In the early 1950s, Ritwik Ghatak wrote passionate letters to Filmistan, a major Mumbai studio, pleading with its owners to make films not with big money or stars, but with ideas. Ghatak’s pleas coincided with a report on the state of the Indian film industry written by a committee appointed by the new Nehru government. The committee, formed just two years after India’s independence, was headed by former Mumbai Mayor SK Patil. One of its five members was V Shantaram.
In 1951, the Patil committee made several recommendations, including a new Film Finance Corporation and an Institute of Film Technique. A year later, the country’s first international film festival screened films from Italy, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In the years that followed, many institutions were established such as the Children’s Film Institute (1955), the Film Finance Corporation and the Film Institute of India (1960) and the National Film Archive of India (1964) to align film production and viewing. with the nation-building.
It is in this eventful period of Indian cinema of the 1950s and 1960s that Rochona Majumdar convenes to set her new book, Art Cinema and India’s Forgotten Futures. Simultaneously history of art cinema and auteur cinema as history, the book is an analysis of cinema in a newly independent nation and the emphasis on good cinema to create good citizens. Although many of the Patil committee’s recommendations have not been implemented, Nehru’s committee was different from the first committee on cinema appointed by colonial rulers more than two decades earlier. It was about censorship in the silent film era.
Majumdar argues that the art cinema project was linked to the history of the independent Indian nation. “Since the same period of the country’s decolonization in the 1940s and 1950s, the aspiration and enthusiasm to help build a new nation and the fashion of modern citizens have fueled Indian art cinema,” says the ‘author. The three decades that followed India’s independence witnessed a new type of Indian cinema. Suddenly Indian films traveled to international film festivals overseas in stark contrast to the journey of melodrama-filled Hindi films from Mumbai to cinemas as far away as Egypt and Morocco.
The Indian art cinema project involved many actors who influenced its outcome, most notably the masters of Bengali cinema and a movement of the film society that gripped the country in the decades after independence. A prominent section of the book is dedicated to the trilogies of Satyajit Ray (Pather Panchali, Aparajito and Apur Sansar), Mrinal Sen (Interview, Calcutta 71 and Padatik) and Ritwik Ghatak (Meghe Dhaka Tara, Komal Gandhar and Subarnarekha) during the ‘Anni 1960s and 1970s to understand the commitment of auteur cinema to the social, economic and political history of the country.
Majumdar, an associate professor in the Departments of South Asian Languages and Civilizations and Film and Media Studies at the University of Chicago, features several prominent figures, including filmmakers and film scholars, who have played key roles in helping disseminate awareness of art cinema in the country. One of them was British film scholar Marie Seton, first invited to India by the Ministry of Education. Seton, who spoke to film companies and colleges during his many visits, met an audience of 3,000-4,000 who came to see a Sergie Eisenstein film he had brought with him to a screening at a college in Gaya. in Bihar, three months after Pather Panchali’s release.
Seton, who allegedly received a Padma Bhushan in 1984 for his contribution to Indian cinema, also held a public discussion with “two of Bengal’s youngest directors” (Mrinal Sen and Ritwik Ghatak) in Calcutta, the stepping stone to the movement of the Indian film society. Satyajit Ray was introduced to Ghatak by director Nemal Ghosh at a meeting of the Calcutta Film Society, co-founded by Ray. In Kerala, it was Adoor Gopalakrishnan, who was influenced by Ray’s films, among the pioneers of the state film society movement. The book contains a letter from Chitralekha, the film company co-founded by Gopalakrishnan, sent to the Celluloid Film Society of the University of Delhi in 1976, on the fee of 250 rupees for the screening of the director’s first feature film, Swayamvaram.
In Mumbai, Basu Chatterjee founded the Anandam film company. Ray was also president of the Federation of Film Societies of India, a post later held by Shyam Benegal. In 1981, India had 100,000 film companies spread across the country. While small cities like Jodhpur, Ranchi and Roorkee now have international film festivals, decades earlier they had film companies. In Heggodu, a Karnataka village, 1,000 people attended daily screenings of a film festival organized by the Ninansam Film Society founded in 1973. The festival screened 12 black and white films in 1977, including Pather Panchali, Bicycle Thieves and Gold rush. Kannada Girish director Kasaravalli introduced the films.
Faizal Khan is a freelancer
Art cinema and the forgotten future of India
Columbia University Press
Page 307, Rs 699