Looking back at the Indian Cinema movement and renaissance of parallel Cinema movement in India has been a long journey. A diverse country like India with so many languages and many layers of socio-economic differences, Cinema is one platform that has reflected to all sections of the society.
Ever since Lumiere brothers introduced projected motion picture in 1895 The film culture pioneered through Save Dada (Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatavdekar) and Hiralal Sen who were the first to make two short films as early as 1897 and 1899, much before Dadasaheb Phalke (often inaccurately credited as pioneer of Indian cinema). Those two short films were about the theatrical performance of F.B.Thanawala and Taboot procession made in Mumbai. Then followed imports like Life of Christ (1901), Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1902), Alibaba and 40 Thieves (1903) and Napoleon Bonaparte (1904), primarily because of British Empire in India. The films were shown to those serving officers in India. This initial process explored the availability of technology, which gave way to introduce the indigenous film making and that’s the inspiration of Phalke who ventured into feature films.
Although the silent opus Raja Harishchandra in 1913, made by Phalke was a big commercial success then. By 1920, there were 28 films made which was a very good number, themes were often mythology and Indian epics. The content of the films would not change for a long time till the advent of talkies and colour in the 1930’s
The emergence of Shantaram and Sohrab Modi in 1930s was associated with their founding of his own studio Prabhat film company in Kolhapur (1932) and Minerva Movietone (1936) respectively. Later Shantaram migrated to Mumbai to start his Rajkamal Kala Mandir. He was one of the filmmakers to realize the efficacy of the film medium as an instrument of social change and used it successfully to advocate humanism on one hand and expose bigotry and injustice on the other. He made successful films like Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani (1946) just before India gained Independence.
During the same period, also saw the formation of Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) precise 1943. There were lots of film makers associated with this, also played a very important part in shaping up the radical arts movement which believed in using theatre and cinema as vehicles of social change. For the first time, Indian cinema saw the rise of the art movement and the emergence of stalwarts, which contributed to the largest migration of talent to the newly consolidating film industry in Bombay. The likes of Prithviraj Kapoor, K A Abbas, Chetan Anand and also Hrishikesh Mukherji migrated from Calcutta were IPTA’s contribution. Ritwick Ghatak, Mrinal Sen and Ray operated from Calcutta. Ray made most of his movies from Calcutta (except for Shatranj ke Khiladi and Sadgati)
The other common entity in their film was their rejection of popular forms, like the song and action, their affinity for the working class, spare use of music and toned down colour palettes. Eventually IPTA disintegrated in the 1950s.i strongly feel that the Parallel Cinema movement took its shape in late 1940s to the 1960s, by pioneers such as Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Bimal Roy, Mrinal Sen, Tapan Sinha, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, Chetan Anand, Guru Dutt and V. Shantaram and so on. This period can also be considered part of the ‘Golden Age’ of Indian cinema. The cinema borrowed heavily from the Indian literature of the times, hence became an important study of the contemporary Indian society, and is now used by scholars and historians alike to map the changing demographics and socio-economic as well as political temperament of the Indian populace. Right from its inception, Indian cinema has had people who wanted to and did use the medium for more than entertainment. They used it to highlight prevalent issues and sometimes to throw open new issues for the public. An early example was Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar (1946), a social realist film that won the Grand Prize at the first Cannes Film Festival. Since then, Indian independent films were frequently in competition for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, with some of them winning major prizes at the festival.
In late 50s and 60s, the phase saw the parallel films garner commercial success, couple of them pared literature along with wonderful music to their theme and the films like Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam and Kagaz ke Phool made by GuruDutt was acknowledged well. His Pyaasa featured in Time magazine’s All-Time 100 best movies list. The movies of those era that I would like to mention are Raj Kapoor films Awaara (1951) and Shree 420 (1955); V. Shantaram’s Do Aankhen Barah Haath (1957); K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam(1960) Dev Anand’s Guide (1964) and Mehboob Khan’s Mother India (Academy award for Foreign film nominated for 1958, lost by a point to Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria). Besides directors like Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee impressed audience with the middle path (middle cinema/bridge cinema) blend between the stark realism of art film & indulgence of mainstream into their themes.
