Rupesh Jain, 43, a lawyer with the Delhi High Court, is unusually upbeat these days. It isn’t that the genial advocate has suddenly got new clients. Jain leaves his chambers early most evenings to relive the wonder years. “We grew up watching cinema that was entertaining yet not banal. Last week, when I chanced upon a digitally restored version of Ek Doctor Ki Maut at Connaught Place’s Gramophone House, all those memories came flooding back.”
Across the country, at a suburb in Jalgaon, Maharashtra, the Mahajans are settling down after dinner into their favourite nooks on the couch in their living room as Prashant Mahajan takes his family on a trip down nostalgia lane with a director’s cut of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro.
“It was as if
had directed the film,” says his 13-year-old daughter Nidhi. “He remembered all the punchlines and even the exact frame where Bhakti Barve would slap Ravi Baswani.” The 40-year-old Department of Posts employee has a collection of more than 5,000 DVDS. But none of them come close to providing the laugh-a-minute entertainment that Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro does.
“The Cinemas of India series by Shemaroo and NFDC features such eclectic films as Shyam Benegal’s Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda and Sandeep Sawant’s Shwaas in Marathi, which went to the Oscars. I intend to pick up a few more titles.”
Some of the titles restored in the project include Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala, Tapan Sinha’s Ek Doctor Ki Maut and Saeed Mirza’s Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro. Filmmaker Kundan Shah, 64, the director of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, which has provided such undiluted joy to cinegoers like Mahajan since its release in 1983, isn’t surprised with the cult status that the black comedy has acquired.
“Although most of the bouquet of films being released in the series is interesting, comedy titles are bound to do better. If you look at re-runs of movies such as Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi or Padosan or even Buster Keaton flicks, comedies command a larger repeat audience.”
Auteurs on a shoestring
Another film that was sought after by connoisseurs and is now available on DVD in the series is Govind Nihalani’s Party, that ridicules the urban elite, especially those with artistic inclinations. Its director Nihalani, 71, who did back-stage lighting for theatre legend Satyadev Dubey, says films such as Party represent an attitude towards filmmaking.
That is why it was worth the effort sitting at the archives for restoration. “Those filmmakers plied their trade oblivious to the demands of the box office. We only thought of the film. There was no pressure to put in saleable actors, or songs, or for that matter, item numbers. The mandate of the Film Finance Corporation (that is what the NFDC was called then) was to encourage experimental cinema and they did it well,” says the thespian.
The series isn’t just introducing another generation of viewers to his oeuvre, says Shah. It is the body of work of directors who gave primacy to their craft before anything else. “Most of these were made on shoestring budgets of two to five lakhs. If you pool in the budget of films made by NFDC, it would still be less than that of a flop multi-starrer like Salaam-e-Ishq,” he says.
Even when the parallel cinema wave was riding a crest, many films which would go on to attain cult status, such as Sazaaye Maut featuring Naseeruddin Shah, had difficulty finding financiers. It is here that the government helped filmmakers who had talent but were short on resources, says Hiren Gada, director, Shemaroo Entertainment.
“The NFDC took a risk with me. My CV before Jaane Bhi Do… was zero. We featured talented actors from the film institute and the National School of Drama stable such as Naseer, Om Puri, Neena Gupta and Ravi Baswani. When it was released, the film was received very differently. It became a cult 8 years after its release,” says Shah.
As they say, may the cult grow.
New wave retake
India’s New Cinema movement of realistic films that began in the late ’60s and the 1970s flourished through the 1980s. The pioneers of the parallel genre included Shyam Benegal, Kundan Shah, Saeed Mirza and Ketan Mehta.
They were high on talent but low on resources. But they could make the kind of movies they wanted with help from the film finance corporation. It is movies of that vintage which are the most sought after in the Cinemas of India series.
Blasts from the past
The National Film Development Corporation of India has restored 63 classics. These include:
* Mirch Masala (1987)
A British era subedar lusts after a spirited beauty in a Saurashtra village. She and her supporters hit back with a ferocity that leaves him reeling. Directed by Ketan Mehta. Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah in important roles.
* Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro (1989)
What happens when Salim, who stays in a poor Muslim neighbourhood stumbles into organised crime? Directed by Saeed Mirza, with Pavan Malhotra as the protagonist.
* Ek Doctor Ki Maut (1991)
Discovering a vaccine for leprosy brings a doctor fame and jealousy. The last straw is American doctors getting the credit. Directed by Tapan Sinha. Featuring Pankaj Kapoor
* Uski Roti (1970)
A woman goes to deliver a meal to a driver on a desolate highway. She is late trying to save her sister from being seduced by the village rake. Directed by Mani Kaul.
From HT Brunch, May 27
Follow us on twitter.com/HTBrunch
Connect with us on facebook.com/hindustantimesbrunch