Posts tagged ‘indian cinema’

June 1, 2012

Indian cinema is celebrating its 100 years.

Part 2: Cinema Unlimited

Critics and film buffs across India term the past few years as the new Indian New Wave, a kind of resurgence of Indian cinema. A novelty that one probably never saw apart from the parallel cinema movement of the 50’s and 60’s, a few NFDC gimmicks dispersed throughout the last century and masterpieces by the great Indian filmmakers who are not limited by classifications – Ray and Ghatak in Bengali cinema, Adoor in Malayalam cinema and Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahani with their revolutionary ideas in Hindi cinema. It would be very unfair not to mention names like Chetan Anand, Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy and Mrinal Sen in this context. But all these movements, experiments and geniuses were then. Now is the age for commercial blockbusters and market savvy films. In this environment of mass consumption and commoditized cinema, when people say that Indian cinema is seeing a creative spurt, then filmmakers must be creating something that is worth a keen look.

I think this reinvention started with Mani Ratnam, a Tamil, Telegu, Kannad and Malayalam filmmaker who was as poetic in his screenplay on paper, as he was on shot direction with a camera. Some of his films not only garnered critical acclaim but were huge commercial successes as well. This might be one of the primary inspirations for other filmmakers to be bold and venture into the long forgotten territory of conscious cinema that also makes some dough. Mani’s Nayagan is one of my favourite films and the credit must be shared with Kamal Haasan the actor. His venture into Hindi cinema with the dubbed Roja and Bombay still have the ability to give you goose bumps with their beautiful, almost picture perfect frames and hardcore-to-the-point-of-disturbing subjects. This terror trail was bracketed at the end by Dil Se, a Hindi film that was so stylishly European that it was a huge dud at the Indian box office (but a hit overseas). And in any case, it is hard to make a hit out of a love story destined to end tragically from the very first shots of the film.

 

fires and barbed wires

The stylization was also evident in the amazing cinematography and lighting used by the duo of Mani Ratnam and Santosh Sivan. The dilemma of staying put or walking away was a constant throughout the movie and never better established than through the following scene of a radio studio where the door constantly shuts and opens, leaving the actors in an uncertain light.

 

These films were followed by one of the most exciting Indian film in recent years. I am talking about the ingenious direction of Ram Gopal Verma (exec producer of Dil Se), to a maverick screenplay by Anurag Kashyap, for a seminal film that Mumbai loves, Satya. The underworld had always been in a love tango with Indian cinema. Despite having a primarily Bomaby-centric focus, films across most Indian languages did not shy away from these goons. The style, overbearing persona and the rise and fall storyline was always a hit with the crowds and formed a plot base for many Indian films. But Satya was different. RGV was so assured and knew what he wanted from every frame. The scene where Bhiku proclaims himself the king of Bombay is so ironically structured against the vastness of the sea with the high rises in the background, and a small Bhiku standing like a spec of dirt on this beautiful landscape. Ominous.

The joke will be on him!

Satya also had a protagonist who was not stylish at all. Kashyap must have been in a fix while presenting his script because his hero (villain) was so human. In fact this representation of a pathetic hero is still a prominent feature in all of Kashyap’s films.

This brings us to the prince of the new Indian cinema, Anurag Kashyap. His struggles to reach where he is today (in Cannes, to be precise) have already become legends in screen writers’ and directors’ folklore. The defiant young man who got inspired by The Bicycle Thieves has made several films, written numerous ones and been a producer to many new talents. With two banned films, many box office flops, one hit and a 5+ hour long opus to be released soon, Kashyap seems to have been juggling around with a lot ideas and creative outbursts. Being a little more international in his approach to cinema as a business, he is giving TED talks and attending various festivals across the globe. The idea is novel, and Indian cinema needs to be exposed to the foreign lands, but what about the Indian audiences? Taking films abroad is different than bringing films to India. A new wave is not only about going to Cannes. It is as much about appreciating one’s own Cannes.

