As Indian cinema is about to complete its 100 years..I would like to know which film or any one particular film that you think have changed and nourish the cinema in india. Since its inception…
How to pick one film from such a vast culture? From a Western viewpoint no doubt many people would pick Pather Panchali, which is wonderful. But how about Cloud-Capped Star? Its innovative sound effects, lyricism, expressionism, lighting and compositions, transcending its moving story with a wider rich mythology blending Durga and Menaka into the character of Neeta, alongside underlying distress over the partition of Bengal and a sense of individuals caught up in historical change. We have the natural/eternal, the river, the beautiful tree(s), with a sense of blossoming hope, and the man-made/modern, the passing train. And it’s been an influence, e.g on Shahani.
I was wondering if a film has been made of Tagore’s short story Kabuliwallah (a favourite of mine) and on opening my Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema fell straight on the page with the 1956 film.
As another side of Indian cinema, I’m very keen on the musical Pakeezah (Amrohi)- lavish, romantic, colourful and what great sets!
Wow, I am really moved by your sense of indian culture and liking of Indian films..Unfortunately i have not seen Ghatak’s Meghe Dhaka Tara or Cloud capped star as you would like to call it…but other two that you have mentioned are just remarkable in both taking indian culture and cinema to next level…
thanks for commenting…
Yes, I agree with Kenji, picking just one film to somehow represent 100 years of fine filmmaking is virtually an impossible task. So forgive me if I go a little overboard and provide a sort of capsule history of my interest in Indian cinema before selecting one as I need to sort this out a bit.
I love Subarnarekha and Meghe Dhaka Tara, but I think I’d have to choose Titash Ekti Nadir Naam (A River Callled Titash) as my personal favorite Ghatak film even though, or maybe because, it isn’t as clear a storyline as the other two films allowing it to have an unusually expansive effect as I tried to take it all in. It’s the film of Ghatak’s that I want to revisit most.
Mani Ratnam’s Kannathil Muthamittl (A Peck on the Cheek) is a more recent favorite of mine which I was pleased to be able to see on a big screen at a local art museum. I knew nothing about the film when I went in and was surprised by how much I liked it. Dil Se is another by Ratnam that I like a great deal, and his other work is also of interest, even if it isn’t as strong as those two films.
Bimal Roy is a director who I’ve taken to recently and I’ve liked all the films of his I’ve seen so far. Bandini, Madhumati, Yahudi, Devdas, and Do Bigha Zamin are all well worth watching as each has a different set of strengths of points of interest.
Raj Kapoor’s Awaara and Aag, Devendra Goel’s Aas, and Nandlal Jaswantlal’s Anarkali are other films from the 50’s I like quite a bit, and like Kenji I also like the Guru Dutt films I’ve seen a great deal as well.
There’s a number of other directors whose films I’ve enjoyed, like those of Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal, Mani Kaul and Deepa Mehta, as well as a great many films I’ve liked to varying degrees going back as far as the 1929 Franz Osten and Niranjan Pal film Prapancha Pash (A Throw of the Dice), up to more recent films like the 2007 flick Saawariya. I have no problem with the more entertainment oriented Bollywood style that so many seem to, and that goes beyond Lagaan. My personal favorite of that school has to be Khuda Gawah (God is My Witness) which is simply one of the most purely entertaining films I know of.
In the end, if I had to choose just one, I guess it would have to be the first Indian film I saw. That was Satyajit Ray’s Ghare-Baire (The Home and the World), and as such it still holds a sort of special place in my heart. I may tend to overvalue it for that reason, but I think anyone interested in Indian cinema would find it a beautiful, thought provoking and moving film even if they didn’t find it to be their personal favorite Ray film. It doesn’t matter much though which Ray film one chooses as all of the one’s I’ve seen are excellent.
