Film Education

Pather Panchali: A Poem inspired by the film

Pather Panchali

Aunt’s Death
On the way home
I saw your, Snow White hair …
Daylight taking away your shine
Your faint smile disappearing in Nothingness;
A serious fight of deprivation – – – –
Deprived me – of you …
Durga in Appu’s memory
Running through the dancing fields
Chasing the moving train
We rushed to the tall tree in Rain
— Then I saw your fragile body,
Dark face, full of Pain
Touch of the necklace thrown
Haunts me in Vain – – –
Oh my dear fallen leaves – – –
of the summer of my life
Down the Memory Lane.

– Swati Vaidya

Film Appreciation Course participant May 2010


RAAVAN: A film by Mani Ratnam

Raavan: A film by Mani Ratnam

Its difficult to expect every film of a talented filmmaker to be inspired they are human after all but what you question is was the creative process deep enough.

The film did not have a depth and seemed superficial and cliché ridden.

The Character of Raavan:

I feel the problem lay in the characterization of Raavan. The filmmaker wanted to question the concept of evil but in the process did not even reach close to evil to question it. And then to add to it this Raavan was not rooted in any space he seemed to exist in thin air, and therefore not real to cause an impact. He was supposed to be a mix of Raavan and Robinhood, I think this was a film that was tried to be made with the head instead of the heart and worked neither way.

The Actor:

The acting seemed more indicative than deeply felt. There was no inner life happening. There were beautiful possibilities with a character like Raavan, possibilities of  explorations to dive into but neither the screenplay, nor the director nor the actor touched upon those nuances and the film remained at the surface here too. It would be interesting to know what preparation the actor made to become, rather ‘create’ this role. Or what could or should be the possibilities for an actor and how does he go along creating a role like this. What tools does he use, what technique ?  A negative role is always dangerous to play and therefore should be created not become.



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.

INTERVIEW WITH DILIP BASU, Founding Director Satyajit Ray Film & Study Center, University of California

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?

Watch Them.


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.