CANONIZING INDIAN PARALLEL CINEMA – PART 5: THE DEMISE (1990 – 1995)

naseem
Saeed Mirza’s Naseem, the final film in Parallel Cinema.

It might seem a little difficult to fathom that Parallel Cinema lasted for such a long time, covering four decades. That’s why it might be more appropriate in the respect of this lengthy time frame to posit Parallel Cinema as a certain approach to making films and not a film movement. This fifth and final phase pools together the least number of films and lasts for five years, although many of the major Parallel Cinema filmmakers were still active, albeit many had diversified into television, collaborating with Doordarshan to also make TV series. The cataclysmic events of Ayodhya and the demolition of the Babri Masjid, this historical and political rupture set in motion the ascension of Hindutva into the mainstream, legitimising the BJP’s political hegemony and altering the secularist cultural parameters of India.

In this perspective perhaps it is unsurprising that Parallel Cinema was to meet its demise especially when we recognise Parallel Cinema was predominately forged in both a secularist and radical Leftist context that was duly extinguished by a disturbing neo-nationalism that still prevails. Films like Mammo (94) and Naseem (95), counter representations of the Muslim family, were humanised rejoinders to the anti-Muslim rhetoric that had started to proliferate in the mainstream media. While Mammo would become the first of four films Benegal would direct that attempted to re-imagine Muslims in a three dimensional light, Saeed Mirza’s Naseem would effectively become his last film before his semi retirement and a work that seemed to mourn the loss of secularism in the iconic image of the ailing patriarch on his death bed.

This may have been the final phase of Parallel Cinema but with films like Shahani’s Kasba (90), Mishra’s Dharavi (91), Patwardhan’s Raam Ke Naam (92), Benegal’s Suraj Ka Satwan Ghoda (92) and Gopalakrishnan’s Kathapurushan (95) there certainly wasn’t a lack of creativity. But with the push for economic liberalization and the rise of a NRI oriented cinema, popular Hindi cinema re-formulated itself in the ubiquitous post millennial image of Bollywood, the emptiest signifier of them all; global, excessive, standardised, mechanical, apolitical. However, the NFDC has remained, plodding along, massaging the lost vestiges of state patronage. On the horizon, beyond Bollywood, a new independent cinema would soon be born, forged precariously out of the ashes of Parallel Cinema, obfuscating a glorious cinematic past for a neoliberal magniloquence.

A Film Canon: Parallel Cinema

Fifth and Final Phase (1990 – 1995) 

  • Disha / The Uprooted Ones (Dir. Sai Paranjpye, 1990, Hindi)
  • Drishti / Vision (Dir. Govind Nihalani, 1990, Hindi)
  • Kasba (Dir. Kumar Shahani, 1990, Hindi)
  • Vasthuhara / The Dispossessed (Dir. G. Aravindan, 1990, Malayalam)
  • Agantuk / The Stranger (Dir. Satyajit Ray, 1991, Bengali)
  • Dharavi / Quicksand (Dir. Sudhir Mishra, 1991, Hindi)
  • Idiot (Dir. Mani Kaul, 1991, Hindi)
  • Something Like A War (Dir. Deepa Dhanraj, 1991, English)
  • Apathbandhavudu / The Saviour (Dir. K. Vishwanath, 1992, Telugu)
  • Cheluvi / The Flowering Tree (Dir. Girish Karnad, 1992, Hindi)
  • Maya Memsaab / The Enchanting Illusion (Dir. Ketan Mehta, 1992, Hindi)
  • Padma Nadir Majhi / Boatman of the River Padma (Dir. Gautam Ghose, 1992, Bengali)
  • Ram Ke Naam / In the Name of God (Dir. Anand Patwardhan, 1992, Hindi)
  • Rudaali / The Mourner (Dir. Kalpana Lajmi, 1992, Hindi)
  • Suraj Ka Satwan Ghoda / The Seventh Horse of the Sun (Dir. Shyam Benegal, 1992, Hindi)
  • Antareen (Dir. Mrinal Sen, 1993, Bengali)
  • Indradhanura Chhai / The Shadows of the Rainbows (Dir. Sushant Misra, 1993, Oriya)
  • Sardar (Dir. Ketan Mehta, 1993, Hindi)
  • Sunya Theke Suru / A Return to Zero (Dir. Ashoke Vishwanathan, 1993, Bengali)
  • Vidheyan / The Servile (Dir. Adoor Gopalakrishnan, 1993, Malayalam/Kannada)
  • Amodini (Dir. Chidananda Das Gupta, 1994, Bengali)
  • Aranyaka (Dir. Bhavdeep Jaipurwale, 1994, Hindi)
  • Drohkaal (Dir. Govind Nihalani, 1994, Hindi)
  • Hkhgoroloi Bohu Door / It’s a long way to the Sea (Dir. Jahnu Barua, 1994, Assamese)
  • Mammo (Dir. Shyam Benegal, 1994, Hindi)
  • Nirbachana (Dir. Biplab Roy Choudhury, 1994, Oriya)
  • Prasab / The Deliverance (Dir. Utpalendu Chakraborty, 1994, Bengali)
  • Sopan (Dir. Ajay Bannerjee, 1994, Bengali)
  • Tarpan (Dir. K. Bikram Singh, 1994, Hindi)
  • Tunnu Ki Tina (Dir. Paresh Kamdar, 1994, Hindi)
  • Wheelchair (Dir. Tapan Sinha, 1994, Bengali)
  • Bangarwadi (Dir. Amol Palekar, 1995, Marathi)
  • Doghi (Dir. Sumitra Bhave, 1995, Marathi)
  • Kahini (Dir. Malay Bhattacharya, 1995, Bengali)
  • Kathapurushan (Dir. Adoor Gopalakrishnan, 1995, Malayalam)
  • Limited Manuski (Dir. Nachiket/Jayoo Patwardhan, 1995, Marathi)
  • Naseem (Dir. Saeed Akhtar Mirza, 1995, Hindi)

