Neo-wave to new-age cinema

Followers and makers of parallel cinema have always been few in number but realistic, bold and different, like their films, says Ranjan Das Gupta

Vishal Bharadwaj's Maqbool was off-beat and bold
Vishal Bharadwaj's Maqbool was off-beat and bold

A refreshing comedy like Well Done Abba proves that Shyam Benegal has not lost his magical touch
A refreshing comedy like Well Done Abba proves that Shyam Benegal has not lost his magical touch

WHEN M. S. Sathyuís Garam Hawa was released in 1973, it created history, as it was the start of the neo-wave cult in Hindi films. With a taut screenplay by Ismail Chugtai and a majestic performance by Balraj Sahni, the film set trends, unknown in the history of Bollywood. Shyam Benegalís Ankur, Nishant and Manthan followed, establishing the neo-wave cinema strongly in the tinsel town, where larger-than-life entertainment and box office-oriented movies ruled.

Satyajit Ray welcomed the young Turks like Sathyu and Benegal, describing them as a promising bunch of directors. He said, "In Bombay scripts are made, not written. I see a lot of talent and promise in Sathyu, Shyam and Govind Nihalani, who have changed the concept of Hindi films quite successfully. I welcome them, and genuinely feel they can contribute immensely towards good cinema."

Rayís statement did not prove wrong. Just as the highly gifted Buddhadev Das Gupta, Goutam Ghosh, Utpalendu Chakrabarty and Aparna Sen took up the mantle from Ray, Ghatak and Sen in Bengal, Nihalani, Saeed Akhtar Mirza and Ravindra Dharmaraj continued the movement started by Sathyu and Benegal.

They brought a new phase to the legacy of Dr V. Shantaram, Bimal Roy, Chetan Anand and Guru Dutt. The 1980s saw a series of off beat, serious films based on social issues like Akrosh, Chakra and Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Ata Hai. These films were cinematically much richer compared to the stereotypes like Zanjeer, Pratigya, Sholay and Mehbooba, the potboilers of the 1970s.

Just as the mainstream cinema saw some of the most forgettable films in the 1980s, the neo- wave cinema prospered with leaps and bounds catering to the esquire and intelligentsia.

Defining the neo-wave cinema, Benegal says, "I, and my colleagues, were looking towards a cinema, neither personal, nor escapist or theatrical. We decided to explore unknown arenas like the proletariat movement, milk dairy crisis, and exploitation of the poor as well as the working class. Of course, the Marxist ideology inspired us to an extent."

The neo-wave cinema also gave birth to some highly talented actors like Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil and Amrish Puri. They filled the vacuum created by the loss of Motilal, Balraj Sahni, Meena Kumari and Nargis.

From left to right: Stills from (above) Ardh Satya, Zubeidaa, Garam Hawa and Aakrosh; and (below) Chandni Bar, Dev D and Luck by Chance
From left to right: Stills from (above) Ardh Satya, Zubeidaa, Garam Hawa and Aakrosh; and (below) Chandni Bar, Dev D and Luck by Chance

Says Nihalani, "In our earlier films, we sought actors and not stars. A realistic performance is an actorís prerogative more than a starís."

Naseeruddin Shah describes the acting style in films like Manthan and Akrosh as, "The dhoti clad, nose-picking people, yelling in protest against the system."

Sathyu, a former chief assistant of the late Chetan Anand, lost his golden touch acquired in Garam hawa in Kahan Kahan Se Guzar Gaya and his later movies. He confesses, "I was never able to revive my Garam Hawa touch later in my career as I never received a script of that level."


