NIRMALAYAM / THE OFFERING (1973, India) Directed by M.T. Vasudevan Nair [Malayalam]

vlcsnap-2018-11-17-11h28m38s585

Born in Kerala in 1933, M.T. Vasudevan Nair is one of India’s most prolific literary voices. Nair is also seen as a key figure in the development of Malayalam art cinema, having written over fifty screenplays and directed a number of influential films. Nirmalayam (The Offering), Nair’s directorial debut, was made at a time when the Parallel Cinema movement was entering the final years of the creative first phase (68 – 75).

The story explores the anxieties of a village oracle, a man of faded glories and religious servitude who fails to recognise and accept to what extent his family cope with an abject poverty that he cultivates. Parallel Cinema was often characterised by the ideological capacity to directly critique and deconstruct orthodoxy and which appeared in many guises. In this case, it is religious orthodoxy. Since very few people in the village go to the temple anymore to give offerings, the oracle is forced to beg for food. In one sequence, the oracle, exploiting his status as a religious figure that everyone respects, visits the homes of local people for rice. However, when a women rebuffs the oracle for begging, it is just one of many humiliating scenarios that marks the decline of faith in the village and ridicules his position.

The film opens with a montage of quick edits venerating the image of the Mother Goddess followed by a short sequence in which the oracle performs a ritualised Chenda dance in the temple. Nair imbues the oracle’s extended religiosity as a feverish performance, a true devotee. The ritualised dance is made altogether potent with the iconography of the ceremonial sword wielded by the oracle in a brazen style and that draws blood. But as soon as the ritualised dance is over, we learn about the dearth of offerings and how the people of the village have stopped visiting the temple. The priest who has been appointed to serve at the temple announces he is leaving, arguing a dwindling lack of revenue cannot sustain him a livelihood in the village anymore. Unlike the priest who abandons the temple, the oracle is dead set in his ways, dismissing the warnings of his wife that they are barely surviving. Later, a new priest arrives, an educated young man, who seduces the oracle’s daughter, Ammini, but only to leave abruptly to get married. Appu, the son of the oracle, also leaves the village, completely disillusioned with the family’s impoverished state. Even the feudal landowner who lords over the village pokes fun at the redundancy of religious rituals, ceremonies and processes that can no longer be sustained in the face of modernity.

But what makes Nirmalayam a daring work is the ending, a radical tour de force of expressionist imagery and religious symbolism. Upon discovering his wife has been sleeping with a Muslim shopkeeper from whom he has borrowed some money and which he has no way of paying back, the oracle who is set to perform a ritual dance at a major ceremony in the village unleashes his rage at the Mother Goddess whom he has served with such unswerving dignity. In the closing moments when he is in the temple, the oracle spits blood at the Mother Goddess, a defiant gesture that he also realises will curse and condemn him. But Nair frames this defiant gesture as something instinctive, necessary, and a source of expiation, carrying with it a vehemently anti-religious coda that is inherently radical in the way modernity and change devours all that stands in its path. P. J. Anthony is remarkable in the main lead of the village oracle. Nirmalayam is a rich and subversive work.

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

Chalchitra / Kaleidoscope (1981, Dir. Mrinal Sen, India)

chal2j

This semi-comical snapshot of the middle class Bengali experience in Kolkata is apparently a minor work in Sen’s oeuvre. The story is slight; a young Bengali man Dipu (Anjan Dutta) aspires to be a journalist and as a sort of test of creativity, the editor of a newspaper (Utpal Dutta) asks Dipu to write a story based on his own middle class experiences. The story of Dipu trying to write is merely a pretext for Sen to remain connected with the urban landscape of Kolkata, a return to the richness of the city spaces, last probed with such pleasure since his Kolkata Trilogy. The socio-political urgency of Sen’s cinema after the aesthetic and thematic experiments of The Kolkata Trilogy never really went away from his work – he remained just as connected with the social milieu of the city. For instance, the uninhibited camera roaming freely through the fish market recalls Interview (70) when Ranjit meets his uncle, the first of many self-referential instances. Later, when Dipu tries to flag down a taxi in the bustling streets of Kolkata, Sen adopts an erratic editing style, articulating a blinding disorientation reminiscent of the street cinema of The Kolkata Trilogy, in which characters are liberated and imprisoned by the city in a scarring psychological duality.

