Filmi critique
Reviewed by Rachna Singh

50 Indian Film Classics
By M. K. Raghavendra.
Pages 321. Rs 350.

WE Indians love films and almost always have an expert opinion on them. We invariably enlarge upon a film’s thematic structure in social soirees. Intellectual discussions also veer towards an analysis of the auteur’s visual narratives. It is not surprising then that varied collections of film reviews hit the market from time to time.

M.K. Raghavendra’s collection of film reviews, aptly entitled 50 Indian Film Classics, comes as no surprise after his first book Seduced by Normality: Narration and Meaning in Indian Popular Cinema. Not satisfied with the study of myths and archetypes of popular cinema as enumerated in the first book, Raghavendra sets himself the Herculean task of defining Indian cinema "albeit in a non-academic way". The canvas he has chosen to dabble in encompasses the period 1925 to 2006.

The book begins with a critique on the silent era film Prem Sanyas and ends with the analysis of Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s box-office hit Rang de Basanti. It encloses within its ambit not only the Bollywood-style popular cinema like Dewar and Amar Akbar Anthony but also "art" cinema like Ankur and Aakrosh. The critique also takes account of regional cinema be it Tamil, Bengali or Manipuri.

As per Raghavendra’s own admission, the body of Indian cinema is so huge and varied that to find unity in this mind-boggling diversity defies thought. Indian cinema fits neither into the straight-jacket of a neo-Aristotelian Western narrative nor adheres to the prototype emerging from Bharata’s Natyashastra. The song-dance sequences and non-causal narrative of popular cinema may be similar to Hollywood musicals, but art films or regional cinema cannot be so defined. So, Raghavendra has simply put together reviews of 50 films in order of their release. But thankfully the reviews are more than just superficial and inane comments on films.

This founder-editor of Deep Focus, a magazine on serious cinema, lives up to his reputation of the "best film critic" and comments discerningly on the films, their genre and their adherence and divergence from the generic prototype. So, while HAHK wills away social conflict, Rang De Basanti breaks from a political past by using conventions of the youth film. Global influences are also incorporated with aplomb. While Awara examines an "oedipal fix", Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali bridges the cinematic practices of the Western and non-western world. Sahib, Bibi Aur Gulam becomes an attempt to locate a story in a transitional moment of history while Bandini flourishes inside a "high walled garden impervious to all breezes".

The selection of films, of course, carries the unmistakable Raghavendra stamp but as he himself admits, the collection inevitably excludes some favourites. Sadly, certain path-breaking films like Black and box-office hits like Kabhi-Kabhi and Veer-Zara stand excluded. A film like Kabhi Alvida Na Kahna is included while a film like Silsila on a similar theme of adultery stands ignored. Be that as it may, Raghavendra has made a serious and not wholly unsuccessful effort to define the various genres and sub-genres of Indian cinema, which is laudable.