Soon in the beginning of 1970s, this concept of ‘middle cinema’ grew popular and the films like Piya Ka Ghar, Rajnigandha and Ek Ruka Hua Faisla, Mere Apne, Achanak, Chupke Chupke, Kinara, Gruvpravesh, and so on. 70s also saw the breakdown of the constitution and suppression of civil liberties. Films began to the growing frustrations of the middle class- The parallel cinema entered into the limelight of Hindi cinema to a much wider extent. This was led by directors as Shyam Benegal, Gulzar, Mani Kaul, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Kantilal Rathod and Saeed Akhtar Mirza, and later on Mahesh Bhatt and Govind Nihalani, becoming the main directors of this period’s Indian art cinema.
Mani Kaul’s first several films Uski Roti (1971) and Duvidha (1974), Sathyu’s Garam Hava (1973) were critically appreciated and held to high esteem in the international spotlight. Shyam Benegal’s directorial debut, Ankur (Seeding, 1974) was a major critical success, and was followed by numerous works that created another field in the movement. Kumar Shahani, a student of Ritwik Ghatak, released his first feature Maya Darpan (1972) which became a landmark film of Indian art cinema. These filmmakers tried to promote realism in their own different styles, though many of them often accepted certain conventions of popular cinema. This moment heralded new era of ‘thinking’ actors like Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Amol Palekar, Anant Nag, Amrish Puri, Pankaj Kapoor, Deepti Naval, Farooq Shaikh and even the actors from commercial cinema plunged the bandwagon like Rekha, Hema malini, Vinod Khanna, Dimple Kapadia, among others, with the well knitted bridge cinema and results was Arth, Masoom, Gol maal, Junoon, Kalyug, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, Vijetha, Utsav, and so on.
Besides Hindi and Bengali films, the South Indian movies also gain quite a popular repute. Malayalam language film maker Adoor Gopalakrishnan extended the Indian New Wave to Malayalam cinema with his film Swayamvaram (1972). Long after the Golden Age of Indian cinema, Malayalam cinema experienced its own ‘Golden Age’ in the 1980s and early 1990s. Some of the most acclaimed Indian filmmakers at the time were from the Malayalam industry, including Adoor Gopalakrishnan, G. Aravindan, John Abraham, Padmarajan, Bharathan, T. V. Chandran and Shaji Karun. Adoor was often considered to be Ray’s heir, directed some of the acclaimed films during this period, including Elippathayam (1981) which won the Sutherland Trophy at the London Film Festival, as well as Mathilukal (1989) which won major prizes at the Venice Film Festival. Shaji N. Karun’s debut film Piravi (1989) won the Camera d’Or at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, followed by Swaham (1994) & Vanaprastham (1999) respectively.
Kannada film saw significant development in 1970s, Samskara, directed by Pattabhirama Reddy based on a novel by the Kannada writer U.R. Anantha Murthy was a milestone in the parallel movement. This was inspired filmmakers like Girish Karnad, B.V. Karanth, G.V.Iyer, Girish Kasaravalli, Chandrashekar Kambara, Lankesh, Nagabharana, Bargur Ramachandrappa, M.S. Sathyu, Lakshminaryana and other to made off-beat themes. Many of these efforts won awards and acclaim. Besides Shankar Nag adopted a wonderful piece of bridge cinema.
Films like Chomana Dhudi (1975) directed by B.V.Karanth and in the same year Hamsa Geethe directed by G.V. Iyer was very well applauded. The notable parallel films are Vamsa Vriksha, Girish Karasarvalli’s Ghata Shraddha, Sathyu’s Kanneshwara Rama, Chanda marutha, Prema Karanth’s Paniyamma, Karnad’s Ondanondu Kaladalli, Abachurina Post Office, Lankesh’s Elindalo bandavaru; and many more contributed to the glorious times of 70s and 80s.