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.

bhavni-bhavai.jpg
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

Canonizing Indian Parallel Cinema – Part 1: The foundational years/developmental phase (1968 – 1974)

ankur

There is a general consensus that Indian Parallel Cinema officially started in 1969 with the triptych of Bhuvan Shome, Uski Roti and Sara Akash. In 1968 B.K. Karanjia, former editor of Filmfare, was appointed chairman of the FFC. Prior to Karanjia’s appointment, the FFC, reluctant to support new cinema had been criticised for its support of successful realist filmmakers like Satyajit Ray. Under the ‘enlightened chairmanship’ (Vasudev, 1986: 34) of Karanjia, the FFC softened its stance, adopting a new formula: ‘low budget films, talented new filmmakers, Indian stories’ (2005: 194). The new criteria would become official in 1971. B.K. Karanjia’s initial chairmanship lasted seven years (1969 – 1975), approving the financing of thirty-six films and ‘between them they won twenty-one national and international awards’ (2005: 197) resulting in a cultural prestige for the state. Indira Gandhi’s re-commitment to a state sponsored cinema was initially a response to both the initial failure of the FFC since ‘no returns were coming in from the 30 odd films that had been financed since its inception seven years earlier’ (Vasudev, 1995: 157) and the proclamation of a New Cinema manifesto by Arun Kaul and Mrinal Sen in 1968. It is the foundational or developmental phase of Indian Parallel Cinema that lasted up until the Emergency in 1975 that arguably saw the inauguration of Parallel Cinema as a film movement. It is here we also find perhaps Parallel Cinema as its most creative, experimental and polarizing.

Since so much of Indian cinema is only gradually being made available, thereby making the processes of canonization a revisionist one: ‘a film cannot be canonized unless it is seen frequently, continuously and over a sustained period of time’ (Lupo citing Donato Totaro, 2011: 225). Indian cinema has not been canonized to the extent American or French films have been in the West. Although this may at first appear welcoming because canons are elitist and discriminatory, they are also a fundamental necessity in determining which films are worthy of closer study and wider circulation. In her 1985 essay ‘The Politics of Film Canons’, Janet Staiger argued we need ‘to reconsider the criteria that we use for evaluation and the process of evaluation itself’ (Staiger, 1985: 14), a point that Dudley Andrew agreed with: ‘an obligation falls on every socially responsible academic to push towards a correct rewriting of the canon’ (Andrew, 1985: 56). This push to rewrite the canon of Indian cinema as a whole has been forthcoming from the internet. Like YouTube, open platform software has broadened notions of Indian cinephilia, adopting a scholarly approach to digital curation, drawing on the expertise of cinephiles, scholars and film buffs to holistically and inclusively narrate the history of Indian cinema. Indiancine.ma, an online archive of Indian cinema, ‘a resource for film scholars and enthusiasts in India and beyond’, is a project based on the Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema edited by Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen. Indiancine.ma is documenting significant phases in Indian film history with annotated sections on Bombay Talkies, Communist Films, and Indian New Cinema. The exponential collection of Indian films ranging from early silent Phalke films to Keralan cinema showcases the astonishing output of Indian cinema. Indiancine.ma’s canon on Parallel Cinema which they title ‘Indian New Cinema’ is a comprehensive undertaking and is one I have used as a starting point for my own attempt to rewrite the canon.

