Parallel Cinema, of what today’s primary filmmakers believe the epitome of an unconventional cinema emerged in the 1950s in the state of Bengal. Parallel cinema, New Indian Cinema, Art cinema, Alternative cinema, or New wave cinema, as known by many names in different mediums, is known for the depiction of serious content that showed realism in contradiction to the commercial cinema.
It is false to say that parallel cinema was a movement in whole but actually it consisted of various smaller movements in itself. Started by Shyam Benegal — a cousin of Guru Dutt — the filmmakers of this era like Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Girish Kasaravalli and G. Aravindan had very little commonalities in their work. They all contributed to different small facets of society like the problems faced by the real world in socio-political spheres and scenarios. All of them screened a mirror to the society of its own deeds and actions, which never happened to be a part of commercial cinema. Parallel cinema was a world of endless possibilities where filmmakers’ only motive was to make sensible films that revolved around realism. It made an impact on society crossing the boundaries of the experimental medium of filmmaking with its close-up and lengthy shots, formalistic approach to composition, tone down color palettes, musical scores, and rural settings — all defining the ground realities of the world and its people.
Indeed, parallel cinema was a product or a consequence of International Art house cinema rooted in small artistic, historical, and socio-political conditions where characters were not privileged with cherries but lemons in life. Derived from various other mediums and waves of cinema around the world like French New Wave, Japanese New Wave and the most prominent Italian Neo-realism that had a major influence on the entire movement. Needless to say, it has such a magnitude of impact on the Indian realism cinema that Satyajit Ray quotes for an Italian film, which goes as –
“…the film that truly had an impact on my mind was Vittorio de Sica’s Bicycle Thieves” — which is legendary.
A beholding and evident reason for the emergence and influence of these two kinds of cinemas in two different countries was the traumatic situations boiling inside the countries. In India, the partition, especially the state of Bengal gave rise to violence and its repercussions. Whereas, in Italy, due to its large uneducated population people had to make a living and the life around.
Some of the greatest filmmakers that one should learn from, and who had a primary impact in the prevailing expansion of this unconventional yet true cinema, in India, were Satyajit Ray and Guru Dutt. Guru Dutt ji’s film career had seen a motley of variations throughout his films and personal life. He had a very unique picturisation for his filmmaking around melancholic subjects stitched with small subliminal love & socio-political issues a man faces in his life. In most of his films, you will always find love on the south side of a character’s life, lest making his films more like a melancholy song playing entirely in a film for his protagonists. The primary melancholic nature of his films is influenced by different types of conflicts such as depressing situations, external influences, or meddling characters between two people — forming a derailed love.
Kaagaz ke Phool (1959), a true study of cinema and his work, is primarily a film that in conjunction with his portrayal of melancholy is a story of a director on the verge of destruction.The conflict of the story is losing of affluence, his musing love with Shanti, and his career because of the relentless custody battle his ex-wife plays on him. The director played the role of
Suresh Sinha, who etched our hearts for eternity with a last shot portrayed on his director’s chair. Kaagaz ke Phool, which bumped at the box office, was actually considered as the real life influenced portrayal of the career of Guru Dutt himself. As this was the last film under the helm of Guru Dutt as a director, the influence of realism of parallel cinema is witnessed in the film by the virtue of a destructive career of a director and the problems he had in his current as well as past life. It clearly depicts that it is not always a shimmering glamorous world around films, but on the contrary, a small surreptitious dark aisle of problems a man is surrounded with.
Pyasa (1957), set in post-independence India, is the most celebrated film by Guru Dutt ji. Guru Dutt in this film plays the role of a struggling poet which etches our hearts with his flawless portrayal of the character and the strings he holds for every emotion. As Vijay, Guru dutt’s character, fails to publish his poems goes through a financial crisis leading to an economic insecurity his wife holds. After which he finds love and beauty in a prostitute named Gulabo, played by Waheeda Rehman. The conflict, yet again, is the substantial melancholy of how a man can pursue uncontrollable limits for the greed of money. However, the film ends on a good note witnessing Vijay at peace with Gulabo accepting the truth and honor leaving behind the hypocrisy and betrayal .