Was naming Auroville’s new media centre Cinema Paradiso an inspired piece of marketing or a case of transformational thinking?
The Giuseppe Tornatore film of the same name was a heartwarming, sentimental look at one man's love affair with film. The story follows Salvatore, a fatherless child in a small 1950s Sicilian town, who absconds with the milk money to buy admission to his local movie theatre, named Cinema Paradiso.
He develops a close friendship with the middle-aged projectionist, Alfredo, who mentors him in life, love and the philosophy of running a movie theatre. The local priest previews each movie before public consumption, using his moral authority to insist that scenes of kissing be edited out. He also patrols the public screenings, keeping an eagle eye on the behaviour of the audience and whacking over-excited boys causing havoc.
Could Auroville's Cinema Paradiso, situated in the new Town Hall complex, ever approximate the social hub that was the Sicilian town's movie theatre? So far, no locking of lips has been sighted in the new cinema, but the extremely comfortable reclining seats may have their effects in time. However, the seats' noisy snap-shut tendency, when a viewer moves too quickly from reclining to upright position, is startling on first encounter and will surely prove an obstacle to any romantic endeavours. After threatening the loss of a few Aurovilian limbs, viewers are learning not to sit up rapidly in response to dramatic narrative developments on screen.
As for our own cinema becoming a social hub, the adjoining town hall cafeteria offers a double incentive to head to this part of town for an evening's entertainment. A recent night out included a lively troupe of Breton musicians performing to a brimming café, followed by Mad Hot Ballroom, an engaging documentary about the travails of disadvantaged children in New York City taking part in a ballroom dancing competition.
Other recent offerings include the Humphrey Bogart classic Casablanca , the 1970s version of Siddhartha, an early Stanley Kubrick film from the archives, a Bob Dylan documentary, and a festival of films by and about the seminal Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa.
But let's hope that Auroville's new cinema doesn't meet the fate of the imagined cinema in Tornatore's film, which burns down. An adolescent Salvatore takes over the job of projectionist when the new cinema opens, but many things have changed. The priest has lost his power to censor kissing – either on-screen or in the audience, as the increasingly liberal moral climate of the ‘60s sets in.
At the film's end, Salvatore returns to his home town as a middle-aged man for Alfredo's funeral, and receives a film montage the old man has bequeathed to him. It shows all the kisses censored from the movies shown at the Paradiso over the years, stirring Salvatore to confront the lack of depth in his personal life.
Would an Auroville equivalent of censored films amount to much? A broad range of films are generally on offer these days, but Mother had strong views concerning cinema at the Ashram, and permitted movies: “not as an amusement but as part of education”. But she admitted the notion of educational movies was a problematic one, where stories of war and murder “go under the name of history”. Mother said she wanted to: “show the children pictures of life as it should be, but we have not reached that point yet.”
But Mother also conceded that shielding people from the world was ineffective, and pointed to Sri Aurobindo's remedy, saying: “We must face life as a whole, with all the ugliness, falsehood and cruelty it still contains, but we must take care to discover in ourselves the source of all goodness, all beauty, all light and all truth, in order to being this source consciously into contact with the world so as to transform it.”
Given Mother's statement, it seems Auroville's Cinema Paradiso is well on track, offering an adequately diverse programme for Aurovilians to come ‘consciously into contact with the world'. Whether the movie programme inspires Aurovilians to transform the world remains open to question, but the transformative power of cinema for the individual cannot be ignored.
For who doesn't remember the first time they sat in a cinema, eagerly awaiting the lights to dim? There's always been a certain magic associated with the simple act of projecting a movie onto a screen, and young Salvatore's experiences in the movie theatre perfectly depict the power of the journey of internal discovery via film. By connecting with his story, the audience is thus inspired to recall their own personal meanings of life.
Let's hope our own Cinema Paradiso offers this scope for Aurovilians – another method for internal journeying and for raising collective consciousness. For as we know, the end of the movie is often not really the end, but an opportunity to imagine new beginnings.