India has one of the oldest and largest film industries in the world. It was in early 1913 that an Indian film received a public screening. The film was Raja Harischandra. Its director, Dadasaheb Phalke is now remembered through a life-time achievement award bestowed by the film industry in his name. At that point of time it was really hard to arrange somebody to portray the role of females.
While a number of other film-makers, working in several Indian languages, pioneered the growth and development of Indian cinema, the studio system began to emerge in the early 1930s. Its most successful early film was Devdas (1935), whose director, P.C. Barua also appeared in the lead role. The Prabhat Film Company, established by V. G. Damle, Shantaram, S. Fatehlal, and two other men in 1929, also achieved its first success around this time. Damle and Fatehlal’s Sant Tukaram (1936), made in Marathi was the first Indian film to gain international recognition.
The social films of V. Shantaram, more than anything else, paved the way for an entire set of directors who took it upon themselves to interrogate not only the institutions of marriage, dowry, and widowhood, but the grave inequities created by caste and class distinctions. Some of the social problems received their most unequivocal expression in Achhut Kanya (“Untouchable Girl”, 1936), a film directed by Himanshu Rai of Bombay Talkies. The film portrays the travails of a Harijan girl, played by Devika Rani, and a Brahmin boy, played by Ashok Kumar. The next noteworthy phase of Hindi cinema is associated with personalities such as Raj Kapoor, Bimal Roy, and Guru Dutt. The son of Prithviraj Kapoor, Raj Kapoor created some of the most admired and memorable films in Hindi cinema.
Awaara (The Vagabond, 1951), Shri 420 (1955), and Jagte Raho (1957) were both commercial and critical successes.
It is without doubt that under the influence of the Bengali film-makers like Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, and Mrinal Sen, the Indian cinema, not only in Hindi, also began to take a somewhat different turn in the 1970s against the tide of commercial cinema, characterized by song-and-dance routines, insignificant plots, and family dramas. Ghatak went on to serve as Director of the Film and Television School at Pune, from where the first generation of a new breed of Indian film-makers and actors – Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, and Om Puri among the latter was to emerge.
The well-liked Hindi cinema is characterized by important changes too numerous to receive more than the slightest mention. The song-and-dance routine is now more systematized, more regular in its patterns; the ‘other’, whether in the shape of the terrorist or the unalterable villain, has a more gloomy presence; the nation-state is more fixated in its demands on our loyalties and curtsy; the Indian Diaspora is a larger presence in the Indian imagination and so on. These are only some considerations: anyone wishing to discover the world of Indian cinema should also replicate on its presence in Indian spaces, its relation to vernacular art forms and mass art.
The Indian film industry, famously known as Bollywood, is the largest in the world, and has major film studios in Mumbai (Bombay), Calcutta, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. Between them, they turn out more than 1000 films a year to hugely appreciative audiences around the world. For nearly 50 years, the Indian cinema has been the central form of entertainment in India, and with its increased visibility and success abroad, it won’t be long until the Indian film industry will be well thought-out to be its western counterpart- Hollywood. Mainstream commercial releases, however, continue to dominate the market, and not only in India, but wherever Indian cinema has a large following, whether in much of the British Caribbean, Fiji, East and South Africa, the U.K., United States, Canada, or the Middle East.
Satyajit Ray, the master storyteller, has left a cinematic heritage that belongs as much to India as to the world. His films demonstrate a remarkable humanism, elaborate observation and subtle handling of characters and situations. The cinema of Satyajit Ray is a rare blend of intellect and emotions. He is controlled, precise, meticulous, and yet, evokes deep emotional response from the audience. His films depict a fine sensitivity without using melodrama or dramatic excesses. He evolved a cinematic style that is almost invisible. He strongly believed – “The best technique is the one that’s not noticeable”. Though initially inspired by the neo-realist tradition, his cinema belongs not to a specific category or style but a timeless meta-genre of a style of storytelling that touches the audience in some way. His films belong to a meta-genre that includes the works of Akira Kurosawa, Alfred Hitchcock, Charles Chaplin, David Lean, Federico Fellini, Fritz Lang, John Ford, Ingmar Bergman, Jean Renoir, Luis Bunuel, Yasujiro Ozu, Ritwik Ghatak and Robert Bresson. All very different in style and content, and yet creators of cinema that is timeless and universal.
Satyajit Ray’s films are both cinematic and literary at the same time; using a simple narrative, usually in a classical format, but greatly detailed and operating at many levels of interpretation.
His first film, Pather Panchali (Song of the little road, 1955) established his reputation as a major film director, winning numerous awards including Best Human Document, Cannes, 1956 and Best Film, Vancouver, 1958. It is the first film of a trilogy – The Apu Trilogy – a three-part tale of a boy’s life from birth through manhood. The other two films of this trilogy are Aparajito (The Unvanquished, 1956) and Apur Sansar (The World of Apu, 1959).
