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Cinema School Days

Raja Ravi Varma imageries, the popular Cinema School Days Indian filmmaker knows how to deploy Emotion Pictures: Cinematic Journeys into the Indian Self by Narendra Panjwani; Rainbow Publishers, Ahmedabad, New Delhi, 2006;

roles. Travelling widely via Kalidasa and Raja Ravi Varma imageries, the popular

Cinema School Days

Indian filmmaker knows how to deploy

Emotion Pictures: Cinematic Journeys into the Indian Self

by Narendra Panjwani; Rainbow Publishers, Ahmedabad, New Delhi, 2006; pp 296, Rs 1200.

AMRIT GANGAR

I
n India, any serious study of popular cinema as such or within the broad spectrum of popular culture began quite late. Early on, the urban elite and intellectuals had developed a kind of ‘chhee’! attitude towards such cinema and film societies found it artistically worthless. Consequently, the initial scholarship in this realm came from the west, which ironically had also discarded it as song-and-dance trivia. The shift came largely in the 1980s when the postmodern popular culture studies’ attention began to be focused on the “consumer” of this culture. This, in turn, has brought about some interesting works over the past two decades or so, both from North America, Europe and now from India, the largest film producing country in the world. In the process, scholars looked at the Hindi film (whether we call it Bollywood or not) from different facets and angles including the macro level sociological, political, psychological, or the micro level gender studies. Fortunately, as a labour of love, some studious Indian film fans and buffs had already made several careful compilations (biographies of stars, playback singers, songs) in English and regional languages, and that basic documentation came quite handy to many a scholar.

To this broad bibliography, Narendra Panjwani provides a welcome addition with his book Emotion Pictures: Cinematic Journeys into the Indian Self, that views some of the popular Hindi films from the prism of his own school days in a small Madhya Pradesh town of Hoshangabad. He charts out his romantic brush with “pictures”, stars and songs that have remained with him since then as an emotional connection. Calling motion pictures, “emotion” pictures, Panjwani in his ‘Introduction’ tells us rather the obvious, “Remember, cinema is not just a visual medium; it is also an emotional one”. He further states, “A successful feature film, goes the film industry’s unspoken rule, has to be an emotion picture”. And from viewerconsumer view point he again asks the reader to remember that the “source of cinema’s power is not the filmmaker, but the viewer”. To support his thesis, he says that some of the films such as Kismet, Awara, Baiju Bawra, Pyaasa, Mother India, Mughal-e-Azam, Mere Mehboob, Sholay, Amar Akbar Anthony, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge were made because of this emotional dimension. These are all established facts that anyway do not make the Indian film viewer a unique species.

On this familiar terrain, he transports us to his select nostalgia, his own cinematic journeys into the self, which is essentially an Indian emotional romantic middle class self. Within this romantic identity, he offers a substantial space to ‘ishq’, love – as he embarks upon his small-town story of romance: “Every film we saw revolved around the romance of young love” (p 28). “In all humility”, Panjwani disagrees with the belief that films are “just entertainment, just fantasies which have nothing to do with our lives” and he attributes the birth of this book to his self-confessed disagreement. Fair enough, but from this very disagreement (with whom?) emerges his condescending tone, which in the process short circuits, in the way it critiques dream merchants who fabricate their stories through sounds and visuals, songs and sensualities, wet sari in the cesspool of censorship. Panjwani: “The decision to ban the kiss from the Indian screen (from 1932 onwards) was not taken by filmmakers; it was taken by us, by our government, by self-appointed guardians of our morality” (p 43). This is factually wrong, since the official film censorship came under the Cinematograph Act in 1952, “to certify films for public exhibition”. In the British India, film censorship was more of political nature, and the police controlled it. The 1933 film Karma is well known for its prolonged kiss between Devika Rani and Himansu Rai; shot in London, this Oriental fantasy was shown publicly in India too. The mainstream filmmaker’s wet sari trick for the male gaze is by now an open secret. In fact, I would say, that it was Dadasaheb Phalke who used it in India’s first feature film Raja Harishchandra (silent, 1913), which had male actors performing female it for making his “motion” picture an “emotion” one. Emotion is a multi-track motion that Panjwani does not seem to be critically exploring on his Hoshangabad highway.

The 1960s Hoshangabad of his school days, to which he keeps going back and forth, theorising the already theorised. For example, his “Three-Is” theory around ‘Ishq’, ‘Izzat’, ‘Insaaniyat’ (love, honour, humanism), is a trodden terrain – love and humanism are the ingredients of movies all over the world, the idea of izzat springs from the feudal familial or clannish ethos.

‘Three-Is’ of Indian Cinema

Panjwani introduces his Three-Is theory thus, “In our cinematic world and especially in the personalities of the heroes and heroines who dwell there, insaaniyat is one side of the coin, ishq is the other. The palm that holds this coin is izzat (honour): it is the third and the biggest of the “I” words in Hindi cinema. On the Indian screen, izzat is as much about self-respect as honour” (p 107). Within this theory, if we look at our popular film plots, we find the very izzat factor responsible for the mindless violence on screen, and off screen too, in places where the feudalist ego reigns. Panjwani carries forward his izzat argument in his relatively more interesting chapter The City in Popular Cinema where ishq becomes ‘pyaar’. According to him money and marketplace have coalesced in the city, providing filmmakers of the 1950s-1960s a ready-made demon, the archvillain against which to pit the protagonists of their stories. “Izzat (Honour) and Pyaar (Love) were at stake in these city films” (pp 201-02). While Panjwani claims ishq to be a secular agent, he at the same time says, “there is virtually no film in the entire corpus of popular Hindi cinema that features a Hindu marrying a Muslim. The exception that comes to mind here is Mani Ratnam’s Bombay (1995).”

