Tuesday, June 28th, 2022 09:10:39

Indian Film Classics

Updated: January 1, 2011 12:07 pm

It is a universally-acknowledged fact that no compilation, however objective, is beyond criticism either because the element of latent subjectivity involved in the selection or because it does not meet accepted desired standards. It was, therefore, logical for researcher, critic and scholar MK Raghavendra to be defensive from the very outset while putting together his choice of 50 Indian film classics from the silent Prem Sanyas (1925) to Rang De Basanti (2006). And even though he acknowledges the contribution of filmmakers like Ritwick Ghatak, not a single film by the maverick filmmaker finds place because he was found to be “a difficult figure to slot”.

                Before we proceed further with a toothcomb and talk about being subjectively judgmental in the selection, let us consider his arguments in defense of his selection: “Producing a volume that sets out to identify ‘representative’ works from the largest and the most-amorphous body of cinema in the world (in terms of sheer numbers, leaving both Hollywood and Japan way behind in counting) is a daunting task and an introduction to the volume can only perform a limited role…The best that I can do through a selection is perhaps be representative rather than idiosyncratic and that is what the present one sets out to do although only the reader can judge its actual success.”

                This writer found major faults with the selection which can at best be described illogical and arbitrary. This is how the break up goes: Hindi/Urdu 32; Bengali 5; Malayalam 3; Tamil 3; Kannada 2; Telegu 1; Marathi 1; Manipuri 1; English 1; and Silent 1. Of the 32 Hindi/Urdu as many as 8 belong to what was once known as art cinema one each by Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani, Saeed Mirza, Kumar Shahani, Mani Kaul, Ketan Mehta, MS Sathyu, Avatar Krishan Kaul. This writer would have liked to limit it to just about four: MS Sathyu’s Spartition-classic Garam Hawa; Govind Nihalani’s Aakrosh (though Tamas might have been a more appropriate choice); Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala; and reluctantly Shyam Benegal’s Ankur. And outrightly rejected Uski Roti and 27 Down.

                Similarly, from mainstream cinema one sadly regrets the absence of Gulzar’s Aandhi; Asit Sen’s Mamta; Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan; Dilip Kumar’s immortal Ganga Jamuna; Basu Bhattacharya’s Teesri Kasam; Raj Kapoor’s Jagtey Raho; BR Chopra’s Kanoon; Sunil Dutt’s Mujhe Jeene Do, Bimal Roy’s Do Beegha Zameen; V Shantaram’s Do Aankhen Barah Haath to randomly mention a few.

                And what about Jabbar Patel’s Umbartha in Marathi or its Hindi version Subah; Chan Pardesi or Warris in Punjabi; Ganga Maiya Tohe Pihari Chadaibo in Bhojpuri? No Mira Nair or Deepa Mehta, only Aparna Sen with 36 Chowringhee Lane. Many others like Jahnu Barua (Assamese) and his Halodhia Choraye Baodhan Khai, BV Karanth (Kannada) and Chomana Dudi, Shahji N Karun (Malayalam) and Piravi, the late Rabindra Dharamraja (Chakra), Sudhir Mishra (Dharavi), Gautam Ghose (Paar) do get acknowledged in the introduction. True, a selection of 50 from several thousands is no mean task, and whoever does will have a lot of explaining to do. And how come Raghavendra has found no notable films in Tamil after Roja (1992); Amma Ariyan (1986) in Malayalam; Neem Annapurna (1979) in Bengali; Shankarabharanam (1979) in Telegu and Nagara Haavu (1972) in Kannada. And when it comes to regional cinema why are the choices restricted to art cinema with one or two honourable exception.

                According to the learned author Kannada art cinema is the by-product of a literary movement; Bengali art cinema owes its origins to left-wing politics; Malayalam cinema had only two, or maybe three original voices ‘unpredictable’ and ‘idiosyncratic’, remaining ‘exception’ even it comes to popular cinema. Tamil cinema has been given a royal ignore when it came to be defined.

                In conclusion, and rightly apprehensive of possible criticism the selection might ordain, Raghavendra goes into a defensive mode at the end of his otherwise analytical and thought-provoking assessment of the Indian cinema scene, what it constitutes, who have been the major players and their contributions, and what is the overall essence of its approach. To quote him: “A list of fifty well-known films does not allow the critic the luxury of an ‘affiliated’ approach and every film is best written about for what it has to offer personally to her/him. The selection is not personal (how and why not?) but I acknowledge that, while the writing strives to be analytical, my assessment remain personal and may frequently come into conflict with the reader’s.” No one can find fault with that.

                And for that matter, no one can find fault with his analytical assessment, and approach to every individual film that is in the August list. At worst, it is commendable. At best, it provides an insight into the very essence of every film selected for inclusion. “Apart from trying to grapple with the implication of each film, the effort has also been to ‘evoke’ the experience of a film through words… The fifty films selected in this collection cannot entirely do justice to the complex body that is Indian cinema.” (Fifty Indian Film Classics: Collins, an Imprint of HarperCollins India, Pg 323, Rs 350).

                But the relevant question at the end is, why has popular regional cinema been given a short shrift? Not a single film of Kamal Hassan, Rajnikanth, Mohan Lal, Uttam Kumar, Suchitra Sen, amongst others, found any place either in the introduction or in the selection of the fifty films while its Hindi counterparts seem over burdened? Prompt comes a not altogether convincing explanation: “Attempts have been made to represent regional cinema (both popular and art) without yielding to tokenism and this has meant that major film-producing states like Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Gujarat and Assam have not received due representation. More importantly, very few films from the 1990s (except some undeserving Hindi popular cinema) and after have been examined here and the justification offered is that we need some more time to elapse before we can assign ‘significance’ to this or that film.”

                Fine, Raghavendra. But then why this partiality to ‘popular’ or ‘mainstream’ Hindi cinema?

By Suresh Kohli

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