Indian New Wave- a potrait

Supriya Suri

Cinema as an art form can reach a mass unlike any other; at the same, it can be provocative. India is a movie crazy nation, but one illiterate about the medium. Indian cinema is often defined as ‘Bollywood’, since it is also the popular form with its ritual of song, dances and over-the-top melodrama. However, the late 60s and early 70s were time of experimentation in the format of ‘storytelling’ and ‘form’ in Indian Cinema. But, usually the sad fact of life is that we might be living and experiencing a circumstance, but when shown or confronted the truth, we refuse to accept. Cinema is a moment of escapism. This is one of the many reasons why the bold and revolutionary ‘Parallel Movement in India’ never became popular.

If we look at Indian cinema, whether it is Bollywood or regional cinema both might be representing the culture and society, but the difference that lies between the two is that Bollywood gets you involved emotionally, projects conventional, sensationalized stories and sometimes utopia, which we all fancy. Whereas, the alternate cinema will evoke emotions along with making the journey a very self reflecting one, and a more thoughtful process. And that’s where the difference lies between the good and bad cinema. And the plight remains that good cinema remains unpopular. It is interesting to know what actually caused this 'New wave' to come to existence which holds a very vital account in the history of our cinema.

In 1951, the cabinet minister, S.K. Patil's Film Enquiry Committee advised the government to invest in film production and in setting up various institutes and archives in India. The infrastructure for the cinema started growing. This led to the first International film festival in India, and the exposure of Indian cinema in America and vice- versa. However, the distinction between the art and commercial cinema had yet not been made. But what exactly defines art or commercial cinema? The Bengali film critic Chidananda Das Gupta provides us with ideal definition:-

The difference between art and commercial cinema in India is simply the difference between good and bad cinema- between serious films and degenerate entertainment. Then new cinema in India is a creation of intellectual elite that is keenly aware of the human conditions in India. The new film schools that were being set up under Nehru, was the reason of generating some of the educated people who understood the society and the human conditions in our country and stood up for it.

During this time there were films like Do Bhiga Zameen directed by Bimal Roy, who exposed Bengal style of film making to Bollywood, then there was Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali, that won several kudos in International film festivals including Cannes, which established the base for regional cinema and several film societies, and it made government to further look into cinema seriously and create appropriate infrastructure for its enhancement.

After 9 years, in 1961, the International film festival was held again. It was during this time that the seriousness to reform the cinema culture and Nehru's Policy to bring about a change came into focus. The central and some of the state government started to, finance directors who extensively focused on realism. It was now that the bifurcation started and the word 'Parallel' came into being when the critic Arvind Mehta used the word to describe such films in the journal. And also it was here that the nation saw rise in the film societies, which grew to almost 200 under Federation of Film Societies. It is also interesting to note that ‘The Children's Film Society’ was set up under the Nehru government, for as everyone knows how he always emphasized on the fact that 'children are the future of the nation.' The state government gave full freedom and the finance for these directors and cinema started growing beyond studios.

In 1960 Film Finance Corporation started to provide low interest loans to selected projects. Followed by IMPEC (The Indian Motion Picture Export Corporation) in 1963. Also the Film Institutes were set up in Pune and Madras, which for the first time provided the industry with professionally trained actors, technician, and directors. These finance institutions played a pivotal role in helping the sincere artists with modern approach by giving them full freedom to experiment with the form, since the government was non interfering and thus making the artist work free of restrictions that stood in contrast to the popular cinema. Yet, the movement failed to take off on the large scale.

This movement stood along with the mainstream cinema and saw the rise of many upcoming directors. However, the factors which made this band of ‘New Wave’ maverick different from the commercial system was: the rejection of the studio system, the realism and the authenticity that these films carried, the rejection of the usual song and dance sequence, and the presentation of the actors as part of a governing space with natural realistic dialogues and setting reflecting largely the socio-political plane of that era.

Mirnal Sen’s Bhuvan Shome and Mani Kaul’s Uski Roti kicked-off the Parallel Cinema Movement in India. It was, however, with Bhuvan Shome that for the first time Hindi speaking audience was met with such kind of cinema. Another most important film of the era was Basu Chatterjee's Sara Akash. There were directors who were experimenting with the aesthetics, and who were influenced by the French New Wave mainly Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahini who were students of Ritwik Ghatak. They refused the usage of a linear narrative and truly were working to create a contemplative cinema- experimental in every manner. While the likes of Saeed Mirza, Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani (Benegal’s cinematographer) made social films. In Kerala, Adoor Gopalakrishnan set the benchmark with his first film Swayamvaram. His movies extended the reach of the ' New Wave' down South, and infused a new energy into Malayalam cinema. People like Govind Aravindan strengthened the hold of the movement in South, and John Abraham, KR Mohanan, P A Backer displayed the ' New Wave' aesthetics and commercial sensibilities, especially John Abrham who took over the task of creating a cinema by people for people.

