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JLF 2017: Imtiaz Ali, Sudhir Mishra on the National Narrative in Indian Cinema

On the last day of the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival, filmmakers Imtiaz Ali and Sudhir Mishra discuss how the idea of India is depicted through films.

Jaipur Literature Festival 2017 Updated: Jan 23, 2017 17:49 IST
Satarupa Paul
Satarupa Paul
Hindustan Times
JLF 2017,JLF 2017 Day 5,Imtiaz Ali
Filmmaker Imtiaz Ali during a session on Monday, the last day of the Jaipur Literature Festival.(Saumya Khandelwal/HT Photo)

How does cinema depict the idea of India? To deliberate on this, the last day of the Jaipur Literature Festival saw filmmakers Imtiaz Ali and Sudhir Mishra converge on stage, along with Rachel Dwyer, professor of Indian cultures and cinema at SOAS, London. The morning session, moderated by film critic Shubhra Gupta, was attended by more Ali fans than serious listeners – they applauded Ali for everything he said, but didn’t exactly extend the courtesy to the other speakers.

Ali, on his part, was smart. While talking about how films from different times showcase the India of that time, he said, “As filmmakers, we pick up our pulses from what we see around us, from what we experience. Every age, every decade has its own cultural fabric. And filmmakers pick that up and project it in their narratives.” The construction of the leading lady in Jab We Met, for instance, was fascinating – and a sign of how the times have changed from the Simran of the 90s’ Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge.

(L-R) Film critic Shubhra Gupta along with filmmakers Imtiaz Ali and Sudhir Mishra, and Rachel Dwyer, professor of Indian cultures and cinema at SOAS, London. (Saumya Khandelwal/HT Photo)

When I made Jab We Met, I felt it was really about nothing. I wasn’t trying to make a statement.” But in retrospect, he says, he had subconsciously picked up the cultural elements of the day. “Geet was travelling alone in a train; she wore clothes – a salwar with a t-shirt – that women from small towns like Patiala but living and studying or working in Mumbai would be wearing, she had a certain disposition about her, the way she talked, was reminiscent of the women of her time. Even her morality – a mix of the traditional and the modern – derived from the India of the millennium.”

Talking about the inflation of concepts and emotions in commercial films for dramatic effect, and if that takes away from the real depiction of India, Dwyer said that Indian cinema is unique in that “it still is largely about people, unlike Hollywood films about robots or superheroes.” Which is why, Indian films – even the commercial ones – are better custodians of the culture, morality or code of conduct of the society at any given time.

Mishra added another important viewpoint to this discussion when he pointed out the role of parallel cinema. “The idea of India that was being portrayed, being questioned may have gone for a bit of a toss with commercial movies. But that is where parallel cinema came in – to challenge the official narrative, to put up a contrarian view,” Mishra said, adding, “Because India, as diverse as it is, deserves multiple narratives.”

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First Published: Jan 23, 2017 17:47 IST