The centenary of Indian cinema is fast being reduced to a celebration of Hindi films, largely Bollywood. Bollywood, regrettably has in the past few years become synonymous with Indian cinema. Nothing can be more unfair. Nothing can be farther from truth.
For, of the 1200 or so movies that pop out of the cans every year in India, a mere 250-odd emerge from the stables in Mumbai. The rest of them are made in Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Trivandrum, Kolkata, Guwahati and in myriad languages, including Marathi.
But the 100-year gala is firmly confined to the Hindi language and Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra made in 1913. Incidentally, this is not even the first feature. Pundalik came a year earlier in 1912, but for some vague technical hiccup, it has lost the race.
What is more, men like Bengal’s Hiralal Sen were making films even earlier than 1913. That poor man is but forgotten in the muscle and money power of the Mumbai movie mandarins.
So have some masters who piloted Indian cinema
to the position it is now in.
Had Satyajit Ray
not made Apur Sansar in 1955 and taken it to Cannes in 1956, winning an award there, the world would not have awakened to India’s celluloid work.
Along with Ray, masterful helmers like Ritwick Ghatak gave a new meaning to India’s largely melodramatic mush that went in the name of cinema. In 1969, Mrinal Sen, Mani Kaul and Basu Chatterjee produced novelty for the screen. Their Bhuvan Shome, Uski Roti and Sara Akash respectively heralded what is termed the New Wave or New Indian Cinema.
Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Aravindan, K.G. George, Pattabhi Rama Reddy, Girish Kasaravalli, Kumar Sahani, M.S. Satyu, Buddhadeb Dasgupta and Shyam Benegal followed with their profound works, absolutely brilliant, and in languages like Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi too. There was K. Balachander (who made such powerful social dramas) and Balu Mahendra, both in Tamil Nadu. There was Bimal Roy,
and who can ever forget his Bandini.
But these directors, some of India’s greatest in the field, are not apparently part of the centenary celebrations. “We have not even been consulted”, Kasaravalli says, who is now making two documentaries, one on U.R. Ananthamurthy and the other on Adoor.
And, sad by far, the Cannes Film Festival, whose 66th edition runs from May 15 to 26, has chosen an anthology movie called Bombay Talkies as a Tribute to Indian Cinema that is in Hindi and made by four Mumbai helmers. The film’s four segments are by Anurag Kashyap, Karan Johar, Zoya Akhtar and Dibakar Banerjee.
How can a movie made by four Mumbai directors be representative of Indian cinema, whose beauty and richness lie in its ability to speak in many languages and which presents a mind-boggling variety of mannerisms and cultures.
And why must a Festival, which is undoubtedly the world’s most renowned, select Bombay Talkies as a Tribute to Indian Cinema? I fail to understand.
I also fail to understand that if at all an anthology had to be produced to celebrate the centenary year, the least that Kashyap and his team could have done is to make it representative of Indian cinema, rather than confining it to Mumbai. We could have had, for instance, Adoor, Kasaravalli, Dasgupta, contributing to the anthology, instead of four Mumbai directors.
Today, some splendid work is being done in Malayalam and Tamil. There are some very interesting directors in Bengal and Assam.
All these men have been pushed away by the Mumbai tsunami.
And, Cannes, my most favourite festival for 20-odd years, has decided to play along with this tsunami.
Not just this, this year, which is the Year of India at Cannes, the Festival and its two sidebars seem to be in love with Anurag Kashyap.
The two films in the Festival’s official sections – Bombay Talkies and Monsoon Shootout have a Kashyap connection. One of the four stories in Bombay Talkies has been helmed by him, and he has co-produced Monsoon Shootout.
The Anurag links take even deeper roots. Two Hindi movies – one each in the Critics’ Week and the Director’s Fortnight – have the Kashyap stamp. His Ugly plays in the Director’s Fortnight, and Dabba in the Critics Week has been part-produced by Kashyap.
The year 2013 seems more like an Anurag Summer at Cannes. (Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered the Cannes Film Festival for more than two decades, and will return to the French Riviera next week.)