If cinema is the experience of a community, a museum of cinema needs to be more than a house of history. It must mark out periods of enterprise, bow to pioneers, and also look at its failures, its rebels. The 30 panels and artefacts brought to Siri Fort, Delhi, as a preview to the upcoming National Museum in Mumbai, have attempted a difficult balance to showcase 100-year-old memories of one of the world’s oldest movie-making industry.
“We had to consider major centres of cinema production. Bhojpuri cinema, for example, now talked about, was not thought to have a national presence. As an institution, we can’t be totally inclusive or exclusive,” said VS Kundu, director-general, Films Division, while overseeing the outlay of the exhibition.
From the panels hang facts about Indian cinema but there is enough evidence of scandal and power-play. The Lumiere Brothers’ landing in Bo mbay in 1896 with 10-minute films set in motion the best and the worst of creative and competitive energies among wannabe filmmakers to produce the first silent (Raja Harishchandra,1913), talkie (Alam Ara, 1931) and colour (Kisan Kanya, 1937) films. PHOTOS: National Museum of Cinema
At Siri Fort, of course, former rivals seemed to have called truce. Ardeshir Irani of Imperial Studios who made Alam Ara and Kisan Kanya, and Madan Theatres’ JJ Madan, the big daddy of film importing, are smiling stiffly at each other from across panels.
Women artistes – thankfully not a separate category – are a strong presence. There is Fatima Begum, India’s first woman director; Mandakini, the first child star; Kusum Kumari, the first female star and Kanan Debi, one of the early actresses who was a playback success. The entry of sound gave birth to cinema in different languages, opportunities for smuggling in anti-British propaganda in films, speak its angst in songs and thus move towards imagining and then consolidating the national project.
The teething and glory periods of Manipuri, Bengali, Assamese, Oriya, Malayalam, Telegu, Gujrati, Marathi and Kannada cinema are detailed. Some highlights – India makes a mark in international film festivals with Satyajit Ray’s Aparajito in 1957; Sita Bibah, 1936, the first Oriya talkie was made just five years after Alam Ara. Recent stars like Aamir Khan get a look-in. India’s idealism at Independence, and reformism after it, have full play here. What isn’t is the turbulent sixties rife with peasant struggles and seventies’ state reorganisation amply portrayed by directors like Ritwik Ghatak, John Abraham, Mrinal Sen.
Gaps in selection will perhaps be filled by research facilities planned alongside Gulshan Mahal, the heritage building that will house the museum. “Socio-economic trends and movements will be studied. Academic interests will surely be served,” said Kundu.
Tomorrow: Interview with Jahnu Barua, doyen of Assamese cinema; a look into Dadasaheb Phalke’s contribution to the Industry.