well, thanks to laali for highlighting a side of indian cinema i hadn’t known existed: Cinema of Prayoga
and how to pick one film from the tons that are impossible to see? i’ve hardly seen any indian cinema really, but i’d love to see (along with more mani kaul RIP) more from john abraham, govindan aravindan, murali nair, vipin vijay…still….as it stands my favourite indian film that i have managed to see is either kaul’s duvidha or ghatak’s ajantrik…
Yeah, there’s so much to see, and so much of it isn’t readily available, that the idea of coming to grips with anything like a reasonable accounting of Indian cinema seems a daunting task. It’s great that there are a number of users on here who care about it and can share titles and information though as the wider web isn’t always helpful in sorting through the information as so many sites are simply fan sites for the most popular or commercial films. It is pleasing to find that a great number of older Indian films have been uploaded to youtube so, for now, one can gain some knowledge of what has been done there even if some of the more adventurous films, like those in Laali’s excellent list might not be there. (And thanks for pointing that list out Tren. I hadn’t noticed it before.)
Impossible to pick one, of course, and since Kenji and Greg have already mentioned Ray, Ghatak (glad to see some love for Titash Ekti Nadir Naam — it’s turbulent, but also indescribably beautiful) and some musical gems, I’ll choose John Abraham, among the “famous”(??) students of Ghatak at FTII, along with Kaul and Shahani, as I recently revisited one of my absolute favorite films of all time. Donkey in a Brahmin Village really should be seen by more people. A strange film, in some ways a biting, satirical comedy about pettiness and superstition that has one of the most hypnotic denouements I’ve seen.
I also finally saw the only other film of his that seems to be available, Amma Ariyan (Report to Mother), produced by his Odessa Collective movement. A rich, wonderful film, and more heavily and directly political than Donkey; unfortunately, it exists in such a poor condition it’s painful.
Among the more contemporary directors, I’m glad I got to check out some of the works of Amit Dutta, Vipin Vijay and above all Murali Nair’s stunning A Dog’s Day. Why his Cannes award-winning Throne of Death is not readily available to watch remains a mystery to me.
And hard as it might be to believe, there’s been some very good films from the much-maligned (not always without merit) Bollywood as well in recent times. Bharadwaj’s Maqbool, which is Shakespeare’s Macbeth set in the Mumbai underworld, Varma’s Satya, an explosive gangster drama that actually paved the way for films like Maqbool (though not all of them were as good as either), Kashyap’s Black Friday, a very powerful docudrama about the 90s Bombay bomb explosions and Banerjee’s Khosla’s Nest, among the most entertaining films Bollywood has produced in recent times, are some of the best.
oh yes….it’s worth pointing out (with implied urging) that murali nair’s fantastic A Dog’s Day is available to watch here on mubi (which is indeed how i saw it)
Among the more promising developments on the contemporary scene is the Marathi cinema that is being produced. Maybe I’m a little biased, but having seem far too many inane comedies as a kid (Marathi being my first language), it’s more than a little gratifying to see a film like Harishchandrachi Factory, a breezy, elegant tribute to Dadasaheb Phalke (the father of Indian cinema). My favorite though is Gabhricha Paus (The Damned Rain), a darkly comic, at times poetic and eventually devastating slice of social realism, about farmers’ tribulations in a drought-stricken region of Maharashtra.
I’ll watch a lot more Indian cinema once I find a reliable way to find subtitled Indian films. What I’ve seen I like.
I came across a really fine essay by Moinak Biswas on the modern Bollywood crime film in general, and Maqbool in particular. It describes, quite articulately, just why the emergence of this new popular form of melodrama was such a refreshing change from the spiritless and anesthetic 3-hour long marriage videos and/or family reunions masquerading as popular cinema, also hinting at a greater connection between these films and the tradition of the classic Bollywood melodramas of the past. Personally, Satya (Truth) was one of the gateway films for me, to borrow a term from another thread, so is very close to my heart.
