An Inside Look into the Parallel Cinema!

For a start let’s begin with the peculiarities of parallel cinema:

  • It has fixation on social critique – i.e. these movies focus too much on the social criticism. This is the reason these movies have also been called as “complaint box cinema”.
  • They highlight social issues such as – corruption, nepotism, patriarchy and religious intolerance.
  • Rejection to song and fight sequences, 
  • Their affinity for rural settings

The term “parallel cinema” was coined more or less by accident. Inherent in the definition, however, was a subconscious process of elimination. The cinema of which one spoke was not “non-commercial” in intent, and no producer would tempt fate by branding it as such. Nor was it “art cinema”, a classification designed to drive away an Indian public. Nor again, was it backed by an intellectual movement that could have given it the direction of a “nouvelle vague“. It was by and large a-cinema that sought to deviate from the usual melodrama by attempting an alternative treatment of commercially viable themes.

The aim behind such pieces of cinema is to convey a fruitful message and spread awareness amongst the people. Alongside also to add substance to the movie. Another reason that could be held responsible for these type of movies could be that the makers of the mainstream cinema became bored with the typical fiction based movies that are far from reality or may be of those types that have slight relevance to the reality.

The credit for starting the parallel movement in films thus goes to the Film Finance Corporation which set out to finance and encourage a different type of film. The first example was Mrinal Sen’s “Bhuvan Shome”. A trend-setter not merely because of its unusual treatment but because of its commercial viability in a market exclusively geared to escapist fantasy. It was followed by a plethora of works, financed both by the Corporation and individual producers.

Amazon.com: Watch Bhuvan Shome | Prime Video

The New Wave began with a train sequence. In 1969, Mrinal Sen’s first Hindi film, “Bhuvan Shome”, began with the camera pointed towards the rail tracks as the train moves fast.

Although Satyajit Ray may well be regarded as the pioneer of the parallel cinema in India, his work has never fallen within the confines of that definition. This is partly due to the fact that he was established as an artist of stature long before the term “parallel cinema” came into being but mainly because his genius, transcending all classification, finds expression at a level of supreme individuality.

Music and sound design played a huge part in the alternative Hindi cinema of the 1970s. Directors turned to composers like Vijay Raghav Rao, Vanraj Bhatia and Rajat Dholakia for innovative soundscapes. While popular cinema used songs to relieve the heaviness of the plot for the mass audience, new cinema avoided songs because the film-makers believed songs broke a narrative that aimed to be close to reality.

Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali (1955), he put out a newspaper ad, asking parents to bring their six and seven-year-old sons to a particular address at a particular time. Among those who turned up was a girl, who had come “straight from the barber’s with her hair cut short and powder at the base of her neck”. As it happened, the boy who played Apu (Subir Banerjee) was spotted by Ray’s wife, playing on the roof of a house next to theirs.

Restored Apu Trilogy Returns Satyajit Ray's Humane Work to ...
Apu (Subir Banerjee)

Even as Pather Panchali made its way to the 1956 Cannes film festival, Ray himself had stayed back in India. The official screening at Cannes took place around midnight. By then, the jury had already seen four long features that day and decided to skip the Indian entry. As it happened, a handful of critics who sat through the film liked it enough to insist on a second screening for jurors. The movie went on to win a special prize as the ‘best human document’.

Parallel cinema opened avenues in the film industry for many new faces. These include: Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, Amol Palekar, Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Pankaj Kapoor, Deepti Naval, Farooq Shaikh, and even actors from commercial cinema like Hema Malini, Raakhee, Rekha ventured into art cinema. Girish Kasaravalli, Girish Karnad and B. V. Karanth led the way for parallel cinema in the Kannada film industry.

The concept of parallel cinema took rebirth in the 21st Century when Aamir Khan, with his production studio, introduced his own brand of social cinema, reducing the distinction between commercial masala films and realistic parallel cinema. Some of the best examples of a perfect blend of entertainment and meaningfulness are Taare Zameen Par, Newton, Peepli Live etc.

To end there are few quotes by some of the renowned personalities, that I found valuable to read:

# Somehow I feel that an ordinary person–the man in the street if you like – is a more challenging subject for exploration than people in the heroic mold. It is the half shades, the hardly audible notes that I want to capture and explore. – Satyajit Ray

# As a child, theater was my first love, as a student I used to like to write plays. – Adoor Gopalakrishnan

He wanted to study theater at the National School of Drama in New Delhi, but the courses he was interested in were offered in Hindi, and he spoke and wrote in Malayalam. Then he saw an advertisement offering admissions at the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune in western India, which was set up in 1960. “At that time, I didn’t even know that such an institution existed,” he said, smiling. The institute offered a course in screenplay writing, which was close to what he wanted to do.

# Although sound came to the cinema more than three decades after its invention, its role was initially seen in the illustrative musical scores that accompanied the visual action—the sound of footsteps, doors opening or closing, and so on. Sound was meant to complement and be equal to the visual in its narrative ability. (Alfred) Hitchcock understood it well, and today most directors take that for granted. – Shyam Benegal

# Art cinema has given me credibility and status as an actor, but commercial cinema has given me a comfortable living. – Om Puri

By, Khushali Thakar

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