Hindi Cinema (An Insider’s View)

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Item Code: IDC346
Author: Anil Saari
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Language: hindi
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 0195695844
Pages: 242
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.9” X 5.9”
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Book Description
From The Jacket
Journalist, poet , and dramatist, Anil Saari was one of the earliest and best-known film critics in India. Saari began writing on the nature and popularity of Hindi cinema more than thirty years ago, much before this cinematic genre gained credibility in academic circles.

A passionate advocate of Hindi cinema, Anil Saari emphasized the value of its popularity as well as its roots in Indian folk theatre traditions. Hindi Cinema, a collection of Anil Saari’s writings spread over almost thirty years, shows how Saari combined his knowledge of Indian society, history, and culture to interpret the narrative structures, aesthetics, and institutions of Hindi cinema.

Spanning the entire ambit of modern Hindi cinema, these essays discuss issues as varied as the social consciousness of Hindi cinema, violence in Hindi Films, and the dubious aesthetics of the latest remark of Devdas. Not only Hindi cinema, Saari brings to bear his vast knowledge and penetrating insights on issues of tremendous contemporary relevance in Indian cinema as well: from political themes in film to children’s cinema, from the future of parallel cinema to the renaissance in films produced down south.

This volume also includes Saari’s tributes to and incisive comments on the legacy of actor like guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor, Pran, Sanjeev Kumar and the screen goddesses Nargis, Meena Kumari, and Madhubala, among others, as well as his seminal essay ‘The Dynamics of Tradition and Modernity in Hindi Cinema.

With an introduction by noted film critic Partha Chatterjee which helps to contextualize the writings, this book will appeal to general readers interested in knowing more about the Hindi film industry as also scholars of film studies, postcolonial studies, and cultural studies.

About The Author
Anil Saari (1945-2005) was a journalist, poet, dramatist, and film critic. He worked in several newspapers through his career and was one of the earliest film critics in India.

Partha chatterjee is a freelance film-maker and critic based in New Delhi.

Hindi cinema’s enormous reach across India and around the world is a subject of keen interest for cineastes these days. Its pot-pourri of ingredients – not the least its moorings in melodrama, which in turn is often bolstered by crude comedy and gratuitous sub-plots, and of course the fights, songs, and dances-is both a source of exasperation and wonder for new converts. In the Indian filmgoer’s mind, it is an equivalent of the Nautanki, a variety entertainment in the folk tradition, which has fed off folk tales and epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata even when dealing with contemporary issues, and was therefore hugely popularly with people of all classes in northern India well before the advent of cinema.

Even the science-oriented non-resident Indian population in Silicon Valley, California, sees commercial Hindi films on weekends to relax. As escapist entertainment and stress busters, they are second to none.

The poet, dramatist, journalist, and film aficionado, Anil Saari,. Was Hindi cinema’s most enthusiastic advocate more than thirty years ago. Blessed with both a sharp critical faculty and brashness which stayed with him until his death in 2005, Anil was able to see many virtues in Hindi films, which in the eyes of other critics and intellectuals, mostly Western-educated, were nothing but crass mass intellectuals, mostly western-educated, were nothing but crass mass entertainment-an opiate for a teeming population that was largely illiterate and impoverished. The money, according to cynical film distributors, at a time when Anil was cutting his teeth in film criticism, came from ‘C’ grade film centres in small towns and semi-rural Indian. He and Hamiduddin Memood were the two serious film critics from the 1970s who understood why commercial Hindi cinema was so overwhelmingly popularly with audiences all over India. But the more overt champion of the ‘Bumbaiya what made it tick.

In his seminal essay ‘The Dynamics of Tradition and Modernity in Hindi Cinema,’ he observed:

On the one hand, its format violates the Aristotelian concept of the three unities of time, space, and action. On the others, it cannot be completely designated as a modern variation of a well-preserved folk tradition. It is influenced both by the world that confronts it-the Euro-American world-and the world of the vigorous of Indian folk theatre. The two worlds impinge on the Indian’s psyche and never allow him to escape from the psychological parameters of being a villager.

His early years in the industrial city of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh perhaps contributed to the shaping of his sensibilities. He did his schooling and undergraduate studies there. Anil’s fathers, Arjun Arora, was co-founder of the Communist Party of India (CPI) in up and an active, highly regarded traded union leader. His mother, Raj Arora, was a doctor by training. This early exposure to the realities of the world gave him insights that not many of his tribe were privy to:

Yet it must constantly borrow from the affluent alien’s film culture. For the Euro-American civilization of today is like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the Indian whose psyche lies in the shadow of a long, callous history of economic disparities; a psyche that tries to preserve itself and its shell of flash and boned from the wretched sea of poverty that exists all around it. The dividing line is so thin and fragile that consciousness can only lead each man to conceive of himself as an oasis in the desert. [from ‘The Dynamics of Tradition and Modernity in Hindi Cinema’]