IMG_0009

IMG_0010

IMG_0014
The Dream Sequence.

There is probably a consensus that Sen made two trilogies. The Kolkata Trilogy (1970 – 1973; Interview, Calcutta 71 and Padatik – although you could probably argue for Chorus too, which was released in 1974), and The Absence Trilogy (Ek Din Pratidin/And Quite Rolls The Dawn – 1979, Kharij/The Case Is Closed – 1982 and Ek Din Achanak/Suddenly, One Day – 1989).  I would argue Chalchitra is part of another trilogy, although much looser, but nonetheless important, which also includes Akaler Shandhaney/In Search of Famine (1980) and Khandahar/The Ruins (1983). The abiding theme in this trilogy is concerned with the media apparatus (film crew, photographer, journalist) and the role of the middle class in terms of mediating the politics of representation, exploitation and the gaze. In Chalchitra, Dipu’s urge to sensationalise the mundanity of the middle class experience constantly backfires on him because numerous opportunities for journalistic fodder are met with resistance from the people he encounters notably his mother (Geeta Dutt). It is only when a little boy poses the banal question: ‘How many ovens are there in Kolkata?’ does Dipu finally finds something to write about – pollution, smoke and coal. But this degree of obscurity points to something elemental about the middle class mentality and which results in Utpal Dutta enquiring if Dipu is a communist, a question first posed in Ray’s Pratidwandi (1970), and which seemingly never went away from the psyche of the older generation of Kolkata. Chalchitra features an elaborately staged but very comical dream sequence, clearly a manifestation of Dipu’s jumbled, anxious mind, and which features microcosmic imagery of smoke, women, the police and the press. There is a danger of dismissing Chalchitra as a minor, insubstantial work. However, once situated as part of a loose trilogy, the film takes on an added resonance and deserves a further look.

Canonizing Indian Parallel Cinema – Part 3: The Transitional Years (1978 – 1979)

smita patil
Smita Patil in Gaman (1978).

This Third phase marked the transitioning of Parallel Cinema into perhaps the high point of creativity. During the Emergency, the FFC criteria was re-written in 1976, whereby avant-garde pursuits were discouraged and ‘Indianness’ promoted. Perhaps it would be absurd to say this was the beginning of the end but risk, adventure and experimentation would be curtailed. Some of this about turn was at the behest of Satyajit Ray and the apparent failure of films in the developmental phase to turn a profit, which in fact was not the case at all. The real failure had been with the FFC to invest in a viable distribution and exhibition network to fully support the access of Parallel Cinema for a specialist film audience. By the time we reach the end of the 1970s, popular Hindi cinema was on the ascendancy again with the multi starrer. Although many of the newly established filmmakers of the early years of Parallel Cinema continued to make films, the time frame of 1978 to 1979, hardly two years, is the shortest of the phases that I have mapped since it was a period of transition structurally for the FFC. However, since the centre had been smashed, it was the South that seemed to take up the aesthetic and thematic challenges.