Contentiously I have decided to also include films made within the Bombay film industry to not only suggest the wider impact of Parallel Cinema but also how new experiments with film was happening at the same time and across many regions and industries. In some cases, I have decided to include films such as Anand largely because of the authorial claim and significance of directors such as Hrishikesh Mukherjee who occupy the territory of Middle Cinema, an altogether fuzzy category that one could certainly argue extends out from Parallel Cinema and really comes to prominence 1973 onwards, after the success of Benegal’s Ankur, one of the first privately financed Parallel Cinema films to achieve commercial success on par with earlier films like Sen’s Bhuvan Shome. Rajadhyaksha and Willemen note Maya Darpan (1972) was an early high point for Parallel Cinema: ‘Shahani’s extraordinary but controversial debut feature marks both the culmination and the end of the brief NFDC-sponsored renewal of Indian cinema’ (Rajadhyaksha & Willemen, 413). I would disagree though. While Maya Darpan is a key film in the developmental phase of Parallel Cinema, I can understand why Rajadhyaksha & Willemen would argue it is a culmination. Up to 1972, 27 films had been made, not all were released though, many with the involvement of the FFC. Whether the limits of experimentation had been reached within that short timeframe is debatable but what does make sense is the way film movements happen fleetingly, are rarely ever sustained over a long period. And certainly framing Parallel Cinema as a movement lasting between 1968 to 1972 has some logic to it in the wider international understanding of film movements.

Nonetheless, I would argue differently. Indian Parallel Cinema was unlike any other film movement since it was nurtured and supported by the state. And it was not until the mid 1970s with the Emergency and the rewriting of the FFC criteria did Parallel Cinema mutate and transform. It is contentious Parallel Cinema was more or less dead by the mid 1980s, largely because of the emergence of television and Doordarshan. But since the NFDC supported independent, alternative cinema in India well into the 1990s complicates the chronology of Parallel Cinema further. As I will argue in later posts, perhaps the decisive factor for me in helping to determine the demise of Parallel Cinema was the radical political and economic shifts that took place in the early to mid 1990s particularly with the rise of Hindu nationalism and the conceptualization of Bollywood as global entity.

The danger of canonizing Parallel Cinema is essentialism, reducing a plurality to one giant cinematic epilogue. Historian Oswald Spengler has argued that history should be seen as organic. There are lots of branches representing different, competing voices. Although a film canon of this nature can be reductive in moving away from this very notion posited by Spengler, I would suggest a canon can also offer a cursory roadmap to the vast extents and riches of Parallel Cinema. Furthermore, what the canon allows us to see, from a distance, is the different regional streams, intervening and conversing with each other, attempting to reshape the very language of cinema in India. Once could just as easily make the case for Bengali Parallel Cinema or Keralan Parallel Cinema. But, primarily, canonizing Parallel Cinema contests the legitimacy and hegemonic ways in which a history of Indian cinema has been written about, challenging a linear historiography which has often been dominated by popular Hindi cinema (namely Bollywood) and pointing to the numerous innovative diversions Indian cinema has taken along the way. Indian Parallel Cinema smashed the centre, politically and aesthetically, and what this canon demonstrates is the birth of a postcolonial cultural engagement and history in which narratives were told from below, thereby, for instance, reshaping parochial constructions of gender.

Here is the first part of a canon on Indian Parallel Cinema:

A Film Canon: Indian Parallel Cinema

(1). The Foundational Years/Developmental Phase (1968 – 1974)

