As I was pondering over India’s, particularly Mumbai’s, parallel cinema, I observed that your entry and rise in Hindi cinema as the ‘Angry Young Man’ during the 1970s and the 1980s coincided with parallel cinema entering into the limelight of Hindi cinema to a much wider extent. The term "parallel cinema" started being applied to off-beat films produced in Bollywood, where art films began experiencing a resurgence. Ever since Chetan Anand's Neecha Nagar won the Grand Prize at the inaugural Cannes Film Festival in 1946, Indian parallel cinema films frequently appeared in international fora and film festivals for the next several decades. This was led by such directors as Gulzar, Shyam Benegal, Mani Kaul, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Kantilal Rathod and Saeed Akhtar Mirza, and later on directors like Govind Nihalani, becoming the main directors of this period's Indian art cinema. Mani Kaul's first several films Uski Roti (1971), Ashadh Ka Ek Din (1972), Duvidha (1974), were critically appreciated and held to high esteem in the international spotlight. Benegal's directorial debut, Ankur (Seeding, 1974) was a major critical success, and was followed by numerous works that created another field in the movement. Kumar Shahani, a student of Ritwik Ghatak, released his first feature Maya Darpan (1972) which became a landmark film of Indian art cinema. These filmmakers tried to promote realism in their own different styles, though many of them often accepted certain conventions of popular cinema. Parallel cinema of this time gave careers to a whole new breed of young actors, including Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, Amol Palekar, Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Pankaj Kapoor, Deepti Naval, Farooq Shaikh, and even actors from commercial cinema like Rekha and Hema Malini ventured into art cinema.
Ironically, Sir, while you and the parallel cinema entered the hindi cinema almost together, though entirely in different arenas, it is often believed the parallel cinema could not withstand the onslaught of action movies, especially yours, because of their tremendous success at the box-office. The distributors and exhibitors tried to keep at bay from the new wave films as they found them too slow and boring to attract audiences. As a result the parallel cinema did not enjoy long life and kept breathing somehow with the help of government financial support and international critical acclaim.
Here are some interesting movies from Hindi cinema, which simply shows the daily life issues, philosophy of life and society, human psychology, beliefs , thoughts and an idea of seeing the nature. Puts a light on some grass root issues that Indian soul faced, facing and healing of it. Gives a good seed of thought. And puts a beneficial instance of morality.
Bhuvan Shome (Mrinal Sen, 1970): Directed by master craftsman of indian films, Mrinal Sen, the film is a psychological drama on how life should be lived. Bhuvan Shome, a lonely widower, a proud old man and a disciplinarian, a thoroughly unenchanted man, takes a day off and walks into another world - a new world of simple uninhibited village folk. Off to duck shooting amidst the sand dunes, suddenly everything lights up, that changes his lifestyle and his philosophy of life. Utpal Dutt, a brilliant actor, portrays the role of Bhuvan Shome, to perfection. The location of the film is breathtaking. The film, with an austere style, sardonic humor and expressionist exploration of the politics of class, is a landmark in modern Indian cinema, and became highly influential for the New Wave Hindi cinema. Bhuvan Shome won National Award for Best Film, Best Director and Best Actor (Utpal Dutt).
Ankur (Shyam Benegal, 1974): Shyam Benegal's unforgettable debut in Hindi, Ankur, was nominated for Golden Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival (1974). Surya (Anant Nag), the young landlord, sent against his will from the city to look after the family fields, seems more bored than cruel. But his public humiliation of Kishtayya (Sadhu Meher), his deaf mute servant, for a petty theft, shows by the manner of its casualness how the ownership of people is assumed as a birthright both by the oppressor and the oppressed. Later events, like his sexual relationship with Kish Tatum's wife (Shabana Azmi), underline how deep the habit of subjugation has become; this is no tyrant imposing his will by force of personality, this is tyranny by inheritance. But at the end of the film, a little boy throws a defiant stone at the house of the landlord. This is 'the seedling' of the title, the first small expression of revolt by the oppressed. It may be a futile gesture, but it suggests that however deeply entrenched the inequities, the process of change is about to begin. In her debut film, Shabana Azmi's performance is moving and heart-wrenching, that won her the Silver Lotus Award of the National Film Awards (1975).
Nishant (Shyam Benegal, 1975): Shyam Benegal has a well-deserved reputation for making hard hitting social dramas which tell true Indian stories in a realistic manner. He seems to be ever pre-occupied in supporting the forces which are taking India from tradition to modernity, from a deeply conservative and rigidly hierarchical society to a more open, democratic and egalitarian one. In Nishant the oppressed revolt openly against the long reign of terror let loose by a family of landlords. Significantly, the revolt does not come from the land, it is brought about by the middle class - the school teacher and the priest- representing the potent combination of education and enlightened religion. The plot is brutal and compelling which reveals how people's lives play out in the many parts of the world where civilization is still primitive and brutal. Yet another brilliant film from Shyam Benegal's, Nishant was nominated for Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival (1976).
