Talking Pictures

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Happy Birthday, Indian Cinema!

Posted by keith1942 on April 2, 2013


This is a strand in the 19th Bradford International Film Festival. The title points to the centenary of the production and release of D. W. Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra. This is generally treated as the first indigenous film feature in Hindi cinema. There had actually been earlier documentary-type films and dramatic features of stage plays. But Phalke’s film is a 40 minute long drama presenting one of the great Hindu stories onscreen. The event will offer a range of Indian films from its earliest days right up to the present. Alongside this, but already open for viewing] is Bollywood Icons: 100 Years of Indian Cinema.

This is an exhibition of between 45 and fifty posters spread across the history of the Raj India and post-independence Indian cinema. The earliest posters are a set of those for the films of ‘Fearless Nadia’. aka Mary Evans, from Australia. After a circus tour of the Asian sub-continent she ended up as the Indian equivalent of ‘Pearl White’. She appeared in a series of action films involved in great stunts and fantasy adventures in which she defeated stereotypical villains.

Another set follows the dynasty launched by mega-star Raj Kapoor. His films from the late 1940s and through the 1950s exploited an onscreen persona, which offered echoes of Chaplin but also involved melodramas that had a hint of Frank Capra movies. Various family members are still leading stars in contemporary Hindi cinema. Karisma Kapoor stars in Zubeidaa (2000), a film whose poster is an example of the films of Shyam Benegal, part of the New Indian Cinema.

Amitahb Bachaan, the greatest and most iconic star in Hindi cinema has a set of posters. These include his famous early films like Deewar and Sholay (both 1975), where his is a violent and ‘angry young man’ persona is central. There are also his later films where he has become the father figure of Hindi cinema.

And there is also a set of films featuring Shah Rukh Khan; the contemporary star whose fan base stretches far beyond India as ‘Bollywood’ has become a global player. Unfortunately my favourite of his films, Dil Se (1998), directed by the talented Mani Ratnam is missing.

There are posters of the classics such as the original poster for Mother India (1957), and for Mughal-E-Azam (1960), and Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959). The latter was the work of one of the finest directors of melodrama in Hindi Cinema, Guru Dutt. There is a poster for the Urdu movie Unrao Jaan (2006) centred on the courtesan characters common in Indiana films.

The styles and formats of these posters are as varied as they films they publicises. And they also, to a degree, represent the different language and regional cinemas, which contribute to the large totals of film production each year. Some examples show the influence on foreign cinemas, especially borrowings from Hollywood films. Whilst there is variation there is also development, given a sense of how the cinema has evolved over it history.

Pick up a copy of the Festival Brochure, handily available. It contains and excellent article by the curator of the exhibition Ima Qureshi, Decoding the Bollywood Poster. Ima Qureshi is giving an illustrated talk during the Festival, on Saturday April 13th.

Added to all this are some video projection. The larger offer music clips from a range of Indian films from the 1950s to the present. The clips have been provided by major distributors of Indian films in the UK. Unfortunately, as with quite a number of the UK DVD releases, some of the films have been cropped and it does show. The smaller video exhibit is from the 1913 version of Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra. When I visited the DVD from India had not arrived and the exhibit used a YouTube version. Unfortunately this has very poor image quality and has been filmed askew [probably from the rear of a cinema auditorium?].

Note one of the surviving fragments of Raja Harishchandra is being screened in the festival programme alongside A Throw of Dice (1929). The latter is a co-production involving Germany and is one of the few surviving films from India’s silent era. Mother India also gets an outing, as does Mughal-E-Azam, both in their original 35mm format. The other classic to catch is Kalpana (1948) recently restored by the World Cinema Foundation.


2 Responses to “Happy Birthday, Indian Cinema!

  1. Hmm is anyone else experiencing problems with the images on this
    blog loading? I’m trying to figure out if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog.

    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  2. keith1942 said

    They load OK when I visit the site, if I get the chance I will try them on a different server and see what happens

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