Filed under: Professional Talk | Tags: Farrukh Dhondy, From Aan to Lagaan, indian cinema, Indian cinema book, Indian film studies, Moti Gokulsingh, oorvazi irani, Trentham Books, Wimal Dissanayake
“From Aan to Lagaan is a unique critical guide to one of the greatest dream-factories in the world. It is the first time that a compilation has avoided the shame of hagiography and the obscurity of pretentious academia.” - Farrukh Dhondy
“From Aan to Lagaan and Beyond : a guide to the study of Indian cinema “ by K. Moti Gokulsing and Wimal Dissanayake
Published by Trentham Books
Exclusive Email interview with Moti Gokulsing, Author of the recently published book.
About the Author
K. Moti Gokulsing is Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the University of East London. He co- edits the journal South Asian Popular Culture and is the author of the acclaimed Indian Popular Cinema, also published by Trentham.
Wimal Dissanayake is Adjunct Fellow at the East-West Centre, Hawaii and founding editor of the East-West Film Journal.
It is an honour and pleasure to be part of this book in my humble efforts involving in the research and my extensive interview with Govind Nihalini which is an integral part of the book – Chapter One ‘From Vision to Screen Reality’
1) What is the need for such a book ?
This is a study guide and is aimed at helping the increasing number of students many of whom are of non-Indian origins understand the complex relationship between Indian culture and Indian cinema
2) What are the concerns the book addresses ?
While Indian cinema is taught in many institutions as part of Media Studies/ World cinema/ South Asian studies, the Study Guide makes a case for it to be taught as part of a Film Studies approach. As such, it introduces students to the variety of concepts andtheories relevant to a Film Studies approach. One its strengths is the interview which Oorvazi Irani conducted with the internationally known filmmaker Govind Nihalani . Having done both Popular and Parallel cinema , he identified some of the reasons why theyare different and why the vast majority of popular films fail at the box office-an issue which has been rarely addressed
3) Could you share with us your beginnings and background as a writer and academic ?
As an academic teaching in a Department of Teacher Training and Education , my publications focused on teaching and university issues. At a conference at SOAS some years ago, I met Professor Wimal Dissanayake. At that time I wanted to introduce my 2 daughters to Indian cinema and as there was scant literature available , Wimal and I decided to write a book-Indian Popular Cinema-A narrative of cultural change which became a bestseller
4) What have been the challenges and Joy of writing this book
Coming as I do from Mauritius where success in education was measured by how much French you knew, I had very little knowledge of Indian history and culture. This was a formidable challenge and I still have much to learn
5) Which are your favourite Indian films ?
My favourite films relate mainly to early ones such as Garam Hawa andSholay and Rang De Basanti of recent ones
6) Is there a memory of the first Indian film you saw ?
The first Indian film I saw was Bandhan with Ashok Kumar and Leela Chitnis
7) Who is your favorite Bollywood actor and actress
Favourite actor-the early Amitabh Bachchan and actress Nargis
8) Where do you think Indian cinema stands today ?
The much maligned Indian Popular cinema has moved from the periphery to the centre of world cinema. Its choreography and technical innovations are outstanding.
9) What is the role that Indian cinema plays in the International cinema market today ?
Indian cinema is trying to meet a variety of goals: catering for the indigenous population, the increasing young population as well as the increasing middle classes
10) What is the impact of Indian cinema ?
Internationally, the diasporic Indian film makers and the diasporic audience will continue to boost post Bollywood
Indian cinema opens up a window onto the wider world . By watching Indian films and exploring them sensitively, we can attain a deeper understanding of Indian culture and values.
For me one of the most endearing aspects of Indian cinema is its captivating music.
The Book Details:
“From Aan to Lagaan and Beyond : a guide to the study of Indian cinema “
This authoritative and accessible guide is written especially to help students understand the complexities and intricacies of Indian cinema. It covers the vast range of the cinemas of India plus the meteoric rise of Bollywood, and discusses the key theoretical approaches to the analysis of films, the cinema audience and audience segmentation.
The book describes how an Indian movie is made and explains the technology entailed. All the major issues are discussed: the relationship between cast and crew, the contributions of playback singers, designers and choreographers. It offers original information on the impact of the corporatisation of the film industry and on censorship, taxation, insurance and advertising.
The fascinating case studies of filmic analysis illuminate the different theoretical approaches and concepts students need for analysing Indian film appropriately. And teachers will find that the comprehensive coverage, extensive bibliography and suggestions for further reading, the discussion of pedagogical issues about the teaching of Indian cinema and the sample questions make it an indispensible resource for teaching Indian cinema.
1. From Vision to Screen Reality
- The film making process
- The role of technology
- How an Indian movie is made
- Cast and crew
2. Theoretical approaches to the study of Indian cinema and its audience
- An introduction to some of the major theoretical approaches to the study of Indian cinema
- Audience/spectator studies and audience segmentation
3. When Bollywood goes to war – Bollywood’s contribution to nation building
- The contributions of Indian cinema to nation building
- An introduction to some of the most important nationalist and patriotic themes in Indian cinema
4. A Passage out of India
- Diasporic Indian filmmakers’ contributions to Indian Cinema
5. Iconic directors, composers, lyricists, playback singers, choreographers and designers
- From Aan to Lagaan and Beyond
6. From Theory to Practice
- Case studies of filmic analysis using some of the theoretical approaches discussed in Chapter 2
- How to study Indian cinema – some pedagogical considerations
7. Exporting filmic culture
- The corporatisation of the film industry/Insurance/the role of advertising and marketing
8. The Price of Globalisation
- The government strikes back: taxation, censorship and film classification
Filed under: Professional Talk | Tags: Ashvin Kumar, Bollywood, film appreciation, film education, filmmaking, independent filmmaker, independent filmmaking, Indian film director, little terrorist, oorvazi irani, The Forest
THE JOURNEY OF AN INDEPENDENT FILMMAKER by Ashvin Kumar
(watch his latest film “The Forest” on 4th May)
I would love o share with you Ashvin’s article on his journey as a filmmaker I think its inspiring to young independent filmmakers
Getting an Oscar nod is quite an overwhelming experience; particularly when it comes to you on your first film. Well, nearly first film.
The film I made before ‘Little Terrorist’ was ‘Road To Ladakh’. It starred Irrfan and Koel Purie. It almost didn’t get made; which is why the making-of is called ‘The Near Un-making of Road To Ladakh‘ take a look, it’s a hoot.
RTL is what I call my film-school, or what others would call ‘student-film’. Suffice to say, I had no clue what to do at the beginning of that experience. A few ideas, yes. Plus, hundreds of films watched and books read, sure and an oversupply of confidence absolutely. But in terms of making films, the seat-of-my-pants was the main mode of transport. Fortune favours the brave, they say, I think it favours the foolhardy.
Dragging a crew of forty people from various parts of the world to 15,000 feet, convincing them to fund their own air-fare (forget about fee), using tents for accommodation in the blistering cold and rain, disasters striking so often that it becomes normal. Small example: Irrfan Khan saying yes to the part, then agreeing to forgo his fee, then breaking his arm, then agreeing to come along regardless and then being attacked by altitude sickness that knocks him out cold. And yet, somehow, with dedication so rare in Bollywood, doing all that was expected of him without a fuss and turning in a brilliant performance. He deserves every award and commendation that has come his way since 2004, the year I made ‘Road To Ladakh’.
As I recall these snap-shots, the hair on the back of my neck stands up. So many things could have gone seriously wrong, how did anyone ever let me do that? I was so green, so raw. That film was funded on fumes, infectious enthusiasm and passion.