His later films include Jalsaghar (The Music Room, 1958), Devi (The Goddess, 1960), Teen Kanya (Two Daughters, 1961), Charulata (The Lonely Wife, 1964), Nayak (The Hero, 1966), Asani Sanket (Distant Thunder, 1973), Shatranj Ke Khilari(The Chess Players, 1977), Ghare Baire (The Home and the World, 1984), Ganashatru (An Enemy Of The People, 1989) and Shakha Prashakha (Branches Of The Tree, 1991). Agantuk (The Stranger, 1991) was his last film.
In 1978, the organizing committee of the Berlin Film Festival ranked him as one of the three all-time best directors. Other honors include “Lègion d’Honneur”, France and “Bharatratna” (Jewel of India)
Role of NFDC
Over the years NFDC has worked with some of the most acclaimed filmmakers of India including Satyajit Ray, Mira Nair, Aparna Sen, Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani, Mrinal Sen, Richard Attenborogh, Adoor Gopalkrishnan and Ketan Mehta.
NFDC is breaking new grounds by co-producing projects involving public-private partnerships.
NFDC facilitates line production services of shooting in India and animation services of overseas clients. NFDC organizes Film Bazaar India- a co-production and distribution market for the South Asian region alongside the International Film Festival of India, Goa.
NFDC aims at fostering excellence in cinema and promoting the diversity of its culture by supporting and encouraging films made in various Indian languages. Its vision is to create domestic and global appreciation and celebration of the independent Indian cinema.
Its objectives are:
- To develop talent and to facilitate the growth of Indian cinema in all languages through productions and co-productions, script development and need based workshops.
- To promote Indian culture through cinema in India and overseas.
- To build a lean and flexible organisation responsive to the needs of the Indian film industry.
In everything he did, whether it be cartooning, art direction, drawing, music, or film, Aravindan was able to make new connections, infuse a certain poignancy, a reflective pace and dignified individuality. It was evident right from the beginning of his creative life.
His cartoon series – Cheriya Manushyarum Valiya Lokavum (Small People, Big World), one of the first graphic novels in Malayalam that appeared in a Malayalam weekly, were complete in themselves as individual pieces, but had characters, a milieu and a timescape that had a certain narrative cohesion and continuity. They consistently followed the inner conflicts and socio-political dilemmas of the time in very stark yet ironic strokes of brush and text. His innovative renderings of plays such as Kavalam Narayana Panicker’s ‘Avanavan Kadampa’ displayed his fine sense of mise en scene, a keen sensitivity for theatrical and performance space that was marked by its minimalism and evocativeness.
In a career spanning nearly two decades, Aravindan created a body of cinematic works that occupies a unique position in Indian cinema. His debut film, Utharayanam, made in 1975, was about the degeneration of nationalist hopes and ideals, the rising despondence of the youth and their frustrated dreams. In a way, it was a prophetic film that foresaw the dark era of national emergency that was to follow immediately.
His next feature film Thampu follows the ripples that a circus troupe creates in an otherwise placid village. Initially the villagers receive the new spectacle with great enthusiasm and awe, but they gradually lose interest, shifting their attention to other events in their yearly calendar. But during this brief but awe-filled interface between the static village and the mobile circus troupe, we come across several characters from both worlds. When the circus vehicle eventually leaves the village, a youth from the village joins them, leaving behind the stagnant village and family to seek new experiences and expressions.
Esthappan is another exploration into world of local myths and mythmaking. Set in the Latin Catholic coastal community, the film follows the legends that surround a mysterious wanderer named Esthappan. People weave diverse stories about him: for some he is a seer and healer, for others a thief, or a crook. These stories that myths are made of say more about the tellers, than about Esthappan. He is the medium through which they explain and understand the imponderables and injustices of life; he embodies their justifications about life, their hopes, frustrations, fears and dreams.
Contemporary Indian Cinema
The 21st century was when Indian cinema finally found some sort of a balance between the ever genres of popular commercial and parallel cinema. Several new films were produced which brought to light the fact that Indian cinema could be meaningful and yet be commercially successful. Some of the best movies of the past decade have been – Lagaan (2001), Devdas (2002), Koi… Mil Gaya (2003), Rang De Basanti (2006), Lage Raho Munnabhai (2006), Chak De India (2007), , Wake Up Sid, No Smoking, Dev D, Mr and Mrs Iyer, Raincoat, My Brother Nikhil, Mumbai Meri Jaan, Aks, Pinjar, Monsoon Wedding, Omkara, Maqbool, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, Khosla Ka Ghonsla, Blue Umbrella, Seher, Naach, Aamir, Astitva, Zubeida, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, Manorama Six Feet Under, Black Friday, Matribhoomi, Haasil and more recently Peepli Live. Among the mainstream films, Lagaan won the Audience Award at the Locarno International Film Festival and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 74th Academy Awards, while Devdas and Rang De Basanti were both nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Though India has always been partial to its film stars, with actors like Amitabh Bacchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Amir Khan, Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar having careers which span decades, it has also of late become open to new and young talent like Ranbir Kapoor, Abhay Deol, Neil Nitin
The 2000’s saw a growth in the popularity of Indian cinema all over the world. After a very long time mainstream Indian films seemed to have caught the fancy of the international markets. The lines of distribution which had been silently working towards commercial distribution of Indian films abroad found themselves in demand in over 90 countries outside of its own.