It is to this escape from poverty and from the boredom of the humdrum reality of daily of daily life that Hindi cinema has addressed itself with great dedication (without sounding ironic or patronizing) for the last forty-five years or more. It did, without really intending to (the Hindi film producer was first of all interested in profit and, only as an afterthought, in plaudits), affirm the status quo and strength the hands of all exploitative political parties, while on screen it preached what can be called a ‘refracted egalitarianism’ leavened with religion. Anil understood this aspect of Hindi cinema very well. His own politics, despite stout protestations to the contrary, was firmly progressive and evinced deep social commitment. He was, more than almost any other critic of his time or since, aware of the role that cinema would play in the building of an emerging democracy. Indian after all, attained freedom in 1947. for him, entertainment and an awareness of socio-economic realities could go hand in hand as the vigorous, perceptive play of Bertolt Brecht had proved in Europe. He was a great admirer of the poet-playwright who had escaped from Hitler’s Germany and survived Senator McCarthy’s Red with hunt during his exile in Hollywood in the late 1940s through sheer cunning, literary genius not withstanding.

Anil had perhaps secretly hoped that Hindi cinema would produce its own Brecht whose awareness of life’s inequities and its attendant politics would permeated the sensibilities of the market. But that did not happen, for the historical conditions were wanting. He observes, not without a certain regret:

[The] overall conservative framework of values is also at the very end of the film. Its main purpose is to reassure the mass audience that the status quo shall be maintained; that they are not being confronted with the possibility and the trauma of a total upheaval in society which is a fairly frightening thing for the average Indian who cannot think beyond survival. It is a psychological obstacle that has drowned successive attempts at an Indian revolution. [from ‘The Compelling World of Hindi Film].

He was alive to the possibilities of cinema, particularly Indian cinema, and the creative energies that emanated from it despite the financial and distribution in its path. Since Hindi films had the largest marker and hence also the largest financial outlay, the burden on it to come good at the box office was also the heaviest. Despite such odds, talented directors, technicians, and actors emerged at regular intervals. Entertaining and sometimes enlightening films continued to be made. Of all the film-makers who contributed to the growth of Hindi films in the 1950s, Anil was most drawn to Guru Dutt, whose knowledge of Hindi and Urdu was at best sketchy but who nevertheless and a knack for attracting some of the best talent around him – scriptwriter Abrar Alvi, cinematographer V.K. Murthy, composers O.P. Nayyar and S.D. Burman, not to forget fine actors like Waheeda Rehman, Meena Kumari, Mala Sinha, Rehman, and Johnny Walker.

Back of The Book
‘… perceptive about issues and filmmakers … backed by understanding ... The essays have value as the reflections of a critical insider on Indian cinema, the industry and film policy in India … there is no such writing available.’

Winner, National Award for Best Film Critic (1997) and author of seduced by the Familiar: Narration and meaning in Indian Popular Cinema.

‘Written in the popular mode, Hindi Cinema moves lucidly through description, analysis and anecdotal responses to uncover the world of popular cinema from India in an insightful manner that is both entertaining and informative.’

Associate Professor of Cinema Studies, School of Arts & Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University.


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Introduction by Partha Chatterjeevii
The Aesthetic Foundations of the Hindi Formula Film
The Dynamics of Tradition and Modernity in Hindi Cinema3
The Use of Poetry in Hindi Cinema14
The Southern Locale for Hindi Films20
The Architecture of Illusion24
The Compelling World of Hindi Films28
Rags to Riches Stories Made Real 39
Themes and Variations of Indian Cinema
The Death of Children’s Cinema51
Political Themes in Indian Cinema56
The Usurper Theme in Hindi Cinema61
Popular Cinema Learns from Art Cinema65
Can Parallel Cinema Survive?71
Some Ground Realities of Art Film-Making78
Should Art Films be Subsidized?85
Renaissance in South Indian Films94
Perspectives on Indian Cinema
How Socially Conscious in Hindi Cinema?103
Violence in Hindi Film109
Movie Idols are the Soulmates of the Young122
Hindi Cinema Denies Space to the Writer131
Indian Goof-ups at International Film Festivals136
Black Monkey as the Mainstay of Hindi Cinema141
Bollywood Goes on Strike Gold145
Young Film and Critical Theories161
Between Fact and a Film-Maker’s Intention164
The Glorification of Bhagat Singh168
Three Film About Gandhi171
What Went Wrong with Bhansali’s Devdas?176
The Makers of Popular Cinema
The Evergreen Troika183
Golden Girls of a Golden Era187
Johnny Walker – A Comedian of the Machine Age194
A Chela Salutes Guru Dutt201
A Tribute to Raj Kapoor206
The Ageless Pran212
The Amazingly Talented Sanjeev Kumar215
Analysing a Stylist – Mani Ratnam219