The Bollywood melodrama not only fails to mourn, it fails to acknowledge any lack whatsoever. It is possible to see in it a reversal of the project of the classic melodrama of the fifties and sixties. The romance with modernity in that cinema entailed generational conflict, the couple’s struggle to break free from the parental family, the fantasy of conjugal sovereignty. The current imagination of the family drama has a manic investment in erasing all ideological fissures from its domain. It is romance with patriarchy: the adventure in love is but fulfilling the mandate of the father. At an advanced stage of its dissolution, the old family is reinvented as the very embodiment of Indian-ness. The role of the diasporic imagination in this is well known. It is of some consequence that another genre of Indian cinema, spawned alongside the family drama, drawing upon similar resources, has created the possibility of working the themes of authority, property and kinship into a less cheerful material.
A source of fascination in the cinematic underworld is the criminal fraternity itself. Ramgopal Varma’s Satya presented a powerful picture of this bonding, deeply saturated as well as fragile, often ethically strong through its very withdrawal from the moral law. This affective zone, the precarious community of the killer, becomes a fertile core of performance – sharing of codes, sharing moments of near annihilation, refracting the everyday logic through a highly colourful idiom of exchange. It is interesting to follow the dissolution of actual sibling or parent-child bonding of the earlier examples of the genre, say of Parinda or Gardish, into the pure invention of a community in Satya. Often the nexus, and not the thrill of action, becomes the affective wellspring of the film, its real lure. If the ruthless pursuit of money reveals its violent side here it is in relation to the currency of bonding, its appeal largely deriving from a secret recognition of the impossibility of the legitimate family. This substitute family does not procreate, of course; it is bred to die. Like Scarface or Godfather, a sister or a daughter turns up sometimes as the impossible bride in the midst of the orgy of death. — Mourning and Blood-Ties : Macbeth in Mumbai — Moinak Biswas
Yes, there are too many films for me to be able to choose one.
I do have a question which I hope might be answered in this thread though. Has anyone seen the 2008 film in Tamil titled Kanchivaram by a filmmaker named Priyadarshan. There’s almost no information on the director in English, but apparently he is considered somewhat of a commercially oriented hack. But this particular film, I tell you, is an exquisitely shot humanist tale.
apparently he is considered somewhat of a commercially oriented hack
well, if his commercial Hindi films are any indication, he certainly is a hack. one of his comedies, Hera Pheri, was a big smash and he’s been repeating that formula ever since, with increasingly disastrous results. Still, I’ve heard some of his Tamil films are better, so I’m not surprised to hear good things about Kanchivaram. Yet to see it though.
Thank you for these insightful posts, Vikram. I had no idea about the melioration of Bollywood. It is nice to hear that in this often demonized system, one can find quality films, and more importantly; that there are directors in the present, and not just from the past, that are making great films in India. (asides from the avant-garde Vipin Vijay and Amit Dutta)
Like Sally said above; Indian cinema is an immense thing, and I still only know but a fraction of the works done by big names, and hardly anything about what’s underneath the surface; due to unavailability, lack of subs etc., and can not discern as to which film may have been the most pivotal. But my personal favorites are; Aravindan’s Esthapphan, Ghathak’s Subarnarekha, and Benegal’s Ankur.
Ok, thank you for the info. What you say makes some sense to me. I’d love to get some feedback from you on Kanchivaram. Even with all the things I’ve read and heard about his body of work—which I’ve no reason to doubt and it really seems like this film is an outlier in an otherwise commercially successful but artistically dubious career—I still think that the film is easily one of my top 100 from the noughties. And for what it’s worth, I’ve seen well over a thousand features from the last decade…
Very interesting to learn of this film: there’s a rave article here
I’ve only seen one of his Priyadarshan’s Hindi films (CHUP CHUP KE), but it’s seriously one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.
I’m still psyched to see KANCHIVARAM, though.
I agree, eclectic cultures, influences, unique colloquial flairs make it really difficult to appreciate Indian cinema in close quarters.
