In an essay published in The Asian Age, Ranjan Kamath claims that movie language or the “visual image” should be used as a sort of remedy against illiteracy in India. Movies and films have become a language of their own, everyone uses it either by watching films or by making films, and be it just with the help of a cell phone. People who cannot read or write often nevertheless understand the most common video icons. Kamath regrets that there is “a vacuum in the sphere of visual literacy – the ability to make the leap from titillation to discernment of the moving image for quality and content“, and therefore he calls for an initiative “to harness the enormous potential of the Indian passion for cinema to facilitate ‘learning through seeing’.“
Cinema is able to breach barriers, be it political barriers (remember Raj Kapoor’s films crossing the Iron Curtain) or cultural barriers. Cinema, says Kamath, “can expedite literacy for the nation through the ‘reading’ of the visual image, that in turn can transform a nation of film buffs into film ‘readers’ and ‘speakers’ of the moving image. If India has to encourage its millions towards literacy, that certainly will not happen with chalk and slate. It will happen cheaply, effectively and on a considerable scale by employing the moving image to spark the imagination, trigger learning and literacy will follow.“
Cinema should become a language to be read in schools and colleges. And Kamath claims that it should not only be Indian but world cinema which should be made accessible for and expand the horizons of children even in the smallest Indian villages. By watching everything from good and bad to utter rubbish they shall learn to appreciate the finest that films have to offer, which also means that film makers will be demanded to produce better quality.
“Let Attenborough’s Gandhi contrasted with Lage Raho Munnabhai inspire the youth to find the real Gandhi“, says Kamath. “Do they prefer to be motivated by the values and ethics of Chariots of Fire or Chak De India? Would they want to effect change as depicted in Dead Poets’ Society or Rang De Basanti? Could they be sensitised to restore the primacy of family by watching Kramer vs Kramer and Masoom?“
In a time where language often plays second fiddle to moving images, India should regard its passion for movies as a competitive advantage.