Notable also in this period is the continuing emergence of Malayalam Parallel Cinema predominately in the form of John Abraham and Govindan Aravindan. We also start to see a second cycle of Naxalite films that begin to look back at this polarizing historical moment from a critical distance, if not romantic, including a contribution from K. A. Abbas in 1979 with The Naxalites, a work that only seems to exist in a poor VHS transfer on YouTube. More importantly, one can also begin to see the impact of Shyam Benegal on films like Muzaffar Ali’s Gaman (1978) and Sai Paranjpye’s Sparsh (1979). Indeed, Benegal and Shashi Kapoor’s collaboration seemed to consolidate the path forged by Middle Cinema, pointing to the varied attempts to incorporate and fuse the socio-political aspects of Parallel Cinema with more palatable, mainstream narrative storytelling idioms – as evidenced in Junoon (1978). Relatedly, the ensemble of actors who had first worked with Benegal on his early films, notably Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil begin to branch outwards, appearing in more mainstream projects. It is Smita Patil who arguably becomes the ‘face’ of Parallel Cinema, a major discovery, working prolifically and starring in half a dozen new films. Quite telling also is that in this period Sen turns his back on earlier agit-prop political experiments and begins to find a totally new style, leading to perhaps his first truly accomplished work – Ek Din Pratidin (1979) and the first in Sen’s Absence trilogy. The other filmmaker to mention is Saeed Akhtar Mirza who debuted in 1976 with Arvind Desai, his first full length feature, and who would go on to make some of the most important Parallel Cinema films of the 1980s.

Third Phase: Transitional Years (78-79)

79. Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastaan/The Strange Fate of Arvind Desai, dir. Saeed Akhtar Mirza, 1978, Hindi
80. Dooratwa/Distance, dir. Buddadhev Dasgupta, 1978, Bengali
81. Gaman/Going, dir. Muzaffar Ali, 1978, Hindi
82. Grahana/The Eclipse, dir. T.S. Nagabharana, 1978, Kannada
83. Junoon/The Obsession, dir. Shyam Benegal, 1978, Hindi
84. Ondanondu Kaladalli, dir. Girish Karnad, 1978, Kannada
85. Parashuram/The Man with the Axe, dir. Mrinal Sen, 1978, Bengali
86. Pranam Khareedu, dir. Vasu, 1978, Telugu
87. Prisoners of Conscience, dir. Anand Patwardhan, 1978, English/Hindi
88. Sarvasakshi/The Omniscient, dir. Ramdas Phutane, 1978, Marathi
89. Thampu/The Circus Tent, dir. G. Aravindan, 1978, Malayalam
90. Avalude Ravukal, dir. V. Sasi, 1978, Malayalam
91. Yaro Oral/Someone Unknown, dir. V.K. Pavithran, 1978, Malayalam
92. Cheriyachente Kroora Krithyangal, dir. John Abraham, 1979, Malayalam
93. Ek Din Pratidin/And Quiet Rolls the Day, dir. Mrinal Sen, 1979, Bengali
94. Estheppan/Stephen, dir. G. Aravindan, 1979, Malayalam
95. Kummatty/The Bogeyman, dir. G. Aravindan, 1979, Malayalam
96. Maabhoomi/Our Land, dir. Gautam Ghose, 1979, Telugu
97. The Naxalities, dir. K.A. Abbas, 1979, Hindi
98. Neem Annapurna/Bitter Morsel, dir. Buddhadev Dasgupta, 1979, Bengali
99. Sinhasan/The Throne, dir. Jabbar Patel, 1979, Marathi
100. Sparsh/The Touch, dir. Sai Paranjpye, 1979, Hindi

GALIGE (Dir. M. S. Sathyu, 1995, India)

galige

I recently caught Galige (1995) lurking in the library of Amazon’s Indian film channel Heera. Many of the key titles first made available by the NFDC on DVD through the Cinemas of India label can be found in the library. Most of the films have subtitles and claim to have been restored, which judging by some of the films I have seen, either the original negative must be in a sorry state or the term restoration has been somewhat inflated. Galige, directed by M. S. Sathyu, released in 1995, returns to the topic of secularism (Garam Hawa, 1973) but this time through the perspective of two youth; an orphaned girl who does not believe in religion or caste and a young Sikh boy who is on the run after committing an act of terrorism in the name of religion. Since they have both seen the ways in which religion separates rather than unites brings them closer together, creating a striking and refreshing socialist worldview. It might be reasonable to include Galige as part of a cycle of films released in the mid nineties, including Naseem (95) and Mammo (94) that dealt with the politics of secularism at a critical historical juncture, broadly signalling the end of Parallel Cinema.