1. Apanjan dir. Tapan Sinha, 1968, Bengali
2. Aranyer Din Ratri/Days and Nights in the Forest dir. Satyajit Ray, 1969, Bengali
3. Bhuvan Shome, dir. Mrinal Sen, 1969, Hindi
4. Ittefaq dir. Yash Chopra, 1969, Hindi
5. Olavum Theeravum/Waves and Shores, dir. P. N. Menon, 1969, Malayalam
6. Sara Akash/The Whole Sky, dir. Basu Chatterjee, 1969, Hindi
7. Satyakam dir. Hrishikesh Mukherjee, 1969, Hindi
8. Uski Roti/A Day’s Bread, dir. Mani Kaul, 1969, Hindi
9. Anand, dir. Hrishikesh Mukherjee, 1970, Hindi
10. Dastak, dir. Rajinder Singh Bedi, 1970, Hindi
11. Interview, dir. Mrinal Sen, 1970, Bengali
12. Gejje Pooje/The Mock Marriage, dir. S. R. Puttana Kangal, 1970, Kannada
13. Pratidwandi/The Adversary, dir. Satyajit Ray, 1970, Bengali
14. Sagina Mahato, dir. Tapan Sinha, 1970, Bengali
15. Samskara/Funeral Rites, dir. Pattabhi Rama Reddy, 1970, Kannada
16. Anubhav, dir. Basu Bhattacharya, 1971, Hindi
17. Ashad Ka Ek Din/A Monsoon Day, dir. Mani Kaul, 1971, Hindi
18. Ek Adhuri Kahani/An Unfinished Story, dir. Mrinal Sen, 1971, Hindi
19. Guddi/Darling Child, dir. Hrishikesh Mukherjee, 1971, Hindi
20. Mere Apne, dir. Gulzar, 1971, Hindi (remake of Apanjan)
21. Seemabaddha/Company Limited, dir. Satyajit Ray, 1971, Bengali
22. Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe/Silence! The Court is in Session, dir. Satyadev Dubey, 1971, Marathi
23. Sharapanjara, dir. S.R. Puttana Kanagal, 1971, Kannada
24. Vamsha Vriksha, dir. B.V. Karanth & Girish Karnad, 1971, Kannada
25. Vidyarthikale Ithile Ithile/This Ways Students, dir. John Abraham, 1971, Malayalam
26. Bangarada Manushya, dir. Siddalingaiah, 1972, Kannada
27. Calcutta 71, dir. Mrinal Sen, 1972, Bengali
28. Maya Darpan/Mirror of Illusion, dir. Kumar Shahani, 1972, Hindi
29. Nine months to Freedom: The story of Bangladesh, dir. S. Sukhdev, 1972, English
30. Swayamvaram/One’s Own Choice, dir. Adoor Gopalakrishnan, 1972, Malayalam
31. Ankur/The Seedling, dir. Shyam Benegal, 1973, Hindi
32. Ashani Sanket/Distant Thunder, dir. Satyajit Ray, 1973, Bengali
33. Duvidha/In Two Minds, dir. Mani Kaul, 1973, Hindi
34. Garam Hawa/Hot Winds, dir. M.S. Sathyu, 1973, Urdu
35. Kaadu, dir. Girish Karnad, 1973, Kannada
36. Nirmalayam/The Offering, dir. M.T. Vasudevan Nair, 1973, Malayalam
37. Padatik/The Guerrilla Fighter, dir. Mrinal Sen, 1973, Bengali
38. Titash Ekti Nadir Naam/A River Named Titash, dir. Ritwik Ghatak, 1973, Bengali
39. 27 Down/Sattawis Down, dir. Avtar Krishna Kaul, 1973, Hindi
40. Abhimaan, dir. Hrishikesh Mukherjee, 1973, Hindi
41. Chorus, dir. Mrinal Sen, 1974, Bengali
42. Jukti Takko Aar Gappo/Reason, Debate and a Story, dir. Ritwik Ghatak, 1974, Bengali
43. Rajanigandha/Tube Rose, dir. Basu Chatterjee, 1974, Hindi
44. Sonar Kella/The Golden Fortress, dir. Satyajit Ray, 1974, Bengali
45. Avishkaar, dir. Basu Bhattacharya, 1974, Hindi
46. Uttarayanam/Throne of Capricorn, dir. G. Aravindan, 1974, Malayalam

Many of these films are available on DVD/YouTube, etc. but generally the quality of the prints vary and so does the subtitling. Indiancine.ma is an excellent source for many of these films and they are continually adding new films with far superior subtitling. The long term utopian goal is to try and convince home video distributors to begin making these films available in more adequate releases/formats.

