A barometer of our times
New Indian Cinema is going places - at home, and geographically across the world. The 'newness' lies in the choice of novel and hitherto unexplored subject matters, treatment, approach and style. TWF correspondent Shoma A. Chatterji explores this brave new world
Something exciting is stirring a few breakaway filmmakers, both established and first-timers, in the country now. They are those who are not satisfied with the run-of-the mill narratives and treatment and trying to cross the borders of conventional filmmaking. Making forays into the strange and unknown worlds of human experience, time and memory they are the torchbearers of the 'New Indian cinema'.
New Indian Cinema or NewStream Cinema is a term coined by late Mani Kaul. An elaboration of what this means comes across from the selection of films screened last year at the Osian-Cinefans Film Festival in Delhi. The films in this genre were Kaminey by Vishal Bharadwaj, Dev D by Anurag Kashyap, Luck by Chance by Dibakar Banerjee, Love Aaj Kal by Imtiaz Ali and Aamir by Rajkumar Gupta. It was felt that through these films the makers earned a sympathetic audience in the traditional exhibition space for mainstream cinema while at the same time broke new cinematographic ground for Indian cinema.
Mani Kaul defined this genre of Indian cinema thus: "When movements come into being, the bonds are strong but obviously not tangible or made of clear definition. Passionate art movements are inevitably in the air. These unconventional films have created and sustained a kind of openness that do not fight shy of the literal. They have tried and often succeeded in bringing even metaphorical expression down to a literal plane, shorn of ... typical hidden insinuation common to the older cinema."
The same section formed a screening segment for the 12th Osian-Cinefans' Film Festival this year too. The films were -Deool (Marathi) directed by Umesh Kulkarni, Ranjana Ami Aar Ashbona (Bengali) by Anjan Dutt, Paan Singh Tomar by Tigmangshu Dhulia, and Dhobi Ghat by Kiran Rao, Shanghai (Hindi) by Dibakar Banerjee and Shoojit Sircar's Vicky Donor (Hindi). However, these films were not in the competition section.
The uniqueness of these films lie in their ability to work on contemporary issues that might be delicately balanced between shock and embarrassment for an audience used to the traditional format and content. They are direct, unabashed statements about life in its varied manifestations - individualistic, distinct and unique. None of these films make moral judgments on life, society or on the choice the characters make in the narrative.
New or relatively new filmmakers across the language barrier are also following the trend. Stagnant Waters directed by Bikramjit Gupta, for example. It offers a glimpse into nooks and corners of a Kolkata few are familiar with. The story takes a turn when the protagonist Krishna falls in love with a mannequin and begins to pine for her when he suddenly finds it headless and without hands.
Hansa, directed by Manav Kaul, which bagged the FIPRESCI Jury Prize at the 12th Osian-Cinefans, is about Cheeku, a teenaged girl who lives in a mystical village in the Kumaon region with a heavily pregnant but bedridden mother and kid brother Hansa. The parallel lives of Hansa and Cheeku are dotted with characters that appear cliche on the surface but reveal through suggestions the real story of a man's disappearance. The excellent performance of almost totally unknown actors brings the film close to reality.
Dhiraj Meshram's Baromaas based on an award-winning Marathi novel tackles the issue of farmer suicides through the story of two brothers struggling to save their land from moneyed usurpers with ulterior motives in totally different ways.
Sex in films has found a new definition in Amitabh Chakraborty's Cosmic Sex. Here sex is depicted without frills through a woman from a religious commune having sex first with her guru and then she seduces a young Kripa whose dead mother she resembles. Sex is explained in the film as redemption of the mendicant fakir who uses the woman as the sexual 'agency' to test his route to complete abstinence. Though the film has strong incestuous suggestions -repelling to a majority of the audience, it needs guts to depict such a controversial subject in the Indian milieu.
B.A. Pass directed by first-time director Ajay Bahl, also the cinematographer of the film, is about a male prostitution ring run by a high-society homemaker who seduces a young orphan whose only aim is to finish his graduation and look after his sisters. The individualistic style of depicting sex placing the woman as the manipulator is made authentic with skillful camera-work and good editing. It won the Best Film award in Indian Competition at the Festival while Shadab Kamal bagged the Best Actor prize.
Ballad of Rustom directed by Ajita Suchitra Veera is about Rustom, a young man who works as a telephone repairing man in a small government office in the countryside. Shot on 35mm Cinemascope, though too long and dragging at places, it establishes in a rather unstated manner the unique relationship that exists between man and nature.
Monophobia is a brilliant exploration of technique, form, style and content in contemporary Indian cinema. Directed by Ashwini Malik who also plays the main role, is someone we never see on screen except in bits and parts showing his hands and legs. The man suffers from the fear of being alone. As he drives home he is happy to be all by himself.
These out-of-the-box films drive you to put on your thinking cap and look at them from a new perspective. This cuts across the language-culture-ethnic divide within India.
New Indian Cinema is daring, transcends social and moral codes in contemporary Indian society and challenges the Indian audience's traditional mindset conditioned to making value judgments like 'good', 'bad', 'indifferent', 'right' or 'wrong' on cinematic, issue-centric, moral or ethical grounds because they represent statements rarely witnessed in the mainstream Indian cinema.
(Shoma A. Chatterji is an award winning film critic)