Galige does not have an entry in The Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema and I had problems finding information and reviews on the film which makes me wonder why and how so many of these films have made it to DVD and now on digital platforms without any context whatsoever. Although making a title accessible to film audiences is a major step in the right direction, especially for Parallel Cinema, the dearth of basic contextual information in the shape of reviews, interviews and analysis is unsurprising in the broader picture of Indian film titles shabbily making their way onto home video. Not all of the films warrant context but there is a critical historical dimension to Galige, namely the Khalistan movement, which demanded elucidation and has rarely been depicted on screen, perhaps in the shape of a booklet or companion video of some kind. In all, the Cinemas of India label is a missed opportunity in terms of bringing to life one of the most significant and prolific film movements of the last fifty years. I guess we should be grateful the NFDC didn’t watermark all their films!

Canonizing Indian Parallel Cinema – Part 2: The Emergency (1975 – 1977)

gk
Ghashiram Kotwal

This is part two in a series of five posts on canonizing Indian Parallel Cinema. Part one was published in January 2017.

The Emergency, an extended period of state repression and censorship, is one of the darkest times in India’s recent history. The foundational years of Parallel Cinema, where some thought it was possible to create an alternate non-commercial cinema, ended chaotically in 1975 when Indira Gandhi, foreseeing her dwindling grip on power, replaced information and broadcasting minister Inder Kumar Gujral overnight with V. C. Shukla. This was because Doordarshan had not given live coverage to an Indira Gandhi rally (Hashmi, 2013). Shukla’s dictatorial reign as minister of information and broadcasting was marked by notoriety, bullying film stars and coercing directors in a period of intense repression. (See Decline and Fall of Indira Gandhi, D.R. Manekar, 2014). No films were financed by the FFC in this period, indicative of the severity of state repression, albeit new and important voices still emerged including John Abraham and Anand Patwardhan.

When ‘In September 1975 V.C. Shukla informed Karanjia that the Board of the FFC would be reconstituted and a new policy framed’ (Vasudev, 1986: 158), it was based on the findings of the Committee on Public Undertakings (1975-1976). Shukla had falsely skewed the facts about the loans, which had been given out by the FFC, thus implicating Karanjia publicly. After a meeting with Indira Gandhi in an attempt to resolve the differences with Shukla, Karanjia and many of his colleagues would later resign in protest, bringing to an end the first wave of Parallel Cinema. In 1987 Karanjia would return to the FFC (later the NFDC), taking up the post of Chairman for a second time. In many ways Karanjia was the perfect candidate for the job, having been editor of Filmfare, he was perfectly placed to navigate between commercial and non-commercial cinema. Also, if one looks at the first phase, Karanjia’s reign was impressive to say the least.

In many ways, Indira Gandhi’s declaration of the Emergency has been interpreted as a last ditch attempt to hold onto the hegemonic idea of a developmental state but historian and cultural commentator Vivek Chibber poses the question: ‘Why did Indian political leaders and bureaucrats fail to build the institutions adequate to the task?’ (Chibber, 2003: 7). If film organisations and funding bodies established by the state, namely the FFC, the FTII, and the International Film Festival of India are institutions we can include in this paradigm then this is certainly a charge that can brought against the economic and industrial inadequacies of the state, which by 1975 had been repeatedly undermined by the capital class of the Indian film industry. As Chibber states: ‘The evidence for Indian capital’s resistance to state regulation and discipline, which is at the heart of any industrial policy, is overwhelming’ (Chibber, 2003: 224). Naturally, the issue of industry status, raised as early as 1955, that would take decades before it came to fruition, can be accounted for in terms of the deeper antagonistic cultural and patronage contest that had become entrenched in the national psyche by the late 1960s. In fact, Veena Nargal claims ‘the Bombay industry responded to the FFC program with an increasingly standardized “hold-all” entertainment formula’ (Nargal, 2004: 522), popularly known as the Masala film, which was ultimately able to communicate with a broad Indian audience.