So, hard on the heels of a recognition like the nomination, comes the expectation of a repeat performance. That causes anxiety and pressure that have little or nothing to do with making films and telling stories. It has everything to do with an inflated perception of oneself and the fallacy that one has “arrived” so to speak.
The story of my debut feature film ‘The Forest‘ is as much a story of arrival at no-destination-in-particular, as it is about a remarkable collaboration of some seriously well-meaning, skilled and talented individuals drawn from around the world.
More than that, it taught me about life. It grew me up.
So, here I am, post-nomination. Do I decide to make my debut feature film about a couple in Delhi going through marital difficulty? One apartment, maybe a few car shots, maybe some second unit shots of Delhi night life – all very contained, focusing energies directing the actors, small budget. Performance driven human story about love and loss?
Instead, a remote, damp and freezing jungle location, a main character that is mostly hidden. When spotted its shown to have four legs and very large teeth. A convincing suspense thriller with what is intriguingly called a ‘love triangle’ in Bollywood. A movie that would teach me all about special effects, make up, prosthetics. All about computer graphics, compositing, visual effects, blue and green screens and how to direct an animal wrangler who in turn is trying to get a performance out of two very fierce and determined leopards.
I had no experience of a big film, I had never stepped onto a set of a crew of more than twenty people. Here we had close to two hundred. All I knew for sure is what I wanted to see on the screen. And I spent my energies on creating a team of people who would help me achieve that.
Everything the gurus will tell you to avoid, I did while making ‘The Forest‘.
I hope you enjoy watching it.
May the 4th be with you.
Filed under: Professional Talk | Tags: acting, acting appreciation, acting techniques, cinema magazine, film appreciation. Amitava Nag, film education, Michael Chekhov, oorvazi, oorvazi irani, Silhouette
WHAT IS ACTING my article published in the cinema magazine Silhouette
What is Acting
A process of discovery !
A yearning to look within oneself and an opportunity to experience the world within your own being.
If acting as a profession, as an art form can offer you the opportunity to self discovery and knowledge what better place to be in then here. But the history of acting has not been so fortunate and it still continues till the present times. Many actors are not true artists and are not being enriched but are suffering due to a wrong approach or a limited point of view.
Tracing the history of acting , the old style of acting training laid a heavy emphasis on codified pantomime and a set of gestures which if perfected created the replication of the emotional state and it was only geniuses who in these parameters went beyond the framework and reached the soul in inspired moments of truth. Aristotle defined acting as “the right management of the voice to express the various emotions.” And Romans were famous for their oratory skills and it is from the practice of these actors ancient orators borrowed the principles governing voice and gesture in public delivery. On the other hand the power of an oratory like Hitler can be seen who controlled the masses like an actor holds sway over his audience.
A major breakthrough in the history of modern acting is the “The System” introduced into the world with the great Russian actor teacher Constantan Stanislavsky in the early 20th century. He defined acting as “Living truthfully in imaginary circumstances”. What was radically different here was the shift to the focus now on the inner truthfulness of an actor and that the body would follow, it was an ‘Inside Out’ approach. However it was Lee Strasberg who was a key figure in introducing to America the Stanislavski System which he redesigned as “The Method” which emphasizes the ‘internal process’ and the use of the personal emotions of an actor to act. This method became very famous in Hollywood (and all over the world) and was popularized by the use of it by stars like Marlon Brando among others. This technique is used till date but it puts to question the inner state of an actor as a human being and is acting being used an art form in its true sense. Many actors have suffered from this method and face mental trauma when playing characters that have shades of negativity in them.
The challenges an actor faces are the demands to transform himself into other characters, to bring them to life by emoting truthfully. The point remains – Can an actor emotionally participate and remain detached? Can an actor immerse himself emotionally into playing several different characters and yet not lose his own identity? Can this process be fun instead of being painful?
Going back to the roots of ancient art forms provides the wisdom and a modern framework provides the way. Ancient artforms ranging from Japan to India (Natyashstra) view art to be treated and not naturalistic but the actor as an artist along with other artists involved in the process treat the raw emotions in their final work and elevate it to a state of being higher and above the mundane where even a negative emotion enriches the actor and audience. The personal ego is lost and the actor is operating from a universal higher self which is creative and enriching.
Michael Chekhov in the 20th century a great Russian actor, teacher, director, the nephew of Anton Chekhov the famous playwright and a student of Stanislavsky, seemed to have an interesting approach to these challenges and emphasized the art in acting. Chekhov being a student of Stanislavsky when he joined the Moscow Art Theatre owed a great deal to him but slowly developed his own theories and techniques of acting . Michael Chekhov devoted his whole life to developing and perfecting a revolutionary acting technique that did not rely on memory recall for creating emotions. At the core of the technique were the use of the actor’s ‘Imagination’ and the actor’s ‘Body’. Michael Chekhov believes that the approach to acting should be as a creative artist, that the actor’s identity is distinct from the character’s identity, and that the actor’s emotions are not to be used or confused in the creation of the character’ emotions. Chekhov used the psycho-physical approach to acting and put to powerful use the power of imagination rather logic and rationality to create artists of the true kind. Chekhov developed tools like the Psychological Gesture, The Imaginary Body, Imaginary Centre, Sensations to equip the actor to set himself free and expand his consciousness.
The actor creates an imaginary body in his imagination which is different from his own body. He collaborates with the imaginary body and then incorporates that in his own body.
The actor for the character selects a centre and determines its quality and then places that imaginary center in his own body and transforms from his limited personality to the character.
Every character has a Center. This is an area inside or outside the body where the character’s impulses for all movement originate. The impulse from this centre initiates all gestures and leads the body forward or backward, and to sit, walk, and stand etc. A proud character for instance can have his Centre in his chin or neck. The centre may be any shape or size, colour or consistency. A single character can have even more than one centre.
The Psychological Gesture can be understood as a movement that embodies the essence of a character. It gives the actor the basic structure of the character and can put the actor into the various moods required by the script.
The actor recreates the body sensation of balancing, falling and floating to effect his feelings and transform to a character.
By 1928, as head of the Second Moscow Art Theater, Chekhov’s innovative directing and teaching had provoked such severe criticism by the Communist government, he was forced to flee the country for safety. There followed ten years of wandering through Europe, with sojourns in Germany, France, Latvia, Lithuania and finally England. There, with the support of Beatrice Straight and the Elmhirst Family, Chekhov established his first acting school in English. The onset of World War II inspired the Elmhirsts to move the school to Ridgefield, Connecticut in 1938. Here and in New York, Chekhov trained numerous actors from the Group Theater and the Actors Studio before moving to Los Angeles in 1942.
In 1942 he was invited to Hollywood, where he became an acting coach to the stars, acted in many films, published his book, “To the Actor”. Prominent actors in Hollywood who studied with him were: Gary Cooper, Marilyn Monroe, Gregory Peck, Clint Eastwood, Anthony Quinn, Ingrid Bergman, Yul Brynner and many more. Michael Chekhov died in Hollywood, California in 1955, before his work became widely known.
“As Michael’s pupil. I learned more than acting…Every time he spoke, the world seemed to become bigger and more exciting…Acting became important…an art that increased your life and mind. Acting became more than a profession to me. It became sort of a religion.”
- Marilyn Monroe
© Copyrights and all rights reserved SBI Impresario Pvt. Ltd
About the Author:
Oorvazi Irani is a freelance film educationalist, acting trainer, filmmaker and director of her home production company SBI Impresario Pvt. Ltd., (incorporated in 1975). She has introduced the Michael Chekhov Acting Technique to India, she conducts courses on the technique and has created and produced the Michael Chekhov Acting Technique dvd, the first of its kind in India which is a step by step guide to the technique.