Khosla Ka Ghosla. Oye Lucky Lucky Oye. Love Sex Aur Dokha. If you have seen these films then you know the genius the man behind them is. Dibakar is a true artist when it comes to film making. His style is not permanent and his idea of cinema comes from life itself. The characters in his films are unique, real and funny. Even in LSD, the element of funny was never let go off. West Delhi is his playground and he has proven that with the perfect OLLO. Watching it in a theatre was strangely exhilarating for me. As the three roles of Paresh Rawal unfolded, the film started making sense. It was not just a story of a petty robber making it big; it was a personal journey of a young man searching for his father. Dibakar makes certain that each character has a part to play, and no one is a mere spectator. It is almost Chekovian. His next is Shanghai, an adaptation of the novel Z. It will be a great film.

In all this talk of the new kind of cinema that India is seeing, there has to be a mention of a certain screenplay writer who has shown the potential that Indian cinema can tap from classic resources which have been done to death in the first world. Vishal Bhardwaj has adapted two of Shakespeare’s plays for screen, and both the films are mouth watering to say the least. While Maqbool was dark and minimal, Omkara was loud and gory. The bard would have been proud.

Being an Indian native, I am really sorry not to have mentioned some of the Tamil and Marathi cinema that has also contributed a great deal towards this cinema explosion off late. I have seen the reputed and National award winning stuff coming out of regional centres but I cannot boast of being in the know about these cinemas. Films like Shwaas, Harishchandrachi Factory and Deool are good films that need to be seen by India. When film buffs have to wait for a film to be recognized by a national award before knowing its name, then there is definitely something limiting about this new wave of Indian cinema. But, I hope, like all art movements, this one will spread and reach every region of the country. Time is not a constraint. It can happen tomorrow or two decades down the line. What is important is to strive for a complete, unlimited Indian cinema.

May 12, 2012

Indian cinema is celebrating its 100 years.

Part 1: Memoirs

It is hard to concentrate Indian cinema in one space; any space – geographical, textual or even visual. With so many different languages and genres being shot out of varied political and physical regions of the Indian nation, it is impossible to define or classify Indian cinema as a single comprehensive unit. I would love to meet the true Indian film buffs who have been privileged and dedicated enough to have watched cinema from Assam, Orissa, Bengal, Karnataka, Tamil, Kashmir, Himachal, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra…and the many more I have missed. These fanatics may have a complete idea of Indian cinema that goes beyond this hugely informative but hardly insightful Wikipedia entry. I, on the other hand, don’t even know what kind of films or which broad school of cinema do many of these regions conform to. And I have only lived a little over a quarter of what Indian cinema has, limiting my cinema further. But I am definitely not complaining; having watched some of the most magnificent cinema through these years and harbouring some cherished cinematic experiences that are sacred. This is a reminiscing ramble about some of these memories and moments…

My sharpest memories of Indian cinema are undoubtedly bollywood. I lived the first four years of my life in the heart of everything filmi – the suburbs of Bombay. It was not a city of dreams to me, and it never will be, but it was definitely a city where dreams could be watched on screen with eyes wide open. The big white screens with patches of grease and paint looked like an artist’s canvas waiting to be projected upon. The seats were hard, covered with rexine (it could not have been leather! Surely) that was usually a dark shade of brown or red depending on how old, or new, the cinema theatre was. In Bombay there was a unique concept of independent theatres lined one beside the other forming a sort of inside-out multiplex. The idea of watching cinema was much more precious back then and no audience could be denied the experience just because one theatre had a house full board outside. And no, there were no popcorns, at least not where I went. You had to go outside the theatre complex and buy yourself a bhelpuri during the interval. I remember watching Hatya (1988). Govinda was slim and Neelam was beautifully pure. Even the antics of Johnny Lever made people go crazy in the theatre. It was a mystery, with some comedy thrown in and some song and dance, obviously. I like that film even today. There was a scene where Govinda’s car broke down or something and he got out of it to see what the problem was. What ensued was a tremendous fight sequence where Govinda used a wheel’s rim as a flying disk, much like Krishna, and defeated the villain. I clearly remember renting a VHS of Hatya many years later, in Delhi.

