India Cinematography – Recent Trends

In the nineties there was a notable development of films in Telugu, Tamil, Malayālam, Kannaḍa (about 60% of global production), while the number of tickets sold stood at around five billion annually. Recently, the distinction between ‘parallel’ cinema and ‘popular’ cinema, that is, between auteur and commercial cinema, has faded to the point of almost disappearing. The term Bollywood, used to indicate Hindi-language commercial cinema produced in Bombay, considered by many to be a negative stereotype, owed its popularity to a formula that blends melodrama, comedy, action and above all songs and choreography. Such consumer films, populated by positive heroes, beautiful and virtuous heroines and venal ‘bad’, compress and project collective fantasies, re-proposing, in simplified form, the clash between good and evil, between gods and demons, present in Hindu mythology. The audience of these films sometimes reached 70 million admissions in a week, as in the case of two blockbusters of the 1970s: Sholay (1975, Flame) by Ramesh Sippy, a western melodrama screened for five years in a row in the cinemas of Mumbai, and Amar Akbar Antony (1977) by Manmohan Desai, the story of three brothers, separated by birth, who find themselves adults after having adopted three different religions. In both films stars the superstar Amitabh Bachchan, who became the undisputed star of Hindi popular cinema of the following three decades, with more than 120 films to his credit. Among the most recent hits, Hum aapke hain kaun…! (1994) by Sooraj Barjatya, also known as Who am I to you ?,

In the nineties the India parallel to a slowdown in demographic growth, it has experienced a rapid cultural change, also due to the economic opening to the world market, with a strong growth in television, including cable and satellite television and the arrival of the Internet. In large cities, along with economic and social change, a dissatisfaction with the repetitive content of Hindi films produced in Bombay has emerged. But in the face of this demand, there has been no significant growth in auteur or ‘parallel’ cinema. While commercial cinema has produced an average of 670-900 films annually over the past decade (about half of which are in Hindi), the production of arthouse films has not exceeded the average of 15-20 films. According to the most authoritative Indian film critic, A. Vasudev, the visibility of auteur cinema has in some cases been reduced to screenings at the annual IFFI (International Film Festival of India). The absence of theaters intended for an auteur cinema and of incentives to promote their distribution could have caused disaffection among the public – except in Kerala and Bengal, where various facilities have encouraged the distribution of these films – thus marking the positive. entry of new talents oriented towards a ‘quality medium commercial cinema’. This is the case of Mani Rathnam, leading director of the new cinema produced in Madras, who in Bombay (1995) recounts the massacres against the Muslim community of the city, which took place in 1992, following the destruction of the Ayodhya mosque by Hindu fanatics. Santosh Sivan can be traced back to this new category with The Terrorist (1997), a film that tells, still in Tamil, the crisis of a terrorist who at the last moment gives up committing a suicide attack against a senior political figure; Nagesh Kukunoor with Hyderabad blues (1997), a comedy about an arranged marriage; Ram Gopal Verma, producer and director, with Satya (1998, Truth), a portrait of Mumbai’s brutal world of crime and corrupt politicians; Dev Benegal who with his second film, Split wide open (1999, in English and Hindi also presented at the Venice Film Festival), narrates the tribulations of a street boy (Rahul Bose, one of the most interesting actors and directors of the generation) in search of his 12-year-old sister, trapped in the Mumbai pedophilia ring. For India culture and traditions, please check

The more commercial Indian cinema itself seems to have joined this new trend towards more committed and controversial themes – war, terrorism, nationalism and conflicts between religious communities – also through the launch of new stars, such as Hrithik Roshan, interpreter of great successes, including Kaho naa… pyaar hai (2000; And tell me… that you love me) by Rakesh Rosham and Gadar – Ek prem katha (2001, Gadar – A love story) by Anil Sharma, love story set in 1948, at the time the conflict with Pakistan and the new border demarcation between the two countries. Also to the quality commercial cinema belongs Lagaan – Once upon a time in India, (2001; Lagaan) by Ashutosh Gowariker, films in which typical elements of popular culture are merged – the game of cricket and anti-British nationalist sentiment – and which has received recognition from both international critics (the Oscar nomination for best foreign film and the audience award at the International Locarno in 2001) and the Indian public (thanks also to the participation of star Aamir Khan, in the dual role of protagonist and producer). It should also be remembered Devdas (2002) by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, yet another film adaptation of one of the most widely read novels by Sarat Chandra Chatopadhye – written in 1917 and brought to the screen by a dozen famous directors, starting from 1928 – which is characterized by the sumptuous scenography and the admirable choreography.