Perhaps the most audacious moment of this second phase was the boldly experimental, collaborative work Ghashiram Kotwal (dir. K. Hariharan, Mani Kaul, Kamap Swaroop, Saeed Mirza, 1976), a film about the Emergency which saw the daring marriage of blackboard political cinema and the austere avant-garde sensibilities first nurtured in the foundational years by the cinema of Kaul and Shahani. This phase also produced perhaps Benegal’s finest work, Manthan (1976)yet another film cooperative venture in the vein of Ghashiram (Yukt) and Abraham’s dazzling Agraharathil Kazhuthai (1977, Odessa). Significant in this phase is that many of the films and the best ones came from beyond the Hindi centre, regional cinema particularly in the form of Malayalam, much of it starkly political, continued to wield an iconoclastic agenda that took on many prevailing social maladies such as feudalism and broadening the intellectual and aesthetic scope of Parallel Cinema.

 Second Phase: The Emergency (75 – 77)

47. Aandhi, dir. Gulzar, 1975, Hindi
48. Kabani Nadi Chuvannapool/When the Kabani River Turned Red, dir. P.A. Backer, 1975, Malayalam
49. Chhotisi Baat/Little Affair, dir. Basu Chatterjee, 1975, Hindi
50. Chomana Dudi/Choma’s Drum, dir. B.V. Karanth, 1975, Kannada
51. Ganga Chiloner Pankhi, dir. Padum Barua, 1975, Assamese
52. Hamsa Geethe/The Swan Song, dir. G.V. Iyer, 1975, Kannada
53. Jana Aranya/The Middleman, dir. Satyajit Ray, 1975, Bengali
54. Nishant/Night’s End, dir. Shyam Benegal, 1975, Hindi
55. Avasesh, dir. Girish Kasaravalli, 1975, Kannada
56. Samna/Confrontation, dir. Jabbar Patel, 1975, Marathi
57. Waves of Revolution, dir. Anand Patwardhan, 1975, English
58. Bhumika/The Role, dir. Shyam Benegal, 1976, Hindi
59. Ghashiram Kotwal, dir. K. Hariharan, Mani Kaul, Kamap Swaroop, Saeed Mirza, 1976, Marathi
60. Hungry Autumn, dir. Gautam Ghose, 1976, English
61. Manthan/The Churning, dir. Shyam Benegal, 1976, Hindi
62. Mrigaya/The Royal Hunt, dir. Mrinal Sen, 1976, Hindi
63. Pallavi, dir. P. Lankesh, 1976, Kannada
64. Chitrakathi, dir. Mani Kaul, 1976, Hindi
65. Bonga, dir. Kundan Shah, 1976, Hindi
66. Agraharathil Kazhuthai/Donkey in a Brahmin Village, dir. John Abraham, 1977, Tamil
67. Ghattashraddha/The Ritual, dir. Girish Kasaravalli, 1977, Kannada
68. Kanchana Seeta/Golden Seeta, dir. G. Aravindan, 1977, Malayalam
69. Manimuzhakkam/Tolling of the Bell, dir. P.A. Backer, 1977, Malayalam
70. Kodiyettam/The Ascent, dir. Adoor Gopalakrishnan, 1977, Malayalam
71. Kondura/The Boom, dir. Shyam Benegal, 1977, Hindi/Telegu
72. Oka Oorie Katha/The Outsiders, dir. Mrinal Sen, 1977, Telugu
73. Shatranj Ke Khiladi/The Chess Players, dir. Satyajit Ray, 1977, Urdu
74. Swami, dir. Basu Chatterjee, 1977, Hindi
75. Alaap, dir. Hrishkesh Mukherjee, 1977, Hindi
76. Jait Re Jait, dir. Jabbar Patel, 1977, Marathi
77. Chaani, dir. V. Shantaram, 1977, Marathi
78. Khatta Meetha, dir. Basu Chatterjee, 1977, Hindi

