It’s a century after the ship sank; but even today it is the most vivid maritime disaster in the minds of people all around the world. Ask anyone to name a ship that met with a tragic end and the first name (perhaps the only name) they will have to tell is Titanic. Why has the Titanic captured such a large and perhaps irreplaceable presence in the collective conscience of the people of the world? Why is it that maritime disasters of much larger magnitudes, at least in the number of lives lost, have been forgotten, completely lost in the folds of time while this one is still talked about, researched and mourned even a century after it descended to its watery grave? There is only one answer; cinema has kept Titanic alive, given it new life and firmly planted it in all our minds in an unshakeable manner.
Agreed, even before James Cameron made Titanic, it was still one of the most talked about shipping tragedies. But, it was James Cameron who gave it immortality. It is difficult to say that whether the legacy of Titanic did more for the movie than the movie did for the everlasting popularity of the wreck. The end result however is that there is no other shipping tragedy in history that everyone has known about. That, is, quite simply stated, a proof of how powerful a medium cinema is. There have been many other disasters at sea; some of them even of great consequence to the way the world aligned itself for the World Wars; the Lusitania. But, none are left in public memory. Instead, we may know more about the Poseidon or the Nautilus; both fictional ships. That, in essence, shows how much cinema can mould the way in which we think; the ways in which we perceive and most importantly, the ways in which we prioritise our thoughts. We don’t know about maritime tragedies of a few years back; but know in inch perfect detail about a century old tragedy. Cinema does have the ability to magnify the importance of anything that it chooses to; obscuring almost everything else, even things of much greater significance.
Titanic is not just the only example of cinema making a single event or entity appear to be the greatest of its kind. Any mention of pre-historic creatures and the first thing that would come to anyone’s mind are the dinosaurs – not even the primitive kinds of humans that inhabited the earth. Now, there is no argument that Steven Spielberg and the Jurassic Park have played the biggest part in making dinosaurs appear as the single most fascinating pre-historic creatures to have walked the earth. Or think; would a lot of people have known about the supposed apocalypse that might befall us in 2012 if it had not been for the movie that told us all about it (no doubt in great exaggeration; but that is what cinema is all about). Courtesy cinema, many Indians know more about Achilles and Hector than any Indian myth.
Let alone Hollywood; think about Indian cinema. In Indian, it has been cinema and media that have decided the heroes of our times. Precious few of us had heard about something called the Chittagong revolution even 50 years after Independence. Now, at least a few of us have, courtesy Ashuthosh Gowariker and his film Khelen Hum Jee Jaan Se; it was a flop, but that is a different matter altogether.
Come to think of it; we have to admit, great cinema does influence the way we prioritise things in our minds. Cinema makes its subject appear to be the most important thing in the world; and that is a power that no other medium of expression possesses. Why is it so? Well, it might be because of the unerring and elaborate visual detailing that cinema can provide unlike any other. It might be because of the ability of cinema to place fiction into reality and blur the lines. Whatever it is; the amazing existence of Titanic in the public memory even a century after it disappeared is proof of the fact that cinema is perhaps the most prominent bookmark of time.
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