Filed under: Professional Talk | Tags: Film and Television Institute of India, Film Appreciation Course, ftii, indian cinema, Indranil Bhattacharya, National Film Archives of India, NFAI, NFAI and FTII Film Appreciation course, oorvazi, oorvazi irani
1.Would you like to share with the readers how did the NFAI and FTII film appreciation course come to be born
The Film Appreciation Course (FAC), in its present form, was initiated by the National Film Archive of India (NFAI), Pune in 1975, as a part of its mandate to disseminate film culture and awareness among general public. The Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) was already educating filmmakers with a mission to promote ‘good cinema’, artists or ‘authors’ who will create their own unique idiom. Good cinema requires a good audience; evolved cine-goers who will appreciate and relate to the cinematic experience of New Indian Cinema and great cinema from all around the world that was increasingly available to audiences through film clubs and film festivals in the 1970s. The idea was filmmaking and film viewing cross-fertilizing each other.
The then Director of NFAI, P K Nair, sought collaboration with FTII, especially with the first teacher of Film Appreciation Prof Satish Bahadur.The idea was to form a team who will take care of the teaching and academic requirements. Moreover, FTII with its academic infrastructure was the natural choice as the partner. This was the beginning of the collaborative course which has now run for 36 years.
2. What is the difference between a film appreciation course and a filmmaking course
Filmmaking courses in FTII are comprehensive courses that not only teach hands-on filmmaking, but also aesthetics, theory and history of Cinema with a view to produce ‘rounded’ filmmakers. The pedagogy and academic philosophy of the FAC is stated in my response to your previous query. The accent in FAC is on understanding Cinema and the language of Cinema, its artistic, social and cultural contexts. Participants of FA course are not given instructions in any practical aspect of films eg. how to structure a script, how to design a shot or how to put images together in the most effective way (editing).
In FAC the stress is more on why a film script is structured, shot and edited in a certain way, the historical and cultural context in which the film was produced and received. A rudimentary history of cinema and how it evolved over the years is an important component without which a deeper understanding of Cinema is not possible. Although some participants do find these lectures ‘too academic and factual’ in nature, they are extremely important to connect Cinema to its ontological roots, both in terms of the other arts like painting, theatre, literature, while emphasizing the Cinema uniqueness as an independent art form. It is only in retrospect many participants realize how important these lectures were to their understanding of Cinema.
2. The film appreciation course has been there for many years now and is like an institution in itself, after taking charge as the Professor of Film Appreciation and current coordinator of the Film appreciation course what would you say is the special feature of the course. Have you brought any specific changes to its structure and emphasis.
I have just coordinated one course where I have followed the pattern followed by my eminent predecessors. While there is nothing essentially wrong with the basic pattern, I intend to make the course more interactive. This implies that in the future participants have to make individual presentations on films/directors, participate equally in group discussions, do a short mise-en-scene analysis of a short fiction film as a course end project etc. Those applying for the course in the future should be ready for more activities and stop taking it as a picnic at FTII as a few participants every year tend to do. You will be eligible for certificate from FTII/NFAI if you participate in all the activities. There are some basic pedagogic issues I am also thinking about but it is too early to talk about it.
3. Who is the film appreciation course designed for, could you kindly elaborate
The FAC is designed for people with a serious engagement with Cinema, it is not for people who are only looking for FTII tag. We expect them to be good communicators, so that they can take the knowledge acquired in FTII to others; through either conceiving and teaching FA courses themselves, organizing film societies or film clubs in their areas/Institutions, or if they are journalists or film reviewers we expect them to go beyond the prosaic and commonplace newspaper reviews. For practicing filmmakers without a formal training in films, this course serves to strengthen the theoretical understanding of Cinema.
An individual participant should be able to take the cause and philosophy of FAC/Cinema forward in some form or format. If the participant does not have a previous track record of ‘communicating’, he or she should be able to convey his or her conviction through the ‘statement of purpose’ in the application form. The important issue here is what do you want to do with the course – for yourself and for film culture in general.
4. What is the qualifications required to enroll for the course and how does it work
The only important qualification (apart from being 21 years of age), I can think of is the ability to understand lectures in English. We still have not found any alternative, as many people from South of India or from South Asian neighbours like Sri Lanka do not understand Hindi, which is our national language.
5. Would you like to share any information about the next course, the dates, the faculty, the duration, the timing , special guest lectures ( or is it too early to mention)
It is too early for the next course details, the timings etc are a function of FTIIs internal calendar. The course has to coincide with lean periods or vacations in FTII regular courses, now that we are almost doing away with vacations at FTII, the course timings may shift a little bit.
My final words about the course
There are now Film Appreciation Courses organized at various parts of the country by local bodies, sometimes in collaboration with FTII and NFAI. The admission in most of these courses are on ‘first-come-first-serve’ basis … there are no screening of application forms. These courses , usually week-long, are pitched at a more popular level and are really meant for general public. The summer course at FTII is more academic (FTII is after all an academic Institution) and we have our methodology of teaching Cinema. There is a certain rigour in this course , which cannot be diluted as this our strength. So it is advised that people applying for the Summer Course are not complete novices and lacking in patience and discipline necessary for a month course. It may be better if they apply for the shorter courses and then, if necessary, apply for the month-long course later.
Filed under: Professional Talk | Tags: cinema, Farrukh Dhondy, film, film appreciation, film education, film workshop, oorvazi irani, screenplay, script
Interview: Farrukh Dhondy, Author, Screenwriter
By Oorvazi Irani • Apr 18th, 2009
Oorvazi Irani speaks with noted author and screenwriter Farrukh Dhondy as part of Understanding Cinema series first published for the web portal Dear Cinema.
Oorvazi Irani: As you are a short story writer, novelist, journalist, playwright and a screenplay writer when you embark on your work and more particularly on a screenplay do you frame and keep one central premise?
Farrukh Dhondy: I don’t think I ever start with an abstract premise — like ‘love conquers all’. I usually start with a story that someone wants to commission — remember that film is an industry and not merely an art form so a lot of the work doesn’t come from the mind of writers but from producers and commercial investors with dreams and plans — OR with a story I feel has to be written. A novel is completely different. Very often a film stats with a character whose journey through a phase one wants to explore — Bandit Queen, Billy Eliot, Schindler’s List….Gladiator…
How do you go about creating and building a character?
Characters are always based on observation. This doesn’t restrict you to mimicking one person in your prose, but using your observation of the inner life of people, sometimes several people, to arrive at a character who will act and speak in a particular way. Particularity is all. Some writers lapse into ‘invention’ rather than observation and then you get fable rather than a novel — think of Salman Rushdie’s ‘people’. Contrast the inventions of Dickens or Rudyard Kipling!
When contrasted and compared the novel and play with the screenplay – movies are stories told in pictures, and while the action and dialogues are integral parts of the screenplay, the storyline unfolds through the visual images ..
A film is never a novel. It’s a short story which takes one character through a series of events which results in a revelation that all of us need. the character learns something about life, sometimes the hard way. Slumdog is an example of a child growing up and learning right from wrong and keeping alive with the idea of a single love. Schindler’s list is a cynic turned into a human through his contact with human suffering. The idea that cinema tells a story through images is wrong! The silent movies used exaggerated stage expressions to tell the story and even then had captions for speech. The captions couldn’t contain the complexity of human thought and nuance and therefore the plots had to be simple. Cinema came of age when sound became integral — speech is the avatar of thought, the child of the mind and the leading component of film. A good film maker will see that the visuals are both what we expect and startling. only ‘art’ film-makers’ will use visuals as symbols, sometimes ones that a public will not grasp and that’s why some art film directors end up as a joke or are seen as pretentious!
