1988. Carl Lewis wins the 100m Gold in Seoul Olympic after Ben Johnson is disqualified in the biggest dope scandal of the century. Guns N Roses releases Appetite For Destruction and Sweet Child O’ Mine is an instant hit. Pakistan elects their first female Prime Minister. Coca Cola is still banned in India. And on a quiet, sleepy Sunday, a VHS rental shop opens its doors right across our family home in Kolkata. Thus began my life-long affair with Cinema.
Sometimes life throws us unremarkable, everyday incidents which only become significant on retrospection. When I look back at Dabbu’s Video Parlour, I realise how deep an impression it left in my childhood and subsequently in my adult psyche. That little shop crammed with hundreds of VHS tapes made sure that cinema would run in my veins. If I have to pinpoint a life changing incident which turned my world upside down and flamed a burning desire in my heart to become a filmmaker that would be discovering the films of Andrei Tarkovsky. But Dabbu’s Video Parlour was undoubtedly the first catalyst where it all started.
So basically by 1988 I started to watch a lot of films. I have seen a couple of films on big screen by then e.g. Superman 2 and E.T. and a few more on TV. But VHS opened up a whole new world of Hollywood and I somehow felt that I must keep a journal of the films that I was watching. So I got myself a diary and started keeping a record of the film titles. The list was not impressive at all, with films like Child’s Play, Basket Case, First Blood Part 2 etc, but this was a film list of a primary school kid. And the list kept growing. Remember this was a time when there was no internet, let alone IMDb or Letterboxd. Nobody told me to do this. It was pretty much instinctive.
2018. 30 years have passed by. In the due course I graduated from high school, from university, became a banker, quit the job, graduated film school with direction major, worked in the film industry, traveled to 12 different countries and finally wrote and directed my first feature film. Life has not come full circle yet and I have a long way to go and hopefully some more films to make. But in these 30 years quietly, almost unknowingly, a little milestone has been achieved. My tiny film list of childhood has crossed 5000 titles today.
Before I went to film school, when I was watching and studying Nouvelle Vague I read or heard somewhere that Francois Truffaut watched 10,000 films before he made his first film The 400 Blows. I didn’t know at that time that this was only an urban legend and it was impossible for him to watch those many films before 1960 in Paris. I was inspired by the tale. Around this time I was already getting tired of commercial Hollywood and mainstream Indian cinema. So I started to hunt down entire filmography of international masters from every period and remotest corners of the world, staring with Iranian, Japanese and American independent masters.
In 2004, I found a copy of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die in a book store, bought that and started using it as a film catalog. Later I bought the Oxford History Of World Cinema for a wider range of films and their history. I got myself a membership of a (now defunct) premium DVD rental service called Cinema Paradiso in Bangalore (yes, it was named after the Italian film, the owner apparently loved the film so much that he decided to open up a high end DVD chain with thousands of World Cinema titles). I also bought enormous numbers of pirated DVDs of international films and after the torrent boom, downloaded thousands of obscure and important movies. I am not ashamed of this, as it was the only way to experience these masterpieces in India. Thankfully today I have paid accounts on Netfilx, AmazonPrime and Mubi and I don’t have to use torrent anymore. Anyway, the point I am trying to make is that I am a product of the internet and internet has been my virtual film school which exposed me to the treasure trove of Cinema.
Due to this reason when I finally attended a real film school in Europe, it was seldom that a lecturer would speak of a film that I haven’t seen yet. Europe, however taught me way more than Cinema; it made me educated in arts, philosophy, music and all the good things in life and I will be forever indebted to that place. But that’s a story for another day.
My list on Letterboxd includes feature length fiction, documentary, animation, experimental films and short films only. It does not include series, miniseries, video art, music videos or pornographic films (the count would reach 10K then lol). The actual number is a little higher than 5001 in reality as many old and obscure films are not listed in Letterboxd e.g. Hanabari (1952), Deeper Naam Tiya Rong (1969) or Abhaya O Srikanta (1964). The list features films from more than 110 countries with almost every known auteur’s at least one film, covering every single genre, style and time period starting from 1878.
I live and work in Mumbai now, far away from Kolkata. There is a mobile phone shop now, where the old VHS library used to be and Dabbu’s Video Parlour is just a fond memory between me and my sister. Cinema has evolved from films to video to digital medium. Film language has changed, distribution has changed. But my love for Cinema has only grown deeper over the years. Today I feel happy to know that I do what I love, that I am too, a tiny little part of the vast and beautiful international fraternity of filmmakers.
On an average I watch around 100-120 films a year, which is significantly lower than what my annual count would be let’s say 4 or 5 years back. I reckon it would take another 10 years or so to reach the 6000 mark and frankly that number is not as attractive or grand as 5000. So today I thought, let me rejoice this beautiful, on-going journey that began in my childhood at Dabbu’s Video Parlour. If not for anything else… at least for reaching the halfway mark left by Francois Truffaut. Monsieur écoute-moi! Attendre Le Dernier Métro…I’ll be coming with you.
My Letterboxd Page: https://letterboxd.com/Raenegade/