Books on cinema theory:
Before Seagull Books began, there was no serious arts publisher in the country. Seagull was the first to publish cinema theory in a sustained manner, opening up a discourse on cinema in its interactions with other arts, history, psychology, politics, sociology, etc. This brief comment by Founding Editor Samik Bandyopadhyay captures the spirit and significance of the undertaking:
‘We had this idea that we had to speak to the small community who share these ideas, these visions and dreams, and they’re all over the country, so let’s visit them and try to speak to them. Naveen and I would just travel with a suitcase of books, and friends would line up programmes, where we would show a film, display the books, talk about what we were trying to do with the publishing programme. Delhi, Kerala, Madras, Poona, Bombay. We were releasing the list, trying to get ideas from them, making them realize that we were doing this work jointly, them and us. A lot of goodwill building, ideas pouring in. There was a lot of excitement and interest in the community of film buffs and theatre lovers.’
Seagull won the country’s prestigious DAVP awards for the best produced books of the year for two of its three first titles. The pioneering publishing house was called ‘those frontiersmen of culture’, while Geeta Kapur commented that ‘they seem to compliment their authors with a fine quality of publication’, recognizing the motivation that drove it to maintain high production and editorial standards. Indeed, this insistence on quality despite expense has been Seagull’s statement of respect towards its chosen field of work, believing that shoddy production undermines the subject.
Seagull negotiated for the world rights to a whole series of previously unpublished texts by Sergei Eisenstein, which they published, creating the unique position of a third world small press with the ability to originate international titles.
Three decades later Seagull Books is a force to reckon with in the publishing world, having changed the fundamental premise of publishing by acquiring world distribution rights for every single of the 35/40 books published annually.
The tale of the Eisenstein connection is exemplary of how Seagull has wished to function within the arts. When our first filmscript, In Search of Famine by Mrinal Sen, was published—an exciting moment for director and publisher, as this was a pioneering event—he sent a copy to his friend Jay Leyda, senior Eisenstein scholar, a protege and student of Eisenstein, who was responsible for making Eisenstein’s writings available to the world beyond the Soviet Union. Leyda responded with enthusiasm to the quality of the production and offered us, out of appreciation, the first of a series of previously unpublished works by Eisenstein. That appreciation should come from within the arts community, in recognition of a genuine achievement, that this should result in further interaction and collaboration and lead to dissemination: this was a perfect example of the way Seagull perceived its function and role within the arts community.
Subsequently, Seagull has continued its initiative in this area by publishing the diaries of Andrey Tarkovsky, the memoirs of Eisenstein, and filmscripts by Krzysztof Zanussi and Reinhard Hauff; a volume of cinema writings by Pudovkin is in the pipeline. These projects have involved working with international scholars, translators, researchers and editors; they have meant negotiating co-publishing arrangements or rights deals with foreign publishers. As a result, Seagull has a good relationship with a wide range of publishers abroad.
There was no tradition of serious cinema publishing in this country, and certainly no initiative to document the contemporary experimental, alternative cinema that was flourishing in the 70s. In the years before video, in a country with few archival reference opportunities, studying serious cinema directly and closely was almost impossible. For students of cinema, and for our cultural heritage in general, this was a major lacuna in documentation. Seagull published this country’s first and only post-production filmscripts, reconstructing the films shot by shot in close conjunction with the director, from the shooting script and the final edited version. These filmscripts remain as enduring documents of a rich and important tradition of serious filmmaking in India. They include major films by Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shyam Benegal and Jabbar Patel.
‘Shorts’, this country’s first-ever international festival and national competition of short and documentary films:
Seagull conceived and organized this festival, finding the funding, and collaborating with the Federation of Film Societies of India, and the consular cultural wings of USA, Britain, France, Germany, Soviet Union, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Poland. Documentary packages were sent by several countries outside Europe and America as well. With its distinguished national jury and multiple venues within the city, this festival generated tremendous excitement, giving the documentary form its due for the first time in this country. It inspired the now established regular government short-film festival.
Splice, a film journal
A response to the need for a serious film periodical that offered an Indian perspective on cinema, both national and international, Splice filled the gap between gossipy mainstream commercial magazines and the struggling ‘little magazines’ in regional languages. Splice set out to take a ‘closer and more immediate look at the Indian film scene’, through filmscripts, interviews with filmmakers and artistes, reviews, previews, overviews, sociological studies, analyses of films, etc. in the ‘interests of the serious critical dialogue that the new Indian cinema needs to sustain it’. Each of its four issues was packed with valuable discourse and documentation.
Seagull Film Society
Affiliated to the Federation of Film Societies of India, this was an attempt to facilitate and promote the viewing of serious cinema in an organized manner. Avoiding the common trend of mixed bag screenings of assorted foreign art films, Seagull planned and presented retrospectives devoted to Prithviraj Kapoor, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, John Ford, Amol Palekar, Gregory Kozintsev and others, packages of films in the arts, and study sessions on films and filmmakers conducted or addressed by visiting experts like Adoor Gopalakrishnan, P. K. Nair, Amol Palekar and Andrew Sinclair.
Seagull’s contacts, growing out of its credibility and goodwill in the field, that enabled it to gain access to these films and film personnel, who cooperated in what they perceived as a common cause: the promotion of film appreciation and the development of an audience for serious cinema.