The plot is the first consideration, and as it were, the soul of the tragedy.
Character holds the second place. – Aristotle wrote in his Poetics. What is the significance of plot and character to you and which of the two according to you takes the narrative forward in a screenplay.
I don’t think one can separate the two in modern film. Greek theatre was a form through which the actions and the will of Gods and people were made manifest. They followed the old stories, already formulated. Aeschylus and Euripides took stories of Oedipus and Electra which were already known so the plot became supreme. Our films descend not from legend but from the tradition of observation and novel-writing and from our contemporary myth-making. An example of the latter is the cowboy myth. Nowhere except in the early settlement of America could an agricultural operative who cleaned up bullshit and watered the cattle become the hero who brings righteousness to the land. These myth were invented and then stories and characters fitted in to make different ‘Westerns’. we then have the myth of machine-men Superman, Batman, people capable of doing things which only machines can– like flying and having the strength to smash buildings etc.
But other films (not Bollywood, which is based on debased myths) are based on character suggesting plot.
Do you believe in a Post Modern structure for a screenplay which is being said to have started with the films of Pulp Fiction, English Patient…. Syd Field says “there might be something larger going on, a new consciousness and awareness in approaching the craft of screenwriting” . What is your personal take.
I don’t think Syd Field knows what he is talking about. The Post-Modernists are confidence tricksters who make money out of the ignorance of their readers and subscribers. Pulp fiction was Tarantino’s continuing fascination with violence which he knew a modern audience would share. English Patient is a classical story of an illegitimate love defeated by history — is it all that different from Dr. Zhivago?
According to Akira Kurosawa “A good structure for a screenplay is that of a symphony, with its 3 or 4 movements and differing tempos. Or one can use the noh play with its three-part structure: jo (introduction), ha (destruction) and kyu (haste)”. Do you agree with this statement and how would you incorporate it in your screenplay.
I wouldn’t follow these fanciful formulae. Kurosawa is thinking of Tchaikovsky or Beethoven or the classic and romantic symphonies. It sounds good but it doesn’t work because very often the movements of these symphonies are self-sufficient in their themes and melodies.
I would rather follow the play structure set out by Shakespeare or Chekhov or Bernard Shaw. A story should tell itself. The film should make you want to watch it from the first minute — so it should introduce a dilemma in which we want to participate. The first act then gives us the characters and ramifications of the dilemma — we are setting he character on the journey in search of love or revenge or redemption or whatever. The second act usually incorporates an event which precipitates a choice. Then in the third we see the consequences of that choice and undergo an epiphany which tells us something we knew, but didn’t quite know we knew!.
Filed under: Professional Talk | Tags: feminist film theory, film appreciation, film critic, film education, indian cinema, oorvazi irani, portrayal of women in indian cinema, Shoma Chatterji
Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji is a freelance journalist, film scholar and author based in Kolkata, India. She has won the National Award for the Best Writing on Cinema in 1991 (Best Film Critic) and 2003 (Best Book on Cinema). She has singly authored 17 published books of which eight are on cinema. She has won around four more awards and three fellowships for research on cinema. She is currently, Post-doctoral Senior Research Fellow of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, Delhi.
What is the role that women play in Hindi cinema and has it changed over the years.
Women have mainly played decorative objects in Hindi cinema for a long time. Or, even in films where they had important roles, they are more victims and martyrs or victimizers of other women. Rarely have films like Kunku presented women as strong women who can raise their voice against injustice, who can rebel in their own way and make their own political statement.
Each decade has presented its own brand of women in Hindi cinema. Mother India is a strong political statement on a woman who can do anything to establish that justice has been done even while remaining within the framework of marriage and motherhood. She defies the micro state of being a biological mother in order to fit into the framework of becoming the mother of the nation when she shoots down her own son to save the honour of a woman of the village.
The ordinary woman has hardly been visible in Hindi cinema. During the time of Meena Kumari, Madhubala and their peers, the camera focussed more on the face of the leading lady than on the body. This changed radically from the 1990s when the body of the heroine became as or more important than the face. The sati-savitri image underwent a radical make-over probably with Nutan, who, without showing skin, made a powerful presentation in strong roles such as Seema and Bandini. Geeta Bali promoted the image of a mischievous tomboy, also a positive deviation from the sati-savitri image.
One thing noticed in Hindi cinema is that like Hollywood, the actresses have often indirectly dictated the terms of these portrayals such as Meena Kumari as the tragedienne, Vyjayantimala as largely decorative but a very good dancer, Madhubala for her beauty, and so on. Waheeda Rehman was a powerful actress who blended her dancing beautifully with roles where she could rise above the decorative quality of the characters.
Sharmila Tagore, Asha Parekh and Sadhana defined a change in fashion and style more than change in characterization. They played stereotypical roles in mainstream Hindi cinema wearing big bouffant hairdos, short, skin-tight salwar kameezes and did little more than flutter their false eyelashes at the hero and dance around trees with him.
Jaya Bachchan, Smita Patil and Shabana Azmi stripped glamour off the female lead’s character and played roles that were as important as that of the hero. They were not commercially successful but did very good roles in whichever commercial film they acted in such as Kora Kagaz, Jawani Diwani, Guddi, Rampur Ka Laxman, Sholay (Jaya Bachchan), or Namak Halal, Arth and Shakti (Smita Patil), Karm, Arth, (Shabana Azmi).
Hema Malini defined her own space and dominated the scene with one film after another just through the power of her beauty, her graceful dancing talents and her ability to bring off a hit with any hero ranging from Jeetendra to Rajesh Khanna to Sanjeev Kumar through Dharmenda to Dev Anand. But she could hardly act and it needed a very good director like Ramesh Sippy to bring good performances out of her such as she did I Seeta aur Geeta and Sholay and again, as Meera under the directorial baton of Gulzar. She ruled the heroine batch for nearly two decades. Zeenat Aman who was pulled in by her beauty queen image, could do nothing to change the portrayal of the Hindi heroine in any way and there were many like her such a Reena Roy, Farah, Neelam, and others.
From Rekha followed by Madhuri Dixit and Karisma Kapoor, the woman in Hindi films became louder in every sense – voice, articulation and delivery of dialogue, sexual aggressiveness and terms of character. This trend continues in a much more aggressive way carried forward in its well-packaged globalized image by the present crop comprised of Aishwarya Rai, Preity Zinta, Priyanka Chopra, Kareena Kapoor, Rani Mukherjee, Kajol and so on. They just do not agree to play complacent sugar syrupy characters who are expected to flutter their eyelashes and turn into glycerine factories at the wave of the director’s hand. Madhuri was decorative to begin with but changed over slowly and steadily with Tezaab followed by films like Beta, Dil, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge culminating in Mrityudand.
Actresses like Vidya Balan, Tabu have struck a balance between glamour and convention helped by their looks and the image they present. The woman is stronger, almost equal to a man in current films such as Dhoom, Dhoom II, Shaurya, Aitraaz where there is almost no difference between the heroine and the vamp because all the female stars are willing to step into negative roles if they are strong and can make a lasting impression on the audience.
Into the 2000 however, one is constrained to point out that most of the high-budget Hindi films that rely greatly on direct marketing by the stars, are either blatant or clever remakes of Hollywood films, both hits and flops. Thus the portrayal of the woman is also a ‘borrowed’ portrayal that is greatly distanced from the Indian woman on the street, urban or rural, educated or not educated, working or non-working and so on. Ethical values have changed to a large extent too because premarital sex, adultery, sexual overtures where the woman takes the initiative are quite common and have also got audience acceptance. Otherwise films like Astitva and Gangster and Jism and actresses like Bipasha Basu and Kangna Ranaut would never have clicked the way they have.