Mrigaya (Mrinal Sen, 1976): One of the most artistically made movies, Mrigaya won the Golden Lotus - National award for the Best Film, was nominated for the Golden Prize at the Moscow International Film Festival (1977) and won Filmfare (Critics) award for Best Film. The film's lead artiste, Mithun Chakraborty, won the Best Actor (Silver Lotus) National award. He plays the role of a tribal boy Chinua, whose job is hunting. It is an imaginative story set with the Santhal tribal rebellion (1857-58) as the backdrop. There is a Santhal couple and two white couples in the film, and Mrinal Sen juxtaposes their lives beautifully. It also brings out the political and social tensions of the time. Arguably, it is Mrinal Sen's best movie ever.
Manthan (Shyam Benegal, 1976): Manthan is an extraordinarily powerful and intense depiction of social change. Set against the backdrop of Gujarat's fledging dairy industry, Benegal addressed the viewer in a strict cinematic language. The earnest youngman (Girish Karnad), prodding the local farmers into resistance, finds them overcoming their fatalism and fear because first, that it is possible, and second, that there is direct and gettable economic benefit to be obtained by putting up this resistance. In the end the forces for change may be defeated but you see that the society is changing and sooner or later, the oppressed will fight their own battles. Half a million farmers in the state, each of whom contributed Rs. 2, raised the then princely sum of rupees one million to produce the film. They came in truckloads to see 'their film' once released, thereby making it extremely successful at the box-office. Is there a parallel for this anywhere in the world?
Aakrosh (Govind Nihalani, 1980): Brilliantly directed and acted, Aakrosh is one of the best movies ever made in India. Govind Nihalani made a compelling debut as a serious filmmaker with this film and took the establishment head-on in his very first film. This unpretentious and inexpensive film is about a small tribal community - the exploitation they are subjected to and the hopelessness of their case. The film serves as a strong indictment of the administration as the custodians of law are shown to be complicit with the oppressors. The film delves right into the question of basic existence - exactly what should the poor, uneducated tribals do to live with dignity? Nearly all performances in the film are brilliant. Naseeruddin Shah, as the idealist lawyer, is completely immersed in his character. Om Puri is remarkable as the tribal man framed in the murder of his wife (Smita Patil). The agony on his face is haunting. And Amrish Puri is extremely effective as the public prosecutor. The film won Filmfare (1981) awards for Best Director, Best Actor (Naseeruddin Shah), Best Supporting Actor (Om Puri), Best Story and Best Screenplay (Vijay Tendulkar) and Best Art Director (C. S. Bhatti).
Ardh Satya (Govind Nihalani, 1983): Ardh Satya commercial success showed that people were ready to accept New Wave cinema steeped with realism - dark film about rampant corruption, hooliganism and police atrocities. Anant Velankar (Om Puri), a sub-inspector in Mumbai is an honest cop. He tries his best to bust goons belonging to a local gang-leader Rama Shetty (Sadashiv Amrapurkar) but comes up empty because of the latter's political influence. Frustrated by the turn of events, he turns to alcohol, and there onwards has trouble connecting with anyone except his sympathetic boss Hyder Ali (Shafi Inamdar) and his girlfriend Jyotsana (Smita Patil). The crux of the story is Anant's quest for virality. The highlight of the film is Nihalani depicting ordinary life in its complete richness, allowing us to be part of the experience. Ardh Satya is an example of a film that is real, somewhat dry and detached, but packs tremendous emotional resonance. It is richly layered and full of great performances. Om Puri plays a flawed and tragic hero with great verve and simplicity. There are moments of blistering intensity in his performance. Smita Patil is equally impressive in a supporting role. Sadashiv Amrapurkar plays his role with a quiet menace. Its a measured performance that mirrors the characteristics of a scheming politician. Ardh Satya won Filmfare (1984) awards for Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay (Vijay Tendulkar), Best Story (S. D. Panwalkar) and Best Supporting Actor (Sadashiv Amrapurkar).
Footnote: I must thank our dear Ef Vishan Lalji for motivating me to write this brief write up on parallel cinema:
Vishan Lal Tilak Rishi • 2 days ago
Great write up as always. I also feel Abhishek deserves more work and exposure.
Do you have something to say on parallel cinema or art cinema which did not give stars but fine actors and real world cinema?
With regards and best wishes