In international waters Indian cinema’s flag is flown by Bollywood but that is an unfortunate situation because Bollywood is not representative of the rich Indian cinematic culture that exists outside the dream factories of Mumbai. Ofcourse, the problem is that one has to dig deep to uncover those precious Indian films that have been lovingly made away from Bollywood’s shadows. So my goal on a recent trip to India was to come back with some worthy finds. I am quite happy with my loot but I owe a great deal of thanks to my good friends Nitesh at Indian Auteur and Deepa at Film Impressions for helping me track down some of these films. Delhi and Mumbai are packed with many great spots to find Indian films but the trick is knowing someone to navigate the streets to get at these places. Both Nitesh and Deepa led me to places not listed on any website or a map and if weren’t for them, I would have easily walked by these places without giving it a second thought.
Master and Pupil
Uski Roti (1970, Mani Kaul)
Aadmi Ki Aurat Aur Anya Kahaniya (2009, Amit Dutta)
Mani Kaul is easily one of India’s shining auteurs yet his name is absent from most discussions about Indian cinema in North American cinephile circles. So I was delighted to come across his first feature Uski Roti and finally plug a gap in my viewing filmography.
Most people in India had not heard of Amit Dutta when his 2009 feature debut Aadmi Ki Aurat Aur Anya Kahaniya was selected at the Venice Film Festival. Almost a year later, his visually stunning feature is still largely unknown. His new film Nainsukh played at Venice this year and it will be interesting to see if either his new film or the 2009 feature will get a wider audience aside from a small cinephile circle in India or a select few film festivals.
A Marathi Double
Natarang (2010, Ravi Jadhav)
Harishchandrachi Factory (2009, Paresh Mokashi)
Atul Kulkarni is a versatile actor but unfortunately he has not had enough quality roles in recent Bollywood films. So it was interesting to hear the buzz for his role in a local hit Marathi film where he played the two diverse roles of a muscular hunk and an eunuch. The film sounded too good to pass up.
I have had my eye on Harishchandrachi Factory ever since it started making waves in Mumbai in the summer of 2009. Unfortunately, the film never got a proper release in Indian cities or North America for that matter until January/February of this year. The film’s release outside of Maharashtra was certainly aided after the film was selected as India’s official submission for the 2010 Academy Awards.
Two eye opening docs
Final Solution (2003, Rakesh Sharma)
War and Peace (2001, Anand Patwardhan)
I was bowled over by Rakesh Sharma’s insightful 4 hour documentary Final Solution when I first saw it almost 6 years ago. Sharma bravely uncovers the truth about the hatred that led to the Hindu-Muslim clashes in Gujarat 2002. It is a film that has stayed with me over the years and is something I always wanted to revisit.
Anand Patwardhan is also known for bravely taking his camera to locales where the Indian media rarely goes in search of the truth. Yet I had never been able to see any of his docs so I am glad to finally see one of his films.
Looking back, looking ahead
Garam Hawa (1973, M.S. Sathyu)
Road, Movie (2009, Dev Benegal)
2 Auteurs x 3
The Visitor (1991, Satyajit Ray)
Ganashatru (1990, Satyajit Ray)
Ghare-Baire (1984, Satyajit Ray)
Subarnarekha (1965, Ritwik Ghatak)
Komal Gandhar (1961, Ritwik Ghatak)
Nagarik (1952, Ritwik Ghatak)
Future Indian spotlights
I had no intention of having a regional spotlight but instead wanted to focus on some directors. As it turned out, South Indian cinema was absent from this list. So a future spotlight will focus exclusively on South Indian cinema and contain a blend of artistic and genre films.
Another future spotlight will only tackle the growing B-grade cinema that is once again making inroads in India. One could argue that B-grade Indian cinema never really went away but instead has now managed to attract more attention. Still, I am curious to visit this cinema to find out if any of the plots have changed over the course of the last few decades.