References: 

Andrew, Dudley, Of Canons and Quietism: Dudley Andrew Responds to Janet Staiger’s “The Politics of Film Canons” (“Cinema Journal, “Spring 1985), Cinema Journal, Vol. 25, No. 1 (Autumn, 1985), pp. 55-58

Lupo, Jonathan, Loaded Canons: Contemporary Film Canons, Film Studies, and Film Discourse, The Journal of American Culture, Vol. 34 Issue 3, September 2011

Staiger, Janet, The Politics of Film Canons, Cinema Journal Vol. 24, No. 3 (Spring 1985), pp. 4-23

Vasudev, A. (1986) The New Indian Cinema, New Delhi: Macmillan India

Vasudev, A. (ed.) (1995), Frames of Mind: Reflections on Indian Cinema, New Delhi: UBS Publishers’ Distributors

INDIAN CINEMA 2013 – A Look Back

Pran, an icon of Hindi cinema, passed away in 2013.

‘Yahan kabootar bhi ek pankh se udta hai … aur doosre se apna izzat bachata hai.’      Here even the pigeon flies with one wing … and protects its honor with the other wing.       Gangs of Wasseypur 

It’s that time of year again when film canonisation rears its ugly head, pontificating at the greatest hits. The sheer deluge of best of lists makes it an almost impossible art to try and make sense of it all. I prefer the individual lists by critics, reviewers and bloggers as they pin down more esoteric tastes procured over the year. Sight and Sound is always first out of the end of year sprint to name and shame, and The Act of Killing seems to be popping up as number one with annoying regularity on many a lists. I initially had the film on my top ten but realised Upstream Colour seemed like a favourable substitution. The Act of Killing appearing as perhaps the best film of the year, as determined by critics and reviewers alike, is more indicative of the way documentary is still enjoying its moment, a moment which can be traced back to Bowling for Columbine and the Michael Moore effect. I’m not entirely convinced by Oppenheimer’s ideological approach to the material since the absence of context(s) not only unveils a pre-determined construction but also brings into doubt the politics of a very political documentary. For a more lengthy and sustained take down of the documentary, I would recommend Tony Rayn’s piece for Sight and Sound eponymously titled ‘Build my Gallows High’.

But what about Indian Cinema I hear you say? How was it for the biggest film industry in the world in 2013? (a question that I can never hope to answer since I’ve not seen as much as I would have liked to this year) That seems like a pretty good place to start when it comes to looking back at the year but unfortunately, like so many years in the past, Indian films rarely ever make it to end of year lists. I have discussed the reasons for Indian cinema’s exclusion from canonisation and cinephile discourse particularly in mainstream western film journalism in a previous post so I am simply going to point in that direction rather than reiterate a similarly impassioned defence. Yes, I understand, Indian film distributors are not involved in the gambit of press screenings whereby they exclude themselves from end of year lists, and yes, many of the best Indian films (especially Indie and regional ones) never make it to UK film screens, but there are a number of films which could have easily made it on to end of year lists. Before I offer yet another list, I am going to underline a few observations about Indian Cinema in 2013, points not specifically related to the films I have chosen to include in my end of year list on Indian cinema.

Bombay Talkies, a portmanteau, was produced and released to coincide with 100 years of Indian Cinema.

2013 may not have been significant in terms of the filmmaking landscape and output, but this has been a year of celebration for Indian Cinema. Such a historic landmark has been commemorated in India in different ways including films, events and exhibitions. The Bradford Film Festival offered one of the most engaged celebrations with a strand dedicated to the screening of classic and contemporary Indian films such as the newly restored Kalpana. Films including Bombay Talkies, Celluloid and Shabdo were financed with the specific aim of celebrating the achievements of the film industry. I was somewhat perturbed by the unenthusiastic response from some sections of mainstream film journalism who seemed to be dismissive and ignorant of the role India has played in the history of film. Satyajit Ray also reappeared on the radar of cinephile discourse with a major retrospective of his work at the BFI Southbank coinciding with the timely Blu-ray release of key films like Charulata in restored new prints.

