I associate Cinemaya with saris, Dunhills and the home of the Whopper. I'm sure most other readers know it as a prime source on Asian cinema, but I do have my reasons. I first heard about the new Asian film magazine back in 1986 on Waikiki Beach. One morning, at the academic symposium attached to the Hawaii International Film Festival, Indian film critic Aruna Vasudev suggested we slip out for a cigarette-and-junk-food break. Lighting up a cigarette from a pack of Dunhills that matched her maroon and gold sari, she swept ahead of me into the nearest Burger King (Hungry Jack's to Australians) and turned to ask if I would be on the editorial board of a magazine she was planning. I agreed, sensing I had no other option.
At the time, I doubted whether much would come of it. I should have known better. Aruna's no-nonsense efficiency has launched Cinemaya and brought in four quarterly issues since then. Looking back on Cinemaya's first anniversary, I think we should all celebrate - and subscribe.
A typical issue of the magazine, say n.3, contains a wide range of topical feature articles and news items. In the one issue, readers can find introductions to the new Sri Lankan and Iranian cinemas, including a very illuminating piece by Houshang Golmakani on Iranian women directors, an interview with Hou Hsiao-Hsien, the Taiwanese director of the 1989 Venice Golden Lion winner City of Sadness, and a passionate Eisenstein/Vertov-inspired director's column by Armenian director Artavazd Peleshyan. In addition, a whole section is given over to a group of critical articles on Ritwik Ghatak, and there are also shorter reports on the Thai film archive, Asian films at Berlin, and a whole series of news briefs on new films in production, upcoming festivals, conferences, books and so forth. Every single item I have listed was fresh to me, and I expect, most other readers.
It is this remarkable pot-pourri of up to date information and provocative opinion that gives Cinemaya a unique place on the film publications market. It is not the only new Asian cinema magazine. Both the East- West Film Journal and Asian Cinema have also appeared in response to the growing demand for English-language materials about Asian film, but Cinemaya is the only one of the three published in Asia, and it uses its New Delhi base to advantage. Where the East- West Film Journal is academic and Asian Cinema attached to the Asian Cinema Studies Society, is a membership journal publishing bibliographies of recent articles and listings of upcoming conferences, mostly in North America, Cinemaya is where you turn to find out what's hot in Asia now. Both the East-West Film Journal and Asian Cinema are extremely useful publications, but they are produced too far away from Asia to keep up with current events there.
This is where Cinemaya comes in. Cinemaya has shown a solid commitment to breaking the news, be it about films in production, newly discovered classics, new books about Asian cinema or new movements within Asian cinemas. The result is that if you want to what's going on in Asia, Cinemaya is the place to start. It was through Cinemaya that I first heard the Korean Motion Picture Promotion Corporation had published a 500-page history of the Korean cinema in English, that Kampuchea (as it was then) had just completed its first feature film, and that Thailand had a well-established film archive. All this and more has made it an essential tool for me. As well as breaking the news, Cinemaya also aims to publish feature items with a greater shelf life. Its policy is to alternate between topics and auteurs. The recent fourth issue brought together a comprehensive series of articles on censorship in Asian cinemas, ranging from Turkey to Taiwan and even covering Tajikistan in the USSR. The second issue, on the other hand, contained pieces by renowned critics Donald Richie and Tadao Sato on the Japanese director Sadao Yamanaka. Work like this will remain of reference value to scholars for many years to come.
Cinemaya does have its shortcomings; mostly the sort that might be expected of a new magazine. At this point, the distinction between different categories of material is not quite clear enough. For example, conference reports sometimes appear as short features, sometimes as long news items. The features articles focussing on certain directors are valuable, but at this point they fall somewhere between comprehensive surveys and brief introductions. A full filmography for both Yamanaka and Ghatak suggests comprehensiveness, but then the articles are too limited in their coverage to ensure these sections are distinguished from the features on current events that surround them to become the primary source for scholars that they should be. No doubt as the precise value of each section is established it will be better defined and distinguished from other sections.
Other minor problems seem to arise from the network of correspondents that the magazine depends upon. In the wonderful news columns, editor Vasudev has already achieved a miracle of South-South cooperation in establishing a network of correspondents cutting across political difficulties from Syria to Bangladesh and Nepal. However, coverage is still rather patchy, and although one can guarantee that the news items will be worthy of attention, comprehensiveness is not yet certain. I guess this depends upon more of us volunteering our time to become correspondents for the magazine!
Similarly, in the effort to maintain a broad readership, most feature articles sacrifice thoroughness. theoretical rigour and scholarly status for accessibility, I understand from Aruna Vasudev that she would certainly welcome more scholarly contributions, because they would give the magazine the long-term reference value it needs to build if it is to garner reputation and subscriptions. Cinemaya has made the most of its Asian location to produce current information, news and views about Asian cinema for Asian and Western readers. It would be wonderful if it could also become an international platform for more Asian film scholars rarely published elsewhere.
These qualifications are less criticisms than hope for the future. It seems to me that Cinemaya is already essential and enjoyable reading for all interested in Asian cinema. Only financial stability stands in the way of total success, and for that reason let us hope that libraries will take out subscriptions and that individuals will also subscribe. At US$25 for a year's subscription, Cinemaya is not cheap, but it is beautifully produced and thoroughly illustrated throughout, making it well worth the investment.
Individual subscriptions for Cinemaya can be entered for US$25, sent to B90 Defence Colony, New Delhi 110024 India. Institutional subscriptions cost US$50. For further details on the East-West Film Journal, write to the East-West Center, 1777 East-West Road, Honolulu, HI 96848. For details on Asian Cinema, contact Chris Berry at the Division of Cinema Studies, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Melbourne, VIC 3083.
New: 27 March, 1996 | Now: 15 March, 2015