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SIR (Dir. Rohena Gera, 2018, India-France)

sir

Set in contemporary Mumbai Sir is a sharply crafted romantic melodrama, full of warmth, about a benign architect, Ashwin (Vivek Gomber) and a migrant servant, Ratna (Tillotama Shome). The script is sharply written and brings to life the complexities of Ratna and Ashwin who are are bound by class and caste. Although they are two people from opposite ends of the social spectrum, the emotional connection that is forged becomes a tentative bond and gradually emerges as a painful longing that reaches a memorable conclusion. The narrative unfolds from the perspective of Ratna and for much of the film remains with her character, which is significant because a romantic melodrama of this type could easily have capitulated to a male point of view. The script is wonderfully underplayed and Tillotama Shome in superb form brings to life the nuances of Ratna, a widow who works in the city to support her family back home and has aspirations of becoming a tailor. Writer and director Rohena Gera treats Sir as an urban fairytale and thankfully channels much of the emotional interplay through subtle gestures and precise framing. If marketed with vigour and picked up internationally Sir has the potential to crossover and reach the critical and commercial heights of a recent Hindie breakout like The Lunchbox.

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TUMBBAD (Dir. Rahi Anil Barve, Adesh Prasad, India/Sweden, 2018)

tumbbad

A bewitching and meaty horror with an elemental sensibility, Tumbbad uses the archetypal Indian trope of the Mother Goddess to give us a perennial treatise on greed. Tumbbad’s tactile and sensory approach recalls atmospheric films like The Keep (1983) and Sorcerer (1977), combining the supernatural, mythology and history into something deeply atavistic. The expressionistic use of ancient landscapes juxtaposed to the tumultuous weather (it rains a lot!), particularly in the opening section, gives the film an unsettling Herzogian timbre. The narrative unfolds over a number of decades and is segmented into chapters, beginning in 1918 (?), imbuing the film with a historical arc that augments the ambitious scale of the production. Tumbbad reunites the talents of Soham Shah and Anand Gandhi who both collaborated on the seminal Hindie film Ship of Theseus in 2012. Recently screened at the Venice Film Festival, the film’s arrival coincides with a growing interest in the horror genre in Indian independent cinema that bodes well for what should be an international release.

LIVE FROM DHAKA (Dir. Abdul Mohammad Saad, 2016, Bangladesh)

live

Director Abdullah Mohammad Saad’s glum and intensely claustrophobic urban story could essentially work as a science fiction piece. The suffering, maladroit Sazzad (Tanvir Ahmed) floats through the glistening and ruinous monochrome cityscapes of Dhaka trying vapidly to make sense of his alien surroundings. Inexorably Sazzad wants to escape the convulsing grip of an overpopulated, frenzied city but it seems a bodily decomposition and sickness has set in, symbolically manifested as a disability. Bursting with psychosomatic angsts, Sazzad is also feral, suspicious of his girlfriend and apathetic towards his drug-addicted brother. What impresses about this debut feature is the amplification of Dhaka as an excoriating tinderbox of protests and disaffection that gradually swallows up Sazzad until he bursts. The gestalt to this work smacks of something genuinely bravura from Bangladeshi cinema, a Promethean voice that is not singular but points to an exciting, emergent new wave of films and filmmakers.

Canonizing Indian Parallel Cinema – Part 4: The High Point (1980 – 1989)

mirch masala

One of the most ubiquitous films of this period is Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala.

This fourth period between 1980 and 1989 is a remarkable one in terms of how Parallel Cinema was able to find its biggest audiences. This was a period that also witnessed the inevitable augmentation of Middle Cinema. It was typified by films like Kalyug (The Machine Age, 1981), a cross-over work that saw Benegal continue a series of fascinating collaborations with Shashi Kapoor, a major star of popular Hindi cinema who had in turn cultivated a dual career working with Merchant and Ivory. Two very significant women filmmakers also made a name for themselves including Sai Paranjpye (who was able to bring an understanding of framing and composition to her work that few filmmakers could match in the comedy genre) and Aparna Sen, a star of Bengali cinema, who had turned her hand to filmmaking and who is still working today. Cinematographer turned filmmaker Govind Nihalani would stake a claim as a key political voice, although aligned very much with the Middle Cinema of Benegal, with works like the austerely shot Aakrosh (Cry of the Wounded, 1980) and the fiercely political Ardh Satya (Half Truth, 1983) that dealt with police corruption. While stalwarts like Sen, Gopalakrishnan, Ray and Aravindan worked steadily, Ketan Mehta, Gautam Ghose, Kudan Shah and Jahnu Barua helped to reinvigorate Parallel Cinema with new approaches notably the innovative use of satire. Another feature of this period was the second cycle of Naxalite themed films (John Abraham’s masterfully political Amma Ariyan/Report to Mother released in 1986) that looked back at The Naxalite Movement from a critical distance, acknowledging the traumatic impact of this political moment on the psyche of a nation that preferred to censure the violent state repression of Naxalism.