Bibliography

Chibber, V. (2003), Locked in place: state building and capitalist industrialization in India: 1940 – 1970, Woodstock: Princeton University Press

Mankekar, D. R., (2014), Decline and fall of Indira Gandhi, New Delhi: Vision Books

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

Nargal, V. ‘Bollywood and Indian Cinema: Changing Contexts and Articulations of National Cultural Desire’ in Downing, D. H., (ed.) (2004) The Sage Handbook of Media Studies, London; Sage

CHOMANA DUDI / CHOMA’S DRUM (1975, India, B. V. Karanth)

cd

In Chomana Dudi the sound of the drumbeat never really stops. It is a sound at first made by Choma (Vasudeva Rao in a remarkable performance), the aging bonded labourer and untouchable, used to express the rage he feels about his oppression. But later it appears more frequently, punctuating the narrative, an incessant reminder of feudalism and casestism as perpetual to history. The sound of the drumbeat is one of political impotency; a pathetic cry of futile social conditions from which Choma and his family are unable to escape, no matter what they do. Chomana Dudi is based on a classic of Kannada literature, Choma’s Drum, written by acclaimed novelist K. S. Karanth. Choma’s dream of buying his own land, having toiled his entire life for a despotic, exploitative landlord, is a fatalistic death kneel, conjured from the debauched universe of noir.

Directed by B. V. Karanth (interestingly director Girish Kasaravalli is credited as assistant director) and released in 1975, Chomana Dudi, was part of a Parallel Cinema that transpired in Karnataka in the 1970s, a new wave that often gets lumped in with Indian Parallel Cinema as a troublesome monolithic entity. Of course, there are undeniable frissons and intersections between the regional Parallel Cinema that emerged in the late 60s and early 70s in Karnataka, West Bengal and Kerala. But the Kannada Parallel Cinema, much of it pioneered by Girish Karnad and B. V. Karanth seemed to coincide with Benegal’s rural realism in the mid 1970s, forging a path that branched away from more initial avant-garde concerns to a notable ideological engagement with representations of the subaltern; a project that would come to life theoretically in the 1980s with Subaltern Studies.

In part, films like Ankur, Samskara and Chomana Dudi were a return to the questionable neo-realist experiments of the late 1940s and 1950s, notably Do Bigha Zamin and Dharti Ke Lal. However, a work like Chomana Dudi fuses melodrama with a pronounced Marxist address, whereby caste discrimination is brought to light in some impenitent, startling instances. For example, when one of Choma’s sons is drowning, an upper caste villager runs to the aid of the boy. While this is happening someone can be heard shouting that the boy is an untouchable and the villager should not intervene. Having reached the boy, the villager stops and simply lets the boy drown. Choma looks on despairingly. It is an extraordinary sequence, a blunt rejoinder to the horrors of the caste system, articulating a history that still bears a silence around it in Indian cinema.

Although Choma’s beating of the drum acts as a pulse in the film, a symbolic manifestation, his earthly connections to the land imagine the peasant farmer and untouchable as resolutely magical, transcendent and epic. Absent though is any attempt at political resistance, embracing fatalism and futility that is overwhelmingly bleak. Perhaps this best describes casteism but it also problematically situates the lower caste peasant farmer as a politically redundant, subjugated figure with no recourse to implementing social change. In this case, how should we read the final shot of Choma’s drum rolling into the frame: another defeatist aide-mémoire of the supremacy of caste politics that remains intact or the benign trace of an individual, dignified victory against the system?