From the point of view of the Feminist Film Theory how would you analyze a female actor in Hindi cinema today?
Please refer to the introductory chapter of my book SUBJECT:CINEMA, OBJECT: WOMAN – A STUDY OF THE PORTRAYAL OF WOMEN IN INDIAN CINEMA which contains a detailed analysis of which of the two Feminist schools – the American school of sociological analysis, or the British School based on psycho-analytical theory fits into the scheme of the portrayal of women in Hindi cinema. My argument is that since much of Hindi cinema is influenced by Hollywood from the mid-1950s, the feminist analysis of female characters in Hindi films would fit more into the American School than the British School of Feminist film theory. Looking back on Hindi cinema however, I feel that as an Indian critic and film analysis, we should give up the tendency to rely on Western constructs of feminist film criticism. I might add also that they are fine for (a) offering choices of alternative schools of thought, (b) guiding the process of feminist film research, (c) forming frames of reference for specific issues that are global in character such as cinematic depiction of rape, and, perhaps, (d) providing a platform for interesting and exciting comparisons between a Hollywood film and a mainstream Hindi film on the same subject.
I have realised over my years of research into the portrayal of women in Hindi cinema that these constructs, theories and perspectives can neither be directly applied to nor superimposed on Indian mainstream cinema’s treatment and portrayal of women. One has to develop a mode of analysis that is culture-specific and situation-specific. Feminist film theories that draw mainly upon psycho-analysis, semiology and structuralism do not have much bearing on an analysis of portrayals of women in Hindi cinema. So, one has to develop a new theory of such analysis against the backdrop of the Indian socio-economic backdrop within which the real woman lives and works and study the intersections of these with celluloid women in Indian cinema. How distanced are the real women from the celluloid women? Does distancing help nurture better images of the celluloid women or does it hinder the image more and thus distance the audience from these films? Globalization has changed it all and one needs to look at the woman portrayals in Hindi cinema in 2010 with new eyes and through a new pair of glasses tinted with the razzmatazz of Western packaging, sophisticated marketing strategies, the launching of music and stars taking part in reality shows to plug their about-to-be-released films.
Who is a female actor today in Bollywood that you admire and why?
I admire most of them for their commitment, their approach to their career and their roles, their readiness to learn new skills such as fighting, riding, karate, climbing mountains and so on and their readiness to shed clothes according to the demands of the character, the film, the director, their flexibility and the power they exude by their mere presence on and off screen. They are articulate, intelligent and dynamic and hold themselves extremely well in public space and even on screen. Among the choice select, I would pick Aishwarya Rai, Kajol, Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Kangana Ranaut, Konkona Sharma, Bipasha Basu, Rani Mukherjee, Katrina Kaif and Preity Zinta. Sadly, the new crop of young leading ladies who make their debut opposite heroes like Amir and Shahrukh cannot make it afterwards for some mysterious reason.
Is there any specific difference between the role that women play in Hindi cinema vs other regional Indian cinema
I can only speak in relation to Bengali mainstream which does not stand any comparison at all because most Bengali mainstream films are cut-and-paste jobs from Southern films and Hindi films.
Could you kindly speak about any specific contemporary Indian director who is sensitive to the portrayal of women in Indian cinema and how does that reflect in his work and cinematic choices.
Shyam Benegal, Madhur Bhandarkar, Vishal Bharadwaj, Anurag Kashyap, Anurag Basu, Rituparno Ghosh, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and Mahesh Manjrekar who directed Astitva. Even when they do not make films that are involved in basic gender issues and are gender-neutral in treatment and storyline and approach, they are very sensitive in their projections of the female characters in their films. Madhur Bhandarkar would come on top of this list after Benegal.
Email Interview conducted on Friday, October 08, 2010
Filed under: Professional Talk | Tags: Amitava Nag, film appreciation, film education, film magazine, oorvazi irani, silhouette magazine
Q. What according to you is the role a cinema magazine plays in society and film culture
A cinema magazine, as always plays the role of a mediator between the film and the audience. It acts as a platform where the film technicians, the academicians and the general audience bring into fore their collective experience and thoughts. Ideally, any art magazine (in the broader sense of the term) should extend the perception of the masses – to ‘educate’ them in a sense to expect beyond the obvious.
Q. Is the role of a magazine in India on the subject of cinema any different than in the rest of the world
Yes, I do believe so. Primarily in the West you will find that there were different genres of films and yet the divide was not drawn so vividly. In India there had been this tussle of ‘art’ vs ‘commercial’ which all are quite vague ( though you can understand what is being meant by the terms ). This is because there were groups which had their own agenda and interest to satisfy. The analogy can be the way the European art-house directors looked at Hollywood. Problem is life is not of binary opposites. So, any polarization like this is bound to drift away with time.
In Indian context, predominantly, the film magazines had been the bastions of the film societies. The societies always preached the European movies and so vehemently derided Hollywood and the Indian ‘commercial’ movies. In this context I do feel, the contemporary cinema magazine should have an open outlook and judge films or movements by their merit and not by the baggage they carry.
Q. What audience does your magazine cater to and what is its prime focus
Our magazine is semi academic in nature. The primary focus is film students and scholars and those who are thinking seriously about cinema – not just as a medium of entertainment
Q. What is the relevance of a magazine compared to books on the subject
A magazine is a flowing thing, because it has its frequency. So you can divide a subject amongst different issues of the magazine instead of punching everything in one place and making it a bit monotonous. A book can tend to be boring a bit. A magazine, I feel is like a flowing river whereas a book might be a static reservoir.
Q. Would you be in a position to list the 5 best film magazines in the world and highlight their special features and which is your personal favourite.
I would rather comment on the Indian ones that I liked. Cinemaya was there which is no more. Deep Focus is also not regular. Then Chitrabikshyan was there. Movie Montage and Splice. We grew up reading these and understanding about cinema so much from these. Internationally Sight and Sound is extremely uptodate and caters to those who are keen on ‘information’ whereas Jump Cut or Cahiers used to be so focused on being original. Recently, I like Rougue and Senses of Cinema – two very strong e-magazines.
On the Indian contemporary scene, I am amazed by the fast yet slick presentation of Dear cinema. Upperstall is quite uptodate and good. Then there is Wide Screen Journal which is quite offbeat and I like it
Q. Would you like to share with us the birth of your magazine and why and how it came to be born
It all started way back in 2001 on a humid summer evening in Kolkata. It was at the Nandan premises, the hotbed of cinema culture in Kolkata when a group of enthusiasts,mainly students (apart from few like me) came up with the idea of a film society. The ‘Silhouette Film Society’ was born. And as one of the activities of the society we planned to bring out a magazine – an annual one. However, soon the magazine became the society’s prime activity – Silhouette. We had a break of almost 4 years and are getting ready for the Vol VIII of Silhouette to be published in Oct 2010.
This year’s cover is Representation of City in cinema. We are also trying for a retro section on Rabindranath Tagore – his influence on cinema.
Q. What is the member strength of your magazine and what are the challenges you face on the path
We had earlier, but currently we are not having a membership scheme of the magazine. We just sell the magazine to different places – through stalls and push-sales.
The biggest challenge is finance. We have to sell the book at 60-70% of the cost. The nature of the book is such that it generally doesn’t attract advertisers. We are short on human resources as well since everyone is working outside. Our production standard is pretty high – not sure if many endeavours like this which are self-sponsored can match us. The magazine is appreciated nationally and internationally. But we don’t have a steady readership increase or a steady reach to our readers.
