Thursday, May 3, 2012

100 years of Indian Cinema

Indian cinema turned 100 on April 21, 2012. In a country where over 1,000 films are made every year, in several languages, when we celebrate a century of filmmaking excellence, how do we define Indian cinema?
Bollywood movies, naturally comprise the majority of Indian film industry, while regional films make up the rest (Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Bengali, Gujarati, Bhojpuri etc). From Teflon coated candyfloss romances peppered with lavish song-dance sequences shot in exotic locales, gritty underworld flicks, coming of age pangs of 20-somethings, kick butt action capers to social melodramas and tickle you pink stories - the Indian movies have just about touched every genre of entertainment.
From mindoggling blockbusters to multiplex movies tailor-made for English speaking Indians, to typical 'NRI' films with enough emotional content to tug at the heartstrings of homesick Indian diaspora, the platter is huge and diverse.
The annual National Awards, in fact, makes it amply clear how little we know of Indian cinema beyond Bollywood and some regional language films. Not many of us were even aware that a language called Byari existed! The best feature film award for 2011 was also given to Byari(alongwith the Marathi film Deool), a film based on the dialect spoken by the people in it.
As we gear up to raise a toast to a cinema that's 100 years old, it's a moment of great national pride and glory for all Indians. Unlike other western film industries, the Indian film industries have not been too heavily influenced by the Hollywood film industry and continue to retain its local flavour, essence, emotions and dialect. Indian films get to do their share of globetrotting at prestigious world film festivals, Indian stars walk the red carpet in Cannes and other festivals along with their global counterparts, our films find their reviews by top international film journals and newspapers.
Granted, many Indian filmmakers continue to hope for Uncle Oscar's mini replica to adorn their trophy collection, but the endorsement isn't all important anymore. India has its own distinct multi-lingual, multi-hued crop of films, some of them entertaining, some made for aesthetic pleasure, but all of them for your eyes only, for people like us.
Pather Panchali(1955) directed by Satyajit Ray was among the earliest Indian films to have received global recognition (it got 11 international awards). Indian cinema has an identity that is very unique and unmatched. We have moved from the black and white silent films to 3D, but our cinema continues to retain its basic essence - to thrill. Even as internet downloads and television continue to cannibalize the theatrical revenues of Indian films, the lure of the 35 mm is something else altogether.
Of course it would be nice if regional films were given the much needed leg-up and importance they deserve. Not many Indians are aware of the immense talent that lies in regional film industries. It takes the occasional Kahaani, to show India the versatility of character actors Parambrata Chattopadhaya and Saswata Chatterjee (the man who made Bob Biswas, the most iconic baddie in just a 10 minute role!), or a 160 crore (rough estimate) film ( Endhiran) made by Shankar to prove how technologically advanced Indian cinema really is.
Perhaps we'd be better equipped to define Indian cinema if we get to see good films in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Bhojpuri, Marathi, Bengali, Assamese (and may be even Byari), with subtitled versions in multiplexes, or on national television. A century later, surely, this is the least we can ask for, if Indian cinema needs to leapfrog into the next century with bigger and better strides, ahead of its western and Oriental counterparts.