Tracing Parallel cinema

In the 1950s, Indian cinema saw the emergence of neo-realism films which were perceived as vehicles of social change

A still from Ray's 'Pather Panchali'

While most film historians believe that the birth of parallel cinema took place in 1969 with Mrinal Sen’s FDC financed 'Bhuvan Shome', the informal foundation had already taken place 20 years ago when a graphic designer began making a low-budget realistic film about the struggles of a poor family in a West Bengal village in the 1920s, with a team comprising a cinematographer who hadn't operated a video camera before and a cast ranging from an 80-year-old thespian who hadn't appeared on screen for 30 years and a five-year old making his debut in the lead role. With 'Pather Panchali' in 1955, Satyajit Ray marked his entry into the film world. This period saw the emergence of neo-realism which was closer to reality and early examples of films include Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar (1946), Ritwik Ghatak’s Nagarik (1952), and Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen (1953)

A still from 'Bhumika'What was common between all of them was the fact that they were a part of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) which was formed in 1943. The association played a very important part in shaping up the radical arts movement which believed in using theatre and cinema as vehicles of social change. For the first time, Indian cinema saw the rise of the art movement and the emergence of stalwarts like Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen and others. Another thing common in their film was their rejection of popular forms, like the song and action, their affinity for the working class, spare use of music and toned down colour palettes.

Eventually, when IPTA disintegrated in the 1950s, it contributed to the largest migration of talent to the newly consolidating film industry in Bombay.The likes of Prithviraj Kapoor, Hrishikesh Mukherji, Ritwick Ghatak, Mrinal Sen were IPTA’s contribution. With the breakdown of the constitution and suppression of civil liberties in the 1970s, films began to the growing frustrations of the middle class with films like Ankur, Manthan, Bhumika heralding a new era of ‘thinking’ actors like Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri among others. But lack of funds and returns made them foray into commercial cinema which subtly blurred the line between commercial and the non-commercial and the result was Arth, Masoom, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro and Golmaal.

With advent of family films and romantic heroes, the Indian cinema started to evolve yet again. Today, the NFDC continues to support Indian art films and still finances a number of films year each year but its role is diminished with the advent of new production houses who are experimenting with the new age cinema.