The ‘Epic’ Story of Indian cinema: Moving Beyond Hindi Films & Finding Aravindhan!

The ‘100 years of Indian cinema’ celebrations that are happening across the country is something that we at TCRC wholly welcome, notwithstanding the fact that a vast majority of them seem to interpret it as ‘100 years of Hindi cinema.’ Thankfully, there are voices out there calling for balance and recognition of the other film industries in the country as well. And among such calls, we found Salil Tripathi’s piece for Mint most refreshing.

He starts off by speaking about the influence of our epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, on our cinema:

Indian cinema has always been utterly reliant on the power of a narrative, and which narrative has greater richness than the Mahabharata? After all for Ved Vyas it is said, “Vyasochishtam jagat sarvam,” or whatever you find said in the universe, Vyas has said it before. It is that easy familiarity with the story—or what the critic Ashish Rajadhyaksha called the power of the epic, in his biography of Ritwik Ghatak—that makes Indian cinema so accessible to so many, in a country divided by everything—language, class, caste and faith—but united by the fascination for a good story.”

And then, he makes the argument that we’ve been parroting all along:

 I love Hindi films too, but you don’t honour a national phenomenon by glorifying only one-fifth of it.”

Salil’s roundup of noteworthy cinema from the South of the Vindhyas was particularly interesting:

Moving south, there is so much to admire in Kannada cinema: two of U.R. Ananthamurthy works stand out. Girish Kasaravalli’s Ghatashraddha (1977) is about the outcasting of a pregnant widow. In Pattabhi Rama Reddy’s Samskara (1970), Girish Karnad’s Praneshacharya is a flawed progressive Brahmin who tries to do right, but succumbs to passion and is consumed by guilt. Karnad’s own Ondanondu Kaladalli (1978) was inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films.

Further south, in Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Elippathayam (1981), the rat trap becomes the metaphor of the patriarchy of a closed society. His earlier film, Swayamvaram (1970), told the story of a young couple marrying against their parents’ wishes, moving to another town to start their life, and the inevitability of tragedy befalling them, and the determination of the young woman to cast her own lonely furrow. Another great film was G. Aravindan’s Oridathu (1986), which showed the transformation of a village’s life, and its people’s relationships, with the arrival of electricity. And the sheer melody of K. Vishwanath’s Telugu classic Shankarabharanam (1979).”

It’s not everyday that one finds a mention of G Aravindhan in a feature-style story about Indian cinema. Hailing from Kottayam in Kerala, Aravindhan was a cartoonist who later became a filmmaker. His debut film “Uttarayanam” was released in 1974 and won the National Award for the Best Feature Film on the 25th Anniversary of India’s Independence. Said to be be one of his finest films, “Uttarayanam” was set against the Independence movement and spoke of the opportunism and hypocrisy that existed during the time. The film is considered to have a played a key role in shaping the parallel cinema movement in Kerala.

Given below is Shaji Karun’s documentary on Aravindhan. Shaji is a National Award-winning filmmaker who used to be Aravindhan’s cinematographer. Shaji’s debut film “Piravi” (1988) won the Caméra d’Or – Mention d’honneur at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival and his 1994 film “Swaham” was the last competitive entry from India to be selected at the Cannes Film Festival.

 

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25 Greatest Acting Performances in Indian Cinema: The Forbes List!

The Forbes India magazine recently put out a list of the 25 greatest acting performances in Indian cinema, 8 of which are performances in Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Tamil films.  Now, here at TCRC, we are always a little wary of lists such as these, fully aware that it’s incredibly hard to pick just 8 or 10 performances from over thousands of films made in the southern part of the country across the span of almost a century. But since this list is a part of their ‘100 Years of Indian Cinema’ set of features, we felt compelled to share this. Given below is an excerpt from the piece (click here to check out the entire list):

JV Somayajulu 
in Sankarabharanam (The Ornament of Shankara), 1980 
JV Somayajulu, an IAS officer in his 50s, plays a Carnatic musician, misunderstood for supporting the daughter of a prostitute, ignored by a society where classical music is in decline, and is being overtaken by pop music. It was a surprise hit. It opened to empty seats, gathered speed and, today, enjoys a cult status. Somayajulu played his part with such dignity and intensity that you can’t listen to any of its hugely popular songs without imagining him performing them as his sadhana.

JV Somayajulu in "Sankarabharanam" (Telugu, 1980). Photo Courtesy: Forbes India.

JV Somayajulu in “Sankarabharanam” (Telugu, 1980). Photo Courtesy: Forbes India.

“Sankarabharanam” turned out to be a cult film as far as Telugu cinema was concerned, after getting off to a slow start in the box office. Directed by K Vishwanath, the film is remembered for its music, scored by KV Mahadevan. The film was shot by cinematographer-turned-director Balu Mahendra, who later made “Moondram Pirai” with Kamal Hassan and Sridevi (“Sadma” in Hindi). The director of “Sankarabharanam,” K Vishwanath, went on to narrate yet another story revolving around an art form (classical dance) in “Saagara Sangamam” (“Salangai Oli” in Tamil). The film featured Kamal Hassan and Jayaprada in career-defining roles and like “Sankarabharanam,” it is said to be a musical success, with tunes composed by Ilaiyaraaja.