Indie cinema vs. mainstream Hindi cinema; this is an on going pattern in terms of distribution and more edgy, indie films really felt the squeeze of the tent pole Hindi films in 2013. The London Indian Film Festival has become a key date in the Indian indie film calendar in terms of getting exposure for new emerging filmmakers. While this is undeniably true, many indie films simply bypassed cinema exhibition including B.A. Pass (Ajay Bahl), Bombay Talkies and David (Bejoy Nambiar). SRK seemed to have the top spot at the Indian box office (both domestic and international) pretty much sewn up with the spectacular success of Chennai Express. I enjoyed Chennai Express, although some critics savaged the film for its apparent SRK histrionics, which seemed to be hyperbolised further by the insufferable Rohit Shetty (a contemporary, but less savy heir to Manmohan Desai). Chennai Express like Dhoom 3 were supported by relentless marketing campaigns with stars like SRK managing to appear on endless Indian TV shows with the singular intent of convincing the public to get behind the film. Nonetheless, Krrish 3, Race 2, Aashiqui 2 and now Dhoom 3, all succeeded at the box office. Was this the year that Indian cinema finally discovered sequels? Dhoom 3 broke box office records and has already been crowned the highest grossing Indian film of all time. The Dhoom and Krrish franchises certainly point to a new future for Indian cinema of transmedia storytelling and branding. Franchises seem especially important for studios in terms of revenue streams including merchandising. This is bad news for lovers of Indian indie cinema since the UK release schedule for Indian films is likely to get even more competitive over the years. That is unless you are in India where multiplexes cater to the ‘politics of difference’.

India’s Oscar entry: Realist vs. Middle Cinema?

2013 also witnessed the continuing decline of once innovative genre director Ram Gopal Varma with both The Attacks of 26/11 and more despairingly Satya 2 receiving critical derision. RGV tends to work on low budgets and is able to recoup most of his costs for the films he makes but innovation has given way to a kind of hyper delusion concerning his skills as a filmmaker. One of the biggest disappointments of the year was the much-anticipated Ghanchakkar from director Rajkumar Gupta. Although Vidya Balan and Emraan Hashmi are splendid, the film’s script is insubstantial and fails to deliver in terms of the genre tropes being re-mixed. Nevertheless, Ghanchakkar is a potential cult film. The race for India’s Oscar entry came down to a battle between The Lunchbox (a favourite at many film festivals) and The Good Road. Whereas The Lunchbox is classic example of middle cinema with a charismatic leading role by Irrfan Khan, The Good Road, a Gujarati film, is typical of realist projects financed and supported by the NFDC. The decision to select The Good Road over The Lunchbox raised the ire of producers Karan Johar and Anurag Kashyap who responded by criticising the Film Federation of India as embracing an archaic selection policy that is both inward looking and determined by criteria that reeks of an art vs. commerce snobbery. Having not being able to see either film, from what I have read, The Lunchbox’s exposure at film festivals and its feel good factor may have worked better to convince Academy voters.

Tamil Cinema has and continues to be a cinematic blind spot for me. I tend to gravitate to Bengali cinema because of its past associations with auteur cinema and that it continues to produce some of the more ideologically engaged filmmakers. Mainstream Hindi cinema has started to increasingly and reflexively appropriate populist elements from both Tamil and Marathi cinema – this has been evident in the way stars and directors have crossed over in the past but now is even more evident visually especially with the realist action cinema like that of Bala (a Tamil director) appearing transparently in films such as Chennai Express, Rowdy Rathore and R… Rajkumar. Pizza, a Tamil ‘ghost’ film I saw this year on DVD, is a startling directorial debut by Karthik Subbaraj. Pizza is a film as sophisticated, modern and cinematic as anything being made anywhere in the world today. I’m told a sequel to Pizza has already been released. Bollywood’s accelerated interest in regional cinema may come across as somewhat exploitative, but it yet again points to the way mainstream Hindi cinema continually draws on regional films for new ideas. Is it right to say then that innovation resides in regional cinema like the Tamil film industry? If this is true then it not without reason why both Mumbai could be labelled as inferior when put up against the regional power of the Tamil film industry for instance. Regional filmmaking hubs like Chennai are still more advanced than Mumbai when it comes to new film technology and technical accomplishments.

A riff on ‘Sholay’ by the forthcoming ‘Gunday’ – another neo-masala melange 

In many ways, 2013 appears to have been an inconsequential year for Indian cinema. Perhaps the major development and one that is likely to see a continuing growth is the emergence of a viable, innovative and much needed indie cinema, which seems to have attracted the support of studios, audiences and critics. It will be interesting to see if it can evolve into something ambitious as the parallel cinema movement. One final point of interest in terms of an emerging cycle of films, if not a new sub-genre, is one I would dub ‘neo-masala’ cinema. Although like Mumbai noir, it is hard to pinpoint an exact point of origin, recent films like Kaminey, Dabaang, Singham have introduced a hard body aesthetic that recalls a stoic, if not misogynist, brand of masculinity which seems like a complete rejection of the metrosexual male embodied by SRK. Concurrent to a reiteration of traditional gender norms is a postmodern reflexivity with films such as Aurangzeb and the forthcoming Gunday paying homage to the 1970s angry young man cinema.