Often the book pops up Raj Kapoor’s Shri 420 (1955), especially in the urban context. Talking about Raj, the hero, Panjwani mentions his encounter with the “poor fruit vendor”. To call the ‘kelewali’, the banana-seller, a “fruit-vendor” is misleading. The presence of the female banana-seller in Bombay of those days was “iconic” and to some extent it still is.

Economic and Political Weekly November 11, 2006 In fact, Raj respectfully addresses the generous woman as “Dilwali Lady Kelewali”. Panjwani keeps describing her as a “fruit vendor” except once where he mentions her as the “Marathi-speaking banana-seller” (p 231) but that is in the context of Baharon Ke Sapne (1962) on the same page.

In the chapter ‘Enter, The Wandering Migrant’, Panjwani refers to “love and the housing question” and the Bombay ‘chawl’

– giving examples from the 1950s-1960s films as also a later film Katha (1982) “The cinematic chawl”, as Panjwani says, “is not just an image of utopia. It is a lens through which to see and grasp the living, unmanageable city in a familiar, manageable idiom.” The chawls were in complete contrast to the imposing commercial buildings in the Fort area; they provided accommodation for the working classes in the congested areas in central Bombay after there was a massive migration into the city, by 1921 as many as 2,36,000 people came to Bombay to work in the textile mills. A typical chawl with two or three upper storeys, contained 8 × 8 feet cubicles with washing areas and a common toilet block in a ground floor. In a single room, there lived five to 10 persons. These real chawls, as Panjwani rightly indicates were “marked (and divided) by ethnicity – families or male groups of workers clustered according to their village of origin, their language, their religion”. But as times grew, this reality also changed and there were also chawls with mixed ethnicities, some of them still exist. The so-called studiobuilt, cinematic chawl from the filmTanhai (1961) is not a good example (p 230). Panjwani could have given better examples in this context; strangely he completely avoids Basu Chatterji (Piya ka Ghar, 1971) and Saeed Mirza (Mohan Joshi Haazir Ho! 1983). In fact, Saeed Mirza is the only filmmaker who has evoked Bombay so consistently in his films.

The eight-chaptered book has over 230 well-produced black and white impressions from stills, song booklets, posters and magazine covers, although really vintage ones appear only when the author slips into pre-1950s, e g, Rose in Hamari Betiyan (1936). Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Bharat Bhushan and Madhubala dominantly populate the book’s visual world, the “Jubilee Hero” Rajendra Kumar or his later counterpart Rajesh Khanna occupy comparatively less space, even Dev Anand for that matter. Saigal, Suraiya, Khurshid and Ashok Kumar appear only once while Devika Rani is conspicuous by her absence. Going by Panjwani’s examples, it seems Hoshangabad of the mid-1960s, with “one cinema hall” showed only “A” grade films sans Wadia Movietone’s stunts and mythologicals and such others.

Though the images are well produced and captioned, a little more care should have been taken in identifying the cast, e g, Sajjan is mentioned as Ranjan in Toofan, a 1954, and not 1952 film (p 150), in Bandini with Nutan is Raja Paranjape (p 100), or another woman with Dev Anand in Kaala Pani is Nalini Jaywant (p 224), some stills are not even captioned, or if captioned, the cast is not identified, e g, the domestic scene in Ek Phool Char Kante (1960) has David, Johnny Walker, Waheeda Rehman, Dhumal and Rashid Khan, on the same page (p 216). This is a bit jarring because otherwise the book seems quite careful in captioning. In fact, as my experience says, identifying the stills is a project in itself as there are hundreds of stills (particularly of 1920s-1940s films) that lie unidentified (fully or partly) even at the National Film Archives of India. We still have some old veterans left in this country and their memory and knowledge should be taken benefit of, the sooner the better. That will be of immense help to future historians, leaving less scope for our great heritage of defective truths.

The author draws his memories from popular stars and songs and as such not all the films mention their directors, leave alone screenplay writers and lyricists (very crucial to the films). Since the book is replete with references to plots and songs, it would have been better to refer to their creators’ names at least in an annexure.

Panjwani’s Hoshangabad sweetly echoes Jhumri Talaiya, a film crazy northern town, while his title also reminds me of the leading German filmmaker Wim Wender’s book Emotion Pictures: Reflections of the Cinema (English edition, 1989). Maybe Wender’s take is different but his “emotion” connects with motion pictures. Well, in the times when more personality or individual film-based books are entering the Indian market, Narendra Panjwani’s Emotion Pictures: Cinematic Journeys into the Indian Self provides a much broader canvas to reflect on our popular cinema, in our age of “e”. Panjwani does refer to “email” on page 206, motion pictures cannot be without “emotion”.

EPW

Email: amritg@mtnl.net.in

Manohar

Economic and Political Weekly November 11, 2006

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