Indian Cinema, in my opinion, has forever been following either of these trends, the early mookies (silent era), mythological/socio-fantasies, social films with bold themes, entertainers/musicals, new wave art cinema, slapstick comedies, hollywood rip-offs. I call them trends because this is a market biased industry of art, if a trend sells you get more films that follow a pattern.
The chaotic commercial vicious circle spawned thousands of films that would (still are) cater to a mass majority of audience that would only pay if they got a glimpse of performers dancing, singing (lip-sync), fighting, making them laugh, make them cry with melodrama all at once.
Given the ratio of films made overall, there has always been a dearth of filmmakers who experimented, who struck a balance between realism and escapism, who touched upon universal themes with a sincere vision, who made sensible films that had essence, who created art that was timeless.
Timeless, universal, subtle, visual beauty only became synonymous with a great body of work left behind by Ray and Ghatak, the 2 shining beacons to an artistically blinded cinematic nation.
All is not gloom, sparks of elegant genius, satisfactory brilliance were awlays in supply, albeit occasionally through films of other greats such as Mrinal Sen, Mani Kaul, MS Sathyu, Shashi Kapoor, Shyam Benegal, Vishwanath, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Jandhyala, Maniratnam, Ramgopal Varma and in recent times Anurag Kashyap and a legion of others.
100 Years down it is difficult to analyse what drove Indian Cinema (and regional cinema) in the direction it has been heading, the easy thing is to look at the silver lining and hope for art and hope for cinema that would instill a sense of oneness with the diversity, spirituality, complexity the country is known for.
Oh, i have a tremendous sense of excitement over discoveries to come, an overwhelming flow of riches still to explore, a quality of films hidden from worldview awaiting proper appreciation, a country that is yet to get proper recognition. India didn’t reach our world cup final due simply to Apursansar’s brilliant management but, i’m convinced, because its cinema is richer than many of us realise.
I have about 20 Indian films among my top 500 or so- now this may not seem a large percentage, given the size of the film industry and the country’s population, and given the overall cultural wealth through Indian history- but it’s decent enough when i’ve only scratched the surface. The Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema is a tremendous book and there are numerous films it describes as extraordinary and remarkable that i’ve yet to see and which are hardly known internationally.
Satyajit Ray is for me a towering figure of world, never mind Indian, cinema (hardly anyone can match his cinema c.v), yet even he has been neglected in the USA and elsewhere. There has been a range of interesting, politically committed (including collective) films bubbling away under the surface. Indian politics has had a strong leftist tradition, and there has been great intellectual depth too.
I expect Indian cinema to be my new great love.
One area that needs to be further explored, at least here in the west, is the influence Indian cinema exerts on other parts of Asia, Africa, and the Mid-East, and the reverse as, from what I can gather, Bollywood films are shown in different areas and are quite popular. I’ve been watching some Egyptian films recently and can’t help but notice the similarities between those films and some of the ones from India at about the same time, the 50’s. Certainly, there is also influence that comes from Hollywood and some European nations that had developed musical film vocabularies, but there is a different feel and, I would suggest, desire or need shown and fulfilled by the musical or popular films from India and some other less developed nations than is evident in US or European films for the most part. I tend to think of it as having to do with the economic status of the audience and the wide range of education, experience and class among the people the films were trying to satisfy.
Yes, Greg makes an interesting point. Bollywood films have indeed gotten a lot of play in parts of Africa and the Middle East. Its influence is definitely evident in the cinema of Egyptian auteurs like Youssef Chahine and Henry Barakat.
Someone like Aishwarya Rai—who is not yet a household name in the States—is arguably as popular and influential as the likes of Angelina Jolie in the rest of the world.