I have compiled two lists. The first is films in 2013 while the second is non-2013 films which includes films I have sought out on DVD:

TOP TEN INDIAN FILMS: 2013 

(films appear in no particular order, not all of these films were released in the UK)

1. AURANGZEB (Atul Sabharwal) – It came; it went and did no business at all, but what a revelation.

2. SAHEB, BIWI AUR GANGSTER RETURNS (Tigmanshu Dulia) – a sequel that builds on the first film and marks out Tigmanshu Dulia as one of the finest mainstream filmmakers at work today, and a director who understands ‘genre’.

3. LOOTERA / ROBBER (Vikramaditya Motwane) – a little uneven at times but still terrifically realised in terms of period detail and a love story that works, just about!

4. GOYNAR BASKHO / THE JEWELLERY BOX (Aparna Sen) – a ghost, a housewife (played effortlessly by Konkana) and a gentle love story all make for compelling melodrama in the hands of director Aparna Sen.

5. GANGS OF WASSEYPUR 1 & 2 (Anurag Kashyap) – a delayed release for Kashyap’s epic crime saga but surely a most remarkable film (never mind all the detractors!) from one of Indian cinema’s finest filmmakers working at his peak. An instant classic.

6. KAI PO CHE (Abhishek Kapoor) – based on Chetan Bhagat’s best selling novel ‘The 3 mistakes of my life’, this film straddles line between mainstream and indie cinema; this is middle cinema with a heartfelt ideological message of the need for co-existence.

7. CELLULOID (Kamal) – a sentimental film but done with such resounding affection for pioneer J. C. Daniel, the father of Malayalam Cinema; the final phase of Daniel’s life as a recluse and pauper resonated with me long after the film had ended. It’s a story that needed telling.

8. SHABDO / SOUND (Kaushik Ganguly) – Kaushik Ganguly is one of Bengali cinema’s busiest filmmakers and Shabdo is one of his most complex and elemental films that externalises the mental breakdown of a Foley artist. Gorgeous sound design.

9. MEGHE DHAKA TARA / CLOUD CAPPED STAR (Kamaleshwar Mukherjee) – a moving biopic on Ritwik Ghatak’s time in a mental asylum. Painfully evocative, expressionistic in tone, and a considerable achievement by Bengali director Kamaleshwar Mukherjee. Incidentally, since we are on the subject of the great Bengali master, one of the discoveries of the year was Ashish Rajadhyaksha’s scholary work on Ritwik Ghatak. ‘Ritwik Ghatak: A Return to the Epic’, published in 1982, and probably out of print, is one of the great works on Ghatak’s films.

10. KADAL / THE SEA (Mani Ratnam) – the return of Mani Ratnam to more authorial traits is something to be welcomed, and although Kadal may not stand up with his best work, it is better than most of what mainstream Hindi cinema has to offer.

= SPECIAL CHABBIS / SPECIAL 26 (Neeraj Pandey, 2013) – director Neeraj Pandey, who directed the award winning A Wednesday (2008) builds on such a promise with this brilliantly controlled heist thriller featuring an understated (believe it or not) Akshay Kumar.
Anurag Kashyap; the most influential director working in the Hindi film industry today?

Unfortunately, The Gangs of Wasseypur never really got the UK release it actually deserved. This seems particularly baffling given Kashyap’s prominence as a key player in today’s Indian indie cinema. Had a major star been present in the film then it is more than likely the film would have appeared in more UK cinema screens. Most of Kashyap’s work has been sidelined by UK film distributors for his reluctance to work with major stars and choosing controversial material. Yet 2013 could easily be declared as the year of Anurag Kashyap. He may just be the most important player working in the Hindi film industry today. Kashyap not only produced Lootera but also managed to lure director Tigmanshu Dulia out of the director’s chair to act in The Gangs of Wasseypur. At the Cannes Film Festival this year, Kashyap had a hand in all three Indian films that were selected: Monsoon Shootout (producer), Bombay Talkies (one of the directors) and Ugly (director). He also produced a compilation film in 2013 featuring five short films titled Shorts which also got a limited release in India. You can also add The Lunchbox to his achievements for 2013 which he helped to produce. 2014 looks set to be a similarly busy year for Kashyap and remarkably given his exponential work rate, the level of quality has remained pretty consistent across the films he has been involved with. Although I have positioned him as part of a new wave of Indian indie cinema, I would argue the films he is making are more closer to the ‘middle cinema’ often associated with Shyam Benegal. A key film to look forward to in 2014 is Kashyap’s much anticipated Bombay Velvet, a neo noir set in Mumbai starring Ranbir Kapoor, for which he struggled over nine years to get the green light.