With the third millennium many of the authors who had animated the ‘parallel’ cinema of the seventies and eighties have also returned to the scene. At the Venice Film Festival, the Bengali B. Dasgupta won the award for best director with Uttara (1999), the controversial story of a woman isolated from the male chauvinist world, with the backdrop of ethnic-religious conflicts fomented by Hindu fanatics. The Bengali Gautam Ghose has also proved himself with Dekha (2001, Percezioni), which traces the life of an old intellectual from Calcutta on multiple narrative levels, grappling with the transformation of Bengali society, making use of the interpretation of Soumitra Chatterjee (star of many S. Ray films). Zubeidaa (2001) by S. Benegal marked the return of a pioneer of the Indian nouvelle vague to the traditional format of historical-popular cinema; with a cast of stars and the music of Allah Rakha Rahman, the most innovative and popular composer of the last decade.

Aparna Sen also belongs to Bengali cinema, who, after the famous 36 Chowrighee Lane (1981, in English), directed Mr. Mrs. Iye (2002, in English), recounting a journey through the recent conflicts between Hindus and Muslims, and the dean of auteur cinema, M. Sen, who in 2002 wrote Aamar bhuvan (2002, My land, in Hindi), the story of a woman (played by Nandita Das) divided between two men in a village of Bengal. In the same year, Dweepa (The Island) by Girish Kasaravalli, a director from Karnataka and raised with the new wave of the seventies (in 1977 he had signed Ghatasharaddha, The Ritual, considered one of the best works in the history of Indian cinema) was released. ; the film, in Kannaḍa language, awarded as the best Indian opera of 2002, it touches on issues such as modernization, globalization and development in a new and intelligent way, describing the construction of a dam from the point of view of a family whose village will be submerged by water. Two works from 2002 are instead addressed to the exploration of the recent past: Kannathil muthamittal (A kiss on the cheek) by Mani Ratman, director of the new generation who rereads, in Tamil language, the history of Sri Lanka, a country devastated by a twenty-year civil war, through the eyes of a Sri Lankan girl adopted by an Indian family; and Manda meyer upakhyan (2002, Story of a bad girl, presented at the Berlin Film Festival in 2003) by B. Dasgupta, which takes its cue from the journey of the first astronaut to the Moon to poetically narrate other journeys, with different destinations, and in particular the ‘

Even the aforementioned A. Gopalakrishnan, who remains one of the most important personalities of Kerala auteur cinema, has continued to produce notable works, including Nizhalkkuthu (2002, Ombre oscure), a film set in not yet independent India. in a frontier village, where an executioner is forced to confront a final hanging execution that will upset his conscience. Among the most talented young authors it is also worth mentioning Revathy Asha Menon (Mitr my friend, 2001, in English), Madhur Bhandarkar (Chandni bar, 2001, in Hindi), TV Chandran (Dany, 2002, in Malayālam), the young director Anup Singh (Ekti nadir naam, 2002, The name of a river, a tribute in Bengali to the cinema of the director RK Ghatak) and Jahnu Barua (Konikar ramdhenu, 2002, Riding the rainbow, in Assamese language). From Kerala also comes Shaji Narayanan Karun, a director who after having distinguished himself with his debut film, Piravi (1988), presented in many international festivals, made his first work in Hindi in 2002, Nishad. In Telugu language (Andhra Pradesh) are the films of the film critic KNT Sastry, who went on to direct with Tiladaanam (2001, The sacrifice) and by Anjan Das, director of Saanjhbathir Roopkathara (2002, Tratti e silhouettes), with Soumitra Chatterjee in the role of protagonist.

Finally, we should not forget the Indian cinema made by non-resident directors in India, in which three women stand out: Mira Nair, originally from Punjab and resident in the United States, who confirmed the success of Salaam Bombay with the most recent Monsoon wedding (2001), an entertaining marriage comedy set in the New Delhi bourgeoisie (the film was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival); Deepa Mehta, naturalized Canadian citizen, director who after the international success with Fire, a work that gave rise to much controversy when it was presented at the IFFI in 1997 (it had to wait fourteen international awards and two years before being distributed in Indian cinemas, as it tells of a lesbian relationship, played to great effect by two talented actresses, the well-known Shabana Azmi and the young Nandita Das) offered other convincing proofs with Earth (1998), and Bollywood-Hollywood (2002), a parody of the cinema world of the two continents; in 2000 he also started filming Water, which was interrupted by Hindu protests. And finally Gurinder Chadha, director born in Kenya but of panjābī origin, resident in Great Britain and known for his first road movie, Bhaji on the beach (1993; Picnic alla spiaggia), who achieved international success with Bend it like Beckham (2002; Sognando Beckham) successfully presented also in Italian cinemas.

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