It’s interesting to compare films from less developed parts of the world, at whatever time in their history that may have been the case, to films from the thirties and early forties in the US and parts of Europe as it was certainly more common to be less concerned with consistency of tone and instead provide a variety of entertainments within a single film. I can’t help but think this was due to the lack of options available to many of the viewers, so giving the audience a broader range of entertainment could be seen as a value rather than a defect as many people today tend to think of it. The rise of, first, radio, and then more importantly, television seemed to slowly work to end that attitude and push films in the direction we are more comfortable with today. This suggests some things about attitudes to art and how they work with wealth and relative values of comfort that it may worth reflecting on.
And Aishwarya Rai should be at least as popular as Angelina Jolie, we are way behind the curve, or is that curves?, here.
i love it when greg makes a joke. (what with parks kicking ass and peabody the gnomic grunt, i’m almost wishing we could have an old man cup sometime…kenji could keep it civil)
but thanks for all the info here from everyone, on the modern films especially…the wealth of material is just far too vast to negotiate without reliable guides……but plenty of pointers to take note of here…now i just need to find ’em..
@Vikram: Thanks for sharing that essay! As much as I love a nice Shahrukh romance, it has been nice to see some grittier films lately. I’m tempted to say that a lot of them are throwbacks to the angry young man era, but the grittiness and violence often seems more like an aesthetic choice than a reaction to political/social issues.
It’s interesting that you mentioned Maqbool. I’m really excited about Bhardwaj. Having seen Omkara, Kaminey, and 7 Khoon Maaf, I feel like he’s going to be a really interesting director to follow. It seems 7 Khoon Maaf wasn’t particularly well received, but I thought it was well-made and pretty daring, content-wise, for a mainstream film. Plus, he’s wonderful with Priyanka. It’s shocking to see a female character who not only has so much screentime, but it is so morally ambiguous. I hope they keep working together. His films, along with everything Aamir Khan’s producing, have kept things really interesting.
@Roujin – I am a Shahid Kapoor acolyte, and I couldn’t make it through more than 20 mintues of Chup Chup Ke. Check out Kaminey, instead. Hopefully, it will erase the memory of CCK.
@Greg X – Aishwarya’s tiny – I’m pretty sure Angelina’s curvier than she is, haha. But I do agree that there are some amazing Indian stars who deserve as much exposure here as their American counterparts get. I think a lot of the gorgeous, young stars could make a dent in Hollywood, if they wanted to. I could totally see Priyanka Chopra in the next Bond film.
Vishal’s imagination kind of ran amok while adapting Ruskin Bond’s Susanna’s Seven Husbands for 7 Khoon Maaf. Priyanka Chopra clearly lacked the range to don 7 varied roles. Maqbool still stands as his best offering hands down, a must see definitely.
Yeah, 7 Khoon Maaf was a bit messy, but there was too much that I loved about it (visuals, performances, songs) to dismiss it. I disagree about Priyanka, but that might be, in part, because I don’t speak Hindi. Or the fact that I have a huge girl-crush on her. Also, I loved the mature way it dealt with sex. It was a lot more nuanced than most mainstream films, Bollywood or otherwise.
With such high praise, I’m definitely going to have to check out Maqbool. I love Irrfan Khan and he definitely gave an impressive performance for Vishal in 7 Khoon Maaf. (I almost wished the whole movie had been devoted to that story line). Can’t wait to see it!
The only other Bharadwaj film I’ve enjoyed, apart from Maqbool, is his other Ruskin Bond adaptation, Blue Umbrella. To be sure, even at 90 minutes, it feels a little too long, but still has a quaint, charming beauty and very fine performances. Omkara (an adaptation of Othello set in the small towns of North India) has its moments, and Kaminey is fun, though I really only liked the songs in those films :)
Just looked up Blue Umbrella – it looks fun! I just watched Omkara the other day and was pretty disappointed. Like you said, it had its moments, but the pacing was terrible. I love Kaminey. Not exactly high art, but it’s a fun ride, and Shahid and Priyanka are adorable.
If asked about a film that has nourished Indian cinema, I think of Bhansali’s ‘Black’.
Inspiring, emotional, well-acted, and powerful music.