In 1982 at the National Film Theatre in London, a season of films was programmed with the support of the NFDC to celebrate the achievements of Parallel Cinema, as was the case in America too. This was perhaps the first time a growing international awareness about Parallel Cinema materialised through film festivals and touring retrospectives. 1982 also saw the NFDC co-produce Richard Attenborough’s hagiography of Gandhi and which was one of their most profitable ventures. In his survey of the Parallel Cinema distribution-exhibition landscape Ravi Gupta (1993) notes that in the period between 1980 and 1990, the commercial success of Gandhi gave the NFDC to diversify and provide larger loans for more films. Although the NFDC also started to produce films and fund more filmmakers than ever before, the failure to establish an alternate distribution-exhibition network would lead to the decline of Parallel Cinema. For the state, it seemed to be that prestige was all that mattered, not the contexts of reception or accessibility.

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Another remarkable film from director Mehta is Bhavni Bhavai, a satire on the caste system.

The emergence of Doordarshan as a national broadcaster and with the first colour telecasts in 1982, the NFDC’s later foray into television opened a new space for Parallel Cinema and which filmmakers readily exploited. The breakthrough for Doordarshan was Satyajit Ray’s short TV film Sadgati (Deliverance, 1981) that dealt with the caste system, a major theme of the Parallel Cinema movement and a theme that had become increasingly popular and prescient with many of the Parallel Cinema filmmakers from the South, and which would remain so throughout this period. Ray cast both Smita Patil and Om Puri in the main leads for Sadgati, both icons of Parallel Cinema, acknowledging the growing importance and influence of new filmmakers like Shyam Benegal and the impact they were having on both casting and performance in Indian cinema. This is somewhat ironic considering how Ray had turned his back on the so-called avant-garde filmmakers of the foundational years. Moreover, was this the point at which Ray merged with the ideological sensibilities of Parallel Cinema, and if so, what was the potential significance of this moment to the fate of the movement? With Ray’s entry into Parallel Cinema there seemed to be a convergence or reconciliation between realism and art that dually signified closure in terms of the film movement and a new opening, television contesting Indian cinema’s hegemonic imaginings of the nation by broadening traditional perceptions of what constituted the public sphere.

Doordarshan’s venture into film production had already led to many directors of the Parallel Cinema movement signalling the end. In the 1986 issue of Panorama in an interview titled ‘TV Tidal: Fears for the New Wave Cinema’ director Kundan Shah claimed:

new wave or art cinema is heading for a dead-end. In this sense, that though the films are made because of the patronage of the NFDC, they do not reach audiences, except when they are shown on TV’ (1986: 11)

With the continuing success of Doordarshan helping to keep Parallel Cinema viable and visible by funding projects and co-producing with the NFDC, Shiv Sharma, writing in 1991, called for a ‘peaceful coexistence between’ (1991: 47) between cinema and television. By taking stock of the period between 1981 and 1990, Sharma opens a relatively unexplored site for Parallel Cinema slippages that saw many of the best directors finally addressing a mainstream audience. If so, could we posit the peak of Parallel Cinema did not take place in the traditional public sphere of the cinema hall but in the home, in the domestic sanctity of television? And what of the television output that emerged from the collaborations with Doordarshan which Sharma reasons came to be regarded as ‘a major producer of good cinema’, offering ‘a place in the sun for the serious filmmaker’. Nearly all the major figures of Parallel Cinema experimented with television in some form or another, Mirza and Shah’s popular TV series Nukkad (1986 – 87) being a major example. Perhaps deep down there was a desire to connect with the mass audience borne out of a relative frustration with the unending limitations of film and the uncertainty of Parallel Cinema.

om dar b dar

A singular, experimental anomaly, director Kamal Swaroop’s cult film Om Dar-B-Dar (1988).

