100 Years. India’s Contribution.

100 Years Of Indian Cinema

After giving up the idea of running a printing press, Dadasaheb Phalke, a small-town photographer besotted with images, turned his attention to motion pictures. On 03rd May, 1913, he released the first silent film of India – Raja Harishchandra. The reaction to the film was euphoric. People, in huge crowds, thronged outside the theatre where it was released. Such was the reaction that Dadasaheb had to create more prints and give the film a somewhat wider release. Raja Harishchandra marked the birth of Indian cinema and Dadasaheb Phalke would later go on to be known as the father of Indian cinema.

A hundred years later, where do we stand with respect to world cinema? What have we contributed? As May 03rd, 2013 inches nearer, one can just look back and marvel at Indian cinema and the direction it is now headed in. The Indian audience has had a taste of all kinds of cinema – arthouse fare, masala films, crossover cinema. While some of the films made now-a-days might be held questionable on the account of their merits, India’s contribution to world cinema can’t be ignored. When Satyajit Ray gave up everything to make The Apu Trilogy, he had no idea that his work would serve as a blueprint, a sort of a reference point to scores of filmmakers in India and abroad. Filmmakers like Akira Kurosawa, Martin Scorsese, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen, Francois Truffaut, Wes Anderson swore by his work and his style of storytelling. Ray was what you would call a filmmaker for the common man. His films, as Scorsese puts it, blurred the line between poetry and cinema. When he started filming Pather Panchali, he had a cast and crew with little or no prior experience in filmmaking and acting. The musician, the cameraman were all novices and yet, in true filmy style, they ended up making a masterpiece.

As time went by, many more filmmakers came to the fore and made their mark. Guru Dutt, whose Pyaasa is revered by filmmakers across the country, told the story of a struggling poet in post-independence India. The film went on to be listed as one amongst many in the Sight & Sound critics’ and directors’ poll of all-time greatest films. These were brave filmmakers who wanted to tell their stories. They were trying to do simple things in a different manner and they always stood out.

But, is that it? Of course not. The contribution to Indian cinema cannot be limited to just filmmakers alone.

Gulzar, ace lyricist and filmmaker, understands words better than anyone else. His playful poetry is like music to the ears. When he recites a few lines in that distinct voice of his, you cannot help but notice that his lines are simple yet complicated in a beautiful way. Himself a filmmaker, Gulzar has made some of the finest films in the history of Indian cinema – Aandhi, Koshish, Maachis. Costume designer Bhanu Athaiya, who has worked with directors such as Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor and Richard Attenborough, bagged an Academy award for her work in Attenborogh’s biographical film Gandhi. Mira Nair, one of the finest filmmakers of our country, has made terrific films such as Salaam Bombay – an authentic portrayal of children living on the street – and Monsoon Wedding. As I sit writing this article, there is news trickling in that Anurag Kashyap’s thriller Ugly has been selected for the 66th Cannes’ Film Festival’s Directors Fortnight. And that Vidya Balan is one amongst the nine members (that comprises of Steven Spielberg, Lynne Ramsay, Cristian Mungiu, Ang Lee) of the jury panel at the same film festival.

A.R. Rahman, born as A.S. Dileepkumar, needs no introduction. The Mozart of Madras, as he is popularly known, is an Academy Award winning music composer who filmmakers would give an arm and a leg to work with. Now, there have been music composers well before Rahman – Naushad, S.D. Burman, R.D. Burman – and they are legends in their own right. But ask any music buff and they’ll tell you why Rahman can be singled out as one of his kind. His music is often described as soul-cleansing and spiritual. The kind that takes you closer to God. The kind that can be described as a glimmer of light in utter darkness. Some of Rahman’s biggest contributions to cinema are Roja, Bombay, Kandukondain Kandukondain, Dil Se, Alaipayuthey. They say, nothing and nobody involved in the film is bigger than the film itself. Tell that to those who have seen Delhi-6 and Kadal. When there was nothing to be taken away from a film, there was always his music. These are people who, if I may borrow the words of a commercial, are taking India to the world.

There was a phase when Hindi cinema was intolerable. The 80s, considered to be the worst in the history of Indian cinema saw filmmakers indulging in mindless and regressive films. But change came in the name of Govind Nihalani. His films were somewhere a cross between arthouse fare and commercial cinema. Ardh Satya and Aakrosh are masterpieces which harkened back to a time when storytellers put their angst into their films. Once a brilliant director of films such asSatya, Rangeela, Company, Ram Gopal Varma, is now making films that are undecipherable and unintentionally hilarious. But his contribution to Indian cinema is too large and important to turn a blind eye to.

Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, Vidya Balan, Irrfan, Amit Trivedi, Swanand Kirkire, Anurag Kashyap, Anurag Basu, Imtiaz Ali, Vikramaditya Motwane are some of the new age talents who are a lot more confident of their craft, who are attempting to break norms and convention. This is a good thing. People who are carrying the beacon of cinema forward. They are the new guard, the new today. This May 03rd, four  filmmakers – Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar and Anurag Kashyap – are coming together with one film – Bombay Talkies – to celebrate 100 years of cinema. There is a lot more imagination, a lot more innovation that has seeped into our films now. Things are looking up for the future of Indian cinema. The legacy is in safe hands.

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