call. Everything that I once knew has been devoured by the digital world.
We meet people online, we talk to people online, we buy and sell online. Human contact that once was about real people meeting in the real world has now become real people meeting in the cyber world. And yet I am not an anti-technology activist. I love innovation and I truly engage in every kind of scientific turn but I have a fear.
I have a fear that like that piece of film lying on the side of the road, one day it shall be the turn of companionship. The price of the easier and better technology is companionship. We think we have the Internet and the various gadgets for company, we revel in the smartphone and the apps on it. We are losing touch with human companionship.
And when we take a step further we find that the price of losing companionship is loneliness. That is what I felt standing on the side of the road, holding that piece of film; I felt lonely. I missed my friend, film.
We are all headed into a world where we will have enough to fill our days with, but not enough to fill our hearts with. Man is a social animal and he cannot live alone. Even if he has all the technology at his disposal he still needs other men.
Loneliness is the greatest curse that can befall anyone. The pain of loneliness reminds of a line from a song, one of my favourites, “Hello Darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again.”
(Co-ordinated by Dinesh Raheja)
The writer Vikram Bhatt is a famous film director who specialises in the horror genre