20 INDIAN FILMS: NON-2013

(films appear in no particular order – some were seen on DVD and others sneakily downloaded, ahem!)

Pizza is part of a new wave of Tamil cinema.

Thankfully the NFDC have now got an online presence and under the DVD label of ‘Cinemas of India’ launched a website which allows you to watch their back catalogue online. Unfortunately, no subtitles at present but I’m guessing the NFDC are heading in the right direction by finally making all of these films, many part of parallel cinema, available for the discerning cinephile. 27 Down, Current, Anhey Ghorey Da Daan and Gaman were released by ‘Cinemas of India’ on DVD in 2013. One of the discoveries of the year was Mehboob Khan’s Roti, a fiercely political and Marxist film, that pleads to reassess the way Mehboob Khan’s status as an auteur has been configured.

1. MANTHAN / THE CHURNING (Shyam Benegal, 1976)

2. SATTAWIS DOWN / 27 DOWN (Awtar Krishna Kaul, 1974)

3. AGANTUK / THE STRANGER (Satyajit Ray, 1991)

4. DO ANKHEN BARAH HAATH / TWO EYES, TWELVE HANDS (Shantaram, 1958)

Opening Titles to Baazi – a repertoire of talent.

5. ROTI / BREAD (Mehboob Khan, 1942)

6. MASHAAL / THE TORCH (Yash Chopra, 1984)

7. BARFI (Anurag Basu, 2012)

8. BAAZI / GAMBLE (Guru Dutt, 1951)

9. VICKY DONOR (Shoojit Sircar, 2012)

Baishey Shravana / The Wedding Day: one of Sen’s earliest films.

10. BAISHEY SHRAVANA / THE WEDDING DAY (Mrinal Sen, 1960)

11. GANASHATRU (Satyajit Ray, 1989)

12. ANHEY GHOREY DA DAAN / ALMS FOR A BLIND HORSE (Gurvinder Singh, 2011)

13. CURRENT (K. Hariharan, 1992)

14. KISMET (Gyan Mukherjee, 1943)

15. CHITTAGONG (Bedabrato Pain, 2012)

16. BHAVNI BHAVAI / TALE OF THE LIFE (Ketan Mehta, 1980)

17. PIZZA (Karthik Subbaraj, 2012)

Diabolically brilliant Desai

18. NASEEB / DESTINY (Manmohan Desai, 1981)

19. GATTU (Rajan Khosa, 2012)

20. GAMAN / DEPARTURE (Muzaffar Ali, 1978)

Notable omissions (so I’m informed) include the following which I intend to catch up on in 2014: Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola, Midnight Children, Mariyan, Soodhu Kavvum, Madras Cafe, Satyagraha, Shuddh Desi Romance, Ram Leela, Bullet Raja, Tasher Desh, David, Shahid, Vishwaroop

Unfortunately I can’t give a verdict on what was one of the best reviewed Indian films of the year – Ship of Thesus (dir. Anand Gandhi). Although the film was completed in 2012, it was eventually picked up by UTV motion pictures for distribution in India and performed well at the box office. The film certainly created a buzz amongst cinephiles in India and even got the backing of director Kiran Rao who publicly supported the film as a must watch. Director Anurag Kashyap said it was the best Indian film in over a decade. High praise indeed. The film has been picked up for UK distribution (let’s out a big sigh of relief) and will inevitably make an appearance on DVD. The critical and commercial success of Ship of Thesus certainly goes a long way in supporting the idea of an emerging Indian indie new wave that is still gathering momentum. Here is the trailer to the film:

Perhaps the biggest loss for the Indian film industry in 2013 was the death of director Rituparno Ghosh who died of a heart attack at the age of 49. Ghosh, a Bengali filmmaker, was greatly influenced by both Satyajit Ray and more significantly Rabindranath Tagore, in his approach to cinema, making some remarkable and at times controversial films. I can’t really finish without paying tribute to the singer Manna Dey, an icon of Indian cinema and one of the great voices period, who passed away in October:

  http://www.meograph.com/embed/httweets/70953/ten-classic-songs-of-manna-dey