During the 70s and 80s, much before the advent of popular television, Mumbai had a culture of commercial films being screened in middle class colonies during the festive seasons of Ganesh Chaturthi, Dussera etc. These were screened on a normal cloth screen, projected from a 16mm camera. That was the breeding ground of my passion for cinema as I stood on the footpath with a hundred others to watch those movies.
As a child, I always noticed that when the credits rolled, the director’s name came last. To me, this man seemed like the least important component of the film, seldom realising the contribution of this person in the creation of cinema.
The first film I ever watched in a theatre is still fresh in my mind. The film was Manoj Kumar’s Roti, Kapda aur Makan in Bandra’s Gaiety Theatre. I was so fascinated by the film — the number of characters and their tracks woven together by a deft screenplay; the song picturisations; the crane and trolley shots executed by Manoj Kumar, the director, left the cinema lover in me bowled over.
As the years passed, watching movies was no more a thing for timepass or just entertainment. Today, I have the identity of a serious filmmaker, but as a viewer, I cherished seeing all types of films.
V Shantaram, Raj Khosla, Vijay Anand or the king of Bollywood masala films, Manmohan Desai — all were unarguably the most innovative and ambitious filmmakers of their time. Bimal Roy’s Bandini, Sujata and Seema were all landmarks in the history of Indian cinema.
From every director, I picked up a page, as every film was not only a viewing experience but a learning one, too. When I saw the works of filmmakers like Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani, the doyens of realistic cinema, their films like Ankur, Kalyug and Ardh Satya left a lasting impression on my mind.
By the 1990s, a new occurrence happened to Indian cinema in the form of Mani Ratnam. When I saw his Tamil film Nayakan, I was bowled over by the his finesse in storytelling. Be it Roja, Bombay or his recent films, his work is always inspiring.
Over the decades, along with the audience’s tastes, cinema has undergone a sea change. Today’s cinema, fortunately, is no more categorised in the clichés of art and commercial.
The boundaries of commercial viability is dwindling by the day — one sees mega budget and big star cast films fail at the box office, while low-budget films with strong content like A Wednesday and Mumbai Meri Jaan score over them.
Even a film like Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, with newcomers and freshness in the treatment, had an immediate connect with its audience.
It is only an ever-growing audience and its maturing tastes that will keep on fuelling good cinema through the decades.