A Film Canon: Parallel Cinema

The Fourth Phase: The High Point (1980 – 1989)

  1. Aakrosh/Cry of the Wounded, dir. Govind Nihalani, 1980, Hindi
  2. Akaler Sandhaney/In Search of Famine, dir. Mrinal Sen, 1980, Bengali
  3. Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai/What Makes Albert Pinto Angry, dir. Saeed Akhtar Mirza, 1980, Hindi
  4. Bara/The Famine, dir. M.S. Sathya, 1980, Kannada/Hindi
  5. Bhavni Bhavai/A Folk Tale, dir. Ketan Mehta, 1980, Gujarati/Hindi
  6. Chakra/Vicious Circle, dir. Rabindra Dharmaraj, 1980, Hindi
  7. Chann Pardesi, dir. Chitrarath Singh, 1980, Punjabi
  8. Hum Paanch, dir. Bapu, 1980, Hindi
  9. Kalyug/The Machine Age, dir. Shyam Benegal, 1980, Hindi
  10. Kolangal/Caricatures, dir. K.G. George, 1980, Malayalam
  11. Satah Se Uthata Admi/Arising from the Surface, dir. Mani Kaul, 1980, Hindi
  12. Adharshilla/The Foundation Stone, dir. Ashok Ahuja, 1981, Hindi
  13. Chaalchitra/The Kaleidoscope, dir. Mrinal Sen, 1981, Bengali
  14. Chashme Budoor/Shield Against the Evil Eye, dir. Sai Paranjpye, 1981, Hindi
  15. Dakhal/The Occupation, dir. Gautam Ghose, 1981, Bengali
  16. Elippathyam/The Rat Trap, dir. Adoor Gopalakrishnan, 1981, Malayalam
  17. Pokkuveyil/Twilight, dir. G. Aravindan, 1981, Malayalam
  18. Sadgati/Deliverance, dir. Satyajit Ray, 1981, Hindi
  19. Thanneer Thanneer/Water Water, dir. K. Balachander, 1981, Tamil
  20. 36 Chowringhee Lane, dir. Aparna Sen, 1981, English
  21. Umbartha/Dawn, dir. Jabbar Patel, 1981, Marathi/Hindi
  22. Umrao Jaan, dir. Muzaffar Ali, 1981, Urdu
  23. Aarohan/The Ascent, dir. Shyam Benegal, 1982, Hindi
  24. Aparoopa, dir. Jahnu Barua, 1982, Assemese/Hindi
  25. Chokh/The Eyes, dir. Utpalendu Chakraborty, 1982, Bengali
  26. Dhrupad, dir. Mani Kaul, 1982, Hindi
  27. Grihadjuddha/Crossroads, dir. Buddhadev Dasgupta, 1982, Bengali
  28. Kharij/The Case is Closed, dir. Mrinal Sen, 1982, Bengali
  29. Katha/The Tale, dir. Sai Paranjpye, 1982, Hindi
  30. Adi Shankaracharya/The Philosopher, dir. G.V. Iyer, 1983, Sanskrit
  31. Ardh Satya/The Half-truth, dir. Govind Nihalani, 1983, Hindi
  32. Godam/Warehouse, dir. Dilip Chitre, 1983, Hindi
  33. Holi/Festival of Fire, dir. Ketan Mehta, 1983, Hindi
  34. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron/Who Pays the Piper, dir. Kundan Shah, 1983, Hindi
  35. Khandhar/The Runs, dir. Mrinal Sen, 1983, Bengali
  36. Mandi/The Marketplace, dir. Shyam Benegal, 1983, Hindi
  37. Maya Mriga/The Mirage, dir. Nirad N. Mahapatra, 1983, Oriya
  38. Smritichitre/Memory Episodes, dir. Vijaya Mehta, 1983, Marathi
  39. Andhi Gali/Blind Alley, dir. Buddhadev Dasgupta, 1984, Hindi
  40. Damul/Bonded Until Death, dir. Prakash Jha, 1984, Hindi
  41. Ghare Baire/Home and the World, dir. Satyajit Ray, 1984, Bengali
  42. Mati Manas/Mind of Clay, dir. Mani Kaul, 1984, Hindi
  43. Mohan Joshi Haazir Ho!/A Summons for Mohan Joshi, dir. Saeed Akhtar Mirza, 1984, Hindi