My cinema equalled bollywood even when I moved to Delhi. The unique pleasures of the single screen theatres that we have all grown up with were definitely there, but the technology was taking over. There was a VCR that could play all the latest, and old, Hindi cinema. Then there was the Doordarshan as well. One of the biggest anticipated blockbusters that turned out to be a complete dud was the great grand Amitabh starrer Khuda Gawah. Usually all Hindi films came in a set of 2 VHS tapes, but this one was a foursome! Such a long movie that is all about revenge, pathans, Amitabh, Sridevi and that awful music of Laxmikant Pyarelal. Maybe Tarantino would have made some sense of the script but Mukul Anand definitely could not. The biggest advantage of home viewing was that you could watch some old classics too, like Devdas (Dilip Kumar’s), Pakeezah and Chalti Ka Naam Gadi. Doordarshan also showed some documentaries (it still does) and though I do not remember any of them but I know I saw many. The range of Indian cinema was widening for me, slowly but surely. Then came the deluge. We got cable television at home. And like a blood thirsty dog, the entire family devoured cinema. Zee and Star became gods and goddesses for us and we prayed in front of everything, from the silly Ajooba and Mere Mehboob to the superstar hits like Aaradhna and Zanjeer. Even black and white became a colourful experience with Dev Anand eyeing Madhubala languidly and Dharmendra looking dashingly handsome in his dinner jackets. But Indian cinema was still bollywood and remained so for quite some time.

The rush of television passed as the daily soaps and western media took over. Watching English films was considered cool and it was certainly a fresh experience. But an Indian never misses out on his dose of bollywood and as the Maine Pyar Kiyas and DDLJs kept hitting the big screens, I kept visiting the theatres. Not with much passion, but with a sense of duty and commitment to the modern films and their stars. In this new era of films that were highly inspired and heavily production oriented, I found my passion coming back in sync with the rise of an actor – Aamir Khan. I loved to see him act on screen, I still do. He is one of the finest modern actors that Indian cinema has seen. My watching films, first-day-first-show, religiously is attributed completely to Aamir. I remember going to see Lagaan on a humid morning in August 2001 and getting the fifth row ticket. The crowd was going mad as the match was reaching its climax. The funniest part was that no one watched the prayer song that happens on the eve of the final match day; the public was rushing out to pee! You can’t blame us, it was a long movie. One day I did the unthinkable. Going against my norm, I watched a non-Aamir film first-day-first-show, and not by chance but by choice. Getting out of bed was not worth it unless it was Aamir on screen, but this was definitely an exception. Mughal-E-Azam – in all its coloured glory and grandeur. Seeing the screen presence of Prithvi Raj Kapoor was mesmerizing. I had seen the film before but a theatrical experience of the same was not to be missed. One of the most revered films in Hindi cinema, even Indian cinema, Mughal-E-Azam justified all the hype and craze. Those eyes of Madhubala were to die for and the battle scene at the end gave me goose bumps. I remember it all too clearly. It’s sad that I don’t watch first-day-first-shows anymore. It is even sadder that there are no more first days and first shows. Maybe I should go watch a Friday morning show soon. Maybe I will.

They say that Indian cinema has changed over the years. It must have. A 100 years is a long time and definitely for something like Indian cinema which is the most prolific of all cinemas in the world today. But what about the magic of cinema? The euphoria you feel when you see a flying wheel cap, a diving catch or a marching army, what is that if not magic. I still marvel at the wonderful Mr.India in which the person wearing a watch simply disappears. And the best part was that he could only be seen through something red. The film catered to the two extremes and met in the middle, it was as ridiculous as it was political. The villains were made to eat stones and sand, literally! And I can never stop being amazed by the audacity of Shekhar Kapur to shoot that song sequence with Sridevi where Anil Kapoor hides himself as Mr. India and the lady continues to move most erotically, all alone. Mind you, this magic is not just because cinema can make people disappear at will or do other such gimmicks. Cinema is a magical filter of emotions too. Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa captures the pathos of the protagonist in scattered and scarred lighting, makes him die in darkness and resurrects him to life through a glow as intense as is required for such miracles to happen. This understanding of cinema, for me, is not about watching Bunuel or Godard or Eisenstein. It is a gift of Indian cinema, through and through. It’s just that my evolution is chronologically screwed, from Mr. India to Pyaasa, with all the others fitting in the middle somewhere.

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