Ram Gopal Varma, Madhur Bhandarkar, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Anurag Kashyap and Vishal Bharadwaj are the present crop of gifted directors, who are making socially relevant and significant films with realistic touches like Satya, Chandni Bar, Maqbool and Dil Chahta Hai



Dev D, Khosla Ka Ghosla, Luck By Chance and Jail are good examples of the new-age cinema. Most of these films have bold themes and subjects that were not experimented with earlier. Technically, too, much has changed with special effects also adding to the filmsí appeal

But both Benegal and Nihalani continued directing brilliant films and they had some excellent and bright followers in Ketan Mehta and Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Watching Holi, Mirch Masala, Sazae Maut and Khamosh, one can only wonder why Mehta and Chopra went for unnecessary commercial compromises in their later films.

The 1990s saw almost all stalwarts of the neo-wave cinema losing their magical touch. Benegal could never find his earlier form in Sardari Begum and Zubeidaa. Nihalani, too, showed signs of decline in talent in Drishti, Zazere and Takshak. Though Saeed Akhtar Mirza did show some flashes of brilliance in Naseem but stopped making films after that.

Analysing the reasons behind the downfall of the neo-wave cinema, Mrinal Sen comments, "More than the directors, I will blame the system, which exists in Hindi films. Bollywood has never bothered to create an atmosphere for creative cinema or a thinking audience. The cause for survival and the inner yearnings to carry on working compelled Benagal, Nihalani and Mirza to compromise. Of course, they could have done without it but then it would have made it very difficult for them to survive in the industry."

Nihalani agrees, "Times, tastes and audience demands started changing drastically from the 1990s. The National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) and other small financers started paling into oblivion. We had to opt for big-budget films with famous stars and that required a change in our attitudes to filmmaking. Of course, Benegal did prove he still has talent with the refreshing comedies like Welcome To Sajjanpur and Well Done Abba."

After Satya and Chandni Bar in the late 1990s, the neo-wave cinema gave way to the new-age films, the ruling factor in the new millennium celluloid. Ram Gopal Varma, Madhur Bhandarkar, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Anurag Kashyap and Vishal Bharadwaj are the present crop of gifted directors, who are making socially relevant and significant films with realistic touches. What is this new-age cinema? Sanjay Leela Bhansali defines, "It is the present format of films which is off-beat, realistic and bold."

The new-age cinema has seen some brilliant films being made like Satya, Chandni Bar, Maqbool and Dil Chahta Hai. But in all honesty these are in no comparison to Ankur, Akrosh or Albert Pinto`85

Says Madhur Bhandarkar, "Our films are mainly for a multiplex-oriented upper-class urban audience. These films are receiving critical acclaim and financial success undoubtedly. But I must confess that none of us has been able to deliver a Garam Hawa, an Ankur or a Tamas. They remain a class apart."

However, Dev D, Khosla Ka Ghosla, Luck By Chance and Jail are good examples of the new-age cinema. Most of these films have bold themes and subjects that were not experimented with earlier. Technically, too, much has changed with special effects also adding to filmís appeal.

But does one remember a single new-age film after coming out of the auditorium except for a Chandni Bar or a Black Friday? They pale into oblivion soon and have no repeat value. Even a Lagaan or a Taare Zameen Par does not command that sort of respect and following which Garam Hawa, Ankur or Ardh Satya once did.

Madhur Bhandarkar, Ashutosh Gowarikar and Anurag Kashyap have, undoubtedly, created their own audience but not in the manner Benegal, Nihalani and Mirza did in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Says Mirza, "I have full confidence in the abilities of Madhur Bhandarkar and Anurag Kashyap. But they have limited themselves to creating cinema which only an urban and multiplex-oriented audience relates to. Small towns and rural India are totally neglected in their films. So their works never have a perennial impact."

The new-age cinema may be the talk of the day but it is certainly not what the neo-wave cinema was once, a cult cinema. New directors should understand that form and technical wizardry do not create directors of substance. The Apu trilogy, Komal Gandhar and Bhuvan Shome, the earliest stances of neo-wave cinema, have stood the test of time as they are timeless in theme, treatment and message. After all, cinema is the greatest medium of art that needs the touch of the soul, which the new-age cinema has not yet provided to the fullest extent.





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