We have been requesting every media practitioner to judge our work and if satisfied spread the word – Silhouette should reach everyone interested in good cinema in any part of the world. Currently I feel we have only reached probably 5-10% of our friends. Without this collective co-existence no cinema culture can thrive and sustain.
Q. What is the history of the film magazine before and after Cahiers du Cinema.
” Cahiers is probably the most influential cinema magazine of the world till date. Founded in the early 50′s by Andre Bazin , Eric Rohmer and others, their gain to prominence was only in the early 60s through Truffaut primarily and then Godard and Chabrol. Since these critics were directors themselves with their own agenda of anti-establishment targeted at Hollywood, they used Cahiers as their bandwagon propaganda. That worked and Cahiers shaped up the Auteur Theory.
Probably in the history of cinema magazines and cinema genres and movements, no other magazine was hand-holding with a movement to its success. Cahiers remained influential afterwards as well and there is no doubt that apart from the Nouvelle Vague they had shaped the way film criticism should evolve. Alfred Hitchcock for one was focused in Cahiers before anyone took him seriously as an all time great film maker. I do believe for many years, Cannes and Cahiers also had a similar hand-holding relation in ‘creating’ star film directors. So they became an institution themselves (sic).
But still, I believe Cahiers had played one of the most significant role in cinema culture in the 60s and 70s.”
Silhouette Magazine Website
Filed under: Professional Talk | Tags: art, Cannes film festival, cinema, film, film appreciation, film critic, film education, film festivals, film industry, oorvazi irani, Premendra Mazumder
Premendra Mazumder is working on cinema in versatile capacities. As a film critic, writes for various publications worldwide. Authored a book on Hundred Years of Indian Cinema in Bengali. Edited several film journals. Worked in the editorial board of the ‘Dictionary of Asian Cinema’ published in Oct. 2008 by Nouveau Monde Editions, Paris. Member of the ‘Federation Internationale Presse de Cinematographique – Fipresci’. Official Correspondent for India for the ‘Cannes Critics Week’ since 2005.
Today how would you look at cinema, as an art or an industry. How does it maintain the balance or is there a need for a separation.
Cinema is a perfect combination of art and industry. Its a brilliant creative work and a superb saleable product as well.
Cinema always maintained an ideal balance during its ontogenesis. Its not needed to facilitate an unhappy divorce of such a generative marriage. Any unwarranted effort of such a separation will simply be futile.
Do you feel that there is a space where a filmmaker as an artist can exist without bothering about how their film will do at the box office. Is there an independent DVD market that can exist for this artist who does not have to rely on mass appeal but address a select audience and still be in business. Who offers this space to the filmmaker. Can a filmmaker afford to use cinema as a ‘pen’ can she/ he really be free to create.
If there is sufficient resource to be patronised, the filmmaker as an artist can exist without bothering about the box-office. But it is difficult to survive as the producer may not be interested always to waste money for such a benevolence. When any creative art comes to the market, it becomes a product. And whenever there is any necessity to depend upon the returns from the market the absolute independence of the creator is compelled to compromise with the conditions of the market. On the other hand the quality of the product can also control the character of the market. Even it can create its niche market for its own survival. Cinema has this quality in abundance. So a filmmaker has got enough opportunity to experiment. As the vast community culture of film viewing is changing very rapidly to small group culture or to individual culture, the scope to reach the target audience is also increasing very speedily. Shifting from large single-screen theatres to small multiplexes or to personal home monitors, creates wider opportunity to ignore the box-office oriented complex market mechanism controlled by the nexus of financiers, producers, distributors and exhibitors. Film sense is increasing apace amongst the educated viewers through the constant persuasion of the support groups like film clubs, film schools, film studies departments of colleges and universities, other film education centres et al which could be a good help for the independent filmmakers to ignore the box-office. Only constraint is the lack of professional approach. A film-society activist or a film scholar is ready to spend Rs.200(+) per ticket for seeing a big-budget product in a class-I multiplex with friends or family members and there is nothing wrong in it but the same person will not be ready to promote a low-budget independent film in the same multiplex even at the half price and rather find either for a complimentary pass in some academic show or opt for lending a DVD at Rs.10(-). When these group of film intelligentsia will realise that not only their intellectual support is sufficient to promote a good film or an independent filmmaker but also their financial support is very much necessary for their survival, the total premise will be changed.
Independent DVD market for a select audience is in existence worldwide, even in India. For example, the entire NE zone of the country where the people are contented with their own language and culture has a huge home-made DVD market. Its a booming business there since the digital technology opened the new horizon in audio-visual culture. In mainstream market also the existing oligopoly could be challenged by the independent filmmakers as there is a high demand of genre-wise films. Here also the role of the above-mentioned support groups is very much important. People with real film-sense should realise that even to make a very small budget independent film a bountiful amount of money is needed and if the filmmaker does not get it back it will be impossible for the artist to survive. So the support groups should come forward to activate the alternative channels for promotion of such positive efforts. Even an alternative market network could also be built up using the technological advancements.
This space is being generated through a complex market mechanism. There are some forums in existence who are trying to explore the market. Demand is also increasing to cater the need of the consumable products. Some satellite channels are marking some slots for such films not to promote good films or independent filmmakers but to cater their own need for finding out new avenues to increase profit. Some support groups may come forward jointly to operate a separate channel for promotion of such films in a regular manner. When the people in general will have the wide opportunity to taste the good films at their home comfort according to their own convenience, they will certainly come forward to promote such films by purchasing the DVDs or going to the theatres paying entry fees.
Advancement of technology will shortly make it possible to use cinema as a ‘pen’ and the filmmaker will be ’free’ in the real sense of the term to create.
Many young aspiring filmmakers in India want to express themselves but feel limited by the economic approach of ‘the mainstream feature film’ . What are the other options available to them to make a livelihood as a filmmaker.
First of all the aspiring filmmaker has to decide the specific goal and then the way to reach there. The problem with most them is that they are basically confused and can not decide what they exactly want to achieve. There is nothing wrong to dream about being a Yash Chopra or a Ritwik Ghatak, but it is practically impossible to be the both at the same time. Its a Laputan proposition. And to achieve a specific goal the filmmaker should be philosophically honest. Limitation of funding for making artistically brilliant film is always there as the producer wants a quick return of the investment with a handsome profit. Still there are so many excellent films which have glorified the history of Indian cinema without bothering for the box-office.
To make filmmaking a livelihood is really difficult at the initial stage particularly for the outsiders. Ad-films, corporate films, commissioned documentaries etc. could be the options at the struggling stage to survive. Even after getting success several filmmakers continue earning from these alternatives.
What are the options of funding a film for a young filmmaker today.
As the film industry in India is being corporatised very rapidly, there are many opportunities of getting funds for the young aspiring filmmakers. Corporate houses could be approached directly with the specific proposals. Like independent filmmakers, independent producers always exist, who have the money and want to be associated with some good artistic works. Some NGOs are there in the business. Govt. organisations like NFDC, PSBT, FD etc. also provide funds. In state levels, there are some organisations. Some reputed international film festivals have got some projects. Many funding agencies are there. But for any such project, one need to have a worthy proposal and right valuable contacts.
What has been your experiences with film festivals across the world.
Refreshing & worthful, exciting & colourful. Festivals enrich the knowledge, update the information, explore new talents, retrospect the veterans. Interactions with the filmbuffs of different countries create an comfortable feeling of international bonding beyond borders based upon cinema. Its an excellent opportunity to expand the wings in an open sky of cinema.
Are film festivals an alternative space for an artist to get recognized.
