No parallel with mainstream cinema (Column: B-Town)
And, when it comes to cinema, whatever liberties a director may take, the result must be plausible and identifiable.
Parallel cinema or, as those who indulge in making them liked to call it, Art Film. Were these people more creative, did they know the medium better, and did they think audiences needed to be educated for better cinema? I failed to understand the purpose of making such films. I don’t think even moviegoers did either, because if they had, the artistic wave would have survived alongside regular entertainers.
While many attractive performers were also referred to as fantasy and aimed to feast the masses (some footage even made audiences laugh at how stupid the scene was and how it was taken for granted). Take for example a scene from the Manmohan Desai movie “Amar Akbar Anthony, where three brothers separated since childhood are seen donating blood to Nirupa Roy, all at once with tubes hanging from their arms. Imagine three spurts of blood. flowing in her body! This might have sounded ridiculous, but it was meant to show that the three men were in fact the lost blood brothers while Nirupa Roy was the mother of the three. That all three were of the same blood. that was running through their veins. It worked with viewers.
Compare to that, an art film, “27 Down”, where the whole movie has the heroine, Rakhee, traveling on a train and dwelling on her past and so on! Not to mention a normal traveler, even for the viewer of the film, that would be sheer torture.
Then there was another movie where late at night you see car headlights far apart from each other heading towards the camera. The scene continues indefinitely until eternity. Was this scene made to arouse your curiosity?
This film and many others were called art cinema.
Of course, there were some interesting films that were different and interesting from commercial films, because even the greatest filmmakers had this urge to be creative and to show something more real and closer to life. Films like “Jagte Raho” by Raj Kapoor or “Boot Polish”, “Do Bigha Zameen” by Bimal Roy; “Neecha Nagar” by Chetan Anand; “Pyaasa” by Guru Dutt; “Kalyug” by Shashi Kapoor; “Baharon Ke Sapne” by Nasir Hussain; Ketran Mehta’s “Mirch Masala” was a movie play.
These films didn’t find a taker, really, and theaters weren’t interested in showing them, fearing empty theaters. What was surprising was that the very taxpayers who didn’t care about these films ended up funding their production, unwittingly. The government had set up an institution to promote them as what it called good cinema! A special body was created in the name of Film Finance Corporation or FFC (later renamed the National Film Development Corporation or NFDC).
While regular films ended up paying various taxes, Good Cinema was not only funded by the government, but awarded them national awards, which qualified them for the entertainment tax exemption in the states. These films were also sent overseas to earn certificates of merit which were of no value. The sad thing is that a lot of these art films portray and exploit the poverty and depravity of a part of the society which ended up doing nothing but bad public relations for the country.
It was a vicious cycle and a matter of taxpayer money spent on things that neither provided employment nor reported the money spent, putting it in a bad light.
As if the funding for these films was not enough, the government built a cinema exclusively to host these films. He was aptly titled Akashwani, stinking of control. The idea was to promote Good Cinema. Who, charged with directing this charitable exercise of the Government, knew what was good or bad cinema? How was cinema defined?
After all, the cinema was a business enterprise and what mattered was whether it made a profit by entertaining people what it was supposed to do.
Besides government funding, what worked for these parallel filmmakers? Besides the funds, there were plenty of new and aspiring actors keen to make Hindi films out of them. Actors who moved from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, and others from the National School of Drama (NSD), Delhi, were readily available for any kind of on-screen exposure. Actors like Naseeruddinn Shah, Om Puri, Amrish Puri, Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil and directors Ketan Mehta, Kundan Shah, Sudhir Mishra, Vinod Chopra, among others, had to settle for non-rewarding work in parallel cinema with compensation close to zero. They won awards, perhaps, and laurels, but they soon realized they were being exploited. Avoiding making more films of this genre, they turned to the money makers.
Their decision was fair and rewarding. They got the recognition and the money they deserved.
The government-backed parallel cinema project died of natural causes. However, like the filmmakers of yesteryear who sometimes indulged in such films to fuel their creative urge, some actors have now taken to making art films. Their only goal seems to be to win a national award. Examples are “Chhapak”, “Phillauri”, “Pari”, “The Sky Is Pink” and a few others.
What is good cinema, aren’t movies made for mass entertainment good? In fact, most of the films made these days are inspiring, meaningful and entertaining all at the same time. They can be based on fiction or reality. They perform well at the box office. Movies like “Dangal”, “Kahaani”, “Pad Man”, “Holiday: A Soldier Is Never Off Duty”, “3 Idiots”, “Kesari”, “Mission Mangal”, “Bajrangi Bhaijaan”, “Super 30” and “Manikarnika” are just a few examples that come to mind.
(VINOD MIRANI IS A FILM AUTHOR AND VETERINARY FILM ANALYST. OPINIONS EXPRESSED ARE PERSONAL)
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