  44. Mukha Mukham/Face to Face, dir. Adoor Gopalakrishnan, 1984, Malayalam
  45. Party, dir. Govind Nihalani, 1984, Hindi
  46. Paar/The Crossing, dir. Gautam Ghose, 1984, Hindi
  47. Tarang/Wages and Profit, dir. Kumar Shahani, 1984, Hindi
  48. Utsav/The Festival, dir. Girish Karnad, 1984, Hindi
  49. Chidambaram, dir. G. Aravindan, 1985, Malayalam
  50. Debshishu/The Child God, dir. Utpalendu Chakraborty, 1985, Hindi
  51. Hamara Shaher/Bombay Our City, dir. Anand Patwardhan, 1985, Hindi/Tamil/English/Marathi
  52. Mirch Masala/Spices, dir. Ketan Mehta, 1985, Hindi
  53. New Delhi Times, dir. Ramesh Sharma, 1985, Hindi
  54. Parama, dir. Aparna Sen, 1985, Bengali/Hindi
  55. Amma Ariyan/Report to Mother, dir. John Abraham, 1986, Malayalam
  56. Genesis, dir. Mrinal Sen, 1986, Hindi
  57. Massey Sahib, dir. Pradip Krishen, 1986, Hindi
  58. Oridatha/Somewhere, dir. G. Aravindan, 1986, Malayalam
  59. Panchagni, dir. T. Hariharan, 1986, Malayalam
  60. Papori, dir. Jahnu Barua, 1986, Assamese
  61. Phera/Return, dir. Buddhadev Dasgupta, 1986, Bengali
  62. Susman/The Essence, dir. Shyam Benegal, 1986, Hindi
  63. Tabarana Kathe, dir. Tabara’s Tale, 1986, Kannada
  64. Anantaram/Monologue, dir. Adoor Gopalakrishnan, 1987, Malayalam
  65. Antarjali Jatra/The Voyage Beyond, dir. Gautam Ghose, 1987, Bengali/Hindi
  66. Pestonjee, dir. Vijaya Mehta, 1987, Hindi
  67. Tamas/Darkness, dir. Govind Nihalani, 1987, Hindi
  68. Ek Din Achanak/Suddenly One Day, dir. Mrinal Sen, 1988, Hindi
  69. Khayal Gatha/Khayal Saga, dir. Kumar Shahani, 1988, Hindi
  70. Marattam/Masquerade, dir. G. Aravindan, 1988, Malayalam
  71. Om Dar-B-Dar, dir. Kamal Swaroop, 1988, Hindi
  72. Bagh Bahadur, dir. Buddhadev Dasgupta, 1989, Hindi
  73. Banani/The Forest, dir. Jahnu Barua, 1989, Assamese
  74. Ganashatru/An Enemy of the People, dir. Satyajit Ray, 1989, Bengali
  75. Kaal Abhirati/Time Addiction, dir. Amitabh Chakraborty, 1989, Bengali
  76. Ek Ghar, dir. Girish Kasaravalli, 1989, Hindi/Kannada
  77. Marhi Da Deeva/The Lamp of the Top, dir. Surinder Singh, 1989, Punjabi/Hindi
  78. Mathilukal/The Walls, dir. Adoor Gopalakrishnan, 1989, Malayalam
  79. Nazar/The Gaze, dir. Mani Kaul, 1989, Hindi
  80. Percy, dir. Pervez Mehrwanji, 1989, Gujarati
  81. Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro/Don’t Cry for Salim the Lane, dir. Saeed Akhtar Mirza, 1989, Hindi
  82. Sati, dir. Aparna Sen, 1989, Bengali
  83. Siddheshwari, dir. Mani Kaul, 1989, Hindi
  84. Una Mitterandi Yaad Pyari/In Memory of Friends, dir. Anand Patwardhan, 1989, Punjabi/Hindi/English

References:

Gupta, R. (1993) ‘National Film Development Corporation’ in Mohan, J (ed.), Indian Cinema 1993: Directorate of Film Festivals, New Delhi: Government of India

Sharma, S. (1991) Sharing the Future: Musings on the Big and Small Screens in Banerjee, S. (ed.), Indian Cinema 1991: Directorate of Film Festivals, New Delhi: Government of India