Latika Padgaonkar writes about the Indian Film Festival at the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris, which also featured a retrospective of Bharat Gopy’s films, a first for any Malayalam Actor till date, dated 10 November 1985. Originally appeared in the Times of India.
The year of India continues in full swing with the inauguration of the Indian Film Festival in Paris.The Georges Pompidou Centre, in collaboration with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the National Film Development Council, the Directorate of Film Festivals, The National film Archives and the Year of India committee is screening more than a hundred Indian films over a period of nine weeks.The showing commenced on September 25, 1985.
A hundred films at the Pompidou Centre, the shrine of all that is avant garde in the arts, is indisputably a major event.Yet, this is not the first time that an important festival of Indian films is on in Paris.The month-long tribute to Indian cinema in 1983 was the starting point. This second festival steps in to complete the first initiative. Thus, the two festivals taken together, and organized, as they have been, at a relatively short interval of two years, give a complete idea of the range and diversity of Indian cinema.
The 1983 retrospective had presented a glimpse of the “new cinema” in India, with an emphasis on the works of some major directors : Ritwik Gatak, Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal, Aravindan etc. This year, Indian cinema, old and new, will be projected through its stars – the real world of showbiz – and will fall into five broad categories.
A retrospective of stars – both contemporary and from years gone by – representing popular Hindi as well as regional films.This includes films of Dilip Kumar, Nargis, Waheeda Rehman, Meena Kumari, Balraj Sahni, Prithviraj Kapoor on the one hand and Shashi Kapoor, Smita Patil, Naseerudin Shah, Shabana Azmi, Om Puri, Soumitra Chatterjee, Gopy, Amitabh Bachchan on the other; works of atleast three women directors : Sai Paranjpye, Aparna Sen and Prema Karanth; some regional films that are part of the “new cinema” and which have been selected from among those shown at annual film festivals in India; a tribute to people who have established veritable one-man industries, who have left a mark on Indian cinema : actors-directors-producers such as dev Anand, Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt, V Shantaram etc;
It is pertinent to ask why the Pompidou Center has decided to show commercial films in a big way, since a festival of so called “popular” films from any country except the US is uncommon here. It is worthwhile to pause and assess the reactions that commercial cinema has generated in those French critics who have managed to see such films during their visit to India.At best, this cinema is for them, unusual, given its length, its song and dance sequences, the persistence of its old star system, its longevity and dynamism, no less than the ability to channelize existing myths and sometimes create new ones.
A critic who has made a case for Indian commercial cinema, Connie Haham considers the Indian film to be a complete spectacle, exuding a vital, contagious energy and evoking dreams of a whole people without ever forgetting that cinema is entertainment. Henri Stern, in an article titled “Defence and Illustration of Indian Commercial cinema” asserts that although commercial films may give the impression of discontinuity, we must keep in mind that we are dealing with two different types of discontinuity : the linear or the western, and the interwoven or the Indian, in which apparently scattered elements are bound together by a cyclical conception of time.
This view is, of course, not wisdely shared.For Loius Marcorelles, the film critic of le Monde, “ Indian super productions fascinate us by their bad taste, verging on kitsch.” Loaded as they are with shrill vulgarity and frenzied songs, even the introduction of comic relief scenes are “doubtful.” These strong feelings are shared by Henri Micciollo who says that nothing has changed in commercial cinema since the 1950s; if anything, a gradual deterioration is evident.
Shabana Azmi, who was in paris for the inauguration agreed that Indian films should be shown, and that pessimism about their acceptance even before the festival had ended was to start off on the wrong foot. Soumitra Chatterjee, on the other hand hinted at the possible disappointment of French audiences with our commercial ventures. Govind Nihalani’s Ardh Satya, remarks Connie Hasham, has been successful in India, whereas some years ago it would have been called an art film, devoid of commercial interest and condemned to a small coterie of the elite; or Sai’s Chashme Buddoor, a light parody of Hindi romance, based on a solid, carefully planned scenario.Meanwhile, Guru Dutt has been highly acclaimed here; Pyaasa and Kagaz ke Phool ran here for six weeks each in Parisian theatres this year, a feat that would not have been possible a decade ago.
As for our new cinema, it is in the slow process of gaining recognition, although its directors have not attained the stature of Satyajit Ray. But it is coming. Marcorelles, in fact, called Kumar Sahani’s Tarang, “an exceptional film,” a landmark in Indian cinema and lauded Adoor Gopalakrishnan for his sense of narration and mastery of direction. And the choice of opening the festival fell on Gautam Ghosh’s Paar, which received recognition in Venice last year, and was screened last Sunday by Doordarshan.
All said and done, what the festival will dois open a window on our heterogeneous cinema.