Telugu film also had its own slice of parallel movement and in between the dominance of commercial cinema in Telugu- Directors like Pattabhirami Reddy, K. N. T. Sastry, B. Narsing Rao, and Akkineni Kutumba Rao made their films to international recognition.
The case of history of Tamil cinema has been fascinating, most of it been derived from the studio culture. By the late sixties Tamil cinema witnessed the emergence of a prolific director and screenwriter Balachander. He discarded the traditional nature of film making and made movies with bold themes. His films dealt with unusual and complicated relationships and social themes. Over the decades, he made many stupendous movies like Ethir Neechal, Arangetram, Aval Oru Thodar Kathai, , Varumayin Niram Sivappu and so on. He introduced and gave breaks to many popular artists including Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, Vivek and Prakash Raj. Bharathiraja’s films was true-to-life, his first directorial venture was 16 Vayathinile in 1977 was uncanny hit. Noted photographer and director Balu Mahindra, made films that are visual delight with sophisticated screenplay, brilliant characters and complex emotions. The popular bridge cinema makers in Tamil were Sridhar, Mahendran, Mani Ratnam, Bala to name few.
Besides Bengali films in the East- Assam and Manipuri Industry had their piece of success in these kind of movies. The directors like Bhabendra Nath Saikia and Jahnu Barua did it for Assamese Cinema, while, and Aribam Syam Sharma pioneered Parallel Movies in Manipuri Cinema.
The 1990s saw the decline of this movement- The rising costs involved of film production, piracy and related issues were started cramping in that had a negative impact on these art films. The other aspect was the return on investment guarantees were fever and Government agencies like NFDC went slow on the production of films. Some of the renowned movie makers and art film directors saw Television as their medium and migrated there, the Underworld financing become rampant too with commercial films and most of the directors had little to choose that point in time.
And yes the revival was also seen and the experiment process started among so called commercial producers and once the off-beat themes started becoming popular among Bollywood producers. This led to the emergence of a distinct genre known as Mumbai noir, urban films reflecting social problems in the city of Mumbai. The introduction of Mumbai noir was marked by Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya (1998), widely considered to be the best Hindi crime film ever produced.
The other examples of such movies produced in Bollywood as part of this parallel genre include Mani Ratnam’s Yuva (2004), Nagesh Kukunoor’s 3 Deewarein (2003) and Dor (2006), Manish Jha’s Matrubhoomi (2004), Sudhir Mishra’s Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (2005), Jahnu Barua’s Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara (2005), Pan Nalin’s Valley of Flowers (2006), Onir’s My Brother Nikhil (2005) and Bas Ek Pal (2006), Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday (2007), and Gangs of Wassipur (2011); Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan (2009), Kiran Rao’s Dhobi Ghat (2010), Amit Dutta’s Sonchidi (2011), and the latest sensation Anand Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus (2013).
There are Independent films productions also began to spurt with Indian English language spoken are also occasionally produced; examples include Revathi’s Mitr, My Friend (2002), Aparna Sen’s Mr. and Mrs. Iyer (2002) and 15 Park Avenue (2006), Homi Adajania’s Being Cyrus (2006), Rituparno Ghosh’s The Last Lear (2007), and Sooni Taraporevala’s Little Zizou (2009).
As we all know that India produces maximum number of films in the World. The lists of today’s popular parallel film directors are long indeed. The talented young directors are continuing with the new baton for the great run. The advent of crowd sourcing, multiplexes, online platforms and many such via-medias are becoming source of great interests. The exhibit halls and independent production channels are growing, which is a great encouragement for the movie makers. I’m just as delighted to share the legacy of Indian Parallel films and so are the perfect time for the movie makers to carve their niche and future looks bright……..