Absolutely right. Film is an universal form of art. So its universal recognition is most important to a real artist. And the film festival is the right forum to get that recognition. A film may or may not be accepted in the land of its origin. But it could be highly acclaimed internationally. That certainly benefits the artist, intellectually and sometimes financially as well. There are so many examples which confirm that a real artist has been recognised first by some festival.
When does a young filmmaker know that he is ready to enter his film into a reputed film festival. What are the qualities in a film that you look for being on the jury board of many film festivals yourself. What is the special quality that takes the first prize and appeals the most.
It depends upon the self-judgement, which, in most of the cases, are not correct. So the members of the selection jury are compelled to see so many bad entries. An efficient consultant can show the right path.
A good film draws your uninterrupted attention from the beginning till end with all your sensations focused on it without any distortion and it pursues you even after the final bell rings and keeps you obsessed for ever. As a member of the jury I find this quality of a film.
Film is a very complicated medium. So process to judge the best is also very complicated. There is no hard-and-fast rule, but some pre-fixed conditions could be there. It differs from festival to festival. Some common aspects are to evaluate different sections, such as, form, presentation, content, script, cinematography, sound, music, acting, editing and overall performance. But which appeals most is that it should not only be a good film but the best one amongst all in the competition.
How do you enter your film in the Cannes festival. Do you feel the process of selection is transparent and democratic.
I am the official correspondent for India for the Cannes Critics Week for last six years. I strongly believe that its selection process is very much transparent and highly democratic.
If you would have to list the top ten film festivals in the world what would they be.
As I work as the consultant for several film festivals worldwide, I should not comment on this particular point. I think all the festivals are important as they promote good cinema, explore new talents, create and nourish healthy film culture. That’s all.
Filed under: Professional Talk | Tags: Academy of Motion Pictures, Dilip Basu, film appreciation, film education, Indian art cinema, indian cinema, oorvazi irani, pather panchali, satyajit ray, Satyajit Ray film and study center
The questions for the Interview have been compiled with valuable contribution from my Film Appreciation Family (My Film Appreciation course participants). I wanted students of cinema to actively participate in the process of knowledge and wanted to address their concerns and I am very grateful to Prof Dilip Basu to so kindly agree to answer our long list of questions. If I have not been able to accommodate all the questions my apologies to them and promise to address them in the near future.
Q1. With an initial grant from the Academy, Basu organized the Ray FASC at UCSC, and the Ray Society in Calcutta. With the cooperation of the two organizations, Basu coordinates the restoration and preservation of Ray’s films. The work is done at the Academy of Motion Pictures Archives in Los Angeles. To date, out of Ray’s 37-film oeuvre, 22 have been fully restored. Most of the original negatives, including the ones of the Apu Trilogy, were in tatters; six of them had burned in a film fire in London in 1994. If these were not properly restored, future generations would not have the privilege of seeing the classic Ray films.
Could you share with us your first encounter with the cinema of Satyajit Ray and the birth of The Satyajit Ray Film and Study Center (Ray FASC), University of California, Santa Cruz.
I was around 15 when I first saw Pather Panchali in a Calcutta theatre after reading about it in a Bengali literary weekly ” Desh” as arguably one of the greatest films ever made ! I was immediately captivated watching it. I had read the novel by Bibhuti Bhushan Banerjee on which it was based.
I got to know Ray personally very closely in 1980′s. I used to visit him a couple of times a year in his family home with videos of his favorite old Hollywood classics. We would watch them together. His favorites were Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire films. He was ailing after his heart attacks in 1983-4.He was confined to his apartment in an old colonial building in central Calcutta. He was not allowed by his doctors to make any films. Talking to friends and watching his old favorites were his favorite pastimes.Of course, he was also busy writing:his memoirs and screenplays for his son Sandip.
Q2. Do you feel today, Satyajit Ray is more famous abroad than in India and was it always so?
I do feel there is a certain lack of interest in him in India , even in Bengal. The younger generation does not relate to his movies; add to this the fact there are no good quality videos or dvds of his films available in India. We now have 22 of his 36 films beautifully restored . No one in India has bothered to access them from the Academy. I can’t really blame the audiences in India for not bothering to purchase the dvds that sell in Indian stores in Calcutta for instance.
In 2002,I had taken 4 restored Ray films including Pather Panchali to New Delhi. These were screened at Siri Fort Theatres. I was surprised by the response; each show was sold out. The majority of the audiences were young people who had never seen a Ray film on a large screen !
There is no doubt Ray is a revered all time great among American art house film goers. A year ago , we had a retrospective at the Lincoln center in New York. It was at an 800-seat theatre.Each show was sold out.. In contrast, three years ago, Joseph Lindner from the Academy Archives had taken 4 restored films to the Calcutta International Film Festival.He was surprised that the films were allocated to the 100-seat small theatre at Nandan, Calcutta’s film center, even more surprised to see that this hall was not filled to capacity any time he screened a restored film.
Q3. What is it specifically about Satyajit Ray that made him a very successful international figure, which other Indian directors of his time like Guru Dutt could not attain in terms of international acclaim?
Ray made films which were unique to Bengal and which were equally universal- a great artistic achievement hard to match. Sappy old film makers like Guru Dutt are no comparison. Ray lives in India today in such film makers like Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalkrishnan, Aparna Sen, and his son Sandip.
Q4. What do you feel is the greatest contribution of Satyajit Ray to Indian cinema.
Indian cinema before Ray and even today remains popular cinematic versions of theater or plays I compare them to what are known in Bengal as Jatras or folk theater. This is a genre in its own right. Ray pulled out Indian cinema out of this, he showed us that cinema has its own language and grammar, Indian cinema lacked it.
Q5. As an artist what are the autobiographical elements that feature in Satyajit Ray’s films. Would you say that understanding any aspect of Satyajit Ray as a person would help attain a deeper analysis of his films.
As an artist Ray belonged to the Tagore tradition through and through, he said that to me himself. There has been a Bengali renaissance tradition going back to Ram Mohan Roy in early nineteenth century with an emphasis on humanism and universalism not shared elsewhere in India, I think after Tagore, it was continued through Ray and now by Professor Amartya Sen.
Ray was also, by inheritance, a Ray- grandson of legendary Upendrakishore and son of Sukumar Ray. His grandfather and father are legends in Bengal for their stories for children, wonderful graphic art and nonsense rhymes which are on the lips of most Bengalis in India and Bangladesh.
Knowing Ray from close quarters, I felt at heart he was just like a kid- always curious about little gadgets and the latest in computers.
Q6. Would you agree almost all of Ray’s films are adaptations of literary works including his own, with a few exceptions like Kanchenjunga which was an original screenplay, any particular reason ?
I have recently argued in a proposal to mark the 150th of Tagore and Ray’s 90th ” Tagore stories , Ray films ” that Ray illumined Tagore novels, great as they are, in luminous form. Most audiences do not realize that the greatness of films like Charulata or Ghare Baire largely derive from the novels on which they are based. Ray himself admitted much of visual beauty of Pather Panchali derived from his literal translation of the author Banerjee’s pictorial prose.
K’jungha is unique in Ray’s ouevre – the reel time and real time of the narrative are the same. Ray was experimenting on a common social practice of Calcuttans who journeyed to Darjeeling in summer heat as they still do where things happen but mostly materialize back in Calcutta. Ray was a literary figure with many books and films based on them .You are right – K-jungha is not a literary work , a largely extempore screenplay , much of that created as the film was being shot on a record 18-day shoot on location.
Q7. Was Ray a classical or modern filmmaker?
Ray was Ray – a class by himself – beyond categories or labels. He said that himself.
Q8. Did Ray have a signature style for his films?