Then directors like Girish Karnard, Girish Kasarvalli and B BV Karnath extended the movement in the Kannada speaking region of South India. Girish Kasarvalli, spearheaded on the national stage with his first film Ghata Shradha that won a National award for the best film. Unfortunately, we hardly saw theatrical release of most films.

One of the big problems with the young aspiring film makers was distribution. Even though the state sponsored films were being made, the marketing and distribution was ineffective and inefficient, and was left over entirely to the directors. Therefore, the problem to recover investment arose too. Hence, several films remained undistributed or were just made for television channels. And also many failed at box office. It is interesting to know where the state sponsored films were giving a rise to good cinema in India; the system itself was also marking a decline in good cinema due to its flaws in distribution and marketing and making the films available beyond their regions. The regional cinema, obviously in majority formed the parallel cinema.

While the distribution system was failing, the Film Finance Corporation was soon attacked since the investment for the feature film invested was hardly recovered. There was hardly any box office success. There were about 84 films that remained on the shelf undistributed and therefore failed to reach the audiences. Even when the finance was made available by the government, there was not enough support to market those films and distribute them, hence the recovery was low, and was a failure to reach out to the larger audiences. The advent of color television also shifted the directors to make these films for television, which soon gained popularity amongst the audiences. There were soap operas like Nukkud and circus by Saeed Mirza.

Even though the new wave directors faced drastic problems with their work, this didn't stop the growing directors across the nation to emerge, the new cinema did see it growth throughout 1970's. Later FFC was merged with Film Export Corporation to set up form National Film Development Corporation. During this time Shyam Benegal was heading the institution. He claimed how the institution was failing on its attempt to sell and distribute the films financed by them.

Today, the films of ' New Wave' are hard to find, and the aesthetics of these filmmakers were never carried forward, meaning, the tradition not only got lost, but never translated or taken further- explored in new avenues. Not only that, the lack of availability of the films of ‘New Wave’ in the market is another important factor which slowly spelled death for the filmmakers and their films. It’s sad, because, even when one wants to rescue these films most negatives are either lost or destroyed or its in hands of people who are not willing to part away with them for reasons unknown.

pic- Bhuvan Shome, Miranl Sen.


Anonymous said…
To Supriya

Nice effort.

However, I believe the problem with our film today is - that those who are not concerned or as the article mentions, indulge in 'degenerate entertainment', do not care. And people like us, who claim genuine interest, are caught in a time warp, where we merely continue to lament the loss of a status which we once had, regretting the decisions we took 25 years ago. What can be achieved by ruminating over the past, and expressing our immense grief over the sad situation, and not doing it once, but repeating it over and over again.

Cinema, above all, is a movement, which has to move forward into the future, while carrying with it the past, but we hardly seem to be moving forward. We are still stuck in our awe at an aesthetic built 30 years ago by a handful of irreverent directors. In my humble opinion, it is time that this generation, either begins thinking of its OWN opinion on cinematic aesthetics, or atleast, builds the platform for the coming generations to do so.

Do mind that I, in no way, am trying to denounce your appreciation of our old masters. Their films are for all of us to cherish and treasure, and also our duty to acquire and spread. However, our appreciation should not adopt the nature of a worship which hinders our movement.

Otherwise, we are doing no better than those large studios who sell films like products. While they are hardly concerned, we are, on the other hand, a little too concerned.

Anonymous said…
* The last sentence of the first paragraph is a question.
Anonymous said…
Never forget about the diversity in our nation. if the people of India are helpless in giving a clear mandate to a single political party to command our government then how can u expect them to be literate about the 'not so important' medium like cinema?? Again the problem is, this nation is illiterate about the true form and nature of cinema which is art. I don't know who to blame, our society, our mentality or our cinema but if the gap between art and cinema continues to widen up, then only God knows which form our cinema will take up in future!!
Anyways thanx a lott for giving this valuable information, i didn't know about the parallel movement in India..thanx again!!
nitesh said…
Interesting read Supriya, thanks for sharing some important facts. I, personally, believe that talking about the Indian New Wave is important if we do it again and again through the course of our history, because it actually helps us understand our premises- socially, politically, economically and aesthetically.
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