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Indian Parallel Cinema

Summary : Indian Parallel Cinema - How the audience has evolved ?

Picture Credit: https://www.thehindu.com

Every Indian has grown up watching and enjoying mainstream Bollywood movies and most of us have also enjoyed our local language film industries. When you live in a country that sees around 4,000–5,000 films released each year, it’s hard to live in ignorance of such a prominent medium of entertainment. Over the ages, we’ve come across films that have made a huge impact on our lives and are forever etched in the hall of fame of the Indian film industry. These include mega blockbusters and silver jubilee films like Sholay, Mughal-E-Azam, Dilwale Dulhaniyan Le Jayenge, Andaz Apna Apna, and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham.

Ask any Indian the names of directors that have made the Indian film industry as large as it is and you will get answers like Yash Raj, Karan Johar, Aditya Chopra, Sanjay Leela Bhansali or Vishal Bhardwaj. These are some of the biggest names in Bollywood and have directed most of the mainstream hits in Bollywood. However, you will definitely run into the odd cinephile or two that will mention the likes of Satyajit Ray, Nagesh Kukunoor or Nandita Das. Not to say that mainstream Bollywood isn’t responsible for the immense presence the film industry has in our lives or anything but there’s a reason India’s film industry has a lot of respect offshore and that is not Bollywood.

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We’re talking about a completely different form of cinema here, one that is unique to India and conjures some films that are entirely the opposite in nature to those uber-popular blockbusters everyone loves to watch. So let’s explore this thought then, shall we?

What is Indian Parallel Cinema?

Indian Parallel Cinema is a form of cinema that strives to be the exact opposite of mainstream cinema. Originating in the late 1940s and extending to the 1960s, Indian parallel cinema is a blanket term given to films made by a group of directors (most of which were from the Bengali film industry) led by the world renown Satyajit Ray who had a disdain for the manner in which mainstream and conventional films had taken to catering to the least common denominator among the masses in order to make the most money. During their time, most Bollywood production houses were churning out many musical films, inspired by Hollywood’s own successful musicals of the time like Singin in the Rain (1952) and The Sound of Music (1965).

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These filmmakers went on to defy the norm and make some films that took a rather unique approach and have been lauded by many international filmmaking committees and organizations. While mainstream films went on to cater to the audience’s innermost desires, depicting fantasy, action and featuring long lists of songs, Parallel Cinema churned out films that depicted socio-political reality. These films focused on the many issues that plagued Indian society during the time and were produced in a way that was entertaining but also thought-provoking at the same time. The directors involved were creative, intelligent and experienced in the art of film-making and this really comes through if you watch these films.

Why is it not as popular as mainstream media?

It would be a little too quick to assume that just because these films weren’t made as per conventional standards, they weren’t as popular. Some of these films got extremely popular and as a matter of fact, Bollywood itself currently seems to be undergoing a revolution of sorts where more and more films are starting to explore the ideas left behind by the Indian Parallel Cinema movement and releasing films that are significantly more realistic and less of a mainstream cash grab.

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Satyajit Ray himself was identified on many international as well as domestic filmmaking forums as one of the best directors in the world with films like Patthar Panchali(1955)Aparijito(1956) and The World of Apu(1959) receiving accolades by film bodies all around the world. The World of Apu even went on to spawn The Apu Trilogy, garnering mainstream appeal.

During the 1970s, the Indian Parallel Cinema movement extended itself to Bollywood with the emergence of directors like Gulzar and Shyam Benegal. Many new actors began using these films as a platform to launch their extremely successful careers like Shabana Azmi, Pankaj Kapoor, Amol Palekar, Om Puri and Naseeruddin ShahJaane Bhi Do Yaaro, Mirch Masala, Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai are some parallel cinema films that Naseeruddin starred in, and made them his own. Some of these actors continue to contribute to the movement to this day and have taken on roles that continue to be praised by the whole world with their films garnering a niche audience in the whole world.

These films truly suffered a downfall during the 1990s and the early 2000s where mainstream Bollywood started receiving a lot more attention simply because of the amount of money it made. Rapid commercialization, underworld funding and the increasing costs of film production led to a decline in the creation of such films and filmmakers started appealing to conventional norms much more often.

However, since the late 2000s, these films have witnessed a sort of resurgence. Quality of education and the social awareness of the youth definitely played a part in the resurgence of the Indian Parallel Cinema movement but from a financial perspective, these films got a fresh lease of life mainly because of the rapid growth in digitization of content. T0day, we have OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime competing for exclusive rights to films providing a whole new playground for Parallel Cinema. The audience has also evolved over the past decade. They have been more receptive to off-beat movies, than earlier. Movies like Masaan and Peepli Live received a lot of appreciation from the viewers. This shows that people have started realising that parallel cinema films have the capability to hit the right chords and drive some point home.

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All in all, if you enjoy watching movies and would love some food for thought along with your usual entertainment, you should definitely sit down with some popcorn to watch these films. Check out some films by Nandita Das and Nagesh KukunoorSaeed Mirza or Sai Paranjpye and eventually, you can explore further. Notable examples include Amar Prem (1972), Uski Roti (1971), Manthan (1976), Sparsh (1980), The Rat Trap (1982), Mohan Joshi Haazir Ho (1984), Ijaazat (1987), Earth (1998), Water (2005) and Dor (2006).