Each film was different. As an American music composer Eyvind Kang said “when you hear Ray film music, you immediately recognize it is his- it is so original” -the same applies to his films.
Q9. Would you like to mention any specific style in editing, cinematography, sound that was unique to Satyajit Ray?
I am not competent to comment on this. But I do know that even though he had a cinematographer, editor and all that, he did everything himself – no shot was done without him checking it out. So all was unique to his style.
Q10. How much credit would you give the team of Satyajit Ray for the success of his films
His team was his own. It followed him religiously. Those who did not like Subrata Mitra were dismissed. I would give Banshi Chandragupta, his set designer, Subrata Mitra, his cinematographer great credit for their work in early Ray films.
Q11. If you were to do an analysis of Ray’s films how would you explain the influences of Hollywood, Italian Neo Realism, French New wave, Indian art and aestheics, western art and aesthetics.
This is a big question. Ray himself said he learned the craft of film making watching old Hollywood films. I personally think this was his greatest cinematic influence, it is true that he was inspired to make Pather Panchali after watching Bicycle Thief in London in 1950.. but Pather Panchali is unique in itself – it owes little to neo-realism or any other western art and aesthetics – it is at once uniquely Bengali and universal.
Ray was a cosmopolitan man who was well read in theory. Whatever influences he had, he completely internalized them. I would say the greatest artistic influence he had was that of Benode Behari Mukherjee, his art teacher in Santinketan. Ray paid tribute to him in is documentary – Inner Eye.
Q12. Ray is known to have a wonderful equation with his child actors, right from his debut film Pather Panchali to films like The World of Apu,Sonar Kella, Joy Baba Felunath, Pikoo, Hirak Rajar Deshe etc. How did he get them to emote so wonderfully? Any specific techniques he used?
Ray related to children at their own level, not speaking to them as an adult with authority..
Q13. Ray started with shooting on real locations, but by the end of his career, his films were mostly claustrophobic and largely shot in interiors – for example Ganashatru, Shakha Proshakha and Agantuk were all shot indoors – was it a conscious choice or a compulsion of his ill-health? A film like Ganashatru was not really an inspired film, would you agree
Because of health reasons, he could not do much of location shooting . Gana Shatru was done completely indoors with Ray in a wheel chair with nurses in a van waiting. The same is true of his last two films.
Q14. Do you believe that B&W offered a perfect canvas for Ray to make his films and his colour films were not as effective ?
His b& w films are his greatest. But his color films are noted for their unique choice of colors deliberately decided by the director.
Q15. Which is your favourite Ray film and why?
Pather Panchali- it is unique and unsurpassed in cinema history.
Q16. Ray had a rather unpleasant brush with Hollywood when he sought financing for The Alien – it is also said he was of the belief that Spielberg plagiarized the concept of ET from his script, which at that time was available all over the United States in mimeographed copies does this have any basis for being true?
I refer the reader to Andrew Robinson in his Ray book. Ray had said : “without alien , ET could not be made “
Q17. What do you feel is the greatest value that the study of the cinema of Satyajit Ray can offer a film student?
Filed under: Professional Talk | Tags: Deepa Dhanraj, documentary, documentary film making, film education, Oorvazi Irani.film appreciation
Deepa Dhanraj started making films in 1980. Based in Bangalore, she worked and still does, very closely with women’s organisations, nationally as well as internationally. Together with Abha Bhaiya, Navroze Contractor and Meera Rao, she formed the film collective Yugantar.
Deepa Dhanraj as a filmmaker is interested in the participatory nature of the film practice. How one could maintain participation not control was one of her key concerns. Even though the filmmaker had the apparatus and information how could the subject influence the process was an interesting exploration in her films. She believes there has to be a very respectful relationship between the filmmaker and the subject. And on her part she might have made some decisions that aesthetically or politically were not the best ones but once she was committed to the participatory process she wanted to take it to its end.
Interview with Deepa Dhanraj
How would you define ‘documentary film making’
Apart from some of the formal definitions which seem to range from non fiction or filming reality I feel it is a process that includes connecting with people, a subject, and making creative decisions about appropriate cinematic practices.
As a filmmaker what are the different types of documentaries as a creative approach and what is your favourite choice and why
I seem to have worked in very few modes, either the observational style which is more cinema verite or a more didactic style of creating meaning through manipulating voice and image. I have always been fascinated by the quality of the human voice, people speaking, once people are relaxed, once you have some trust, something magical happens, that alchemy between listening and speaking. I don’t mean “speaking” as giving information, more utilitarian way of communicating, but with the richness of everything about the way they speak, the silences, pauses, hesitations, all of it.
I think its by paying attention to voice, that I taught myself so many languages, just by editing listening to people’s voices, editing it and then subtitling it. When you start doing that you are trans-creating. Then you have to go even deeper into what was said, what was meant, what was intended, half-said. You have to pay attention to inflection, emphasis, and context to convey the fullest meaning of what’s being said.
What motivated you to begin making documentaries
From 1979 I was part of the Indian women’s movement, it was an exciting time, and women were organizing around issues related to work, unionizing, violence, land rights and conservation of forests. A group of us formed a film collective called Yugantar to document these struggles, that is how it all began.
As an independent filmmaker when you are commissioned by a channel like BBC do you feel that restricts the freedom of your voice. Do they impose their editorial agenda.
As a filmmaker I think one should preserve the integrity of ones vision at all times. It shouldn’t matter who the commissioning agency is, I have always made the films I wanted to make on my terms.
What would be your advice to a young documentary filmmaker to raise finance for the project and how do they go about reaching out to the audience.
Be creative! It is difficult in India to raise money apart from PSBT, Films Division and some NGO funding there are no sources of funding. However there are initiatives like DOCEDGE which are held in SRFTI Kolkata where commissioning editors from TV stations all over the world come looking for projects. There are also foundations like the Jan Vrijman Foundation and the Hubert Bals Foundation that offer grants.
Behind the scenes: Deepa Dhanraj’s film Tambaku Ki Aagali
After the Interview I would like to share with you what Deepa says about her experiences of making of Tambaku Ki Aagali,on the struggle of women tobacco workers in to unionize in Nipani Karnataka and it beautifully shows the participatory collaborative filmmaking process and how valuable the contribution of the subjects themselves was in the making of the film.
Deepa says to start with it was a problem to get into the factory; nobody would let them shoot inside. But the women said, ‘we will find a way’. So they negotiated with one of their owners to let the crew in for a day .Once inside the factory they showed the film crew the kind of hard work they had to do. To sabotage the machines, they would put rocks to make it stop. They told them to take a shot of the ventilators; they said they keep them closed so that the tobacco dust doesn’t go out .Because it’s so toxic, they give women free tobacco to chew, when they join, so they get used to it. So right from pointing to what the film crew should shoot and then talking about what it should mean to the audience –The women were so present, they wanted to tell their stories. As a filmmaker Deepa says she wouldn’t even have known how to ask these questions if the women hadn’t shared the process of making the film.
There was another woman who said, if you come even five minutes late the gates are locked, so you can’t get in and so you lose work for that day. And sometimes if you have babies to breast feed – they hand the baby over the gate. So you can’t go out.
And then this woman said you know even dogs; she meant animals in general, even they are lucky enough to sit in one place and eat. But for us, we start running. So in the morning you make those rotis, tie it in a handkerchief and you start running and if you can eat while you run, to make it before the gate closes. Deepa hears all this in her discussions with them and feels that the film should start with that image – just a close up of the earth and this cloth and wrapping of the food and the running – it is a great sequence in reality, it’s beautiful, she says. But later when she had to go back and shot it, it seemed too constructed, but she still started the film with it.